World War II As an Aberration

I began and ended “Beware of Outliers” thus:

An outlier, in the field of operations research, is an unusual event that can distract the observer from the normal run of events. Because an outlier is an unusual event, it is more memorable than events of the same kind that occur more frequently….

I am beginning to think of America’s decisive victory in Word War II as an outlier.

To be continued.

Continuing …

Victory in World War II, though generally attributed to “America” was in fact the product of patience on the part of the military leaders of the United States (including the civilian commander-in-chief and his civilian advisers). Patience is the key to victory when certain other conditions are met; namely,

  • strategy — a broad and feasible outline of a campaign to attain a major objective
  • intelligence — knowledge of the opposition’s objectives, resources, and tactical repertoire, supplemented by timely reporting of his actual moves (especially unanticipated ones).
  • resources — the physical and intellectual wherewithal to accomplish the strategic objective while coping with unforeseen moves by the opposition and strokes of bad luck.
  • tactical flexibility — a willingness and ability to adjust the outline of the campaign, to fill in the outline with maneuvers that take advantage of the opposition’s errors, and to compensate for one’s own mistakes and bad luck.

Then comes patience, which is more than mere passivity. Determination might be a better word — the willingness by the military leadership to pursue an attainable goal despite setbacks and nay-saying by others (especially political opponents and pundits).

World War II wasn’t an outlier, in that respect, but it was the last war fought by the United States in which the military leadership possessed the patience — the determination — to secure a decisive victory.

The Civil War, it should be noted, was a defeat for almost half the nation. The Cold War ended in victory, thanks to President Reagan’s determination, on which Bush 41 capitalized. But subsequent presidents failed to secure that victory in their zeal (with the eager participation of Congress) to spend money on non-essential (i.e., non-defense) programs. The Gulf War of 1990-91, though seemingly decisive, was a strategic defeat because Bush 41 deliberately chose not to take the opportunity to rid the Middle East of Saddam Hussein. Bush 43 seized a later opportunity but made two grave mistakes in his execution of the Iraq War:

He put too few boots on the ground.

He tried to “build” a new Iraq when he should have secured a strategic stronghold for the U.S. in the Middle East, as with the occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II.

In both cases, Bush 43 (like his father) lacked the determination to do what needed to be done — a character flaw that is found in compromisers.

(See also “A Grand Strategy for the United States“, “LBJ”s Dereliction of Duty“, and “Presidents and War“.)

One response

  1. Interesting point! Two of history’s greatest leaders frequently failed tactically, but were content with less than sensational (but steady and incremental) victories over the enemy — Fabius Maximus, the Roman general who finally turned the tide against the brilliant Hannibal, and George Washington, who faced some very capable British commanders. Looking again at World War II, Hitler failed not so much because of incompetence (often exaggerated) but he was definitely impatient…. fortunately for the rest of the world.

    Like

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