Theory, Practice, and Reality

My creative style is often sporadic. I was sitting here looking at a jumble of quotes I had copied and sourced for some weird, yet unformed, idea for this post and the title just popped to mind and consolidated an outline for where to go…

As I have stated before, a lot of my inspiration and ideas comes from listening to podcasts while I drive – so much so that I have dedicated an entire subcategory for this phenomenon: “Inspiration on the Road.” One unexpected turn a few days ago was to hear a discussion on Dave Bowman’s “Plausibly Live” podcast about my views and thoughts on how to discuss war with my son. I know Dave follows this blog and we have traded comments and messages from time to time, but it was still a nice surprise to know that my words triggered deeper thoughts on the other side of the continent…

The lesson that I want my son to understand is that sacrifices made for good are important, but you need to understand that they are sacrifices and they are difficult to handle; they are difficult to look at they; are moments that are going to hurt but they are required.

So you better make damn well sure when you drop those bombs out and they accidentally hit your friend’s bomber but it’s for a good reason. You better make sure that the reason we’re sacrificing even one life mean something, and if it doesn’t… then don’t do it. In the next few moments those men are gonna die and they knew it. War is hell and it’s a good thing that we don’t become very fond of it but it’s also a good thing that we study it so that we understand why it’s necessary, when it is necessary, and when it’s not necessary; we learn those lessons and we get the hell out and stop screwing things up. Most importantly it’s important that we teach other the next generations so that they don’t make the same mistakes.

Dave Bowman, “One Day of Many,” (26:22)

There was something that got me thinking about the motivations and my own role in the conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq and what it means, to me, about theory, practice, and reality.

Bagram, Afghanistan, 11Mar2005 (Source: author)

My own ideas on warfare have been shaped by my own experiences in what happens when it is dragged out due to unclear justifications or consistent political goals. Years after my last deployment to Mosul, in 2010, I came across Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” series. In his exceptional 6-part series on the First World War, Carlin quoted Helmuth von Moltke, also differentiated from his uncle as “von Moltke the Younger” (1848-1916):

 The only way to make war humane is to make it short.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History 51 “Blueprint for Armageddon II,” (28:30) 

As my academic endeavors progressed, another quote from a relatively neglected (in the West) Russian general on the benefits of rapid warfare caught my attention:

I hold it as a principle that the duration of peace is in direct proportion to the slaughter you inflict upon the enemy. The harder you hit them, the longer they remain quiet.

General Mikhail Skobelev (1843-1882)

These theories, along with those of Clausewitz, Jomini, Corbett, Mahan, and many others are often quoted as inspiration for how to wage war. Unfortunately, the adherence to selected principles are either doggedly incorporated into doctrine – ignoring the evolution of warfare itself – or, given lip-service in “white papers” or other academic studies which inevitably lead to review and cerebral analysis of why success and failures could be attributed to said theories.

To be fair, even I have a hard time with theory and philosophy as I often catch myself grumbling quietly about how things never seem to be what they are from the comfort and safety of a classroom or office… but I digress.

Returning back to Dave’s quote, I find myself conflicted: I dislike blind devotion to theory, but I cherish the necessity to learn about conflict. Therefore, we do need to study both the theory and the practice to understand the reality of what conflicts represent to the immediate and long-term goals and abilities of the nations involved. By doing so, doctrine may be shaped to enable a flexibility which we may have lost – the capability of understanding what is at stake for all involved as well as what is needed – politically, socially, economically, and militarily – to bring as quick and humane ending to conflicts as possible… with the understanding that whatever actions are taken must balance ethics and brutality to ensure that the process of rebuilding without regression can begin. Short, limited, and vicious war, basically.

Mosul, Iraq 21Jun2010 (Source: author)

Finally, reality…

The 10-year anniversary of my last combat deployment is approaching, and I have spent a fair amount of quiet time tonight watching several documentaries/videos of the region in hopes to catch a glimpse of a familiar place and what it looks like now. We can analyze theory and practice all we want, but to have witnessed, firsthand, the remnants of previous conflicts – the Soviet/Afghan War and the Iran/Iraq War of the 1980s, as well as the vestiges of the dangerous power vacuums which consumed those nations – both theory and practice seem futile in their attempts to explain what the results inevitably will be. Our own involvement – Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom – have had their own share of controversy and results; to delve into my own perspectives on these will have to be saved for a later post. Suffice to say that, when it comes to this web of what conflict means, it is difficult to effectively relay the scope of this triad of theory, practice, and reality is often lost to those who have never ventured directly into harm’s way.  

Which leads me to my present concerns…

In watching snippets of the Democratic Presidential Debates, I cannot help but wonder: what will they do to keep us from making the same mistakes that have been so often repeated over the years? Will promises to pull our troops out of Afghanistan result in a familiar level of instability which necessitates a return of “boots on the ground,” or will they stay the course to ensure that the mission (whatever it may be now) is truly “complete?”

So, Mr. President, how do you, how do you handle, how do you handle promises that you’ve made when you were running for election and how do you handle, how do you handle it?

But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK.

You know, I mean — you thought that was something worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did there for 10 years.

Clint Eastwood’s Convention Remarks
30 Aug 2012

Tough choices, but very serious results.

This is why we teach the next generations.


Assignment Asia Episode 74: Mosul after ISIL

Battle for Mosul

Exclusive: Embedded with Iraqi special forces in Mosul

How is the city of Mosul recovering from the rule of Islamic State?

 (4:07) “I actually feel that the events made me stronger and more independent.”

(20:30) “…It was these divisions that opened the door to Islamic State.”

1 thought on “Theory, Practice, and Reality

  1. Reblogged this on DAVEBOOK.

    Liked by 1 person

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