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Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars…
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Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict

by Max Brooks

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The Military’s Astounding Appreciation of Star Wars

It’s fairly well known that 392,000 Britons listed Jedi as their religion in the 2001 census. Less well known perhaps, is that the US Army School for Advanced Military Studies refers to its graduates as Jedi Knights. Strategy Strikes Back proves that the military is at least as obsessed with the Star Wars saga as the general public is – only it goes further, in many ways taking it far more seriously. The military analyze the scenes and debate the merits of choices as if they were real. They compare what Yoda did to what Carl Clausewitz would have said. They train on tales of Star Wars. Far from smirking at it, the military has adopted it. Enough to fill a book of strategic analysis.

Strategy Strikes Back is a remarkable collection of 28 short essays by mostly high ranking military men and women from the US and Australia. They all proudly derive military lessons from Star Wars. The Foreword is by one Stanley McChrystal.

Here’s the bottom line analysis on Yoda: “The downstream result of Yoda’s leadership failure to maintain a nonpartisan, apolitical Jedi ethic was a slow-motion, amputation of the Republic’s security arm from its political body. Yoda bears culpability in this tragedy” (M.L. Cavanaugh, Modern War Institute, West Point). This is Star Wars for grownups.

There is repeated, severe criticism of Darth Vader, who, despite being the senior commander, never issues a single Mission order. Instead, he enmeshes himself in minor distractions, interferes in ops, joins his fighters in space rather than command from HQ, and kills his own officers at will. He accepts no other voices and inspires fear rather than loyalty. Darth Vader strikes out as a military man.

The Empire itself is a racist, stifling hierarchy that is asking for dismemberment in the eyes of military strategists. It refuses to negotiate, prefers killing to compromising and tolerates no ideas from below. Its officers are all humans, despite the trillions of other beings available to it. And if that weren’t racsist enough, all those officers speak with British accents. They show no camaraderie, the sign of doom to come. None of this is news to Star Wars fans. But the fact the military is paying this close attention is.

Various authors draw lessons from the errors of Grand Muff Wulfhill Tarkin and the rise to power of Chancellor/Emperor Sheev Palpatine. It was Palpatine who issued Order 66 that set the whole Republic tumbling. Creating the Death Star and using it to blow apart the planet Alderaan was the strategic error that consolidated and mobilized the rebellion. These are lessons for grunts – and the grunts have internalized them all before they even enlist. Star Wars is not mocked – it is a tool.

The overarching theme is that timeless lessons are doomed to be repeated. Republics become empires, beget democracies, mutate to aristocracies, slide into dictatorships, which are overthrown by republics. The Star Wars saga exhibits it all, in a truly well thought if not remarkable “history” that didn’t start at the beginning. It has survived decades of additions and insertions to all of its eras to remain consistent, cohesive and believable.

-There is a wonderful chapter on weapons, and how the Jedi, wielding simple, “old school “ lightsabres, always beat the Sith, with their modern, high tech, multiblade lightsabres. Movie fans polled in 2008 voted lightsabres the number one weapon in movie history, followed by Dirty Harry’s gun and Indiana Jones’ bullwhip. The Deathstar rated 9th. Author (Lt. Col. Rtd.) Dan Ward’s take – keep it simple. Complexity is a recipe for failure.
-The Jedi and the Profession of Arms (on the decline and fall of the Jedi) has direct lessons for American military today, as do several other chapters. Author Steve Leonard (Modern War Institute, West Point) sets out what we all kind of know – expensive weapons systems restrict soldiers and leave them vulnerable to the more nimble, simply armed rebels. The Deathstar, the ultimate unmanageable weapon, was a disaster waiting to happen, he says.
-Theresa Hitchens’ (Center for International and Security Studies) analysis of where the Empire’s strategy failed is classic. She takes it all literally, examining strategies in terms of Sun Tzu and how militaries are always fighting the last war.
-“That war is inextricably linked to honor and fear makes the shackles of hubris even more powerful,” sums up most of what’s always been wrong. That’s from The Logic of Strategy in Space, by Steve Metz (US Army War College of Strategic Studies Institute). The military understands. Diplomacy always beats war. Negotiation has priority. Figuring out how to live peacefully is paramount.
-In Why Military Forces Adapt, Army Major Chuck Bies shows all but total disrespect for The Phantom Menace, which even suspension of disbelief does not justify. It is a sharp and refreshing departure from the Star Wars fandom of many other chapters. He destroys. In a fun way.
-The recitation of the US Army manual’s definition of toxic leadership rings true not only of Emperor Palpatine but also of Donald Trump. But that (wisely) goes unsaid.
-Even the endnotes tend to be unusual, citing such scholarly authorities as Wookieepedia.

The editors organized the book perfectly, going from the easy to digest aspects of the saga to the heavy analysis of larger issues demonstrated in it. It prepares you for the heavier analysis that each chapter achieves over the previous one in a steady progression of deeper concepts. You would expect no less from military strategists.

Strategy Strikes Back is actually an unexpected must-have for the serious Star Wars collector.

David Wineberg ( )
1 vote DavidWineberg | Jan 20, 2018 |
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