Military Review English Edition March-April 2016 - Page 50

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia) U.S. members of Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Deer Team pose with Viet Minh leaders Ho Chi Minh (third from left standing) and Vo Nguyen Giap (fifth from left standing) during training August 1945 at Tan Trao, Son Duong District, Tuyên Quang Province, Vietnam. Though the United States government recognized that Minh and Giap were ruthless and committed communists with extensive ties to the Soviet Union and a history of violence, it nevertheless saw in them leaders of organized forces that might effectively fight Japanese occupation of Indochina in an area where conventional Allied capabilities were very limited and decided to risk supporting them. OSS, the forerunner of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as well as U.S. Special Operations Forces, inserted teams behind Axis lines in both Europe and Asia to organize, train, equip, and coordinate combat operations using indigenous forces. Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno asserted in 2012 that the “strategic environment has grown increasingly complex.” As if to underscore this refrain, the Army titled its newest operating concept Win in a Complex World. Perhaps more ambiguously, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey (then commander of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command) stated the year prior that “We live in a much more competitive security environment.”4 Such an assertion invites the challenge: Mor e competitive than what, exactly? Past Complexity The mantra of a new, unprecedented complexity in the nature of military affairs is not terribly surprising, but it is misleading. At its best, the assertion that the operational environment is more complex than in previous eras is a near-sighted justification for a number of organizational and intellectual changes. And, at its worst, it is a veiled excuse for strategic and operational failures over the past decade. Most likely, however, the vast amount of self-study and introspection that the U.S. military, and in particular the Army, has 48 endured during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in a sort of unintended myopia that ignores history and views the challenges of today as unprecedented in their complexity and unmanageability. However, there are indeed precedents to factors that are today erroneously characterized as more complex than previously. World War I. Over the scope of the past one hundred years, complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty in military affairs has been a constant. In many cases, the level of such complexity matched or exceeded that seen today. As the Western world launched the cataclysm that would become remembered as World War I, few at the time could articulate how or why the war came about. Even today, a century of reflection since has not produced consensus agreement on a single definitive explanation for the conflict. Instead, we find a plethora of diverse explanations that attribute the cause to some combination of a precarious tangle of political alliances, security agreements, war plans, industrialization, ethnic divides, and festering resentments from the nineteenth century that produced an unstable and explosive March-April 2016  MILITARY REVIEW