Tom Wein notes the value of General Sir Rupert Smith’s contributions to thinking about communication in war.
General Sir Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force is one of the most thoughtful works on the character of modern war. As part of his powerful argument that we now fight ‘wars among the people’, he writes authoritatively on the role of communications in modern operations, with the attendant importance of understanding the communication effect of every action we take on each actor – citizens, enemies, allies, diplomats, our own soldiers and others. He writes from experience: having served in a great many conflicts, he ended his career with three assignments in which communication and diplomacy was crucial: commanding UNPROFOR in Bosnia & Herzegovina; General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland; and Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. In the book, he recalls his own success in using the media to sustain UNPROFOR operations in Bosnia and to influence the reactions of the other forces operating in the country, and stresses the importance of a dedicated spokesman, kept fully informed of all developments.
Perhaps most useful of all, though, is his extended metaphor of the ‘theatre of operations’, which is always worth quoting in full:
“Whoever coined the phrase ‘the theatre of operations’ was very prescient. We are conducting operations now as though we were on a stage, in an amphitheatre or Roman arena. There are two or more sets of players – both with a producer, the commander, each of whom has his own idea of the script. On the ground, in the actual theatre, they are all on the stage and mixed up with people trying to get to their seats, the stage hands, the ticket collectors and the ice-cream vendors. At the same time they are being viewed by a partial and factional audience, comfortably seated, its attention focused on that part of the auditorium where it is noisiest, watching the events by peering down the drinking straws of their soft-drink packs – for that is the extent of the vision of the camera.”
General Sir Rupert Smith, ‘The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World’, Allen Lane, 2005, p.284
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