Sunday, March 29, 2015

Your Strategy Needs a Strategy and War: Exploring Alternate Histories

In Your Strategy Needs a Strategy the authors propose four main ways of thinking about strategy: Classic, Adaptive, Shaping and Visionary. Many of the strategies in this article can be found in wartime. What if the US had known about these different strategies? Did they employ the correct one(s)? The following is an exploration of these four strategies within the context of US military history.

At the outset of the Vietnam conflict the US was using a Classic strategy, based largely on experiences in WWII, which worked by all objective standards. The US won every battle.1 However, Vietnamese forces were able to outlast the US by constantly replenishing troops, moving around frequently, and regaining ground that was taken by the US.

As the conflict grew worse the US was using more Visionary strategy insofar as Vietnamese troop movement was somewhat predictable, and the US was employing new tactics like using helicopters to bomb certain areas and move troops around, which changed the battle methodology.2 Unfortunately the helicopter bombings didn’t allow the US to hold the ground they took. The US might have fared better if they employed a Shaping strategy – by being willing to admit that the war theater was not only changeable but also unpredictable they could have gained advantage over Vietnamese troops instead of letting them repeatedly exhaust US resources and will to fight.

Throughout WWII the overarching strategy of the allies was to first concentrate on defeating Germany and then concentrate on Japan.3 This is also a Classical approach, which worked well for the allies. The allies also used aspects of a Visionary strategy, by working closely together at large meetings like the Casablanca conference to plan strategy, troop movement, and coordinated bombings, whereas the Germans and the Japanese acted independently of one another.4 The argument can also be made that the US employed one extremely shrewd Adaptive tactic during WWII, which was to quickly relieve unsuccessful generals from their commands. This iterative approach to command enabled the US to be highly effective at a rapid pace. Being quick and effective was important, since the Germans and Japanese were betting that we could not fight a long, protracted war.

The Revolutionary War
The British had very predictable Classical tactics – to divide and conquer America. The Colonists employed Visionary strategy based on the predictability of the British Empire. This was one of the first wars where guerrilla tactics were used by Colonial soldiers – fighting from the trees and engaging enemies in the woods versus marching out into a field.

Had the Colonists stuck to a Classical strategy, the British might have had an easier time defeating the them, particularly given that they were on a shoestring budget against the richest empire in the world at the time.

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