Monday, August 31, 2015

Well worth the hour: Wargaming and the Pacific War by Norman Friedman.

Sweltering through the weekend without A/C (they're supposed to be here today) I spent two hours (I saw it twice through) watching a fascinating presentation by naval historian Norman Friedman on the subject: "'Visualizing a Future War: Wargaming at Newport and the Pacific War' was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics."
Here's his bio from the U.S. Naval Institute.
This presentation not only tells you specifics about the strategy and tactics of the Pacific naval war, but is very thought-provoking about the importance of war gaming ahead of conflict that is realistic enough to force you to think through and overcome the challenges. This is especially true of thinking through to the end state that you want to accomplish. The Japanese, Friedman points out, did not do the same sort of war gaming as we did, and consequently failed to anticipate things like battle wastage of ships and pilots (leading them to face critical shortages of both quite early on) as well as failing to learn how to maximize battle damage repair, how to speed up the deck turn-around time on carriers, etc. But most importantly was their strategic failure to grasp the consequences (and clearly state them) of what the end state they sought was and whether it was attainable. Lessons here for all of us, students of history and future combatants as well.


Chiu ChunLing said...

The "face saving" culture of Japan plays a significant role in this kind of failure, as well as innumerable smaller cases. One relatively minor recurring tragedy is how often Japanese air crews fail to alert their captains to dangerous errors because it would involve pointing out the captain's mistake or merely implicitly assuming that the captain didn't already notice the problem. A more serious example is found in the ludicrous crime statistics of Japan, an insanely high conviction rate which can only exist by a combination of failing to investigate potential crimes if the perpetrator isn't immediately obvious and railroading prosecutions through despite evidence of an initial suspect's innocence. The striking suicide rate in Japan more than offsets their supposedly low homicide rate, basically it's very easy to get away with murder as long as you make a minimal effort to avoid being caught. The same is true of rape, pretty much all the countries which have lower official rape statistics actually stone women who report being raped (as far as I know, they don't do that in Japan, but if a rape victim "commits suicide" the matter usually ends there...unless someone is willing to make the rapist "commit suicide" in retaliation).

All of these things, along with Japan's blundering into Imperialist militarism leading up to WWII (which really was done without Hirohito having any realistic idea what was going on), are all inevitable results of a culture in which the first moral duty of a subordinate is to cover any evidence of a superior's failings.

China's face-saving culture plays out radically differently because there is no social expectation of subordinates cooperating to assist superiors in saving face rather than working to subvert and expose them to advance in their place. Not that such cooperation doesn't happen if the incentives are right, but a subordinate who succeeds in overthrowing a superior is regarded as clever and energetic rather than a traitor and fool. This radically increases the costs an incompetent superior must pay and means that corruption (deliberate collusion for gain) rather than institutional inertia is the driving characteristic of hierarchical decision making. Thus the Chinese also do bad things and avoid taking responsibility, but they generally do so on purpose. This makes Chinese institutional behavior more predictable in terms of responding to rational (if usually evil) incentives and motives, it also makes it significantly easier to discern the level of competence and influence a leader actually has (in Japan it can become effectively impossible to distinguish an empty suit from a serious player unless you have deep inside sources...which are harder to get).

I can't regard the cultural assumption that subordinates have a duty to cover up the failings (mental or moral) of their superiors as a good thing (I don't mind covering for their physical failings though, that's just good manners). I also find the results of that attitude disquieting to say the least (the rape problem in particular makes my skin crawl, at least Muslims are relatively honest and open about their attitude towards rape). I'm not a fan of Abe's efforts to minimize Japan's role in WWII (especially the comfort women issue) or claim that Japan is ready to assume an independent role as a global leader when they have such a crippling institutional feedback problem.

Chiu ChunLing said...

But the rise of Japanese Imperialism and resulting war was a genuine historical anomaly. Responsible diplomatic/economic engagement with Japan based on an understanding of cultural factors really can ensure stable peaceful relations. The same cannot be said of China, not with any highly centralized government in place and certainly not with the current Chinese Communist Party leadership. The decades of 'peace' have been an anomaly based on Beijing's intentional exploitation of western failures to apprehend that Chinese thoughts on international relations simply do not recognize any fixed division or duality between "peace" and "war". Beijing believes that the Obama administration is the limit on how far they can push the destruction of America without resorting to less subtle forms of international engagement (and I tend to agree, I didn't even imagine something as bad as Obama before his candidacy, and I see no signs even Beijing predicted their windfall). They are staking everything on toppling the American dominated global order now, when it is at the weakest it's been in since WWII (possibly even the weakest it's been since WWI).

Of course, Obama only dictated the timing of this move, the CCP would still have been a continuing existential threat to America without him. But strong American leadership in the global sphere could have eventually forced Beijing to continue pursuing economic modernization and deregulation to remain competitive, and in a generation or two that might have meant something like de facto limitations on the role and reach of the central government.

Whatever, blood under the bridge, I suppose. The past is the past, but it shouldn't therefore be forgotten.

Americans should embrace the central pillar of Western Civilization, that loyalty to eternal principles is higher than loyalty to any individual (including oneself), thus avoiding the moral failings of both Japan and China. If Americans had upheld that ideal better in the past, we might not now be facing our present future. But for all of that, there is still hope if we keep faith.

Anonymous said...

The Japanese, I think, had no real plans at all for a war with the US, other than telling Admiral Yamamoto to improvise. And history records that he warned them what the outcome would be. And I suppose he didn't have to have any special insight to notice that Japan was planning to start a war on a nation with five times their population, twenty times their industrial base, domestic supplies of petroleum, iron ore, aluminum, and so on that purely dwarfed those of the rest of the world combined, and a long history of taking a dim view of uppity non-whites who went off the reservation. It wasn't going to end well.

Pity the poor Japanese. In the 1930s, they watched with alarm as Stalin invaded neighbor after neighbor and were afraid--not unreasonably--that after Poland, Finland, and Lithuania, they were next on the list. One of the less-known facts of the era was the close, friendly relationship between Polish and Japanese military intelligence departments, who shared information about Soviet troop movements and broken Soviet codes and ciphers.

So, said the Japanese ruling military junta. How can we defend ourselves against an invasion from Russia? Well, as an isolated, impoverished country with little in the way of heavy industry, or surplus labor to work in it, or coal, petroleum, or iron ore, we're going to have to invade our neighbors, who have all these things, to build a force that can hold off Stalin's hordes. "Wait just a moment, won't that make the rest of the world angry at us? The Americans have been paying a lot of attention to what happens in China these days. For that matter, that German guy Hitler, who's supposed to be our buddy, has been giving lots of military aid to one of the factions there, Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang. He's not going to be happy about this." "If Hitler gets mad, we'll tell him to scratch his ass and get happy. And the Yankees? Oh, just go bomb Pearl Harbor and bluster at them. I'm sure they'll not be terribly upset about an unprovoked surprise attack and they're sure to give in to our entirely reasonable demands."

This is as bad a chain of reasoning as any that any nation-state's leaders engaged in during the 20th Century, and I'm including the jingoistic French government that in 1914 allied itself with Russia in the hopes for a rematch to avenge the drubbing they took from the Prussians forty years before.