The Operational Turn.
Theory is one but forms are infinite.
Potency is one but ingenii are infinite
Strategy is one but tactics are operationallly distributed.
By the end of nineteenth century it had become obvious that a series of recent technological and social changes would challenge our understanding of conflict and political transformations. Traditionally decissive and localized battles would now be fought over ever bigger areas and longer periods of time. The invention of the needle gun and the mitrailleuse, the massive incorporation of long range artillery, the availability of railways to help mobilize growing amounts of soldiers and the resource to the telegraph as a way to coordinate different groups and armies contributed to expand and multiply the layers and ranges of combat. The intelligent coordination of some of these factors would offer Moltke the chance to defeat the french armies in 1870 in a series of brilliant maneuvers and operations. After his victory, Moltke would start writing about an operational level of consideration which might be able to integrate all those weapons and possibilities. Unfortunately for the millions of dead and wounded in the WW1 trenches he would never fully develop his ideas.
More time would be necessary till soviet theorist Giorgy Isserson provided some of the necessary insight. According to him, armies since WW1 had witnessed a profound disaggregation of forces whose weaponry had become increasingly differentiated by range and combat effect: armor, long range artillery, massive tactical and strategical aircraft…Such an scenario forced us to completeley change the ways to prepare and stage war. War could not be reduced anymore to a limited number of decissive localized battles: the nature of the very differeny weapons, the scale of the forces and the arenas engaged would forcefully turn us toward a consideration of multiple, simultaneous and successive operations which had to be planned flexibly while still being considered an “operational whole”. Otherwise our situation would be as the one of the Wehrmacht accumulating tactical victories in the Eastern Front just to become completely defeated.
As a general rule it can be hold that as far as modern societies have become more complex, more endowed with a bigger number of entities and relationships among them, classical dualistic representations of conflict and change have had to be reconsidered to give way to a deeper understanding of a multiplicity of factors, layers and scales of conflict.
One could say that such a proccess had happened quite in the same way which had taken Enlightment and Modernity itself to a very similar disaggregation of faculties, which had requested and showed some kind of autonomous development which would obviously take them to different levels of outreach and different criteria of effectivity. The same proccess that had happened to artillery, calvalry or air forces was going on, in an hegemonical way, to different mind faculties: ethics, experimental sciences, maths, aestehtics would undergon a structural evolution and organization which would finally show much greater diversity and which would accordingly demand an ensemble consideration, an operational thinking, which respected those diversities of range and was able to put them to work together in the proper scale and disposition.
A group of extraordinary soviet military theorist –including M. N. Tukhachevsky and Alexandr Svechin- was able to state the theoretical basis for the development of an “operational art of war” able to cope with the conditions of modern industrial societies whose inmense destructive and productive resources could hardly be deployed, confronted and exhausted neither in a single decissive old-style battle nor in a campaign which relied just on the speed and mobility of the devices and forces employed. What now mattered was the integration of successive and distributed operations over a wide front. This opertional art, or deep stategy as Triandafillov called it, would transform tactical battles into operational break-outs through the use of deceptions, supporting attacks, shock, maneuvre, and an intensive use of intelligence and counterintelligence. These theorists shared their belief in the disapparition of the decissive general combat and the research after some kind of mediation, some middle terms which could turn operative the general designs of strategy in their concrete tactical deployment.. It was obvious that all along modern extended fronts –and this was true both for war and culture- we might require a series of successive coups and maneuvers to be able to control a theater of operations in the proper time and space scales while being able to connect through an intermediate item or an operational level all the tactical actions to the strategic targets. Only through this operational level could the combat actions of such a complex arena be considered . Artistically this middle term will come along, as we shall see later, through the russian vanguards’ insistence upon considering their works as “modes of relation”, as modal propossals experimenting differnt ways of organizing perception and action in a wide and open scale.
As a requisite for such an operational thinking soviet theorists challenged the classical geometry of point and line to exploit operationally the advantages of considering different force vectors, attacking simultaneously and throughout their depth to effect a strategically catastrophic disintegration of their entire enemy defense system.
Meanwhile, operations themselves should not be considered to be no longer finitte affairs leading to a single decissive battle… the preparation for and conduct of operations had expanded beyond the limits of traditional military strategy…being the most important issue one of linkages: how to fashion linkages to contend with changes in time, timing, duration, support, scale, range and distance. Just in the same way Viktor Shklovski would consider, right in 1921, that any literary work “should not be acknolwledged either as an object or a material but rather as a relationship among materials”.
Operational thinking indeed must recover and define a strong notion of relational materiality as a proper way to keep feet on the earth of the materility of resources and forces while being able to consider them devices open in the directiones of the different relationships they are able to engage in.
The soviet school of operational thinking would therefore be:
* Materalist: given its consistent focus on the conduct of large scale, ground oriented operations, where the material conditions of the terrain, the constraints of logistics and the constitution itself of the different forces employed would clearly situate any ideas.
* Dialectical: since they would be constantly worried about linking separate aspects of the changing nature of operations to bigger and smaller military realities, as they would be concerned about constantly articulating different forces, different fronts and different wars.
* Collaborative: as they not only constitued an entire school of thinkers, not isolated individuals, working out to develop operational ideas, but because they would later work also collectively at the time of putting forward operational plans and propossals.
* Recursive: for they would not just undertake a systematical study of past campaigns uneder an operational view but would also applu operational thinking to their very ideas and ways of organizing…/…
Some consequences of an operational thinking for aesthetics
Challenging the notion of aesthetic experience, as a kind of decissive battle after aesthetic sensibility-sensitivity and replacing it with a number of aesthetic operations which will always happen along a different series of fronts and through a longer time scale.
Challenging the notion of master piece, with the acknowledgment of a diverse array of levels upon which aesthetic knowledge may happen: this should include from single and extremely simple images to complex systems of aesthetic references and connections going through bigger and smaller specific poetics.
Challenging any clear cut between low brow and high brow or cult and popular poetics, replacing suhc an approach with a gradient of practices entangled with different proccesses of reception and appropiation
Challenging the dualistic approach dividing between connoisseurs and lay people and assuming a number of different and complementary competences and dispositions which are likely to be generative in aesthetic terms.
Defining aesthetic constellations operationally.
Obviously no cultural or artistic production or reception happens in a social and political void.
Obviously no cultural or artistic production or reception can be completely detached of its formal and material constituency.
Therefore operational aesthetics must consider the linkages between artistic form or materiality and its changing deployment, reception and reformulation in diverse social and political contexts.
This can be done thru an analysis of art and cultural devices all along tactical, strategical and operational axis.
Tactical level refers to poetics: production and reception protocols.
Strategical level comes to aesthetic and philosophical determinations.
Operational level brings about the modal concepts which should be able not only to coordinate strategical determinations with tactical diverse possibilities, but also stablish and order these tactical capabilities selecting and priorizing those which fit better into the operational whole in question (Moltke asking the cavalry to perform security or reconnaissance tasks and not direct frontal attacks)