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Dan_DeColumna's avatar

Would analyzing your enemy's art be useful in modern warfare?

Asked by Dan_DeColumna (2425 points ) February 17th, 2010

A fictional general I have read about recently had a process of analyzing the art of enemy worlds to determine the societal tendencies and blind spots he would encounter in combat. Would this technique be feasible and/or practical to modern warfare on Earth?

This fictional general‘s process is further explained at Wikipedia:

“He would view the native art of a given species or planet to understand them better as a race or planet, and so too, gain insight into their military style. He believed the study of this art would somehow give him an advantage in battle, since it provided him with information on the psyche of his opponents and informed him of their psychological blind spots. Examples include the invasion of Ukio, where he determined that the defenders had a strong superstitious fear of the unknown and the unexplained. Therefore, his attack with cloaked vessels frightened them into submission when a more adventurous people might have continued to resist.”

Any thoughts on the plausibility of this technique are welcome.

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17 Answers

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

“Heir to the Empire” eh?
Interesting concept but I had a hard time with Admiral Thrawn’s conceptual believability.

I don’t think Jackson Pollocks work would give much military insight to an invading force no matter how astute their military commanders were.

An entertaining idea though I found myself having to take extra effort to suspend my disbelief.

I suppose I’m not much fun at a sci fi viewing party.

ChaosCross's avatar

It would not help much I’m afraid. Even though the art of a nation can help manufacture stereotypes, it being used efficiently in combat would be incredibly sparse and help little.

lillycoyote's avatar

I don’t really know enough about this to really form an opinion but that has never stopped me before. This assumes that the general is in a position to correctly analyze his enemies’ art, his enemies’ psyche, free of cultural biases, free of his own preconceived notions of what “natives,” of what aboriginal peoples think, believe, etc. What makes him think that he is in a position to or has the understanding to interpret aboriginal, native art? An what is the difference between attacking an enemy with cloaked ships because you think they are superstitious and scare easily and attacking an enemy with cloaked ships because it’s a damned good way to sneak up on them?

LunaChick's avatar

I don’t think this would work, for modern-day America. For instance, if he went to The Smithsonian American Art Museum he would see such contrasts in the types, styles, etc… of art on display. There would be no way to get a decent perspective on our combat techniques.

On the other hand, if he went to the USMC Combat Art Gallery he would be able to get a better idea of how we would fight, in battle.

TheJoker's avatar

Hmmm, I suppose it would help if the whole population had the same social, ethnic, religious etc backgrounds. I suspect that’s where it would fall down for this planet. We’re just too varied… but it is an interesting perspective & certainly, the better your enemy is understood, the greater your chances of victory.

davidbetterman's avatar

Knowing your enemy has always been utilized by the very best tacticians.

augustlan's avatar

I could only see this being effective in a small, primitive population. Cave drawings come to mind… they often repeated themes, and might be useful in that way. Any modern civilization would have too much variety in their art. It would be difficult to draw any conclusions at all from it, except that modern cultures have way more time on their hands.

Cruiser's avatar

Hmmmm trying to make my own comparison of our art work here on this planet to visualize our own current war doings….I don’t recall hearing of or seeing any paintings of scud missiles hidden in the sand, or one of C-4 packed in a piles of rocks by the side of the road, or one of a room full of centrifuges used for processing uranium disguised as a toy factory hanging in the halls of the Louvre. Might have to do a little more research on this question Dan.

marinelife's avatar

It seems like an oversimplification. If the art was he window to understanding the culture as a whole, and he studied it in other ways as well as the art, maybe.

On the other hand, our own politicians and leaders make mistakes all the time because of cultural blindness.

candide's avatar

Always – the age-old lesson from Alexander and the Persian King is still as relevant today as it ever was, and remember that no matter how modern the warfare, it is still fought between people: passionate, calculating, fallible people!

CyanoticWasp's avatar

If you study the history of WW II and its origins, you’ll find that the combatants had huge blind areas of their own capabilities and psyche than could be overcome in such a way.

For example, the Japanese were convinced that the attack on Pearl Harbor, combined with their attacks all through the western and southern Pacific, including the Philippines, French Indochina (now Vietnam) and Malaya on to Singapore, would completely sap any American “will” to fight. We were considered soft and lazy; not at all in their class in terms of “warrior will”. (It’s true that we had no military strength or modern weapons in the Pacific at that time: the battleships sunk at Pearl were already outmoded, although no one on either side fully realized it at the time, and the warplanes in the US arsenal were death traps.) One man who did realize all of this, Adm. Ishihiro Yamamoto, was not listened to by either the Emperor or those other military commanders (Army) who had his ear. (In fact, Japan never wanted war with the US; they just wanted the US out of their business so that they could secure oil and rubber supplies in Southeast Asia and continue their conquest of China.)

US commanders, on the other hand, often perceived the Japanese as “little men” and not much more than peasants and coolies (true enough for a lot of the Japanese GI-equivalents) ... but they totally misunderstood their devotion to die for their Emperor rather than surrender. “Surrender” was considered cowardly and base, even if the odds were 100 to 1 or worse: “No surrender.” (Which was one of the factors leading to mistreatment of Allied prisoners: they surrendered, therefore they were worthless human beings.)

The point is that commanders seldom realize their own most vulnerable areas.

wundayatta's avatar

I would think that art might be part of an overall study of a culture. Understanding a culture might help in planning a war. It would help identify important symbolic targets. But I don’t think that art alone would give you nearly the understanding you need.

CMaz's avatar

Friends close, enemies closer.

PacificToast's avatar

It would only help, if you were in such a situation as in “Kiki Strike and the Empress’s Tomb”, when there are secret messages, but in reality? Not so much.

TehRoflMobile's avatar

I wouldn’t take is as literally as art. If you understand, the tendencies, the cultural identities, the way a nation acts or thinks, you will be able to understand how they fight to a degree.

Factotum's avatar

It certainly helps when you’re trying to produce propaganda.

thriftymaid's avatar

I’ve always read that any and all information accumulated about an enemy is useful, regardless of how your garner the information.

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