The False Lessons of Modern War

Hard to ignore an article that name checks Trevor Dupuy and I. Attached is an article by William F. Owen in the British Army Review, Autumn 2023 Issue. I hope I am not breaking some copyright by posting it up: Owen, The False Lessons of Modern War-Why Ignorance is Not Insight (2023). It is available on-line here: The false lessons of modern war: Why ignorance is not insight – Issuu. The full title of the article is “The False Lessons of Modern War: Why Ignorance is not Insight.”

Trevor Dupuy is namechecked in the article: “Much was less than certain, yet paradoxically, a book written in 1978, Trevor N Dupuy’s Elusive Victory, had got far more right than later writers were to get wrong.” That is a pretty strong endorsement. 

He then footnotes the book in his third footnote, referencing losses in 1967.

In the following paragraph he states: “Simply put, no conflict today comes even close to these types of losses, yet the myth persists that war and warfare are becoming ‘more lethal.’ They are not, and a large body of literature proves it.” His footnote to this paragraph then states “See the collected work of Trevor N Dupuy and Christopher Lawrence, Understanding War, War by Numbers and Attrition.”

I like this guy, but I have never met him. He is certainly welcome to present at the third HAAC: The Third HAAC – October 2024? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

A few other quotes from the article worth mentioning:

  1. “Lessons should be a product of analysis, not observation.” (I put this sentence in bold for a reason).
  2. “Observations have often been wrong” (this is his following sentence)
  3. “Warfare in the Russo-Ukrainian War is two or three generations behind the standard competent, well-trained armies should aspire to operate.”
  4. “…fires lead manoeuvre in contrast to the opinions of the ‘manouverist approach.” (spell check is complaining about the British spellings).
  5. “Fast forward to today and the war in Ukraine; there is far less to be learned than in 1973.”
  6. “Why should the lessons from Ukraine be removed from the specific context of the participant’s differing training and equipment level and be relevant to the British Army?”
  7. “Is something that is a lesson for the Ukrainians a lesson for everyone else?”
  8. “In sharp contrast, the current war in Ukraine sees much-outdated equipment in ad-hoc combat formations, not seemingly underpinned by NATO equivalent training, doctrine and organisation levels.”

I will let you read the rest, but this is a definitely an article worth reading, even if you find yourself not in agreement with all parts of it. 

I do want to thank Dr. Shawn Woodford for bringing this to my attention.

 

P.S.

Elusive Victory is available here: TDI Books For Sale (dupuyinstitute.org)

Understanding War is here: TDI Books For Sale (dupuyinstitute.org)

War by Numbers is here: War by Numbers : Nebraska Press (unl.edu) or here: War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat: Lawrence, Christopher A.: 9781612348865: Amazon.com: Books

Attrition is here: TDI Books For Sale (dupuyinstitute.org). Inventory is getting low for this one.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

Articles: 1516

3 Comments

  1. I have engaged with William Owen in the past and it is always worthwhile. Am I mistaken in inferring from the references to increasing lethality that it is referring to an increase in the percentage killed per found expended (pk)? In any case there remains the challenge of what to do with it, how does it affect either side’s pursuit of its objectives?

  2. “…at least five years before the Russian invasion, the British Army was preparing to fight a Russian Army substantially more competent than the Russian Army apparent today.”

    Ironic, isn’t it. The Russian army in Ukraine since 2022 is showing the same unimpressive level of competence it’s consistently shown since 1939. The same high casualties, the same superficial, scripted ‘combat’ training, the same lack of logistic support, the same efforts to conceal incompetence from superiors, the same shoddy equipment, the same poor morale…

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