I really enjoyed Adam Elkus’ article Do Ideas Matter? (full PDF) on the Small Wars Journal blog – right up to the paragraph before the conclusion. The author articulated and made his points well, concluding with logical sentence: “… For better or worse, American strategic culture embraces an engineering mindset, and the joint doctrine conceptualization of COG may or may not be the best tool for American strategy…”
I thought from here he might be going to connect the dots between whatever doctrinal constructs you adopt and the need for a responsive delivery system to get that doctrine to where it is needed. Nope…what follows is a disintegration of the original issue into a mishmash of random thoughts and ideas. I get the feeling that the author had a bunch of lines that he’d been hanging out to use and hit us with all of them at once. The conclusion is almost a separate article and scarcely relevant to the good points made in the first two pages – the purpose of a conclusion is to conclude, not introduce new material.
I wonder if this was bounced off anyone else before it was published or just churned out in isolation, maybe after too many coffees and very late at night or early in the morning…That’s been a theme of mine here pretty consistently: the need for a good editor to cause an impartial eye over a draft BEFORE there is any thought of it hitting the streets. Even if it only picks up a couple of minor typos (one of my idiosyncrasies is transposing ‘now’ and ‘not’ – hands up if you can see that causing some strife?) or some logical disconnects, sharing your work with someone else before going live is a good thing.
Typos, errors in grammar, loose logic, inconclusive conclusions…all minor details that can irretrievably harm the (possibly quite valid) argument that you are making. This post originally started out as a comment on this post at the SMJ but after reading and rereading the absolutely crap conclusion in this paper, I had such a head of steam up, I figured I’d achieve more with it here. Bottom line: Mr Elkus needs an impartial sounding board before he launches off again…this paper gets a mark of D for Do it again…
The other reason I got so wound up about his non-conclusion was that it takes so much away from the first two and half pages which discusses the relevance of the Clausewitzian trinity to US centre of gravity doctrine. I don’t agree with his bottom line “… For better or worse, American strategic culture embraces an engineering mindset, and the joint doctrine conceptualization of COG may or may not be the best tool for American strategy…” because it reeks for building an Army best suited to fight itself – but I like the way he got there, especially in reminding us what Clausewitz really defined as his trinity and describing quite well the minefield that it interpreting Clausewitz.
I like Clausewitz, or at least those interpretations and translations of his work that I have read – certainly I would rate his influence as far greater than the homogenised drivel that Sun Tzu has become in the last decade or two. I think that most if not all of Clausewitz’s ideas remain applicable today and any that may not, are only temporarily out of vogue – doctrine never really dies, it just fades in and out of relevance from time to time. But, applicable or not, the issue that Adam Elkus was trying (I think) to unravel is that it’s all well and good developing all these new ideas and concepts – or polishing up old ones – but it’s largely irrelevant unless we have a responsive and effective system to ‘inject’ for want of a better word those ideas and concepts into how we think and behave. FM 3-24 is a great publication but only useful for keeping the dust off the shelves if the ‘education (theory)and training (doctrine)’ (as defined by Phil Ridderhof in his comments on this paper on SWJ) doesn’t pick up on and deliver them before they are actually needed. Remember Simon’s soapbox…It’s all about the right information, to the right people, at the right time – and ensuring that they know how to use it.
I use that phrase regularly in discussions on intelligence, lessons learned, doctrine, training, and knowledge management. I wonder if they are all somehow connected?