National Security

Collective Intelligence and the Military

In tackling the question of how an American military that spends so much money on it’s military and has enormous resources available to it and is almost certainly the greatest fighting force in the history of the planet might have lost Iraq if it were not for the intervention of a single general who shifted strategy, Louis A. DiMarco in the Small Wars Journal [pdf] asks:

[W]hy did the war effort of the most sophisticated army in the world come down to a final moment “Hail Mary” pass that was reliant on the genius of an individual commander for victory?

The answer DiMarco proposes lies in the structure of the current American military. In an interesting historical aside, DiMarco discusses how the military discovered the power of collective intelligence:

The French led by Napoleon in 1806 soundly trounced the Prussians, perhaps the best of the eighteenth century professional militaries. In response, a group of Prussian reformers carefully studied the nature of French success and determined that though they could replicate or copy French tactical and operational methods, they had no ready answer to the command genius of Napoleon. Ultimately, however, they hit on a unique counter to the genius of the opposing commander. They determined that although it was impossible to train a commander to be a genius, or even to find and cultivate genius ability among junior officers, what was possible was to find and identify exceptionally bright junior officers. The Prussians determined that by carefully identifying, training, educating, mentoring, organizing and networking the brightest minds in the Prussian army they could artificially create a corporate genius that was an extremely powerful competent command capability that could outperform the individual genius of an opposing general.

DiMarco has some interesting suggestions for how the military can, with some relatively minor adjustments, once again tap into this collective decision-making – but I’m not in a position to evaluate his suggestions. So read the article for yourself.

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