Image (proudly) created by Matt Cavanaugh
By Major Matt Cavanaugh
Armies do not fight wars alone; entire societies fight wars. And information extracted from war shapes societal perceptions of costs and benefits of continuance as well as how best to keep fighting. Information is the essential link that binds societies to war.
As information has expanded and changed, so has its impact on war. Australian Army officer and counterinsurgent thinker David Kilcullen was interviewed by George Packer for the New Yorker in 2006; Packer noted one interesting part about the conversation:
“After Kilcullen returned from Afghanistan last month, he stayed up late one Saturday night (‘because I have no social life’) and calculated how many sources of information existed for a Vietnamese villager in 1966 and for an Afghan villager in 2006. He concluded that the former had ten, almost half under government control, such as Saigon radio and local officials; the latter has twenty-five (counting the Internet as only one), of which just five are controlled by the government.”
Whether Kilcullen’s figures are precisely correct or not, the basic point that there has been a massive expansion of communication technologies since the Vietnam War rings true. The raw amount of information is not the only thing that’s noteworthy; it’s the relative growth in the role that information plays in shaping war. A quick glance at the list of recent uses of force hints as this increasing informational component:
- YouTube War
- Kony 2012
- Gaza 2014
- Collateral Murder
- Abu Ghraib
- Little Green Men
- ISIS beheadings
In my estimation, the role information plays in warfare is increasing. Much in future warfare will depend on the basic relationship between this expanding amount of information about war fighting (news “from the front”) and home front impact. Is war information amplified or dissipated as it impacts the home front? My sense is that the answer to this question will shift according to a multitude of factors well out of range of any strategic forecasting lens. I highly doubt strategists will ever be able to anticipate the impacts of a particular information war issue with any meaningful advance warning; the best we can hope for is awareness of the issue and be armed with a nimble approach that appropriately capitalizes on positive amplification/dissipation & mitigates negative amplification/dissipation.