Center for Strategic Communication

[by Lynn Rees]

One of the daily gripes the Norman Conquest (or perhaps Marcus Furius Camillius) inflicts on me is how Latinite words in English have higher status than English’s own native proto-Germanic words. This often leaves English with one proto-Germanic word with a viscerally concrete meaning rooted in the core words native English-speakers learn as small children and one vaguer but fancier Latin word learned later in life and used to signal high falutiness.

One example of this fashion-induced duplication that annoys me is these two pairs:

  • power in place of strength
  • control in place of grip

Consider Rear Admiral Joseph Caldwell  (J.C.) Wylie, Jr., United States Navy (if you don’t know who J. C. Wylie is, Carl von Clausewitz was the Prussian Wylie). Wylie writes in his criminally neglected Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control:

The primary aim of the strategist in the conduct of war is some selected degree of control of the enemy for the strategist’s own purpose; this is achieved by control of the pattern of war; and this control of the pattern of war is had by manipulation of the center of gravity of war to the advantage of the strategist and the disadvantage of the opponent.

From this insight, I’ve come to think of the heart of strategy (an even hazier Greek word revived and latinized by the French) as a three-way interplay between:

  • purpose: a sentiment about how conditions should change
  • power: a possibility for how conditions could change
  • control: a certainty that conditions will change

But the many meanings of power and control can be bent to serve hide how easily this three way interplay can be grasped. One possible rework uses more bedrock English:

  • goal: how things should be
  • strength: how things could be
  • grip: how things will be

This lets strategy be physically grasped:

  1. The mind thinks of a goal.
  2. It tells its muscles to act to reach that goal.
  3. The muscles try to grip some thing.
  4. Depending on what the muscles grasp, their grip is tightened or loosened in the shape needed to grasp it.
  5. The strength of the muscles may be too little or too much to first get and then keep the needed grip.
  6. If the mind’s need to reach a goal is strong enough, it may have its muscles keep trying to get a grip despite lacking the needed strength.
  7. If the mind’s need to reach a goal is weak enough, it may release its grip even if its muscles have enough strength to hold on.

History is packed with those with enough power strength to reach their goals but who could never get control a grip strong enough to reach them. Reach exceeded grasp.