In the confusion of the modern battlefield, commanders need to know when to let subordinates seize the initiative and when to exercise tight command and control. Sometimes they must do both simultaneously. Understanding these and other contradictory impulses is the key to success.
"When we are dealing with two different things that have a common relation external to themselves, the polarity lies not in the things but in their relationship."
Principles of war have historically been considered rules of thumb that shape how military professionals try to make sense of the chaos inherent in conflict. They form the basis of the uncommon sense that sets military professionals apart from laymen. Over the years military professionals have institutionalized the principles of war in their doctrine and decision-making. These principles represent a set of shared professional norms, values, and guidelines embedded in the military culture.
Principles of war have traditionally had a quality intended to transcend the uniqueness of every case. We believe, however, that the principles of war cannot stand alone without a rich context associated with each case. Military professionals need to become proficient at considering simultaneous, multiple, and opposite perspectives in order to make sense of the inherent complexities of warfare.1 What is needed is a way of reframing opposing ideas that present a more patterned, nonlinear, and dynamic sense of warfare. We believe that paradoxical reasoning is the transformational logic that must underpin all future applications of the principles of war. Our model does not discard the age-old, well-supported principles; rather, it transforms the way we make sense of them. We also add a few more principles (people, initiative, complexity, and defensive) in order to articulate the inherent opposites required for paradoxical reasoning.
Paradoxical logic is not a new idea. Rather, the profession has seemingly not addressed Clausewitzian notions of the paradoxical nature of war because we are habitually pursuing "the right answer"—a cultural characteristic of modern and rational military decision-making. In war technical military rationality exists in the midst of political decision-making; bureaucracy exists while battlefield innovations are being tested; stability and instability, ambiguity and clarity, and the routine and the surprising all exist at the same time.
Employing principles of war without acknowledging their opposites can result in taking a singularly focused extreme position that may be recognized as dysfunctional only after it is too late. For example, President Bush's proclamation that major combat operations were over in Iraq were later contradicted when he said: "Had we to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success, being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."2
Colonel Paparone is Deputy J3/4, Logistics and Engineering, U.S. Joint Forces Command. Dr. Crupi is president and founder of Strategic Leadership Solutions Inc. in Plano, Texas. He previously served in the U.S. Army as a company commander and instructor at the Army Ranger School.
1. Christopher R. Paparone and James A. Crupi, "Janusian Thinking and Acting," Military Review, Vol. 132, No. 1, pp. 39-40, 2002. The authors called this paradoxical reasoning "Janusian thinking"-"dynamic and revealing interpretation of the way we actually think as humans which involves continuous tolerance for paradox. Instead of ruling out alternative hypotheses, the Janusian thinking calls upon us to embrace contradictions as naturally occurring phenomena. It takes us beyond 'rational' thinking and makes it possible for us to make sense of events in an almost circular, interconnected, and interdependent way and as a result represents a more accurate understanding of the nature of complex and often contradictory human information processing." In that and this article, we significantly extended the "theory of competing values" from the earlier work of Robert E. Quinn and John Rohrbaugh, "A Competing Values Approach to Organizational Effectiveness," Public Productivity Review, Vol. 5, pp. 122-140. back to article
2. Dana Milbank, "At GOP Convention, Echoes of Sept. 11," The Washington Post, 30 August 2004, p. A01. back to article
3. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1989), p. 136. (Original German language version published in 1832) back to article
4. Clausewitz, On War, p. 140. back to article
5. Clausewitz, On War, p. 158. Clausewitz deftly frames the problem of making sense of war using what present day chaos and complexity theorists would call nonlinear dynamics. Edward Lorenz discovered nonlinear dynamics in meteorological systems in 1961, demonstrating that small weather changes can have amplified and nonlinear effects. Small changes can produce huge effects in complex systems—called the "butterfly effect." back to article
6. Ibid., for the relationship of war and peace, see p. 143; reiterated with examples on p. 582. Quote is from p. 80. back to article
7. Ibid., pp.156-157. back to article
8. Ibid. For example, see his description of diametrical opposition when explaining archetypes, On War, p. 187. Also, see, for example, his description of the recursive nature of psychological variables, On War, p. 139. back to article
9. For example, see Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication, Washington, DC, 2004. back to article
10. US Joint Forces Command defines "CROP" as "a presentation of timely, fused, accurate, and relevant information that can be tailored to meet the requirements of the joint force commander and the joint force and is common to every organization and individual involved in a joint operation." back to article
11.The use of double colons (::) is our shorthand for "with respect to." back to article
12. Clausewitz, On War. Clausewitz defines coup d'oeil as the "quick recognition of the truth" (p. 102). Coup d'oeil enables military professionals to "…identify the whole business of war completely…" (p. 578). back to article
13. See Christopher R. Paparone, "The Nature of Soldierly Trust," Military Review, Vol. 132, No. 6, 45-53. back to article
14. Gregory Peck plays Army Air Corps Brigadier General Frank Savage who faces the role dilemma of ordering his airmen into combat based on his organizational positional authority while struggling with his more and more socialized role of a comrade in arms - sending his "brothers" to death. He eventually burns out. back to article
15. For example, see Paul K. Davis, Effects-Based Operations (EBO): A Grand Challenge for the Analytical Community, RAND Corporation, 2001. back to article
16. See Rupert F. Chisholm, Developing Network Organizations: Learning from Practice and Theory, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998. back to article
17. Defense-wide examples include doctrinal staff planning procedures found in the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System and the DOD's Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System. back to article
18. The 2004 National Military Strategy of the United States of America recognizes this paradox when it defines its preemptive strategy as follows: "This strategy requires a posture of anticipatory self-defense, which reflects the need for prepared and proportional responses to imminent aggression (emphasis added) (p. 8). back to article
19. See Harold G. Moore, We Were Soldiers Once... and Young: Ia Drang--The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam, New York: Random House, 1982. back to article
20. In that regard, our approach is in stark contrast to that argued by Robert R. Leonhard, The Principles of War for the Information Age, Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1998. back to article