The Fog of War

Carl von Clausewitz is credited with coining the term “the fog of war,” although he never actually used it.He did speak of fog as a metaphor for war’s ambiguities.Once a battle begins, information that is tactically relevant can become confusing and even distorted.Because of the difficulty of seeing patterns in the midst of the fog—separating the signal from the noise, for example—tactical leaders must be allowed to act independently of operational plans, as Lieutenant Otway did outside Merville.Dwight D. Eisenhowersummed it up neatly:“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Sun Tzu recognized the importance of spontaneous decision-making in The Art of War. "There are occasions when commands of the sovereign need not be obeyed. When it is expedient in operations the [leader] need not be restricted by the commands of the [higher authority]…. When you see the correct course, act; do not wait for orders. … The [leader] must rely on his ability to control the situation to his advantage as opportunity dictates. He is not bound by established procedures."

John Boyd - Strategist and Fighter Pilot

With knowledge gained as an ace Korean-era fighter pilot, Colonel John Boyd of the United States Air Force become known as one of the foremost experts on battle tactics of the twentieth century.His theories, such as the OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) loop, are now used routinely by military and business tacticians. Whereas Clausewitz saw the fog of war as an impediment to be overcome, Boyd realized that it could be used to advantage.

First, you anticipate ambiguity to gain advantage over an enemy who has not.Second, understanding the disorientation that fog causes for an opponent, youperpetuate the state of confusion through surprising maneuvers. To win, Boyd tells us, you must get inside your opponent’s “decision cycle” by going through your own OODA cycle faster than the opponent, and by varying the speed and rhythms of your own maneuvers so as to provoke confusion, chaos, and panic. “The best way to succeed…” he said “is to revel in ambiguity.”