Summary: Twenty-five years ago, in October 1989, the Marine Corps Gazette published “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, by four active duty military officers and a civilian military historian. It explained that a new era of warfare had begun, sparked by the invention of nukes (rendering suicidal conventional war among major powers), brought to maturity by Mao (and improved by generations of success and failed insurgencies since then). We failed to learn how to fight these, as proven by our two failed wars after 9/11, the new bipartisan ones being launched now, and the future ones being prepared in Africa.
This series of posts will help you better understand our defeats and prepare you for what is to come. And, perhaps, help motivate you to join the effort to retake the reins of America. This is the second chapter, by guest author William Lind (the civilian co-author of Into the Fourth G). This is the first of two posts today.
Thoughts on the 25th anniversary
of the publication of the original article on
the Four Generations of Modern War
By William Lind
Since the publication of the original article in the Marine Corps Gazette, three things have happened.
First, events have justified the article’s description of the Fourth Generation as war that escapes the state framework. The high-tech alternative, which became known subsequently by a number of buzzwords — the Revolution in Military Affairs, Transformation, Net-Centric Warfare, etc. — is not where war has gone. Most of the high-tech systems we continue to buy have proven irrelevant to fighting non-state forces. So far, at least, the F-22 has not shot down a single Taliban flying carpet.
Second, the theory of 4GW has been expanded and refined, a process that will continue. The most important addition to the theory has been Martin van Creveld’s book, The Transformation of War. Tom Hammes’s book, The Sling and the Stone, while sound on the first three generations, has brought confusion to much of the discussion of 4GW because it gets the Fourth Generation wrong. Insurgency is not a dialectically qualitative change in war. It is merely one way in which war has been fought for a long time. As van Creveld puts it, 4GW is not a change in how war is fought (though it brings such changes) but in who fights and what they fight for. That is a dialectically qualitative change, the biggest since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
The third thing that has happened is actually a negative, i.e., something that did not happen. Despite overwhelming evidence that 4GW is the wave of the future (including four defeats of the U.S. armed forces by 4GW opponents: Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. military has not moved to prepare for it. It remains, and apparently will remain until covered by the lid of history’s trashcan, a Second Generation military. That is to say, it reduces war to putting firepower on targets.