The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American Statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Last Jedi "A Leadership Vacuum" and spoilers

I got this from "Angry Staff Officer", this guy uses Star War references as a teachable teaching tool for new Military officers.  Again, there are spoilers on this and if so, please stop reading if you haven't seen the movie yet.  I don't want to get fussed out for dropping some spoilers on the movie.

Thus is from. "Angry staff Officer, I got turned to him by Mack, so blame him, lol. Angry Staff Officer uses star war references to make a point. people will pay better attention if it is from the popular culture.
Most determine the great struggle in Star Wars to be that between the Light and Dark sides of the Force. But from a military perspective it has always been between a highly regimented Empire and a loosely organized Rebel force. And even within these communities there have been contentions as to how best lead, direct, and motivate the forces under their control. And nowhere is this seen more starkly as with the First Order and the Resistance in The Last Jedi.

     So the film starts out in a nearly perfect demonstration of the dichotomy in the leadership that divides the First Order from the Resistance. The First Order appears out of hyperspace as the Resistance is in the middle of evacuating their planetary base. Multiple star destroyers pop into view surrounding the incredibly vulnerable Resistance frigate that is being loaded with transports. Hoth it is not, as the Resistance doesn’t even have any planetary weapons such as an ion cannon to protect themselves. They are hopelessly outgunned and surrounded.

     So one would think this is the end of the Resistance for once and for all, but yet…
If there’s one thing that the Empire/First Order is good at doing it is at getting in its own way through an overly regimented chain of command. Rather than use his star destroyers to pummel the frigate or to hit the base with orbital bombardment, the First Order’s fanatical military commander General Armitage Hux gives orders for his ships to standby as he brings up a new type of frigate: a dreadnought. Yeah, rather than use his already incredibly useful star destroyers, Hux is intent on dragging out yet another piece of tech – begging the question: where does he get the money for this stuff?
     Literally, the whole Imperial fleet just sits there with no movement. Ship commanders can take zero initiative without the explicit direction of General Hux. It is a massive amount of firepower, curtailed and nullified by one man – and a thirty year tradition of micromanagement and toxic leadership.
     On the opposite side of the house, the Resistance has fighter pilot Commander Poe Dameron who takes gamble after gamble to try to gain a tactical edge on the First Order. Emphasis on the tactical, because Poe does not have a mind for the strategic. Poe goes so far as to disobey a direct order from General Leia Organa to stop a bombing run against the dreadnought and goes full “LEEEROYYYY JENKINNNNNSSS” against the dreadnought. They do destroy the enemy ship, but at the cost of the last two bomber squadrons in the entire Resistance. Which perhaps explains where the rest of the Resistance fleet went if that’s the way that Poe handles resource allocation.
Out of all of this, the First Order loses a dreadnought and the Resistance loses their bombing fleet but is able to make the jump to lightspeed. Of course, the First Order can easily afford the loss of a capital ship while the Resistance is scraping the bottom of the barrel for ships and pilots.
First Order leadership remains static the entire time, only scrambling fighters when it’s nearly too late – as one of the First Order’s bridge officers grumbles under his breath. And this motif remains in place for the rest of the film: rigid leadership with no flexibility. On the Resistance side, Leia finally loses patience with Poe’s insubordination and busts him from commander to captain – something that honestly should have been done a long time ago. Poe is a tactical genius, yes, but has very little capacity for strategy. But since he can pilot an X-wing like no one else, the Resistance can ill afford to treat him badly and so continue giving him leadership roles.
Commander Poe Dameron, a tactical wizard who has no comprehension of anything above his own level and whose failure to think at the strategic level has cost the Resistance most of its forces. (Lucasfilm Ltd)
But really, both sides have leadership issues going all the way to the top. These problems influence the conduct of personnel up and down the chain of command.
There’s this concept in the U.S. military called “mission command.” It comes from the Prussian principle called “Auftragstaktik,” pioneered by Helmuth von Moltke in the late 19th century and it boils down to exercising disciplined initiative. That is, giving junior commanders the ability to seize opportunities as they arise without jeopardizing the entire force or operation. The German army used it to great effect in World War I where their units were able to be more flexible and fluid than those of their opponents. It is a concept that is markedly absent from the Star Wars franchise. The Empire and the First Order operate through the use of rigid command structures, with orders coming from the top down. If those orders are not executed to the letter, subordinate officers are in grave danger of being force-choked into submission. This breeds a command culture of absolute and total dedication to orders, which dooms them to fighting an unimaginative war. This is why Imperial and First Order fleets rarely display the levels of ingenuity in war that the Rebels and Resistance do.
     And further, there is still the battle between the Sith and the military establishment for control of  their military force. The Sith are focused on destroying the Jedi while the military leaders are driven by the ultimate goal of crushing the rebellion. This plays out in Last Jedi, as Kylo Ren and General Hux battle for control of the First Order – sometimes almost openly. With no unity of command – and Kylo Ren becoming increasingly controlled by his emotions – the First Order can only plod along and miss opportunity after opportunity to destroy the Resistance.
     The Resistance – much like the Rebellion – seems to be slowly moving away from “command by consensus” which so hampered their abilities in the past. With command power for all tactical and strategic decisions now held by General Organa, the Resistance stands on the cusp of actually having unity of command. However, because the Resistance prides individuality almost too much, they have lost a significant number of their ships to action with the First Order and so have little to no force left to command. Audacity is usually an asset for military leaders, but it can be taken to the level of foolishness. And in this case, the Resistance has gambled its force so many times that they are left with only a handful of pilots and fighters left at the end of the film.

     The First Order is not the only force riven by dissension. When Leia is wounded and Admiral Ackbar is killed (we barely have had a chance to mourn him), Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes command. A skilled strategist, Vice Admiral Holdo does have one key problem: she does not know how to communicate her plans to subordinates in order to build trust across the chain of command. When Poe and Finn doubt that she even has a plan to save the Resistance, they launch a harebrained scheme of their own that ultimately leads in the destruction of what is left of the Resistance fleet and force.
Vice Admiral Holdo was able to comprehend the real Resistance strategy: survival. But her inability to communicate her leadership vision completely undercut her integrity and led to total mission failure. (Lucasfilm Ltd)
At this juncture, one has to ask: are there any competent leaders anymore on either side? The First Order is hampered by its rigidity so much that nearly removes their tactical edge, while the Resistance takes so many risks that it is almost decimated. Both sides are left with gaping holes in their top-tier levels of command at the end of the film which will surely make the sequel to The Last Jedi more interesting than ever.

Over the course of the Star Wars franchise, we’ve been treated to some epic battles: dogfights between X-Wings and TIE fighters at Yavin-4, AT-ATs on the frozen wastes of Hoth, jungle warfare on Endor, and Rogue One’s epic battles on the beaches of Scarif. The Last Jedi offers no shortage of skirmishes, either. Except this time, the Resistance’s consistently bad military tactics finally catch up with it.
From a military perspective, one thing has always stood out: The Empire, and now the First Order, have nearly limitless ships, equipment, and manpower, while the Rebels/Resistance have scant resources. With every engagement, this band of rebel fighters grows ever smaller while there seems to be no lack of available Stormtroopers. At least previously, though, those engagements ended with the destruction of Death Stars and a Starkiller Base, even if unsound Rebel strategic thinking got them there. Now, those bad choices are playing out more realistically—and tragically—than ever.
Spoilers ahead.
     While The Last Jedi mainly focuses on the Jedi order and its fate, perhaps the most striking feature of the film is that the Resistance has finally played its last card. The Resistance—and the Rebels before them—sought the decisive battle, that one moment that would destroy the enemy’s will to fight, and bring about peace in the Galaxy. That seemed to be the case after Return of the Jedi, and yet somehow in the intervening 30 years, the Republic squandered away all that they had won.
But history shows that decisive battles do little to further a rebel cause. During the American Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee spent years pursuing a decisive battle versus the United States Army. Yet, even after one-sided Confederate successes such as Fredericksburg in 1862 and Chancellorsville in 1863, the US Army of the Potomac remained in the field, inflicting losses that the Confederates could not afford. Lee's search for decisive battle led to his force being winnowed away to nearly nothing. The truly great generals throughout history have realized that seeking a decisive battle only puts one's force in more peril than the risk is worth.
     In The Last Jedi, the Resistance lacks truly great generals. Commander Poe Dameron is a skilled fighter pilot, but hardly a strategic thinker; he's a hammer who sees a world full of nails. He gambles the Resistance bomber fleet on a shot to take out a First Order dreadnought-class star destroyer. Not only that, but he does so in violation of a direct order from General Leia Organa. The mission succeeds in knocking out the enemy ship, but at the cost of the entire Resistance bomber fleet, for which Poe is reduced in rank.
Seeking that decisive battle with the First Order only resulted in dead pilots and lost resources. It solved nothing in the long term. And as the rest of The Last Jedi makes clear, for every enemy star destroyer or frigate the Resistance accounts for, the First Order can replace it without blinking an eye.
Rather than making massive sacrifices to blow up one big ship, the real strength of the Resistance rests in its ability to survive. The presumed heroics of individuals like Poe and Finn make it hard for them to do even that.
In many ways, the Resistance shares that trait with real-world rebellions throughout history. Most are worn down through the sheer lack of resources and through attrition; a decisive battle becomes their best way to make a grand statement.
In The Last Jedi, the Resistance lacks truly great generals.
The successful counterexample, and a model the Resistance would have been better served following, is the American Revolution. George Washington’s genius lay less in his ability to take the fight to the British—although he excelled at that—and more in the way that he prioritized preservation of troops over seeking out a singular moment of triumph. His ability to exfiltrate units from near-disaster mattered just as much as his offensive strategies.
But just as General Organa finally recognizes the importance of preserving her force—too late, one could argue—she enters a coma after the First Order begins its bombardment of the last Resistance Frigate. (RIP Admiral Ackbar.) Command devolves to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, who recognizes the strategic need to protect their force, but has what proves to be a fatal flaw: She fails to communicate well.
Holdo knows that she can jettison the escape transports and they will be cloaked from the First Order, but doesn’t share the plan with Poe. She instead belittles him, and leaves him eager to take action. Left out of the loop, Poe and Finn concoct a hare-brained scheme to save the last three Resistance ships from First Order bombardment, another all-or-nothing gambit that not only fails, but gets the majority of transports destroyed in the process.

     When what remains of the Resistance lands on Crait, a planet that houses an musty old Rebel Alliance outpost, they yet again seek a decisive engagement, this time with only a handful of fighters and some infantry left. Crait is a terrible spot for a last stand. The rebellion stuffs itself into a cave, with only one entry and egress point, and little in the way of protection.
They're shielded from planetary bombardment, so the First Order lands a ground force. Now you've got massive new AT-M6 walkers facing off against the serried trenches and rusting turret guns of the Resistance.

Sound familiar? Yes, it's looking like we're about to get a repeat of The Empire Strikes Back's battle of Hoth, where resistance fighters just barely manage to escape after suffering grave losses.
Back then, Imperial armor cut through the Rebels’ linear defenses, brushed past Luke Skywalker's head-on air attack with snow speeders, and blasted apart the shield generator. However, the plucky Rebel troopers had managed to buy enough time for the main force to escape off planet, under the protective fire of the ion cannon.

     Fast-forward 30 years to Crait. The Resistance, clearly, has learned nothing in the interim. Their dismounted troopers charge into World War I-like trenches, gamely looking down blaster scopes at armored vehicles they can't even hope to touch. Poe Dameron, while a wizard in the air, can't muster two tactical brain cells as he flies his sortie of incredibly ancient craft directly into the guns of the First Order’s armor.
    Much like Luke Skywalker in Empire, Poe doesn't seem to realize that the AT-series has no firepower on its sides or rear. Nope, it's straight up the middle for Poe, with predictable carnage for the last handful of Resistance pilots that remain. At least Poe, unlike Luke, eventually realizes it's a suicide mission, and pulls back after taking losses.
Of course, they’re not much better off back in the cave. Only the arrival of Luke Skywalker in full Jedi power mode saves the Resistance from being snuffed out in entirety. But only just barely; all that’s left can fit inside the Millennium Falcon.
By consistently refusing to learn the rules of unity of command, communication across the chain of command, and the necessity of preserving their force, the Resistance has fought itself nearly out of existence. If rebellions are built on hope, then they survive through skilled withdrawals—which almost never happens in the Star Wars saga. And in The Last Jedi, that failure has brought what was once a promising rebellion to the brink.


  1. It's probably been 20 years since I had any interest in the Star Wars franchise. When the original Star Was was released, I drove 600 miles to see it in a theater on its premiere weekend (Back then, it seems not all regions got new release films at the same time).


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