Dan Grazier
Mar 28, 2015 · 3 min read

Lessons from Dr. Andrew Gordon

I just finished reading Andrew Gordon’s brilliant book The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command. This well-researched book tells the story of the largest naval battle of World War I, but it goes further to explain the significance of the personalities and backgrounds of the individuals involved. Perhaps most importantly for us today is the description of the corporate culture of the British Navy prior to Jutland. There were significant problems with that culture which contributed directly to the tragic and ultimately fruitless losses suffered off the coast of Denmark on 31 May 1916. Many of the same cultural problems exist in the U.S. military today.

What follows is the list of “Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious” Dr. Gordon uses to conclude his book. He provides a robust explanation of each in the final chapter.

  1. In times of peace, empirical experience fades and nationalist theory takes its place.
  2. The advent of new technology assists the discrediting of previous empirical doctrine.
  3. The purveyors of new technology will be the most evangelizing nationalists.
  4. Rationalism, unlike empiricism, tends to assume an accretion of vested interests.
  5. The training establishment may try to ignore short bouts of empirical experience to preserve its ‘rationalist’ authority.
  6. Military cultures impart doctrine by corporate ambience as much as by explicit teaching.
  7. In long periods of peace, ‘ambient’ doctrine may be no more than the habits of the years in which war has been forgotten.
  8. If doctrine is not explicitly taught, vested interests will probably ensure that wrong doctrine is ambiently learnt.
  9. In peacetime, doctrine is vulnerable to commandeering by ‘systems lobbyists’.
  10. Innovations adopted in accordance with peacetime doctrine, may lock the Fleet into both systems and doctrine which will fail the empirical test of war.
  11. Purveyors of technological systems will seek to define performance criteria and trial conditions.
  12. A service which neglects to foster a conceptual grasp of specialized subjects, will have too few warriors able to interrogate the specialists.
  13. The volume of traffic expands to meet capacity.
  14. Signals ‘capacity’ tends to be defined by how much the senior end can transmit, rather than by how much the junior end can conveniently assimilate.
  15. Signals’ prioritizing mechanisms become dislocated in times of overload.
  16. Incoming traffic can act as a brake on decision-making.
  17. The more signals, the more the sun shines on signalers.
  18. The ‘centre’ must subject its own transmissions to the strictest self-denying ordinance.
  19. Signalling promotes the centralization of authority.
  20. There is an inverse law between robust doctrine and the need for signalling.
  21. Heavy signaling, like copious orders, its symptomatic of doctrinal deficiency.
  22. The promise of signaling fosters a neglect of doctrine.
  23. War-fighting commanders may find themselves bereft of communications facilities on which they have become reliant in peacetime training.
  24. Properly disseminated doctrine offers both the cheapest and the most secure command and control method yet devised by man.
  25. Every proven military incompetent has previously displayed attributes which his superiors have rewarded.
  26. Peacetime highlights basic ‘primary’ skills to the neglect of more advanced, more lateral ‘secondary’ abilities, the former being easier to teach, easier to measure, and more agreeable to superiors.
  27. The key to efficiency lies in the correct balance between organization and method.
  28. Doctrine draws on the lessons of history.

Dan Grazier

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Disruptive military thinking

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