Win the Wars, Not Just the Battle

The “Franchise from a Galaxy Far, Far Away” track welcomed Alex Boland, Jim Griffin, Jean Marie Ward and moderator Ian Boley to the track room in Marriott A706 Sunday at 2:30PM for a session examining the relationship between the Star Wars universe and the modern military. The panel, composed primarily of national defense professionals, focused much of its energy on examining the ways in which military operations in the universe reflect realities in the world of strategy and tactics.

Griffin, a retired naval officer and defense contractor, was struck by the Cassian series for its handling of the transition that states go through when a sudden crisis occurs and a society has to ramp up (quickly) for war. “After 9/11 I was in those meetings…I had those conversations” he declared. He found direct parallels in the last six episodes of the series. How does state apparati respond?  Boland noted that in that series, the ISB made a lot of mistakes but, the panelists pointed out, that is the reality.

Ward, who spent several years in Defense Department positions, pointed to the “funky logistics” of war fighting during the Separatist rebellion. She sees two fundamental problems with the Clone army: 1) Clones are basically slaves and its never good to depend upon a slave army and 2) given their identical genetic makeup, a single virus or bacteria could wipe out them out entirely. Returning to Cassian from the perspective of Logistics, Green added that the financial dimension of military logistics is nicely explored in the series. Mon Mothma is working hard to (a) secure the money necessary to wage an insurrection and (b) doing it secretly.

Carl von Clauswitz famously declared that war was “the continuation of state policy by other means.”  As such, war planners must have a clear sense of what they want to accomplish and what constitutes victory. Every operation, campaign, etc. must contribute to achieving “victory” according to that definition. This is strategic level thinking and planning, and it is essential to the waging of war. While the Empire has very good operational level thought (the Battle of Hoth) it lacks a clear theory of war. Griffin really emphasized this point. Military planners must clearly be able to answer the question “how does this battle/campaign contribute to the larger goal of strategic victory?”  Like the Empire, the US military has mastered the art of operational warfare. Where they run into difficulty is at the strategic level, clearly understanding the definition of victory and what that looks like in a given conflict.

The panel had an extended discussion of the clone army as presented in the animated Clone Wars series. When the clones stand up they do so without any real infrastructure. Command is assumed by Jedis, Judicials, and Padawans. In the series you see lots of individual unit and tactical level warfare being waged. In fact, Griffin pointed out, the basic Clone tactics at the battle of Genonosis reminded him of tactics from World War I. Infantry units deploy and (basically) march in a line across an open space into the enemy’s field of fire.

Contemporary military planning in the US emphasizes joint or combined operations. This doctrine is built upon the premise that the effectiveness of a military operation is enhanced, and the chances of victory increased, by the coordination of land, naval, and air forces. Working together is a “force multiplier.”  Griffin pointed out that the rebel alliance reflected a real mastery of this philosophy in the battle of Scarif. Infantry forces were supported by air assets while a major space battle was waged in support of the mission.

The panel then turned to leadership and its role in military success. The clearest example of the failure of military leadership can be found in the Empire. Command via intimidation and fear, fundamental to Darth Vader, is ineffective and ultimately self-defeating. Vader’s obsession blurs his vision and detracts him from the larger goals of the empire. Griffin pointed out that even the emperor, at the end of the Obi wan Kenobi series, calls Vader out on this, basically telling him that he needed to let go of his obsession with Kenobi. Further, command by fear leads to being surrounded by “yes men,” who will not question or challenge the decisions of the “boss.” Boley pointed out that you can find that in the real world by looking no further than Vladimir Putin. This style of command has very real consequences.

This was a wide ranging, fast paced discussion that generated great interest among the audience. Whether they planned it or not, those in attendance got an excellent introduction to the world of strategic military thinking. It was well done indeed.

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