Videos and Books by Lt. General Paul von Riper

Podcast interview by a military radio station staff member.:
Go here and then hit the "POD" button just under the date.

In this interview General von Riper lists several books when asked by the interviewer what he would recommend for people pursuing a military career:

Carl von Clausewitz  On War  (avoid 1962 edition)

SLA Marshall, The Armed Forces Officer

Colin Gray, Fighting Talk

Gary Kline Sources of Power

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

James Gleick, Chaos

M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

General von Riper discusses three kinds leadership climate:

1. One kind of leader announces what organization is going to do, and subordinates are not allowed to ask questions. His attitude is, "Don't challenge the boss."

2. Another kind of leader indicates that all ideas are welcome, provides an open door for open discussions, but he cannot bring forth a resolution. The discussion drags on interminably.

3. The third kind of leader opens up everything for questions, suggestions, arguments, debates, intellectual gunfight, and all that counts is the merit of the idea. However,  this leader will bring things to a conclusion when external circumstances require that something be done, or when he decides that no new and useful ground is being open. Subordinates prefer this kind of leadership. They all feel that they have received a fair hearing even if someone else's idea gets accepted. These disccussions also leave a better climate for future discussions.

General von Riper says of John Boyd that many scholars regard him as the  most prominent and deepest thinker in terms of military theory that the US has ever produced.


Reading Notes on Gen. Paul Van Riper, "The Foundation of Strategic Thinking," available (after registering) here.

General Paul van Riper argues that Carl von Clausewitz's trinity (passion, probability, and reason) needs to be connected with the ideas of operational art and operational design in order to get through to some way of adequately thinking about strategy.

Several levels of planning must be included to put military strategy in its proper context. Above military strategy there needs to be the nation's grand strategy or national security strategy. Below military there need to be operational art to settle upon the means or tactics that will comport well with the political objectives implicit in the nation's strategy and will also be effective in combat. This three-level explication is in general agreement with the way planning was done during World War II.

The whole picture changes, however, when planners realize that they must take account of the non-rigidity of connections between what is done and what is thereby effected. The same action performed under different conditions will produce different results, unlike what happens when the throttle of a well-functioning engine is opened. One reason why plans start to fail as soon as they are first put into action is because the way things connect in organic systems are not same as the way things connect in systems composed of discrete components that are rigidly linked together.

Another wrinkle develops when a military planner tries to determine the causal connections the pass among what would have been discrete components if the topic of research was a new jet engine. There are no discrete components in an organic system. We can butcher an animal and see how the heart connects to the lungs an maybe make out some other main connections, but how a change in breathing rate, brought on by an exciting memory perhaps, will influence the beating of the heart in the living organism is something that we have no way to figure out. Systems with more than two components that each interact with the others are instances of the three-body problem, and physicists and mathematicians have established that it is impossible to predict how the actions of such a system will involve. Carl von Clausewitz himself gave the illustration of a pendulum bob centered over three equally spaced magnets. Every swing of the pendulum will be different. Clausewitz used the magnets as analogs for passion, probability, and reason, the three factors that he believed to be essential components in war.

A third wrinkle involves the difficulty in thinking about a system that is not composed of discrete parts. In the beginning, nothing may stand out as an important factor in the operation of the system. Observers must impose parts on the system by doing something analogous to drawing boundaries around what are suspected to be important factors. Master Sun, in his Art of War, divides the day into three parts, and maintains that enemy troops (and one's own trips as well) will have different pitches of enthusiasm for fighting during each of these periods. So theorizing about how to handle an evolving situation involves tentatively defining significant parts of the enemy's system, forming hypotheses about how they work and how they influence each other, acting on those hypotheses, and adjusting one's model accordingly (while keeping in mind that it is not exactly the same system now as it was when you last gathered information about it).

The ordinary kind of system, exemplified by an automobile, is classified as linear, and the second kind of system, the kind applicable to wars and many kinds of complex natural systems, is classified as non-linear. In a non-linear system, the same input applied at different times (with the other parts of the system probably in different states than before) can have unexpected or unpredictable results. Descriptions of the second class of systems are handled under the branch of mathematics called chaos theory.

In the past, military strategies have been formed after specific enemies have been detected. However, even if a potential enemy or a real enemy is detected, relying on that narrow band of information to define the problem that the nation is trying to prepare against will be inadequate in today's world.

Planners need to secure a clear understanding of how the military is to operate under present and near-future conditions. "Bottom line, the first order of business in all types of defense planning is to come some understanding of the emerging security environment, and to determine who might be an enemy."

"All strategies possess some degree of abstraction while tactics are always particular. The challenge is to convert the relative abstraction of strategy to the mechanics of tactic. Operational art serves as a bridge from strategy to tactics, while the operational level tends to erect boundaries between the two. Operational art’s very purpose is to force discourse between policy makers, strategists and operational commanders. There can be no politics or strategy-free zone where operational artists practice their role professionally. The principal means of operational art is operational design whose purpose is to arrange campaigns and major operations in time and space to fulfill the aims of strategy, which in turn is to accomplish the goals of policy."