Floki the One-Eyed

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[The following material was provided to me by a source who requests to remain anonymous. I think that it is actually an apt introduction to the complexity of warship design.]

Floki’s Notes

This talk was given by Floki the One-Eyed at the annual meeting of A.S.N.E. (Association of Survivors of Norse Expeditions), held in the Mead-Hall at Vasingsvik, February of 1011. The audience consisted of active duty and retired warriors, a number of the People that Handle the Gold, and artisans of many crafts and traditions.

As everyone knows, in the middle of the talk Floki was dragged out of the hall and thrashed within a hair’s breadth of his miserable life. Those of us who were there have never been able to recall exactly why this was done, because there were so many possible reasons, and because we were all very far gone with strong drink. We do remember the people in the front row who insisted that Floki be soundly beaten, and started in on him with their own hands. Be that as it may, these are, close enough, the words of Floki the One-Eyed before we pounded him.

“It seems to me that we’ve been struggling for many years to turn war into just another business. We’ve not succeeded. Our Wise-Men tell us that it’s not appropriate to treat the conduct of a game in the same way as a decision-theoretic problem, whatever that means. On the other hand, the Wise-Men also tell us that some parts of a fight can be treated ‘elegantly’ using a dynamic-game theoretic approach. But nobody really understands the Wise-Men either way. Also, we’re not sure what a dynamic game is, and what they mean by ‘elegant.’ We do but sit in a circle and listen to them, or at least we pretend to if there’s enough time, because the mere act of pretending to listen makes us appear wiser than we are.

“But since no Wise-Men are here right now, let us be realistic. The making of warrior-stuff is not the province of Wise-Men. They may think it is, but it isn’t. Not when we start spending the gold for it, nor when we start to draw the plans for building it, nor when we start cutting the metal for it. To speak plain, the Wise-Men’s pronouncements are not truly the heart of this matter.

“Why are we having so much trouble making war into just another business? I will tell you. People, even people of low station and miserable means, behave differently from inanimate objects or helpless animals. Have we not seen this, every one of us? The warriors I’ve known, even the fiercest, men who laugh in battle, even they care about life and death. More than a piece of metal cares whether I cut it at an angle or hammer it on the end to put a point on it. But this is what I have to say. Those who have grown out of the fighting business and gotten into the warrior-stuff acquisition business have their own way of showing their preferences about life or death. They write requirements, those of them who know how to write, which isn’t many of them. As for the rest, they just try to tell us in words what they need in order to fight, and we try to give them what they ask for. Can it be that this is so difficult?

“Well, it is. And here is what I see: as it is for fighting, so it is for the things we make for fighting. The way we plan, and build, and buy our swords and spears, our bows and arrows, our shields and helmets and armor, our war horses, our fighting stuff of all kinds – well, our way rarely goes far without a rough stretch. The way we’ve always done a thing stops working. It takes us half the day to notch and glue the fletching on an arrow, when it used to take hardly any time at all. We have accidents we never had before. The gold runs out and they’ve not finished paying us for our work. Things they told us they must have, will have, or our heads should pay for it, they tell us they need no longer.

“Worse still, our stuff doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, as it always did aforetime. Actually, it didn’t always work, but because days that are gone fade into golden haze as we grow older, we think it did always work, and we tell each other so. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are humiliated in public. You craftsmen know what I’m talking about Your spear won’t throw straight, your bow keeps breaking arrows instead of shooting them, and your shield won’t turn a blade any better than a piece of rotten canvas. Can it be that you’ve forgot some secret art? Maybe. But maybe it’s because the people who tell you what they want have lost the secret art of telling. That, or maybe they’ve become a-feared to tell you. They are eager to put aside that care, and they want you to tell them.

“And what about you? You have lost the secret art of listening. So listen to me, now, if you can. The more innovative your product is, and the more of a ‘revolution in military affairs’ it might be said to offer, the more this seems to happen and the worse off you are. Deny it if you can, you eaters of vegetables!

“These things have occurred in our civilian and commercial stuff, too. Well do I remember the day I said to Thorberg the Skarfhogg – I said, ‘Thorberg, you ought to think about putting your rudder on the sternpost, with iron hinges like a door, instead of just hanging it over the side on that knotted piece of rope like you’ve always done.’ Why, if looks could kill, the look Thorberg gave me then would have wiped out me, my sons, and all the line of my ancestors back to the beginning.

“Let it be said that Thorberg had his suspicions in this: I’m a smith, after all, and he knows well enough that I happen to make iron hinges, too. But let that go.

“Still, I tell you that warrior-stuff is especially troublesome. To understand better what the warrior needs, or even what he’s saying when he speaks, you craftsmen, and you People that Handle the Gold, too, all of you, you owe it to yourselves to try to understand war better. It is not comfortable to do this, I know, especially for those who aren’t warriors themselves. Even for those who have been warriors, but so long ago they’ve forgotten what it is to be young and strong and berserk. We need to study the language of the warriors because once they study our language too much they become more like us. That can’t be helped, I don’t think, but it is perilous.

“Remember, it is our job, artisans and craftsmen, and you People that Handle the Gold, too, to understand warriors. It is not their job to understand us. They have their own job. Would you wish to trade jobs with them? Some of you, probably. I know which ones you are. But for most of you, not likely. Not in this life.”‘‘

Floki’s Propositions. ‘‘

“What makes warrior-stuff unlike the things we make for every day? The propositions I’m about to give you are without proof, that I know of. So you have to think for yourself whether they’re true or not. But this is the main idea: warrior-stuff, from the planning to the building to the thing itself, is different from other things, different in kind. Why so different? Because what you do with war-stuff is different from what you do with all other things. There, I’ve said it! Deny it if you like, but these propositions are what I believe about war.” ‘‘

The Primacy of Hitting. “War is about fighting, and fighting is about hitting. I’ve learned to use a fancy word for this – I once heard it from a Wise-Man. ‘Floki,’ he said, ‘Attrition is in general what happens when you hit. Attrition means wearing down: wearing down of resources: material, people, houses, boats, strength, presence of mind, or any other necessity in a fight.‘ ‘‘

“Being who we are, we usually take attrition to be physical incapacitation, depletion, or destruction. In our history it has most often been that, and isn’t it the truth, even if it’s Floki as says it? But not all our resources are physical, and so not all attrition has to be physical, either. We can wear down another man’s patience, his information, his political connections, his popular support, or his ‘morale.’ That’s another word I heard from a Wise-Man, and I think it means mostly the willingness to keep fighting instead of quitting or running away, which a man might do at a certain point if he had any sense in his head, before he has it broken for him. ‘‘

“Listen. The ability to cause attrition is the essence of fighting, and therefore it’s the soul of warrior-stuff. Don’t let anybody fool you. It is ‘hitting power’ we are always after. In their zeal to be up to date, and maybe because they’ve been off gallivanting in foreign parts, in the East somewhere, maybe, some of the Wise-Men want to call this same thing, this ability to cause attrition, ‘firepower.’ I’m not sure why they’d ever want to call it that, whether it describes actual fire or not. But it doesn’t matter what word you use for it if you know what it means. ‘‘

“Now ‘hitting power’ isn’t simple; it has in it a whole world of different abilities to wear different things down. But this much is sure: hitting power is properly measured not in the weapon store, or at the shoulder or the hand, or off the bowstring or the end of the throwing stick. It is properly measured on the target. Only on the target, because that is where the attrition you want actually happens. So, to me, hitting power includes the eye that tells the hand how to hit. I know how important that is, none better, because I have only one left. ‘‘

“The target means the one you were actually trying to hit, usually; that’s no more than common sense. But don’t forget that sometimes you can miss that one and hit the man next to him. That’s attrition, too, don’t forget. If it doesn’t do anything else it’ll remind that other fellow not to stand so close, and that can work to advantage, too. Sometimes you have to do a thing piece be piece. But a man harvesting wheat uses a scythe, he doesn’t cut off one stalk at a time. So remember that hitting power can include both the strength of the hit at the exact place of the hit, and also the distance around that exact place where there’s still enough damage happening to be important. ‘‘

“Also, remember that hitting first is a good thing. It can be just what it takes to win. But also keeping on hitting can be a good thing, and that, too can be just what it takes to win. It depends, perhaps, on how many are coming against you, and when they will come. If you had a bow that could shoot a dozen arrows at a time, but only a dozen arrows in your quiver, would you shoot all of them on the first volley? Maybe yes, and maybe no. Meanwhile, a man with a bow like that might also want more arrows. The time it takes to begin causing attrition, the rate at which you can cause attrition, and the total amount of attrition you can cause, given enough time, all of these are important, but which is most valuable depends on the kind of fight you are in. Other things may determine what kind of fight that will be, but more of that in a moment.’‘

“Now I see in the back of the room that we have some seeing-stone and horn makers here, too. You fellows, I know, are working on ways that you can aim an arrow using nothing but what you can see in your stone, or hear in the echoes of the noise from your horn. Good luck and bless you for it. But when you can do that, especially with the way some of you people shoot, I mean to include your ways of ‘seeing’ in the same sense as an eye. ‘‘

“On the other hand, hitting power may not have to be applied for it to have an effect on an opponent’s behavior. On occasion hitting power might accomplish something merely by existing (or being perceived), as a scare. But without hitting power of some kind, fighting isn’t fighting. ‘‘

“Hitting power, depending on who we want to hit and how we want to hit, can be made up from every weapon we have in this world, whether it be of the arm, the mouth, or the mind. But here is a lesson in it. Once it’s decided and spoken what kind of a thing we want, if it takes too long to plan it and build it and pay for it, and get it ready, then time and the enemy may well take away the thing you’d decided to hit, and put something else in its place that you hadn’t thought much about. ‘‘

“So, you warriors, be a little bit careful about asking us in the crafts for things that are too special. They may not be worth as much as you originally thought for as long as you thought. Worse, by the time you get them they may not even be worth the gold you’ve already spent, and you’re still not finished paying.”‘‘

Mobility. “Only things that can move can achieve the advantages of both place and time. That is, a place and a time where you’re most likely to get a favorable exchange of attrition: preferably, all the attrition on the other fellow, and little or none on you. It’s an easy thing to imagine mobility as speed, mostly, as a man on a horse is able to move faster than a man on foot. An easy thing, but a wrong one. Mobility means more than speed alone, and even speed is a lot more complicated than it sounds. Speed over what distance or for how long, or over what kind of ground or water? ‘‘

“Still, the principle is that mobility can give the initiative, and from the initiative come many other good advantages. The ability to concentrate hitting power at a place and time where it’ll do us the most good: that’s important. Also, to avoid a concentration of the enemy’s hitting power, if we can see it in time. And best of all, to achieve surprise. ‘‘

“Mobility means being able to move fast enough, for far enough, so that we have time to be properly set, in the place where we want to fight, and the enemy doesn’t have time. Then he has to fight, maybe, where he doesn’t want to fight. On the other hand, where an opponent is strong enough to be at a great advantage, maybe it’s also good to be fast enough for long enough to stay away from him. ‘‘

“But can you have too much mobility? That’s a good question. You can ask for too much, if it takes away from something else you want even more. Comes to my mind old Gunnar, the horse-breeder. When Sigurd asked him to breed up a horse with those extra-long legs, just so Sigurd could wade in from his ship out in deeper water. And he could. Very impressive Sigurd was on that horse. But that horse fetched up lame as soon as he came out of the water. Sigurd never made a penny with that horse, and no more did Gunnar. ‘‘

“Here’s another one for you, though. Does mobility include being fast enough to evade the sweep of a sword or the thrust of a spear? Does it mean being able to run or ride faster than an arrow? We will have to think about that. Be patient.”‘‘

Survivability. “Using hitting power when an opponent has no power to hit back is a luxury, apart from any misgivings we might have about doing massacre, and it’s a sad but true thing that many men have no such misgivings. But when hitting power is coming back at us in return, as usually happens in a fight, or we wouldn’t have any enemies worth fighting, why, then, the ability to stand up to it becomes a matter of some concern. I’ll call that ability ‘survivability,’ another word I heard once from a Wise-Man, though I’ve heard it called other things, long ago, by my own father. Of the words of his on this subject that I choose to repeat in polite company, my favorite is “steadfastness.” That just means the ability to ‘hold to one’s place.’ ‘‘

“The principle is that survivability furnishes enough time in which hitting power can be delivered to an opponent, in spite of the hitting power he’s trying to put onto you. So you should be able to see right away that the product of your hitting power and your survivability means something.’‘

“Like hitting power, survivability is made up of a number of different things: reducing the likelihood of being hit, reducing the effects of an enemy’s hitting power, and increasing the ability to restore our own hitting power and mobility (and maybe our survivability, too) even after we’ve been hurt.’‘

“Reducing susceptibility to being hit, ah, that is a lovely gift isn’t it? If I’d had more of that gift I’d still have both of my eyes. Perhaps if I’d drunk less I’d have had the sense to see that blow coming, and maybe I’d have stood back a little bit, or ducked. ‘‘

“It is not easy, but it can be done. For one thing, susceptibility can be reduced by having better awareness of what’s going on all around, as I should have had when I was young. So keeping our wits about us, and our eyes and ears sharp, and our minds awake instead of walking around half asleep, asleep and dreaming. Now those aren’t necessarily things we craftsmen can help with very much, if a warrior can’t stir himself up to pay attention. But there are things we can do. You makers of seeing stones, horns, and drums, take note. I’m told that by putting dried peas on the head of a snare drum on the ground you can hear horses galloping on frozen ground a long way off. That’s a good thing to know. ‘‘

“For another, susceptibility can be reduced by hiding and sneaking, and hitting from behind without a word of warning. I don’t hold with those things much myself, being old-fashioned. A plain road for me, though it lead through a hedge of swords. But in this world, under this sun, war is not about being fair. It is about taking advantage and getting it done. ‘‘

“For a third, susceptibility can be reduced by smoke and bright lights and mirrors and straw dummies of warriors standing on the walls of a stockade (taking arrows that could have been aimed at us) and other such deceptions and trickery.’‘

“Reducing vulnerability to the enemy’s hitting power? This is not so hard to understand. We swordsmiths, and shield-builders, too, this is where a good part of our business is. A sword, be it ever so sharp and well-balanced, will do the hand that wields it little good if it be broken at the first clash. So unless it be for use only on the defenseless, which is an unworthy thing for a swordsmith even to think about, a blade must be strong enough as well as sharp enough and handy enough. ‘‘

“Shields and helmets and armor we know of, but there is this, and meaning no disrespect for those who build such things for their livelihood: if a man’s shield or armor is so heavy that he can’t move, or can’t use his sword rightly, what then? How much weight, then, is to be shield and armor, and how much sword? And how much horse, for that matter? All good questions, and if you think it’s easy to come by the right answer then I have some advice for you: think some more. And while you think remember this well: the blade your opponent carries and intends to use on you is as important as what you’d like to do to him with yours.

“Now, will an archer in padded cloth on a pony beat a full-armored man with a lance on a heavy horse? Maybe, and maybe not. It depends. And on what does it depend, besides good fortune? Why, surely it depends on the armor, and the bow, and the arrow, too, and the range, of course, always the range. And the range depends, often as not, on the lay and shape of the ground where we fight. So. To be able to take most advantage of that ground we have to get there first, and we’re back to mobility again.

“A battle depends on numbers, too, there’s no point denying it. But it isn’t all in numbers. Haven’t we been there, some of us? Numbers sometimes count for less than people might think. Sometimes men can get packed in so tight they can’t even take a decent swing, or get into the fight properly at all. But numbers still can count plenty; just remember what I said about attrition.

“But you know, numbers isn’t usually a question for us craftsmen, except when we come to talk about how much our stuff costs. If it didn’t depend on numbers and the ground, then maybe we’d all of us fight the same way all over the world. And what fun would there be in that? But that’s for another talk.”

[Editor’s note: Floki apparently wanted to hold a seminar on force structure, but the people in the front row fixed it so he never did.]

“There are some subtleties to be found between mobility and survivability. What do you say about being agile enough, fast enough, or high-jumping or deep-diving enough, like, not to get hit? Not that it makes much difference what the words are, but it’s worth thinking about when you compare different kinds of warrior-stuff. It might be convenient to think of agility as a special kind of mobility, rather than throwing it into survivability all lumped up. It doesn’t really matter, except for this: if you’re on foot, the things you jump with are pretty much the same things you run with. But if you ever have to discuss mobility and survivability in the presence of a Wise-Man, he’ll perceive that you have thought about it, and are no one to be trifled with.

“And what about recoverability? Well, we can all agree that it’s important not to bleed to death. But it’s even more important not to bleed to death while you can still hit! It’s a shame if this happens just because you don’t have anything to bind yourself up so you can go back to work. Say a strip of cloth and a leather strap to fix up the mechanics of nature.

“Now that I’m thinking on it, although it is not pleasant to think about, survivability has another use, too. A man who can’t even hit any more can still draw attrition away from others who can. It’s only human nature to go after a sure thing sometimes. And there are a lot of men who’d prefer to face a weaker opponent than a stronger, given the choice, even if it’s not necessarily the best thing to do to win a battle. So being more recoverable might at least let you sell your life for a higher price.”

Other Attributes. “Before I go any further, this is a place to say that there are other important things to the warrior besides hitting power, mobility, and survivability. Among these, the things we most often argue about are reliability, maintainability, and availability. These things the Wise-Men tend to call the ‘ilities,’ which I used to think was just a way to mispronounce “ill at ease.” Sometimes, now, we just call them RM&A.

“RM&A is important, very important. We know that. If a bow only shoots eight times out of ten, and two times out of ten, for no reason at all, it just lets the arrow stay on the string or drop onto the ground, why, you might come to hate that bow like poison. On the other hand, suppose that same bow, when it does decide to shoot, is more deadly at long range than anything else you have on the wall. What then? It may not be obvious, but you have to think about this problem as a matter of exchange of attrition. That bow might be fine for taking long shots. But perhaps you’d be glad to reach for something else when an enemy comes too close. Again, you might be properly suspicious of my motives. I make swords. You might be willing to trade.

“And then there’s safety. It may sound strange to talk about safety when you’re going into a fight, but it still has a meaning. And don’t forget that we practice and train, too, and it’s a shame to get hurt doing that. So suppose you have a stand of arrows that all shoot wonderfully well, straight and far, when they shoot. But every now and then one of them splits right up the shaft and leaves you with feathers and little splinters of wood sticking out of your face. I little doubt how you’d take to those arrows, and what you might say to him that made them.

“But here is the lesson in it. Arguments about RM&A, or about safety, don’t change the fact that the warrior is in the special business of applying hitting power – with mobility and survivability to help him apply it. RM&A is about whether a warrior can count on his stuff to work when it’s needed, and that’s about how things are made and supported. But I could just as well talk about the RM&A of a plough horse as a war horse.”

[Editor’s note: It was at about this point in Floki’s talk that the people in the front row started to grumble.]

“If we’re talking about a piece of warrior-stuff that also happens to be a warrior’s working and living place (I’m thinking of ships, mostly, so my apologies to Thorberg, but also of castles, forts and stockades) then there’s at least one or two more ill at ease to talk about – habitability and sustainability. Keep in mind that all the stuff we provide is just that much more for the enemy to take as a prize if our warrior isn’t in condition to use it. So we have to keep our man at least dry enough, warm enough, and fed enough to be worth a fight. Do I dare to add clean enough? Probably not; few among us have ever cared much about that before. But those are some of the things that habitability might be made up of. As for sustainability, why, I have to admit I’ve never figured out exactly what the Wise-Men mean by that, except maybe whether we can bring our cattle and pigs with us on a campaign, not to speak of our women and children. But if that’s what they mean, they might just say so.

Communication. “We all know about ways to send messages without a messenger. That works in some places. People who have seeing-stones are very fortunate indeed, and I realize that some of you are working on that for all of us, although not much is said about it. But until you work it out, I’m afraid ordinary people will still have to be content with smoke or flags in the day, lights and fires at night, drums in the woods, and horns in the field.

“In the meanwhile, too, we are all of us aware that sending a message over any great distance means sending a messenger, on a horse over roads or across country that isn’t too rough; on foot for closer or rougher ground. Mobility is almost the whole story for a messenger. A man could even leave his shield and armor behind (even his sword if he’ll part with it) just so it makes him get where he’s going sooner. See, if a messenger gets into trouble that he can’t ride or run around, it’ll likely enough be real trouble, and that’s it for him, shield or no, and that’s probably it for the message, too.

“So we take it into our minds to hide it, or cipher it. We don’t write it down or speak it plain if it’s important and could find its way into the enemy’s hands. I do hope, you seeing-stone mongers, that when you get your seeing-stones working properly you will still remember that the enemy may have seeing-stones, too. And you warriors, I hope you will know to keep messages short and secret, just as we do with smoke, lights, or drums. I’m sometimes afraid that new things, being entertaining to use, make us careless.

“It is a very good thing on the field if you can call friends to you at need, in the middle of a fight, or let them know which way to move. The horn makers here are very good at their craft, I doubt not, but the hard part is arranging that horn calls be unambiguous, so our people will know who the call is for, and not too easy for the enemy to figure out. I often wonder if our horn makers can possibly do something about that.

Affordability. “None of us will be comfortable admitting this, but there are other things to delight and entertain us in this world besides fighting. It may be true that we can get many of those other things by fighting and taking them. But at times even we have found that there’s no good way to get them except buying them. Therefore, not having all the gold we’d like, we can’t necessarily spend as much as we’d like on warrior-stuff.

“But beside that, what can be said about deciding how much gold to spend on this kind of war-gear, or that kind of war-gear? Fortunately, speaking as a smith, I am grateful that this is a question that is not asked of us smiths, but generally only of Wise-Men, by the People that Handle the Gold. The Wise-Men, I suppose, then consult with those who know the enemy, and others, make the magic passes that are called for, and eventually return answers to the People that Handle the Gold.

“In turn, the People that Handle the Gold then select from among the Wise-Men’s answers a mix of answers that they feel will be judged most favorably by the King. The King then concurs with the recommendation, or does not. If he does, then the gold flows. If he does not concur, but instead prefers some other answer, never you mind why, then he chooses that, and the gold flows in that direction.

“If, however, the King does not find any of the answers satisfying, then the gold does not flow so much. Probably, some of the People that Handle the Gold have their heads handed to them, and perhaps some of the Wise-Men, too. Usually, though, the People that Handle the Gold, and the Wise-Men, have arranged things so that most of the failure can be blamed on craftsmen, for not being more creative or industrious, so some of them have to suffer as well. In any case the Wise-Men, those that are left with what to be wise with, have to be consulted again.

“Now all this is a mystery, of course, even when the King is the supreme authority over all the People that Handle the Gold. When power over the gold is usurped by a Parliament, as in a constitutional monarchy, or worse, in a republic, it is beyond mystery. More cannot be said here of this matter.

“But even for warriors and craftsmen, questions of the following form can at least be asked, though not so easily answered:

“On the kind of ground where we are planning to fight, can three archers in padded cloth on ponies usually beat one full-armored man on a heavy horse? If not, then, can four? How many times out of hundred? That done, what are the costs in gold of acquiring ponies and archers, plus certain bows and arrows, by comparison with the costs of a heavy horse and accouterments, the lance and the rest, and one man in full armor? And then, the annual costs of keeping the same in readiness, what are they?

“Now, perhaps, you will understand why the Wise-Men and the People that Handle the Gold (not to mention the King) are more to be courted and reverenced than those who are still only warriors, and how much less we craftsmen: swordsmiths, bow-makers, and shield-builders, horn-hollowers and seeing-stone contrivers, difficult though our callings may be, and useful and beautiful the works of our hands.

[Editor’s note: It was at this point that the front row rose in a mass and seized Floki by the scruff, and frog-marched him out of the hall for the beating that he deserved. It can be said that he recovered his senses after some time, but schooled himself to silence at A.S.N.E. meetings thereafter. However, Floki was found to have some additional notes on his person when he was carried from the hall, and in good consideration these are appended hereto.]

Here are the notes that fell out of Floki’s pockets when he was drubbed. No one has yet been able to figure out if they make sense, and Floki himself, who usually has no objection to a good brawl, but does not so much enjoy fighting alone against ten or more, is naturally reticent about offering any explanations.


I do not care much for the word “best” when it comes to warrior-stuff. (The Wise-Men use the word “optimum,” but I expect that’s mostly because they need to speak Latin, having visited Rome.) I have never heard a practical way of posing, still less of solving, the problem of finding the “best” weapon, or the “best” mix of hitting power, mobility, and survivability. I wish I knew how to solve these problems, because if I did I certainly wouldn’t need to make my living down at that hot, dirty, dusty, damned old forge.

How would you address the following, for example?

1. ‘‘Make it most likely that we can convince the population of the neighboring Kingdom (or their King) to behave in a certain way, subject to the gold we have, the men we have, our present understanding of swords, spears, and bows, and our political and moral restraints, such as they are. ‘‘

2. `‘Under the same restraints, make it most likely that we’d prevail in a war against those same people, subjugate their King, take his royal throne, and loot his Kingdom eight ways to Sunday. ‘‘

3. ‘‘I expect that these problems are overly ambitions and underly well-defined, at least for us in the warrior or warrior-stuff businesses. How if we try these instead:’‘

Offense: Maximize the expected attrition to enemy things, for a given cost, by adjusting how much of our gold is put into hitting power, mobility, and survivability. (Let those who know the enemy best, if they will, tell us exactly what the enemy things are.) ‘‘

Defense: Minimize the expected attrition that enemy things can do to our own things, for a given cost, by adjusting how much of our gold is put into hitting power, mobility, and survivability.’‘

Attrition Ratio: Maximize the attrition we perform on the persons and properties of the enemy per unit of attrition he performs on us.’‘

Even posed thus, these problems are obviously unfitted to the likes of me, Floki the One-Eyed, or anyone that I know, including every man in this room, I would say. Whatever choices we make, be assured that our possible enemies are considering the same matters from the opposite side. It is not wise to flatter ourselves that they’re very much less capable than we. ‘‘

I have one other thing to say about gold. Asking how much a thing is going to cost before you’ve tried to make the first one is a fine recipe for getting a wrong answer. The People that Handle the Gold like to use the words “total ownership cost.” To say that they have guessed how much a thing will take of the King’s treasure over its entire “life cycle.” This is an amusing thing to me, because the length of life is in considerable doubt, as we’re about to send that thing, whatever it is, into battle. But never mind that.’‘

The process of dividing up the gold, as I’ve said before, is at the King’s pleasure, or, in places too barbarous to support a decent absolute monarchy, at the vote of a Parliament or Congress. These may be made up of men who have inherited their places in spite of their evident unfitness, or who are elected by the ignorant general public for a term of years, definite or indefinite. The point is that for such men and such governments, saving money in the future in exchange for spending more now is not only risky, but possibly unconstitutional as well. I sometimes think that it’s best to forget about the illusion of total ownership and think hardest about acquisition cost instead. That is more than hard enough. But we do what we’re told and we take what we get.’‘

As for the costs of keeping a thing, there is this: as warrior-stuff becomes more complicated we do need to pay heed to the influence of other things than fighting. Transport, replenishment, maintenance, and training come to my mind. These may seem to be ancillary to the business of fighting and in most respects they are, just as RM&A and the other ill at ease are handmaidens of hitting power, mobility, and survivability. Nevertheless, they may be mentioned in the requirements that the King and high-ranking warriors lay upon us, and they can’t be neglected at our great peril, and have mercy on our souls. ‘‘

But if there is peace for any amount of time, then we may find that we replenish, maintain, and train even more than we fight, much more. Disappointing as that may be, there is even worse of it: we may begin to forget the purposes we built stuff for in the first place: to fight, which is to say, to hit. That is how we fall into the trap of wanting to turn war into just another business in the first place. ‘‘


Why is it so hard to keep our new warrior-stuff on schedule and under budget? I have tried to list what we do when we develop a new thing, and the best I have done I will tell you now. It is tempting to think that my list is something we follow one step at a time, but I confess that I’ve never seen it done that way. Instead, the list is like ingredients swirling around each other and mixing up like soup. I am sure that my list is incomplete, too, but I make no apologies for it.’‘

More important, this list makes it sound like one person may be exercising authority over all the ingredients, like a cook in a kitchen. That, too, is wrong. Not even the King exercises that authority; if he does, he is likely enough to get it wrong, too. But, at the risk of seeming to advise the King on what he should and should not do, Kings are busy with high matters and that’s as it should be. Let the cooks do the cooking, is what I say. ‘‘

Nor, in general, has the King delegated sufficient authority to one man. Warriors, bureaucrats, spies, propagandists, consulting Wise-Men, artists and craftsmen, politicians, and the People that Handle the Gold, all are in this struggle to either gain control, to claim the credit if things are going well, or to avoid the blame if things are going ill. Who is in control? I have begun to think that no one is, not even in an autocracy. It is pulled back and forth perpetually. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: as it is in a battle, so it is in the things we make for battle. ‘‘

But leave it. Here is my list of some of the things we do. Each of them is a heavy burden, from what I know and from what I’m told. You can believe that.’‘

Intelligence. Those who know the enemy go out and study him, his existing and projected warrior-stuff, and his doctrines. The methods these people use make them very secretive, and that, together with studying the arts of the enemy too closely, makes them subtle and quick to anger. Used to being deceived, they practice deception to a very fine degree. In the end some of them, out of pride or fear, come to practice self-deception as well. Nevertheless, many of them are Wise-Men, too, which does not make them any easier to comprehend. It would be wonderful if the Wise-Men could let us know the enemy’s intentions as well as his capabilities, but this is often a forlorn hope. Capabilities usually take time to come about, but intentions can change overnight, in an hour, in the blink of an eye. Plans are quite likely to change abruptly as soon as it is known, or even suspected, that they have been discovered, anyway, so the very act of discernment may be at least partly self-defeating.’‘

Capabilities. Warrior-craftsmen, with a leavening of Wise-Men, propose a set of alternative abilities that might be possible, and might also help achieve a military objective as a nation, as they perceive it. These capabilities can then be linked with a new piece of warrior-stuff. The seeing-stones come to mind, as they started out this way. Bias can become very pronounced in this. Often the bias can be associated with one or more of the following seven sins: ‘‘

Proprietorship. “I know it’s a good idea – it’s my idea.”‘‘

Seduction. “Look! I will show you a rare and wonderful thing!”‘‘

Novelty for its Own Sake. “We’ve never done any better than blunder about like a bull in a thicket: so anything new must be good.”‘‘

Nostalgia. “I miss the way it was when I was young and carefree.” ‘‘

Inertia. “I don’t care. I don’t have to.” ‘‘

Not-Invented-Here (NIH). “This is Bjorn’s idea and everyone knows it – it won’t do me any good to see it pursued.”‘‘

Vested Interest. “That thing will pull gold away from my thing; if it succeeds, it may delay or even supersede my thing. I can’t have that.”‘‘

There are undoubtedly other sins that I haven’t thought of, but seven should be enough to get started with. ‘‘

Metrics. Warriors, the People that Handle the Gold, and Wise-Men, as required, establish the measures of “effectiveness,” of cost, and of risk, so that different items of warrior-stuff can be compared and judged preferable or not. Risk and cost, however difficult they may be to quantify, can at least be explained. “Effectiveness” for a warrior-thing is usually so complicated, for reasons I’ve tried to lay out as clearly as I can, that it’s often impossible to even say what it is. It is near to meaningless unless we’ve said what the enemy can bring against it, too, and how we both mean to fight. ‘‘

We may presume that “effectiveness” is a very complicated result of hitting power (of various kinds at various ranges), mobility (over various distances and kinds of ground), and survivability (against various weapons). So the hitting power, mobility, and survivability we need to know are not simply ours, but also those of them, our enemy, along with our appreciation of the numbers and of the ground. It is very difficult to measure fighting effectiveness, even in principle, except by observing the results of fighting or at least mock-fighting, but then it would have to be very realistic mock-fighting indeed. I myself would not want to stand too close to such a mock fight, especially if it involved archery. ‘‘

Beware of anything calling itself a “measure of effectiveness” that purports to be derived from the mere performance of our own thing, without reference to the enemy, the numbers, or the ground. It is likely to be little but the residue of bias. In particular, treat with scorn any measure of effectiveness if it is only a weighted sum of aspects of performance. That cannot be effectiveness, nor can it be a sound basis for preference, even in principle, except under two special conditions. One condition is that nobody gives a rat’s hindquarters what we choose, so any order of preference will do. The Wise-Men refer to that as a “trivial case.” The other condition is that the King has decreed it so and we have all agreed that whatever the King says goes. Looking into the seeds of time to see which ones will grow and which will not, I say that somebody will prove this, some day. Like as not, Floki being a swordsmith, the man who does prove it will bear the name of a projectile weapon. ‘‘

Scenarios. Based on history and imagination, warriors and Wise-Men try to think what future engagements, campaigns, and wars will be like. They construct more or less elaborate stories, called scenarios, that form frameworks for war plans and war games. Once again, beware. Bias may easily play a part in constructing scenarios.’‘

Concepts. Wise-Men and warriors, assisted by inventors and craftsmen, generate new ideas for warrior-stuff. They develop them to the extent of saying whether or not they are physically impossible, and perhaps saying what advantages in hitting power, mobility, survivability, RM&A, safety, or affordability might result if we had such stuff. Of course, what is thought to be impossible in one age may well change in the next and become quite possible, inevitable in fact. I’m sure that when craftsmen were making swords out of bronze, they thought that making swords out of iron was impossible. Well, it’s not. ‘‘

But be wary: estimates of the attributes of things that exist only as concepts are much at the mercy of advocates and adversaries. That is the battle before the battle, the battle of bias, if I may call it so. And who is a man to believe? Why, obviously, Him to Whom the Oath is Sworn. ‘‘

Experiences. Warriors participate in a few real wars, hopefully not too big. More safely, they can also play war games. These include variations of our own and the enemy’s warrior-stuff and doctrines. The lesson is this: beware of believing your own bragging, especially if you’ve won a few. In games, be sure to play the enemy now and then. I suppose an argument can be made, strictly in terms of finding out what works and what doesn’t, that even in a real war it might be instructive to switch sides from time to time. But don’t. ‘‘

Transition. Warriors, Wise-Men, and People that Handle the Gold compare and select the preferred kinds of warrior-stuff to develop from concepts into real war-stuff, to be built and bought. This is an intensely mysterious part of the “process,” if it is in truth a process. Do not be shocked, you craftsmen, if the worse sometimes appears the better cause. ‘‘

Requirements. Warriors and Wise-Men define and issue specific requirements and constraints for war-stuff designers and makers to meet. This is often the most difficult and dangerous ingredient in the soup, where the entire mix can start to go sour very quickly. Requirements writers (especially those who think they understand what the warriors are saying, but don’t) can easily make requirements too hard or too easy. Either way can spoil the result. ‘‘

Cost and Schedule Estimates. This is usually an uncomfortable conversation between factions of Wise-Men, craftsmen, and People that Handle the Gold, like a hundred surgeons all looking for the same lump. Nobody believes any of it, but we have to line up on one side or the other, as suits our own interests, provided they are in no wise contrary to those of Him to Whom the Oath is Sworn. ‘‘

Risk Assessment and Mitigation. This is where we all ask ourselves how sure we are of our ground in guessing how our stuff will perform, or our cost estimate, or our schedule. We confess, if we are even middling honest, the extent of our uncertainty, that is, the likelihood and consequences of being wrong about things we’ve had to guess. We prepare plans to reduce risk. That is, we lay our plans for knowing things with more certainty, and reducing the likelihood and lessening the consequences of being caught out. ‘‘

Design, Build, Test. At this point we craftsmen have it. We are assisted by such Wise-Men as we think might be needed (the more of them, unfortunately, as a thing is newer and more untried), and we are watched over by the People that Handle the Gold. We may also be watched over by the King himself, if he is interested. This makes everything a little more of a nerve-strumming. ‘‘

We design, and build a first article, maybe, or a small batch, for test use by real warriors. My swords, for example, go out and get used. And woe to me if they fail on my account. But only so can I refine the estimates of performance, cost, schedule, and thereby validate (perhaps) the estimates of my sword’s “effectiveness,” as it was assumed in games, for example. If I am very lucky, I may see the tests extended into actual war-fighting. That may help me, but I am wary still. People can learn the wrong lessons even from real fights. Winners can be especially likely to fall into that trap, because wishful thinking will turn every conceivable fight into the fight they have just won, at least in their own minds. The enemy, of course, having just lost, will have other ideas, if he still has his head on.’‘

There are many ways to do “design, build, test,” in little bites or big bites. Little bites are safer, in general, but when added up they often appear to add up to more cost. Usually this is an illusion, as it turns out. On their better days the People that Handle the Gold may be willing to spend some money to reduce the risks, and so the bites can be bigger. Be grateful for this when it happens, for it isn’t often. Have I not tried it myself with swords with curved blades instead of straight, and have I not found that they could be made lighter and still not break? They work quite well, but I still have no local market for them. Warriors are often conservative. It is their life wagered on the outcome, now, not mine. Those that like their heavy swords are awfully hard to convince. Were I to cut someone down myself, still would they take more convincing, and besides I’d probably lose as many orders as I gained.’‘

Contracting. There is a certain class of Wise-Man that cannot be condemned harshly enough to receive what they deserve. These are a sub-species of lawyer, men who deal only with agreements between craftsmen, requirements writers, and the People that Handle the Gold. The truth is not in them. Their craft is in making sure that every quibble that could be raised is answered before the need arises, and their delight is in laying snares for honest men. Their words are twisted, their oaths faithless, and their names on a waste of pulp. They are capable only of obstruction and, if it were up to me, that is what I would use them for; I would build every one of them into the fill of a foundation wall. Rot, is what I say.’‘

Production and Service. Now, if we’ve somehow gotten around the lawyers, at last we manufacture and field and support our products. At the same time, though, the Wise-Men, the People that Handle the Gold, and their Masters, take notice of the world as it is, to see if what we have made still makes sense. If it does, we may continue in production and service for some time. If our stuff gets used, then after every fight we owe it to ourselves to look and see whether it’s still doing as well as we’d hoped. But often things are confused, and even the warriors who were there may have difficulty knowing what really happened. It is as easy for them to get it wrong as for anyone else. And in many cases they will not want to speak of it overloud, because the tale may come to the ear of the enemy. Or it may be that they themselves did something not quite right, and find it an embarrassment, in case it comes to the ear of the King.’‘


And, all the while we are stirring this soup our enemies are trying to find ways in which they can make sure that our ingredients are wrong from the beginning. If we start with a recipe that makes sense to begin with, they will try to find a way of undoing and spoiling it as soon as they can. It is their duty to the One to Whom Their Oath is Sworn. ‘‘

Is it any wonder, my friends, given a problem difficult or impossible of solution, no “process” to speak of (though we do speak of it, endlessly, until we grow tired of wagging our tongues), all of us in a battle against ourselves for our King’s favor and for the favor of the People that Handle the Gold, before we ever come to a real battle, then to face an opponent about as able as ourselves, and maybe all the meaner for it if we’ve been successful in the past, planning and building to requirements that come and go like phantoms in the dark, is it any wonder, I say, that warrior-things are not as things of the commercial world? Is it any wonder that warrior-stuff is high-priced and high-strung? Not at all. ‘‘

But thus do we, along with our enemies, may God help us, chase each other’s tails, and make sure that we must cook this same soup over and over again, until the One to Whom the Oath is Sworn release us from it, or death take us, or the world end.’‘


If it be true, as I have argued, that war is not going to be turned into a business, then how can we make our stuff work better? I do not mean to tell each of you how to do your own particular job; we have different jobs and we must all learn for ourselves. But how can we move forward, and at the same time remain grounded in the things we have learned from experience, the bitter along with the sweet? This is what I think, and if I haven’t offended you already, you are probably fast asleep, so I’m quite safe: ‘‘

1. Craftsmen and Wise-Men, study continually what warriors actually do. Even if we once were warriors ourselves, we must always try to remember that the world changes in spite of us. It’s true that we study the old ways; in fact we cannot avoid it. But we must study what is happening now, also. We must all be open to correction; hard though it be we must set time aside to listen to new ideas. We must all try to remember that none of us knows everything. ‘‘

2. Warriors, retain your prerogative and your responsibility to tell craftsmen what problems you face in battle, and so to tell your craftsmen as forthrightly as you can what you think you need to do in battle. You should not tell craftsmen how to be craftsmen, any more than you would like craftsmen to tell you how to be warriors. ‘‘

3. Put aside the illusion that making up a new word is the same as making a new thing happen. Perhaps the Wise-Men will be able to make this illusion come true someday, but that day is not yet come. For myself, I fear that day, for one errant word or thought could then be the ruin of all. The deeper and newer a word sounds on first saying it, or hearing it, and the more good things are promised of it, the more suspicious we must be, not of the word, but of ourselves. Some there are who believe that if we wish for something, no matter what it may be, we have only to organize our effort properly and it will happen. Foolishness. Foolishness.’‘

4. Warriors and craftsmen of different disciplines and traditions, stop fighting against each other for the King’s favor, or the favor of the People that Handle the Gold. It is ruinous. In war all must fight for the common good, not that of their own way alone. If you must strive with one another, compete fairly on the grounds of your results.’‘

5. All of us, we must all realize that the enemy is at work. We must not believe our own boasts. We must not become over-specialized or dependent on one way of war. The enemy is watching for that, and it makes us easier to beat. Wise-Men, and such of you craftsmen who have studied, come forward with your best ideas. Those who are willing to forego somewhat of personal gain, and work together for the common good even if it be to their own cost, their virtue should not go unrewarded; let the People that Handle the Gold look to it.’’

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