Fighting the Last War

There’s an old adage which states that most armies are prepared to fight the last war. It has a deep basis in Reality. After our 1892 medium-power Krag rifles were outclassed by the full-power Mausers used by the Spanish in 1898, we adopted the Mauser-clone 1903 Springfield for World War I. The lessons learned about firepower in that war led to the adoption of the M1, which would have been a superior weapon in WW1, but was outclassed by the German Strumgewehr 44 (the original assault rifle) by the end of WW2. We entered the Viet Nam War armed with the M14, which would have been a great weapon for WW2, only to be outgunned by the other side’s AK47s, true assault rifles. I went through basic training with an M14, but was finally issued an M16 in Viet Nam.

Armies aren’t the only bureaucracies that cling to outdated “solutions.” The public health response to the Wuhan virus pandemic is a case in point.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was worse than it had to be, in part, because of the failure of some communities to take proper measures to prevent rapid spreading. The proper lesson from that pandemic is that dangerous communicable diseases must be contained by reducing interpersonal contact until other means of fighting it are available.

The initial restrictions imposed as public health measures dealing with Covid-19 were reasonable and cautious responses to a potentially catastrophic situation. They would have been excellent in combating the 1918 flu, but it appears that they’ve been overkill in vast swaths of America with disastrous unintended (I hope) consequences. For many the cure is worse than the disease.

Most Real World situations don’t track well with our attempt to model them because we never seem to be able to understand all of the ways that things interact. Experience and common sense and a willingness to take risks are necessary live in the Real World. Credentials are not the same thing as experience, and non-expert expertise has failed. It’s time to get back to living in the Real World. That will require that public health concerns take their rightful place among other factors to balances with economic realities and civil rights.

1 thought on “Fighting the Last War

  1. I’ve heard it asserted that certain people don’t want the economy re-opened.

    Have you seen this in practice? Everywhere where death rates are trending down and hospitalization numbers are under control, I see government making real, solid plans to ease restrictions.

    You’ve noted so yourself about Maryland.

    At the end of the day, eighty-plus thousand people are dead in the United States alone. More aren’t dead mostly because most individuals are acting like reasonable adults about this whole problem.

    Asking more people to die? Well, that seems like always questionable ethics. There was a reasonable plan for reopening, with markers and a regular process that would have lead to a recovery, while balancing the need for safety against the needs of business. It would have also served as a way to plan, a way to see a solid, firm way out, while knowing that you’ll be taken care of.

    Of course, there is no plan now, because the President decided it to be so.. so now there’s no reassurance that you’ll be covered if there’s a resurgance, or some sort of framework where you can plan how many employees to bring back each week, or a solid date in the future where you can expect certain services to be available.

    That is what I blame the President for. Not causing it, for having no plan and providing no leadership.

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