On War #149
By William S. Lind
Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria, II is a Director at the Strategic Studies Institute, the U.S. Army War College’s think tank, and the author of an excellent book, After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers before the Great War. It was therefore both a surprise and a disappointment to find that his recent paper, Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths, is really, really ugly. Far from being a sober, scholarly appraisal, it is a rant, a screed, a red herring seemingly written to convince people not to think about 4GW at all. It is built from a series of straw men, so many that in the end it amounts to a straw giant.
The first straw man is its definition of Fourth Generation war and of the other three generations, which is taken not from the 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article that first laid out the framework but from Tom Hammes’s work. As I noted in On War #147, Hammes gets quite a bit wrong. In particular, he is wrong that Fourth Generation war is merely insurgency. Yet it is on that straw man that Echevarria’s paper bases its critique.
The straw men then follow one after another like Guardsmen changing the watch. To pick just one example, from pages 4-5,
Huh? World War II and the Cold War were, of course, fought within the nation-state framework; the alliances Echevarria refers to were alliances of states.
This example illustrates a common problem with Echevarria’s straw men. Not only do they reflect misunderstandings of Fourth Generation theory, the misunderstandings are so obvious that they appear deliberate. Not only does his paper muddy the water, it seems intended to do so.
Perhaps the worst case of this is the paper’s attempt to twist Martin van Creveld’s critique of Clausewitz’s trinity of army, government and people into something else by talking about a different trinity within Clausewitz’s work (there are a number of them).
Echevarria ends up saying the trinity of army, government and people “has, in fact, never existed except as a misunderstanding” of Clausewitz, when in fact it runs through his whole book. This is bait-and-switch on a grand scale.
Nor does Echevarria’s paper ever discuss the heart of Fourth Generation war, the crisis of legitimacy of the state. In this, he makes the same error Barnett falls into, but at least Barnett is not purporting to write a critique of what the Fourth Generation theorists have said. How can you write a critique of something and ignore its central point, the cause of the state’s loss of its monopoly on war?
Instead, Echevarria’s paper attacks Fourth Generation theory for not adopting the nonsense of “net-centric warfare” and the RMA, which he somehow sees as a logical extension of the first three generations, as he initially misdefined them. Of course, like all good theory, the theory of the Four Generations is based on observation, not Cartesian exegesis.
The fundamental question Echevarria’s paper raises is, how could a respected academic who has authored a terrific book on military theory write something so misleading? Part of the answer may be that the SSI is associated with the Army War College, which is a temple to Clausewitz. Now, I happen to think a good deal of the old Prussian myself. But as John Boyd used to say, we have learned a few things since his time. One of them is that the trinity of army, government and people does not hold true for all wars in all times and places.
But the sheer ugliness of Echevarria’s paper raises another suspicion. Was he put to writing a rejection of Fourth Generation war by the U.S. Army, and had to come up with something? If so, it would not be the first time the Army has adopted this tactic: Harry Summer’s book on the Vietnam war and Huba Wass de Czege’s early public opposition to maneuver warfare are previous examples. Nor would it be the first occasion when the Army has rejected an idea on the “not invented here” principle.
I do not know whether Echevarria’s paper is a put-up job. But if it does represent the U.S. Army’s institutional position on Fourth Generation war, then the Army’s slogan for the 21st Century should be, not an Army of One, but an Army of Dumb.
William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.
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