Top positive review
The Fourth Generation of Warfare
Reviewed in the United States on December 1, 2020
This book took me about 30 minutes to read, but it was well worth the time. William Lind is a writer on military strategy and consulted with the US Marine Corps. His book, The Maneuver Warfare Handbook, is on the Marine Corps professional reading list. (I am currently reading that book.) He is also noted for his Conservative writings.
Lind's thesis is that there are four generations of warfare in the modern age, which, according to him, began with the formation of the Prussian state. The first generation was inward-looking based on well-defined rules of order, and routine practice of tasks like the 92 separate movements need to load and shoot a musket. Assaults were en masse in linear lines. The US Civil War illustrated the first generation's deficiencies and led to the second generation of warfare.
Long-range artillery and rifled arms necessitated the second generation of warfare. In this generation of war, assaults were dominated by firing leading indirect artillery over the infantry lines. Once the commander determined the enemy was sufficiently weakened, he sent the infantry in to take the enemy positions and push the enemy backward. Summed up, the artillery conquers, the infantry occupies.
During both the first and second generations, thinking and initiative were squelched and considered dangerous. The military was centralized and inward-focused versus a decentralized military that is outward-focused and prizes initiative. The worst mistake a soldier or officer could make was to do something different from their commanders' expressed and detailed orders. The object of warfare was to close and destroy the enemy forces. This could only be achieved through better disciple and more resources.
The third generation of warfare broke the object of "close and destroy enemy forces" by making the objective to "bypass and collapse the enemy forces." This was performed by finding gaps in the defense, exploiting these to get behind the enemy forces to interdict the enemy forces' lines of communication. The Germans developed these concepts to support "Blitzkrieg" during World War II. In this warfare system, troops' leaders had to have more initiative to find the gaps in the enemy lines and exploit them as the opportunities become available. This was the start of "Maneuver Warfare."
Nation-states fought the first three generations. Warfare did not exist separate from the state. The fourth generation changed that: non-national organizations were now fighting. The objectives of warfare changed, also. Whereas warfare was dominated by destroying or making ineffective enemy forces, warfare's new objectives are to change societies rather than defeat their military forces. It is insurgency: the US military, led by its civilian leaders, locked into concepts of the first three generations of warfare, do not understand the fourth generation of warfare. The proponents of the fourth generation do not obey the rules of the previous generations of warfare. They do not fight the way that the US leaders expect them to fight. They use terrorism with all of its psychological baggage to achieve their objectives.
Lind is an admirer of the USAF COL John Boyd, who developed the concepts of maneuver warfare. Lind says, John Boyd used to say, "when I was a young officer they taught me that if you have land superiority and air superiority and sea superiority, you win. Well, in Vietnam, we had land superiority and air superiority and sea superiority, but we lost. So there's obviously something more to it."
There is a point made here: what the US military considers as the keys to winning, they are locked into second generational warfare. These keys do not produce victory against opponents using later concepts of warfare.