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"‘Dumb’ military tactics that actually worked" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Mar 2023 8:35 p.m. PST

""If it's stupid and it works, it isn't stupid," is how the old saying goes. Though it isn't said much anymore, the meaning behind it still rings true – and has for generations. A tactic that seems so stupid can be useful to the right mind. It can goad an enemy into losing focus and abandoning caution. These tactics can be used to influence an enemy's thoughts and actions. It can even change the future for millions…"

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Frederick Supporting Member of TMP16 Mar 2023 7:37 a.m. PST

I don't think they were dumb if they worked – and IMHO neither Mongol cavalry tactics nor Napoleon's plan at Austerlitz would fall into the dumb category

Now, building a big line of forts and hoping the enemy would just waltz up to them without thinking – that's dumb

Perris070716 Mar 2023 11:06 a.m. PST

What about Alexander's tactics at Granicus?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Mar 2023 3:52 p.m. PST



Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Mar 2023 5:43 a.m. PST

If it's stupid and it works, it isn't stupid

I understand. If you drive home snot-slinging drunk, but make it, it wasn't a stupid decision.

The argument in the article rests on top of three logical flaws that are common in analysis of military engagements.

The first flaw is direct attribution of causality for outcome to a single factor in an event with many factors. While there are thousands (or more) of factors driving the outcome of a typical military engagement, there are usually a few prime drivers for the high level outcomes. We know this, at least intuitively. But we tend to overextend the simplification concept and establish the idea of a single prime driver of outcome. Usually, there are a few prime drivers of roughly equal weight and often clusters of secondary drivers that in combination can override a prime driver of outcome. And there is the possibility of a large number of small influences having an aggregate major effect.

Given that many of those factors are uncontrollable, we get the second flaw – the idea that if it worked once, it would work again. We like to take scientific approaches to the analysis of military events (which is good for me because I had a decent, paying career doing that). In doing so, we must realize that we are only analyzing one execution of an event. Generally, in science we analyze large numbers of events so we have confidence that we have accounted for uncontrollable and unknown factors. When we look at one instance, we need different tools and draw different types of conclusions.

I just mentioned the third flaw – what we know. Or, more appropriately, what the people making the decisions we are judging knew. When we evaluate a military decision, we need to assess what the decision maker(s) knew, what they should have understood about the problem, and what they considered as the major factors influencing the decision. Again, this leads to a truism that we have a hard time applying in analytics – you can do good things and have bad outcomes and you can do bad things and have good outcomes.

Simply put, a single and one-time outcome of a decision isn't the best metric for the quality of the decision.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2023 3:48 p.m. PST

Well said…


Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2023 5:14 a.m. PST

Interesting article. I think one of the most overlooked and ignored tactics in military and strategic type games is shaping operations which also include demonstrations and deception operations. Also, spoiling attacks throw enemy offensive operations off their timetable.

If the enemy perceives you to be strong it's easier to make him think you are stronger than you really are than weaker. The Russian Maskirovka and the US "Ghost Division" commanded by Patton before D-Day are good examples.

If you can get the enemy into a position that makes him vulnerable to a specific type of attack or tactic even something that sounds stupid could work.


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2023 3:54 p.m. PST

Glad you enjoyed it…


arthur181522 Mar 2023 12:47 p.m. PST

Dumb tactics that worked pretty well summarises Napoleon's comment on Wellington's battleplan at Waterloo:

"Wellington's troops were admirable, but his plans were despicable; or should I rather say, that he formed none at all. He had placed himself in a situation in which it was impossible he could form any; and by a curious chance, this very circumstance saved him. If he could have commenced a retreat, he must infallibly have been lost."

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