Daily Archives: 16 May 2005

Gaddis on Why Grand Strategy Is Tough for Academics

Yale history professor John Lewis Gaddis recently spoke at Middlebury College in Vermont. He had a lot to say, but one thing that struck me was his analysis of why grand strategy is difficult for academics.

First, that grand strategy is, by its nature, an ecological enterprise. It requires taking information from a lot of different fields, evaluating it intuitively rather than systematically, and then acting. It is, in this sense, different from most academic training, which as it advances pushes students toward specialization, and then toward professionalization, by which I mean the ever deeper mastery of a diminishing number of things. To remain broad you’ve got to retain a certain shallowness – but beyond the level of undergraduate education and sometimes not even there, the academy is not particularly comfortable with that idea.

Second, grand strategy requires setting an objective and sticking to it. The academy does not take easily to that idea either. It asks us constantly to question our assumptions and reformulate our objectives. That’s fine to the extent that that sharpens our intellectual skills, and therefore prepares us for leadership. But it’s not the same thing as leadership: for that, you’ve got to say “here’s where we ought to be by such and such a time, and here’s how we’re going to get there.” Taking the position that, “on the one hand this, and on the other hand that,” as you might around a seminar table, won’t get you there. Nor will saying that you voted for the $87 billion appropriation before you voted against it.

Third, grand strategy requires the ability to respond rapidly to the unexpected. It acknowledges that trends can reverse themselves suddenly, that “tipping points” can occur, and that leaders must know how to exploit them. The academy loves this sort of thing when it happens on the basketball court or the hockey rink. In the classroom, though, it resists the idea: instead the emphasis is too often on theory, which promises predictability, and therefore no surprises. That’s why the academy tends to be so surprised when events like the end of the Cold War and 9/11 take place. Leaders, like athletes, have to be more agile.

Fourth, grand strategy requires the making of moral judgments, because that’s how leadership takes place: in that sense, it’s a faith-based initiative. You have to convince people that your aspirations correspond with their own, and that you’re serious about advancing them. You don’t lead by trying to persuade people that distinctions between good and evil are social constructions, that there are no universal standards for making them, that we should always try to understand the viewpoint of others, even when they are trying to kill us.

Finally, grand strategy requires great language. As the best leaders from Pericles through Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan have always known, words are themselves instruments of power. Their careful choice and courageous use can shake the stability of states, as when Reagan said, before anybody else, that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” headed for the “ash-heap of history.” They can also undermine walls, as when Reagan famously demanded, against the advice of his own speech-writers, that Gorbachev tear one down.

But where, within the academy is the use of great language taught? Where would you go to learn how to make a great speech? Certainly not to political science, language, and literature departments at Yale, where as students advance they are spurred on toward ever higher levels of jargon-laden incomprehensibility. I think not even to my beloved History Department, where my colleagues seem more interested in the ways words reflect structures of power than in ways words challenge or even overthrow structures of power.

The art of rhetoric, within the academy, is largely a lost art – which probably helps to explain why the academy is as often as surprised as it is to discover that words really do still have meanings – and that consequences come from using them.

via Roger L. Simon

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Self-defeating Moves in Sumo

Among the many ways in which the world changed in 2001 was the addition to the Nihon Sumo Kyokai’s official list of kimarite (‘deciding move’, literally ‘deciding hand’) of a category of five self-defeating moves. (This is where the official translation of kimarite as ‘winning technique’ becomes a bit awkward.)

  • fumidashi ‘(rear) step out’ – This is when the defending rikishi accidentally steps back over the edge without the attacker initiating any kind of technique [cf. fumie (‘step pictures’), the holy icons that early Japanese Christians were supposed to step on to prove they were no longer believers].
  • isamiashi ‘forward step out’ [lit. ‘spirited foot’] – This is when the attacking rikishi accidentally steps too far forward and out of the ring before winning the match, giving the victory to his opponent.
  • tsukihiza ‘touch knee’ – This is when a rikishi stumbles without any real contact with his opponent and loses the match by touching down with one or both knees.
  • tsukite ‘touch hand’ – This is when a rikishi stumbles without any real contact with his opponent and loses the match by touching down with one or both hands.
  • koshikudake ‘hip collapse’ – This is when a rikishi falls over backwards without his opponent attempting any technique.

In this instance, the rather hide-bound, but tradition-inventing Sumo Kyokai seems to have been rather visionary. I expect “Self-Defeat, and How to Avoid It” to be one of the major themes of the 21st century.

UPDATE: After Day 12 of the current Natsu Basho, Asashoryu remains 12-0, with no one else closer than 10-2. The Bulgarian Kotooshu suffered a quick and brutal loss to Asashoryu yesterday by a tsukidashi (‘frontal thrust out’), but he recovered nicely today to beat the ozeki (‘champion’) Chiyotaikai, who had been only one loss behind the grand champion, but is now at 10-2.

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