Lesson # 10 from Starship Troopers

Today, we’re going to cover the tenth lesson I learned from the book Starship Troopers.  This is the tenth lesson in the mini-series.  If you haven’t read the previous post yet, please do so right now and try to follow it in order.

Lesson # 10: There’s a big difference between strategic and tactical level thinking.

Quote: “To direct a war, or even to plan a single battle and mount the operation, you have to have a theory of games, operational analysis, symbolic logic, pessimistic synthesis, and a dozen other skull subjects.”

starship troopers bookMy Take: As I see it, there is a huge difference in the skill-set required to fight a war and plan a war.  Most people in the Army spend most of their career at the tactical level.  These are the deployable units that fight our wars.  These units range from the company to the corps level.  To succeed at this level in the Army you must have strong leadership skills, discipline, the warrior ethos, basic Soldier skills and tactical skills.  You must understand tactics, how to lead troops and how to fight and win wars.

On the other hand, the Army also has a strategic and operational level.  These include running a theatre of operations, setting national policy and other “big picture Army” type of stuff.  I’d bet that 98% or more of the people in the Army never get any experience at these two levels.  Normally, it is reserved for senior E-9s and Officers in the rank of Colonel and higher.  To succeed at this level, you really need to have a strong grasp or reasoning, planning, theory, military history, politics, operational analysis and much more.

I think it takes a really unique and talented Soldier (NCO or Officer) to succeed at the strategic and operational levels.  Not everyone has the right mind-set, skill-set, education, or experience to do this.  By no means are these folks any better or more important than the Soldiers at the tactical level.  They’re just different.

The bottom line is that there is a huge difference between fighting a battle and planning a battle.  Just because you can do one does not mean you can do the other. 

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know.

5 thoughts on “Lesson # 10 from Starship Troopers”

  1. Faith A. Coleman

    I didn’t realize there were so many ways of looking at the problems one must face, planning separate from execution, types of thinking. It makes me wonder if officers have special training in the various aspects of their jobs, do they all understand the different natures of thought and decision-making that will become theirs to manage. Do different officers have different assignments, according to their expertise? Are there mechanisms to correct it when an officer is good at one thing but not good at another? Is there really ever any adequate training for an officer who’s leading the troops into a battle zone? Seems like there would be no way to replicate the situation adequately to prepare the officer.

    1. Most officers are selected for certain jobs based upon their skill-set. Some officers are naturally better staff officers and some are naturally better leaders. Very few are good at both. Those are the ones that typically rise to the top of the organization.

  2. The talents required for success at this level are indeed rare, and the complexities of strategic planning can intimidate those who wouldn’t flinch at enemy fire. I’ve been working my way through Rick Atkinson’s series on World War II (An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light). One of the things Atkinson talks about is how many observers (both contemporary and modern) remarked on how Patton was a brilliant tactical leader but lacking seriously in other areas. Atkinson puts it this way: “Meticulous and even finicky in his warfighting, Patton was casual to the point of indifference about the more prosaic elements of running an army,” and logistics was foremost among those elements. They may not be as sexy, but fighting a modern battle when you’re running out of fuel or ammunition (let alone food, water, medical supplies, spare parts, and so on) is pretty much impossible. Rommel had similar issues; for all his tactical brilliance, a fellow German general once said that Rommel should never have commanded anything larger than a division. The old saying says it best: Amateurs talk about tactics. Professionals talk about logistics.

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