Cao Cao did nothing wrong

“I will rather I wronged all the people under the heavens than for all the people under the heavens to wrong me.”

Cao Cao

I listen to every episode of the Cognitive Crucible, but I don’t always post about them. It’s only if something jumps out at me.

And this time, I almost made it through the last two episodes without jotting anything down, and they both got me as they came to a close.

In episode #111, John Bicknell speaks with Dr. Victoria Coleman on her role as the Chief Scientist for the United States Air Force.

Good episode, I was enjoying it, and just as it was closing, two interesting things happened. First, when John started the “lightning round,” where he says a word or phrase and has the guest respond with whatever comes up, he offers “video games.” Dr. Coleman responded that she doesn’t play video games, but understands the importance.

Ok, nothing crazy there.

But then, when asked to recommend a book, Dr. Coleman offered the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

There it is.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is an epic novel that tells the tale of Chinese unification in the second and third century. Think A History of the Peloppenesian War meets Game of Thrones.

What struck me here, though, was the fact that this is a title and a series that many readers of this blog will know from the video game series that is based on the novel. I first learned of the treachery of Dong Zhuo, the brotherhood of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, and the ferocity of Lu Bu through playing the game as a kid (and as an adult). It’s one of the games that introduced me to the idea of palace intrigue and political warfare.

Incidentally, I had used a screen grab from one of the games as the header for a recent post on irregular warfare and the role of diplomats. Diplomacy (and treachery) plays a critical role in Romance, and it seeemed fitting.

If you’re not paying attention to gaming, you’re missing out. Which is why I scribbled the note down here. In the space of just a few moments, there was a serious connection missed between these two things – an epic Chinese novel and video games.

And innovation is connecting.

Now onto episode #112 with Jake Sotriadis.

Another fine episode, this one on the concept of future studies. Almost finished it, and then at the ~43:00 mark they wrap up with the “concept of the right answer”:

“When we’re talking about problems in the strategic environment that are linked to human nature, you realize very quickly that you’re not going to be able to “quant” your way – if you will – out of the problem.”

Thank you.

No matter how many people point this out, senior leaders demand we put a number on it.

There has to be another way.


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Breaking in Combat

John Spencer is having a moment.

I’ve always enjoyed his takes, mostly because the senior NCO always shines through. It’s a rare thing these days and I appreciate it.

He was recently on Mike Burke’s Always in Pursuit where they discusses John’s book, his experiences in combat, and Ukraine.

One thing that struck me was an extended discussion on the concept of “breaking” in combat. John recounts an episode in his experience where a senior NCO in his unit basically checks out. Still deployed, but didn’t do much.

Many of us who have served saw this, or a version of this.

We talk a lot about mental health now, and trying to get people the help that they need when they come home (or even when deployed). But we don’t really discuss the psychological aspects of combat and what happens to soldiers when they are overcome by fear – which is something you would expect to happen on the battlefield. It’s combat, after all.

There are still lots of folks in our ranks who have experienced combat and have seen this in action. But those ranks are thinning every day.

Something to think about.


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“I still feel strange being called a writer”

When Colin Powell passed, one of the things I wondered about was where all of his writings might be.

He’s written books – memoir. But I’ve not seen a single article written by him during his time in the Army.

You would think that there would be something out there – some article in a military journal – but so far I’ve turned up nothing.

Not everyone in the military writes, after all. In fact, it is the exception to write, not the rule.

After all, what’s the incentive?

Certainly you’ve heard of the “Powell Doctrine” and the “Pottery Barn Rule?” Well those are not things that he wrote, or even something he necessarily put forth. These were ideas ascribed to him, and in fairness, they do come from him.

Colin Powell did have a talent for boiling big ideas down into things that are actually understandable.

When Army ROTC returned to New York City, he faced down critics with a simple phrase: “Military service is honorable.

Interestingly, I came across this interview where he says the following:

I still feel strange being called a writer. I’m mostly a speaker.

What an insightful notion. Too often we think that to be a thought leader in some field you have to write. And that can certainly be true.

But crafting speeches – even if someone is crafting them for your, and then you edit – that is a form of writing. More importantly, it’s a form of creating.

I would love to see the collected speeches of Colin Powell. There are ideas in there that we don’t see, because there isn’t an article trail. Speeches – even when recorded – can be ephemeral.

It makes me think – will future leaders, even military leaders – have alternative intellectual legacy trails? Blog posts? Tweets? YouTube videos?

Probably.

For Colin Powell, why write when he could speak?

For today’s leaders, where is the most relevant place to make an impact? Is it in a military journal that is rarely read? Or is it somewhere else?


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Physically and Mentally Refreshed

Last week, lots of folks were celebrating the seven-year anniversary of Metal Gear Solid V.

When I first played MGSV, I hadn’t touched a game in the series since MGS2 when it originally came out, and I never finished it.

So when I jumped into MGSV, there were a lot of holes in the plot for me. Most of the time, I had very little idea as to what was going on.

But I quickly became obsessed and played until I reached 100%.

At the same time, the unit I was in was spending a lot of time in the field. In the field, you tend to get dirty. And sweaty. The whole thing is generally uncomfortable.

But it’s not just an issue of comfort. Hygiene and cleanliness are important aspects of a healthy military force.

Which is why the shower on Mother Base was so intriguing to me.

After each mission, I always went to the shower. I was out there, in either Afghanistan or Africa, crawling around, running, sweating, getting blood everywhere… it only makes sense to shower when you get back.

There’s something about the sound of the shower in the game, the dripping, and the echo, that made it seem very real.

The game inspired me to purchase a field shower – which I had seen on deployments before but never used myself. I bought one from Amazon, packed it in my ruck for a field problem, but never actually used it (I still have it).

As I’ve written before, the game has a way of hitting people in different ways. This was one small way for me, and I haven’t seen the sentiment shared anywhere else.


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The Revolution Will Be Televised

Short article with the Irregular Warfare Initiative on the primacy of information in future (now) war.

Of all the lessons of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, one stands out: the importance of achieving dominance in the information domain. From the first days of the war, Ukraine has used information to shape the course of the conflict to its advantage. But American policymakers should not be too quick to mock Russia’s failures in the information environment: the US military itself is underprepared for war in the information age, where the actions of military units and individual soldiers may go viral in an instant. As the US Army continues to reconceptualize the role of information as both a weapon and a battlespace, it should learn some lessons from Ukraine’s success.

GOING VIRAL: PREPARING GROUND FORCES FOR COMBAT IN THE INFORMATION AGE

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MCDP 8 Information

I love the USMC MCDPs (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publications). They’re short, readable, and get to the point.

Last year, I wanted to deep dive MCDP 1-4 Competing because it’s that good, and as far as I’m aware, there is not a better publication on just what “competition” is.

Just look at this graphic.

Unfortunately, I just never got to it.

MCDP 8 Information was released earlier this summer and I wanted to do the same.

It’s worth reading through. It captures the information field nicely.

Some highlights below.

On the “compressed levels of warfare and battlespace”:

Information’s instant, global, and persistent nature compresses the levels of warfare and increases the chances a local action will have a global impact. The ease with which information flows worldwide allows people to continuously monitor local events on
a global scale. This phenomenon is unique to the information age. It is powerful because political actors (state or non-state), interest groups, and individual people can scan the globe for local events and use them to reinforce their cause or narrative of choice.

This access, combined with the relative ease with which our adversaries can distort and manipulate information about events through various media, makes every tactical action-even if beneficial or benign to the local population- a potentially disruptive regional or global incident.

We’ve discussed this before.

Is the below graphic too simplistic?

No, I don’t think so.

Of course, there is a section on “narrative,” which is actually pretty good, but “narrative” is still such a squishy term. Even in this publication, it’s not quite clear what is supposed to be done with it.

I love the below:

PRIORITIZING INFORMATION

The global information environment creates countless opportunities to generate and leverage ambiguity, uncertainty, and friction. It also offers many pathways for world and military leaders to communicate with one another and with relevant populations. Regardless of the situation, commanders, by the very nature of their roles, must prioritize activities that place information considerations at the forefront.

Emphasis mine.

I’ve seen this sentiment in a number of places. What I haven’t seen is the commander turn to the information specialist and say “tell me how to craft this operation to have the most powerful information effect.”

And that’s where we need to be.


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The New Rules of War

Fascinating interview with Sean McFate on one of the latest Cognitive Crucible podcast episodes.

During this episode, Dr. Sean McFate discusses his influential book, The New Rules of War. Sean describes how the Westphalian state system is changing, consequences for conventional war, the rise of mercenaries and international mega-corporations, and information operations. Plus, the Cognitive Crucible gets not only one–but two–Monty Python references.

#110 SEAN MCFATE ON THE NEW RULES OF WAR

Worth a full listen, and I’ve just started the book.

Three things piqued my attention:

What matters in “future” war?

Information.

How should states that wish to compete, compete?

“Below the threshold of international media.”

How do we deter in the era of Great Power Competition?

“Sneaky” deterrence.


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You are your culminating exercise

That was a comment made during a recent Pineland Underground episode.

And it strikes me as true.

When a military school is good, the culminating exercise brings it all together.

If it falls short, it might be worth relooking.


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Hyper Active Chaos

joe haldeman the forever war cover

I don’t have much to say here, other than this is a term I’m starting to see slowly seep into discussions, usually relating to large-scale combat operations (LSCO).

Maybe it will show up in doctrine at some point.

The only place I’ve found it in the wild is here (page 27).

I’m still not sure what hyper-active chaos is, though.

If you’ve got an inkling of where this comes from, please let me know.

It sounds nauseating.


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