What the Military Can Learn From ‘Dune’

Carl von Clausewitz and Frank Herbert both understood the power of main weight. A 19th -century theorist revered among military geeks for the way Paul Brown was respected by football coaches, Clausewitz wrote that every war has a center of gravity – which is how the schwerpunkt is always translated – and that victory will always flow with the strategy that identifies and seizes it Depending on the nature of the conflict, the center of gravity can be based on the logistics of the enemy or army field, the capital of a country, or even an individual (see the: Osama bin Laden in the war with al Qaeda). Whatever form is taken, a schwerpunkt is “the center of all power and action, on which all is relied upon,” Clausewitz wrote.

on Dune, it is the spice.

In a world where computers and artificial intelligence are banned, spice, or “melange,” allows pilots to fold into space, traversing galaxies and time. The medicine only came from the planet Arrakis, and when Duke Leto Atreides dared to save it, he was quickly overthrown by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Baron, however, understood the spice as a commodity. In a classic case of not looking at the colonial, he took advantage of it to fund his empire, bothering the local Fremen in the process. But Paul Atreides, the Duke’s exiled son, knows a schwerpunkt when he sees it. After his father’s expulsion, he befriended Fremen, became their messiah, took control of spice making, recaptured Arrakis, and became emperor of the known universe.

Military leaders don’t always consult Herbert as often as they do Clausewitz, but sci-fi still influences those in the military. In 2000, the cadets took over Dune perhaps found intelligence in the wars of the Middle East; in 2021, the book warns them not to rely on technology.

In the era of digital warfare, warriors with the right gadget can almost fold the gap. But if everything from GPS to power grids to comms systems can be jammed, spoofed, hacked, or blacked out, relying on tech explodes in your ass. This is why the U.S. military is adopting pre-existing methods again, which is also learning, as Paul did, how to fight analog. Maintain log books. Use runners and field phones. Fight with hand-written ones rather than electronically transmitted ones. It’s a painful process for most, but necessary. Because today, the schwerpunkt of most controversy – the spice – is digital information itself.

Jonathan Bratten is a military historian and a U.S. Army officer.

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