Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 4, 2009

Yet another long war?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 4, 2009

Appearing Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union  the new HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius,  said, “We know that, even if this (H1N1) doesn’t present itself as a very virulent strain right now, it could come back with greater force in the winter and fall, when we get into flu season. So, this is no time for complacency. We want to stay out ahead of this. ”

Some compare this encounter with a new virus  to the “phony war” of September 1939 to June 1940,  which was followed by an  overwhelming  blitzkrieg and collapse of France.

The early 21st century struggle against terrorism has been called The Long War.  Some have argued that framing the struggle as a “war” may result in application of unhelpful mental models.  Few have argued that “long” is the wrong adjective.

Saturday, Warren Buffett, commenting on the US economic recovery said, we have overcome last September’s “economic Pearl Harbor.”  But the prophet of Omaha tells CNBC, “we’re still at war.”  He expects — you guessed it — a long war.

The foundations of modern management can be traced to the experience of the Thirty Years War and the following three-plus centuries of European continental and colonial wars.  The American Civil War had a comparable impact. Effectively supplying, organizing, and leading large armies and navies provided a kind of genetic code that spawned  key concepts of large enterprise management.  The military-industrial complex of the Cold War and since  has tended to reinforce the pattern.

The American military experience — incubated in a high-risk revolution, refined in the existential experience of civil war, and confirmed as a rising and reigning superpower — has been to seek the enemy’s unconditional surrender.

Michael Porter and other contemporary business strategists argue this “us or them,” “win or lose”  perspective can be inconsistent with reality and complicates the achievement of both enterprise and market objectives.  Success is often a matter of finding collaborative niches and complementary roles rather than pursuing total victory or total defeat.  In risk management, mitigation and resilience can be as effective — or even more effective — than response and recovery.

European friends comment that American problem-solving often seems to reflect American football.  Complicated strategy and tactics are set-out in a secret huddle,  followed by shouting code-words that no one else can understand, followed by a brief explosion of violence, then back to the huddle.  They argue the sustained agility of the rest of the world’s  football (soccer) is an option at least worth considering.

As an old football tackle who has tried to play soccer against his son and daughter, I will say the two games require a very different kind of  physical conditioning, mental perspective, and sense of timing.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by William R. Cumming

May 4, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

William McNeil (historian) traces the rise of the nation-state to the Treaty of Westphalia and the Thirty Years War (largely one of religion)and even earlier the recognition by military professionals that private armies and navies could no longer cut it as of the 15th Century because of the enormous costs of weaponary and their development and need for long term training to maximize those weapons utililization. The result is that organized violence became largely a function of the nation-state after 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia. What modern historians have not yet written about in great detail to my knowledge is the fact that because technologies that are destructive are seldom evaluated and controlled because of both political and economic beliefs NOW allow the individual to wield enourmouss destructive power, even potentially WMD type power, against those that the individual determines are his/her enemies. These can be nation-states, other religious groups, or other ethnicities. Perhaps the 21st Century will see the development of controls of technology that prohibit or make prohibitive the costs of weaponizing technology but after almost the close of the first decade I am not very hopeful. We can always hope however. It is interesting to me that the S&T Directorate of DHS has done absolutely nothing to study how certain technologies could be made safer or even have built in safeguards. Of course computer software is a leading candidate for this treatment in my mind.

Comment by Quin

May 4, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

The “football vs. soccer” analogy has been playing out in professional military journals for years now.


Or more recently used in this blog article for example:

There was a recent NYT Op-ed on the idea of influenza “waves” recently:


Those who study the history of war know that the phenomenom of total war has rarely been practiced except for periods during 10,000 years (+/-) of civilization. Using Achilles as an example, the mythology of him marking down the other army’s greatest warrior is based on hellenistic war of I belive the period of around 1000 b.c. To save the annihilation of one and nearly both, they would send their champions to fight (though I’d take Nate Jones over Brad Pitt in real life every time).

With the rare exception of diseases like smallpox, we will be fighting to coexist with viruses and such forever (or at least until we all become machines and then it will be rust).

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>