Military Review English Edition March-April 2016 - Page 51

MYTH OF COMPLEXITY security situation throughout Europe by 1914. That environment, according to military historian John Keegan, “progressively overwhelmed the capacity of statesmen and diplomats” to control it.5 As a result, Europe abruptly went to war with itself. The rapidity by which the continent went from “peaceful productivity” to being fully immersed in a war of unparalleled destruction was alarming, even by today’s standards.6 Equally remarkable was the scale of transformation in warfare that occurred between 1914 and 1918, a relatively short period. The war gave birth to airpower, armor, chemical weapons, and the primacy of the machine gun and indirect artillery fire. Nations that were accustomed to fighting wars strictly on the ground soon found themselves fighting in the air and under the oceans’ surface. It is hard to know if the soldiers fighting in World War I realized that these new tools of war would retain their central role on the battlefield more than a century later, or how that realization might have felt. Such a dramatic, sweeping transformation in weaponry has not occurred since or much less as quickly. Therefore, when the current narrative discusses the challenges of complexity combined with the need to keep up with new technologies on the modern “ever-changing” battlefield, it is instructive to remember that such challenges are nothing new. The interwar years. Even more than during World War I, the interwar period was defined by military innovation, the scope and speed of which had never been seen before. It was a time defined by “intellectual and technological jockeying” that, like most other interwar stretches, resulted in “systemic and massive changes to the basic nature of warfare,” according to Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millet.7 The United States and European nations, such as Great Britain, France, and Germany, along with the Soviet Union and Japan, raced to produce armaments and technologies that would provide an advantage in combat, although future opponents and battlefields were unknown. The capabilities of airpower and submarines combined with the rapidly increasing lethality of all weapon systems produced a charged strategic environment that was extremely competitive, dangerous, and unpredictable. Such advances in warfare took place against the backdrop of dramatic changes in other domestic and political spheres. During this period, fascism and communism were taking root in Europe, while the Second MILITARY REVIEW  March-April 2016 Sino-Japanese War was displaying Japan’s aggressiveness as well as its military capability. The rise of Nazism in the 1930s demonstrates that radical ideologies feeding into conflict is not a recent phenomenon at all. Also, the financial impact of World War I on nations followed by the Great Depression placed “tremendous strain on national economies” and produced an economic crisis in which “currencies crashed, unemployment figures rose, unrest flourished, and moral standards declined,” according to the authors of Men in Arms.8 This swirl of military, political, and economic turmoil during the period leading up to World War II produced a global situation that would undoubtedly be viewed today as dangerously chaotic, unstable (as it truly was), and extremely complex. World War II. Historian Brian M. Linn recently characterized World War II as “the Army’s finest hour.”9 In many ways it was. It showed the U.S. military to be one of tenacious, organized professionals possessing extraordinary strategic vision, resilience, and guts. For the United States, the enemies were known and the mission was clear, or so it seemed. It is all fine and good for retired generals to wax nostalgic for “the good old days of the Good War! The old-fashioned and simple conventional war,” but such comments understate the real nature of the two world wars and the Cold War they spawned, just as stating that today’s wars are far more complicated than those of the twentieth century is a dubious claim.10 No event that involved the armies of over thirty nations, resulted in more than forty million military casualties a nd forty-five million dead civilians, and was fought in over thirty operational campaigns around the globe was simple.11 Most Americans today (especially those in the military) would be awed, stunned, or overwhelmed by the enormous strategic, operational, and logistical complications and frustrations that came with fighting wars of such magnitude and dire consequences.12 Unfortunately, the passing of seventy years has dulled our collective memory in this regard. And, unlike its predecessor, World War II also brought a new totality to war, defined most poignantly by the first use of atomic weapons—and with it, a frightening uncertainty about future conflicts. The Cold War. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became popular to remember the Cold War in uncomplicated terms: democracy versus communism; good versus bad. The specter of mutually assured 49