EEI #15 So What Kind of War Is It? (First in a Series)

 Essential Elements of Information for a Culture of Preparedness


Ground Truth Excerpt

This site has stated that it is neither a military/warfare specific -oriented or focused site nor is discussion of war and warfare  its main operational theme.  Rather, the focus is decision making in severe crisis and disaster environments with issues of leadership as obvious necessary elements. So what then is the context for asking “so, what kind of war is it?” And how important are the words of war?

Consider the following:

  • The 9-11 planners are to be tried in a civil court in New York City. What exactly is their legal classification – criminals, enemy combatants, terrorists, radical jihadist? Is this similar to the WWII Nuremberg trials?
  • Since 9/11, authorities in the United States have uncovered nearly 30 terrorist plots involving “homegrown terrorists.” This total includes plots to carry out attacks in the United States abroad, as well as support for foreign terrorist organizations. Although not all of the plots, if undiscovered, are likely to have resulted in successful attacks, very little separates the ambitions of jihadist wannabes from a deadly terrorist assault. The essential ingredient is intent. Domestic intelligence collection remains a necessary and critical component of homeland security.
  • Is the killing spree at Fort Hood an act of terrorism?  Is Major Hassan a terrorist?
  • Is what we’re doing in Afghanistan overseas contingency operations, counter-insurgency (COIN), counter terrorism, nation building, fourth generation warfare, what? Why does this matter?
  • Are we in a global war on terrorrism, a hybrid war, an irregular war, a guerrilla war, an asymmetric war?  Or is it just “war” as Clausewittz  defined it based on Napoleonic times ingrained with an inherrent element of constant change?

 So, what kind of war is this, is it even a war in the sense that we recognize the process from past wars of movement  from peace to confrontation to violent conflict of armies, to negotiation and then back to peace again?

Let’s begin with all four of the elements which have been previously stated as major contributors to crisis and disaster potential:

  • Natural Disasters
  • Globalized Economy
  • Internet Communications
  • Non-state Warfare

 These elements by in large make up what Dag von Lubitz described in the beginning of DaVinci’s Horse #5, as a world of “tightly coupled systems in unstable equilibrium” in which we attempt to survive and prosper.  Each element in its own sphere is capable of manifesting a severe dark side (Katrina, current world wide banking/monetary crisis, day-day Internet threats and viruses, the 9-11 attacks), but if we consider all aspects of the day-day environment as that tightly coupled “system of systems” then that interdependency becomes the source of instability. Further from von Lubitz:

(A) failure of one element induces destructive reverberations within the environment which, unless promptly addressed and eliminated, will have sufficient force to overcome the tenuous ability of the system to resist. As a result, the equilibrium will be lost, and its loss will induce further, exceedingly destructive and potentially irreversible consequences.  Since catastrophes can reach the extinction level (or, more directly, end the existence of humans at best, and at worst terminate all advanced life forms on earth), it is not surprising that in the recent years there has been an explosion of studies devoted to the “rule of calamity” affecting all super complex, tightly coupled systems. From engineers to social scientists, and explorers of crisis, all agree – “catastrophic destructuring” is a built-in property rather than a theory unlikely to become the reality. Catastrophic destructuring, whether manifesting as war or natural disaster displays a very similar pattern of increasing instability, followed by the critical event, then resolution in form of either diminishing tensions or recovery.

 The increasingly tight coupling of modern world is mirrored by the exponential raise in the frequency of disasters related to human activity. Significantly, the incidence rate of catastrophic events escalated dramatically in the 80′s, i.e., at the same time the continuously fragile and easily disrupted computer technologies (IT/telecommunications) started to play the ever-dominant role as facilitating and controlling tools in business, politics, transportation, industry, etc.

 The issue is by no means trivial. Repercussions of major disasters have increasingly global range, and what happens in the US can and often will have a major impact on EU, China, or Africa. Equally, distant events may have an indirect but still forceful influence on vital US interests at home and overseas.

 Reverberations within tightly coupled and largely stochastic systems spread in often highly unpredictable even erratic patterns that are hard to predict, and with a constantly changing force. While the current preoccupation with global terrorism dominates newspaper front pages, TV news, and academic activities, the economical and social consequences of natural disasters are not less worrying, and may have far more substantial repercussions.

 … and for that matter, all crises and conflicts, are complex stochastic events where chains of interactions are unpredictable, and where consequences often lead to secondary disasters associated with their own, typically unexpected and sudden, consequences. In words of an insurance TV commercial “Life comes at you fast,” and unless the response is equally fast and correct, life may actually annihilate you. To be prepared is simply not enough. Yet, because responders are conditioned to act that way, most do what they know INSTEAD OF KNOWING WHAT THEY SHOULD BE DOING.

 Knowing what one SHOULD be doing under conditions of extreme stress induced by events unfolding with total unpredictability constitutes the state of READINESS. It is the state that is completely different from preparedness. Unfortunately readiness and preparedness are used synonymously, and, therefore, while an enthusiastic declaration “WE ARE READY” is made, in reality we are merely PREPARED. When the unexpected happens, the lack of readiness amplifies the magnitude of the disaster – again Hurricane Katrina.

 Contrary to preparedness which is largely the function of administrative approach and solutions to foreseeable problems, readiness depends predominantly on the mental state of the actor. Hence, it can be taught. (emphasis added)

 Development of readiness is the result of intensive training in which the trainee is exposed to increasingly more complex tasks that are presented unpredictably, and often in logically confusing combinations. Together with task complexity its intensity is also gradually elevated, and so is the number of either simultaneous or near simultaneous events that need to be addressed. Some events are critical, while others merely appear to be so, and vice versa. The trainee (or a group of trainees) is expected to select appropriate actions, appropriate sequence(s) of actions, and appropriate targets for these actions, while coping with sensorial and cognitive information overloads typical of crisis and disaster environments. Time is always a critical factor, and so is communication.

 The effect? It was because of such training that the passengers and crew walked away from the aircraft ditched in Hudson River. Had the crew been merely prepared, the aircraft would have crashed either during ditching maneuver, or worse, into the populated part of New York.

Dr. von Lubitz then directs the readiness as a function of learning  theme  into discussion of the team of leaders (TOL) concept – a subject addressed multiple times and of most interest for Project White Horse. (See Edition #7  with links to FORUM articles)

Here for this post and the following series, we branch from leadership needs into one specific aspect offered as what needs to be learned.  In particular we look at the non-state war and warfare element as it exists today – as compared to September 10, 2001 – and what that implies about surviving in the noted environment of  unstable equilibrium .   This post then is intended to begin discussion on  what kind of war is it as  necessarily an  ”essential element of information for a culture of preparedness.” And thus we desire to leverage the “knowing what they should be doing” idea.

Note that PWH has referenced Alvin Toffler’s quote often that “the illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who can neither read nor write, but rather those who cannot/will not learn, unlearn, relearn.  What needs to be unlearned, is that our survival in severe crisis is mostly dependent on arrival and performance of a government first responder cavalry.  What must be relearned is the resilient community attitude of our frontier fathers, and at least one thing we need to learn is how the changing face of war in this century impacts our day-day highly coupled world in the condition of unstable equilibrium.

A series of “what kind of war” is planned. The series of articles anticipated should address at minimum:

  •  Why the “kind of war” hasn’t already been defined for us, since after all, it has been some time since September 11th 2001.
  • What elements must be consolidated within a definition
  • What the definition “of kind” must incorporate or at least consider

 As a starting point consider that events since Sept 11, 2001 would seem to dictate that we must at least include in discussion the following:

  1. War-within-war to include counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism (Iraq, Afghanistan)
  2. Expeditionary attacks (Mombai, World TradeCenter/Pentagon)
  3. Lone wolf attacks (murders at Ft Hood)
  4. Legal definitions and processes where criminal events and warfare style merge beyond historical precedent and understanding
  5. Adaptation of 4GW concepts and methods by criminal elements and gangs (Mexico’s drug war)


 References and recommended other reading:


  1. The Utility of Force; The Art of War in the Modern World, by General Rupert Smith
  2. The Sling and the Stone; On War in the 21st Century, by Col T.X. Mammes (USMC. RET) 
  3. Accidental Guerrilla; Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, by David Kilcullen
  4.  Brave New War; The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, by John Robb 
  5.  War Made New; Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History- 1500 to Today, by Max Boot 
  6.  Another Bloody Century; Future Warfare by Colin S. Gray 
  7.  The Transformation of War, by Martin Van Creveld 
  8.  If We Can Keep It; A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration by Chet Richards 


  • Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, Frank G. Hoffman
  • The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation, by William S. Lind, Keith Nightengale, John F. Schmitt, Joseph W. Sutton, and Gary I. Wilson
  • Essay: The war of new words; Why military history trumps buzzwords, by William F. Owens 

Add: 25 January: See The Post-COIN Era is Here

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