Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing strategy from a solid foundation 2: a case study example of the consequences of a priori underlying assumptions 1

Posted in macroeconomics, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 19, 2014

This is my second posting to a series on strategy as it is developed in practice, and on where it is developed from (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, posting 490 for Part 1.) There is a fundamental observation that every mathematician and logician comes to know as they work with successions of axiomatically based systems. You can logically prove essentially anything – if you begin with the right assumed and unexamined axioms as your starting point. I cite that in this context because you can logically arrive at essentially any strategic conclusion if you begin building towards it from the right automatically assumed starting point too.

I began this series by explicitly noting that point. It is crucial; most business managers and leaders think about and pursue strategy in terms of its logic and its processes, and in terms of the outcomes that they seek to reach from that – and not in terms of their automatic assumptions as they would shape what is and is not possible and at what cost and with what time, monetary and effort commitments.

I stated that the issues and approaches that I would discuss here apply to both private sector business and organizational contexts, and to societal and governmental decision making as well. And I said that I would bring the discussion of Part 1 out of the abstract here with a real world example. I decided to focus on a government policy decision and its consequences here: the economic and societal ramifications of the all-volunteer army as a means of ongoing national defense. And to keep this at least simpler and specific I will consider military conscription: the draft, and all volunteer systems as they have been deployed in the United States as a source of working examples.

The United States has wrestled with these issues as a country since before its birth through revolution in conflict with the government of Great Britain, and from then on. And this area of policy and practice has often been very contentious. When the still-British American colonies sought to defend themselves before talk of revolution, they formed militias and required able bodied men to enroll and train in them for service. During the revolutionary war a great many men volunteered to serve in the break-away colonies’ Continental Army, but a significant number were conscripted into service in that break-away colonialist army too. And in this regard it is important to remember that at the time of the American Revolution, American colonists were pretty much evenly split as to loyalties with approximately one third actively in support of breaking away from Britain and gaining national independence, approximately one third wishing to stay British subjects and one third simply wishing everyone would go away and let them live their lives without interference from either of those other two groups. The militia conscriptions that took place at this time were contentious and led to at least a measure of outright conflict in and of themselves.

Moving forward historically, when the Southern states attempted to secede from the Union in 1861 and form a separate nation: the Confederate States of America, both the Confederate legislature and the Union’s United States Congress issued conscription acts to bolster troop levels where volunteer-only efforts were not succeeding on their own in bringing in sufficient numbers to meet military needs. These conscriptions created discord and even incited riots and on both sides too. And as a particularly violent example of how that could develop I cite the riotous responses to the Militia Act of 1862, passed by the 37th Congress of the United States as developed in cities such as New York. Many died.

Conscription and voluntary service have often gone hand in hand, and the levels of voluntary service have gone way up in times of widely perceived real need to serve in defense of country. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, the lines of men waiting to volunteer to join the US armed forces stretched for blocks, as did waiting lines to donate blood to help save those injured from this attack, and for anywhere where donated blood was needed. When the United States became enmeshed in the Vietnam War, large segments of American society questioned the wisdom or need for this involvement. People did volunteer to serve in the US military, but many more who went over to serve were conscripted into military service and there were large scale protests in reaction to these draft law initiatives.

Skipping ahead again, it was vowed as ongoing government policy after the traumas and protests of the Vietnam War, that if at all possible the US military would go all-volunteer and from then on in meeting its troop level requirements. And that brings my discussion for this posting up to the post-9/11 attacks War on Terror and more specifically to the US-led War in Iraq and the US-led War in Afghanistan. The troop build-ups for these conflicts were reached through volunteer recruitment. This was driven by a combination of patriotism and desire to combat al Qaida and other militants who were seen as direct terrorist threats to this country, and by economic need on the part of enlistees. In that, many who voluntarily enlisted to serve and certainly during the big troop build-ups, did so because the Great Recession deprived them of opportunity to find work in the private sector to support themselves or their families.

But setting aside why individuals volunteered, once in these troops were not let out at the end of their tours of duty as originally agreed to; they were retained in service involuntarily if need be under a widely applied and stringently enforced stop-loss policy. So here, conscription and volunteerism have blurred together where initial entry into the military might have been voluntary, but voluntarism per se ended there.

I have been presenting a very selective narrative here, focusing on points of contention, and where both involuntary and voluntary participation in military service have come into play in US history. I will continue from this historical accounting foundation, to discuss policy decisions and the issues of economic and societal impact of conscription, and of the all-volunteer approach in a next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see Macroeconomics and Business.

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