Erroneous Assumptions

War Games

During the days of the Cold War the danger of nuclear proliferation by the hands of the “Red” Soviets weighed heavy over those within the United States Army and the United States government. The impending threat of an nuclear attack and/or war lead to the movement for the monitoring and prediction of enemy military plans by calculation and record of all options within a possible military attack. This threat lead to the eventual research, development and implementation of what is termed in De Landa’s article as war games.

 Two war theoreticians named Jomini and Clausewitz would rise to prominence within this area based of off the strategic military history of Napoleon. Jomini argued for a total elimination of any sources of friction (friction within this article means “any event or circumstance that may upset the implementation of the military plan” ) , and advocated the view of war as an endeavor ruled by “eternal laws”, which did not include the need for political maneuvering. In contrast Clausewitz argued that war did adhere to certain general guidelines or rules, however it included a political view of the military situation which enabled a strategy that could better deal with friction and could be easily manipulated to the situations unique factors. Despite the actual proof of the validity of war games from the Clausewitz’s approach, as witnessed in Helmuth von Moltke’s strategies during the Franco-Prussian war, Jominian theories prevailed due to Sheiflen’s leadership in World War I, and lead to the foundation of the current war game models first devised during the 1950s.

The Jominian theory was further bolstered by the historian Delbruck and his reconstruction of old battles with the use of current geographical and military statistical data. Much of Delbruck’s book History of the Art of War dismissed the fantastic accomplishments of ancient battles, which previously had been accepted as apart of the ‘eternal laws’ of military strategy. Additionally these lead to a greater emphasis on statistical data to help current modern militaries further their systematic and ‘scientific’ approach to mobilization and strategy in general. Hence, if an army general like Hannibal had indeed not mobilized a military force of 700,000 soldiers as previously accepted then how could modern militaries with their current technology and machine in tow, be able to do so?

 Thus enters engineer Richard Lancaster, who helped militaries overcome this dilemma by providing a “mathematical expression to one of the ‘eternal laws’ of warfare.” This equation represented the true “physical situations involved and encouraged a purely numerical approach to warfare based on success in a limited domain”. This rigid “limited domain” aspect is amplified within war games and signals the beginning of a purely Jominian approach which omits any frictional factors. As the war games enter the computerization era under the leadership of companies such as RAND and entities like Operations Research, this artificial environment and it’s set of assumptions that are reinforced while the scientists try to “think RED”, begins to foster a limited approach to military and political circumstances.

RAND created a new paradigm called the Prisoner’s Dilemma which acted as an example of the nuclear dangers present during the Cold War. The Prisoner’s Dilemma was an imaginary scenario in which two prisoner’s are given various options; 1)  help the police by testifying against their partner and receiving no jail time, 2) both betray each other they receive a mid-level sentence, and 3) if the neither betrays another they get a short sentence. The best choice according to “rational” thought would be to not trust your partner and to betray them. Thus in terms of nuclear disarm as De Landa states you cannot trust the enemy to get rid of his nuclear stockpile in the case that they do betray you so therefore you do not get rid of your own stockpile. This leads to the Nash Equilibrium in which both parties act out of self-interest and do not choose the most cooperative option but opt to do as they please, thus creating a sort of equilibrium in which this case both parties have the ability to annihilate the other by nuclear means, but latently act out of the self-good by recognizing the danger and decide to not use their nuclear weapons on each other. This type of logic was utilized within the war games even though it was a limited view based on a series of assumptions about humans, human behavior and their mindset. Additionally this game theory couldn’t account for what is termed as a “squishy problem”. Such squishy problems include morale, skill, motivation, negotiation, cooperation etc. Such a rigid war game model could never take into account these very human concerns. Other dangers as outlined by de Landa include;

  1. Blurring of the situation between simulation and reality. Meaning that since these war games was utilizing real military data and actual maps of terrain it lead to the vision that this type of war effort was in fact a very near possibility. This then lead to irrational thinking and assumptions based off of war games within the military. The blurring of fantasy and reality can be seen in this clip of the film War Games starring Matthew Broderick in which “a  young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III”. (
  2.  Corruption of data placed within the war games. This data was routinely manipulated by a series of factors such as the budgetary wars of the various branches of the military, which had to justify the amount of war weapons and their subsequent abilities within combat.
  3. The increasing use of computerized war games as a “crystal ball”. Due to the first factor, which blurred the lines between reality and simulation, there was the danger of having people both within the project and people outside such as the public turning to these war games as a fortune-teller of the future.

These errors of assumptions based off of a limited persepctive are further explored in Andy Curtis’ documentary title The Trap.

The Trap

As seen within Andy Curtis’ film The Trap the basis of their models on the Nash school of game theory, has led to an inherently paranoid view of the world; in which individuals are constantly monitoring others and acting out of pure individual self-interest, the war game programmers began to unconsciously accept this artificial worldview omitting any ‘political’ and/or the other extraneous factors which are represented within the world outside of the model’s assumptions. This has led to a limited worldview, which is bleak, cold and ruthless. It is important to recognize that these war games and their views were born out of an era of heightened paranoia and therefore the assumptions and perspectives are specific to that time within history. Hence the continued use of such erroneous worldviews, assumptions about human behavior/character and current geo/political circumstances only further injuries mankind. This erroneous view was further exemplified when the Prisoner’s Dilemma was tested on the secretaries at RAND, in which they all trusted each other and opted to not betray one another and hoped for the shorter sentence. Consequently this demonstrates the inherent flaws possessed by game theory and within war games.

Meanwhile, these types of limited perspectives permeated throughout society as depicted within the film, ultimately these perspectives lead to paranoid thinking, and took hold within the political realm. In particular the film depicts the spread of the political notion within England that all governmental agencies where indeed trying to curtail the inherent freedoms of the people it was trying to serve. Thus according to Prime Minister Margret Thatcher, England would have to break down these governmental agencies and allow for free market enterprise to take control. However this type of thinking has been created out of a series of assumptions based off of a paranoid worldview in which humans only act out of self-interest, this worldview does not always work within the real world, and this lays the problem of it all.

If you assume then you know nothing. Such an assumption of general paranoia about the world and its people can only lead to a spiraling path downward.

5 responses to “Erroneous Assumptions

  1. Very often Mathematics tries to describe our lives with algorithms and formulas predicting different scenarios, “war games” are a very vivid example of how US military was trying to predict the development of the conflict with Soviet Union. I think that every conflict (it was also reflected in the reading) has its unique factors that just can’t be described and framed within the rational frame of mathematics; we are dealing with humans who are irrational beings. In one of the readings it was stated that computes can simulate thinking process of a human, however, computer’s “thinking” is a completely different process which has nothing to do with mental processes performed by human brain. War games can be very useful in analyzing war conflicts, however the main decision making function should be performed by humans. Psychological factors in predicting possible outcomes should be taking into consideration. I think that we should trust, and really trying to find a compromise in solving a conflict. Inability to trust is a direct path to paranoia. Reading for this week triggered in my memory the movie “A Beautiful Mind”

  2. After viewing, “The Trap”, it’s clear that there were many scientists, theorists, and intellectuals who all believed that humans are inherently greedy and selfish. Along with Nash was R.D. Laing, who was able to study families and couples closely. He stated that all families are filled with selfish manipulations and they are just a struggle for power and control. I thought it was interesting that both great thinkers had a rather pessimistic view of human character. The whole “prisoner’s dilemma” reminded me a lot of a scene in “Dark Knight” where the Joker sets up 2 boats (one filled with prisoners, the other civilians) and tells them that they have a detonator to the opposite boat and only a short time to choose whether they want to save themselves. Albeit, this is a fictional Hollywood film, but it’s nice to see the opposite of selfish human actions depicted.

  3. One ideas within “The Trap” was that all of the freedoms we hold dear are somewhat of an illusion. They keep us happy for the time being but those with real control have the ability to restrict our freedoms when they choose.

    I think the Internet is a good example of this false sense of freedom. For us, it is a resource for commerce, entertainment, education–you name it. Citizens of other countries are not quite as luck as we are, however (though our freedom is also often debated). The Internet in China is strictly censored and web content is carefully monitored. They even have a special internet police force of over 30,000 to deal with these web issues, and apparently they are so effective they remove criminal postings usually within minutes. Internet users are denied access to any site containing unregulated political commentary or anything deemed obscene.

    Under certain circumstances, our use could be restricted and the Internet could cease to be the open forumn for free thoguht and expression that we know it to be.

  4. This system where individuals with “real control” have the ability to restrict our freedoms whenever they deem necessary seems to be viewed as a negative one. In this case, perhaps the Chinese internet police are creating positive results by restricting criminal postings. Maybe we live in an “illusion of freedom” because if we all discovered our innate selfishness we would indeed live in a world consisting of fear and paranoia.

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