War games, the antidote to “Victory disease”

This post about the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games has sparked such a valuable discussion that it is being moved to the DNI blog (update:  it is here).  Stay tuned, as this will be worthwhile reading. For a good introduction to the subject of war games — more formally, “military simulations” — see the Wikipedia entry.

Sinking of the USS Oriskany
Sinking of the USS Oriskany.

Are simulations a competitive edge of conventional forces vs. 4GW foes? A paper by Michael Macedonia (Colonel, USA, retired) from a 2001 Forum describes a problem facing the US military, and how simulations can provide a solution.

The US military is undergoing a major policy shift in its approach to training and education. In essence, it is trying to avoid its version of Christensen’s “innovator’s dilemma” known as “the Victory Disease.”

The victory disease is the subject of the seminal book by Macedonia and war game designer Jim Dunnigan, Getting It Right: American Military Reforms After Vietnam to the Gulf War and Beyond (1993).

“{victory disease is} … the affliction that is caught by most armies and nations after they have won a war. The disease is characterized by arrogance, a tendency to believe myths as to the underlying reasons for victory, and firm conviction that future conflicts should be fought the same way.

For more on “victory disease”, see the Wikipedia here describing it, and here describing historical examples. I also recommend reading Major Timothy M. Karcher’s 2003 article in Military Review.

4GW is the “world turned upside down“, and victory disease prevents us from realizing its implications.

Simulations allow organizations to test themselves in a changing world, against potential enemies — hopefully avoiding the hard and expensive lessons of war. They are an antidote — perhaps the antidote — to victory disease. But only if the designers, operators, and participants allow for the good guys to fail — and decision-makers pay attention.

Please share your comments (brief and relevant, please), or email me at (spam-protected spelling) fabmaximus at hotmail dot com.

Update:  Zenpundit‘s note on this series is (as usual) worth a look.  Esp. his comments on the nature and function of gaming, both military and in general.

Other posts on this subject

  1. Recommended reading: an autopsy of the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games
  2. Are war games a competitive edge of conventional forces vs. non-state 4GW foes?
  3. The Achilles’ Heel of military simulations
  4. During Millenium Challenge 2002, by Ed Beakley (Project White Horse blog), posted at the DNI blog
  5. What we should have learned from MC02, by Dag von Lubitz, posted at the DNI blog

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: