1.7 Book One, Chapter 7: Friction in War
If one has never personally experienced war, one cannot understand in what the difficulties constantly mentioned really consist, now why a commander should need any brilliance and exceptional ability. Everything looks simple; the knowledge required does not look remarkable, the strategic options are so obvious that by comparison the simplest problem of higher mathematics has an impressive scientific dignity. Once war has actually been seen the difficulties become clear; but it is still extremely to describe the unseen, all-pervading element that brings about this change of perspective.
Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war… Countless minor incidents—the kind you can never really foresee—combine to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls far short of the intended goal. Iron will-power can overcome this friction; it pulverizes every obstacle, but of course it wears down the machine as well. (Book One, Chapter Seven, p. 119)
GIV: The above should be read by every reporter, pundit, politician and would-be commander who is ready to offer ready-made [non]solutions—to problems they do not understand.
Friction is the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper. The military machine—the army and everything related to it—is basically very simple and therefore seems easy to manage. But we should bear in mind that none of its components is of one piece: each part is composed of individuals, every one of whom retains his potential of friction. In theory it sounds reasonable enough… In fact, it is different, and every fault and exaggeration of the theory is instantly exposed in war. (Book One, Chapter Seven, p. 119)
This tremendous friction, which cannot, as in mechanics, be reduce to a few points [every soldier is a source of friction, etc.], is everywhere in contact with chance, and brings about effects that cannot be measured, just because they are largely due to chance. (Book One, Chapter Seven, p. 120)
Action in war is like movement in a resistant element. Just as the simplest and most natural of movements, walking, cannot easily be performed in water, so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results. (Book One, Chapter Seven, p. 120)
Moreover, every war is rich in unique episodes. Each is an uncharted sea, full of reefs… An understanding of friction is a large part of that much-admired sense of warfare with a good general is supposed to possess. To be sure, the best general is not the one who is most familiar with the idea of friction, and who takes it most to heart (he belongs to the anxious type so common among experienced commanders). The good general must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and in order not to expect a standard of achievement in his operations which this very friction makes impossible… Practice and experience dictate the answer: “this is possible, that it not.” (Book One, Chapter Seven, p. 120)
Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult. (Book One, Chapter Seven, p. 121)
[GIV: A clear sense of priorities is also necessary to overcome friction. Don’t waste energies on the unimportant; concentrate on the main objective.]