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Civil Affairs, Winston Churchill, and the Power of Paying Attention
Andrew J. Bibb
Readiness, the top priority of the U.S. military in the 21st century, begins with awareness. This applies from the individual all the way up to the national and international levels, from the tactical level to the operational and strategic. In this context, awareness is defined as the state of consciousness in which one attains a functional realization of the state and nature of reality. It is achieved when one pays attention to a given situation and the factors that contribute to it, analyzing and examining until he or she achieves an actionable level of understanding. When the observer understands the problem well enough, the solutions present themselves.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson explains, “If you identify things, with careful attention and language, you bring them forward as viable, obedient objects, detaching them from their underlying near-universal interconnectedness. You simplify them. You make them specific and useful and reduce their complexity.”1 This process of enabling awareness and understanding in support of readiness is what Army Civil Affairs (CA) does best.
This paper aims to show the value of CA to both the statesman and general as they are understood by Winston Churchill in Dr. Larry P. Arnn’s2 scholarly work Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government.3 Although Churchill uses the term “general” to refer to commanders, CA’s value is by no means limited to flag officers. The CA team, the lowest-echelon CA element, is a battalion-level asset and can inform tactical decisions as well as operational and strategic ones. Similarly, CA support to statesmen is not limited to elected officials, as fostering partnerships within and supporting the various branches of government fall directly within the purview of Civil Affairs.
There are at least three good reasons to use Winston Churchill’s concepts of statesmanship and generalship as the lens through which to analyze the value of CA. First, the purpose of all Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) is to enable and execute the decisions of commanders (generals) and policy makers (statesmen). Second, of all of the world leaders in the past hundred years few are as qualified to speak authoritatively on both of these topics as Winston Churchill. Third, none of these world leaders were as prolific as Churchill at recording their perspectives, so through his work we are able to clearly see what the general and statesmen need that CA can provide.
Churchill served as Prime Minister of Great Britain during and after World War II, as well as in numerous other government positions, including First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of World War I. Throughout his long and distinguished career he learned that the duty of statesmen and generals was to comprehend a given situation and act in concert with reality to produce the desired outcome. The ability to do this in large part depends on having an accurate, complete, and nuanced understanding of the situation and its attending circumstances.
Fortunately for both the statesman and the general, this is where CA excels. CA not only serves as the informational and relational link between military and civilian entities, but also paints an accurate picture of the on-the-ground reality for the commander.4 CA focuses specifically on the civil component of the operational environment (OE), and since the non-threat (civil) aspect makes up the vast majority of the OE a proper understanding of that aspect is critical to both military and political success. Additionally, “Military operations always have a degree of involvement (assistance, interference, or influence) with the civil component,”5 so a dedicated force oriented to that component is necessary to every operation.
Defining the Particulars
Churchill believed that the “right thing to do depends on the circumstances,”6 but those circumstances must be defined in order to determine what the right course of action is. CA’s most critical function is to establish and maintain awareness of both the raw civil data and its aggregate significance. Civil Affairs Activities (CAA), the core competency of which CA is the proponent, are “enduring capabilities that increase the commander’s understanding of, deliberate interaction with, and planning for the civil component.”7 While CA forces are capable of supporting Military Governance Operations and other joint activities, such as Foreign Assistance and Populace and Resources Control, CAA define CA as the commander’s asset. The five CAA functions are Civil Reconnaissance, Civil Engagement, Civil Information Management, Civil-Military Operations Center, and Civil Affairs Operations Staff Support.
CAA make CA an invaluable asset to the commander because an accurate picture of the on-the-ground reality frees the commander to make timely decisions confidently. Without that picture every decision is a gamble. In Churchill’s mind, the specifics surrounding each individual circumstance should drive military decisions. For him, “Circumstances alone…decide whether a correct conventional maneuver is right or wrong.”8 That these circumstances “are many in number and constantly moving”9 only emphasizes the need for CA input into the commander’s common operational picture (COP).10
Policy makers benefit from this civil information as well, as it enables them to make decisions in light of their real-world implications. Churchill believed that, although the “statesman lives and judges amidst the details of action,” he “serves a master beyond all particulars.”11 For the policy maker to rise above the particulars someone else must gather, process, and disseminate the detailed information that drives policy decisions. Someone else must pay close attention to the specifics of a given civil situation. CA forces meet the civil information requirements of both the general and the statesmen in this regard and are uniquely “trained in understanding” the particulars of “foreign cultures, socio-economic dynamics, and governance structures.”12
Army CA has only two tactical mission tasks in its doctrine, and both of them are oriented toward defining the particulars of the civil component. Civil Reconnaissance (CR) and Civil Engagement (CE), which are also the first two CAA functions, are dedicated to gathering the raw civil data in a given area of operations. These two “CA specific tasks answer key information gaps in which no other staff section specializes.”13 CA Forces are able to focus their attention on the “dynamic relationship” between “friendly forces, enemy forces, and populations as…a host of other factors contend to influence the OE on a daily basis.”14
CR, the first tactical task, is the “targeted, planned, and coordinated observation and evaluation of specific civil aspects of the environment.”15 CA forces are capable of conducting CR in any environment the commander deems necessary by “deploying to semi- and non-permissive environments, and operating in places where traditional military and civilian agencies cannot.”16 For this reason, among many others, Marine COL Jeffrey Lipson concludes that tactical CA units are “employed to their best effect” when they are tasked “to gain an accurate picture of a region in addition to what is gleaned from traditional intelligence sources.”17
CR is proactive in nature, not reactive. It continually refines the commander’s picture of the OE instead of waiting for specific information requirements to be published, although CA forces are perfectly capable of answering those as well. CA forces base their CR on civil information collection plans, which are specific enough to economize CA efforts but broad enough to allow for flexibility depending on the circumstances. The result is quality civil information gained at a negligible cost. COL Lipson explains, “When properly gathered, analyzed, deployed, civil reconnaissance will ‘push’ information to commanders to help them tailor their operations. Without it, the same information is ‘pulled’ through interrogations, patrols, or other more time-and resource-intensive means and perhaps with less efficacy.”18
Churchill believed that those “who cannot talk to each other are likely to fight like roosters.”19 CA has an answer to this problem as well. Civil Engagement (CE), the second tactical mission task, are “the planned and targeted activities in which CA forces deliberately focus on the interaction with the IPI [indigenous populations and institutions], unified action partners, and other civil entities.”20
Churchill knew first-hand that fostering relationships leads to a clearer understanding of the circumstances. While serving as a war correspondent in South Africa during the Boer War in the late 1890s, Boer fighters captured Churchill as well as a number of British soldiers. Churchill, unwilling to stand passively by, built relationships with his captors, befriended them, and then leveraged these relationships to gain valuable information that led to his daring and successful escape.21
Although he did not refer to it as such, Churchill conducted CE to gain access to and influence with his guards, and, as a result, gather the necessary information for his plan. Aside from the fact that his engagements were with enemy combatants, it is no different than what CA does every day with non-threat entities. The CE function provides a host of capabilities to the supported commander, who may employ “this task to obtain or disseminate information, mitigate civilian-military interference, foster legitimacy, gain civil cooperation, build partner capacity, and obtain unified action.”22
CE is a tactical level task that can have strategic effects. Dr. David Kilcullen and Marine COL (Ret.) Curtis Lee observe, “Civilians are active participants in all conflicts, making engagement with civil government, civil society organizations, and community leaders a critical combat function.”23 The commander has in CE the capability to reach directly down to the level of boots-on-the-ground and thereby influence key partners to achieve his end-state, as well as fill critical information gaps with data that can only be acquired through face-to-face interactions. As Dr. Peterson observes, “It’s amazing what people will tell you if you pay attention.”24 The commander finds in CA forces a tool to employ “in the information environment that can be used to create effects and operationally desirable conditions.”25
A Single Unity of Conception
Churchill was not only a soldier, statesman, and writer. He was also a painter. Painting was his favorite leisure activity and he used the principles of painting to illustrate the proper conduct of war as he saw it. He saw many similarities between the painter, the general, and the statesman, but the most critical of these similarities was the need for “a single unity of conception.”26
Churchill describes this single unity of conception as an “all-embracing view which presents the beginning and the end, the whole and each part, as one instantaneous impression retentively and untiringly held in the mind.”27 In both painting and warfare the “details,” or, for CA, the data points gathered through CR and CE, “are essential to the problem presented by each,” however these “details have no order without” this single unity of conception.28
Perhaps CA as a branch is best seen, using Churchill’s language, as a master painter who accurately depicts the civil component of the OE in the commander’s COP, reflecting reality but also vividly emphasizing the most relevant aspects in the foreground. The CA professional is like the art, movie, or food critic who is so familiar with his or her craft that he or she grasps details that would slip by the average consumer unnoticed as the significant particulars they are. Properly trained, CA forces are so intimately familiar with the social and political nuances of a given region that they recognize factors that others would consider inconsequential. Their “cultural orientation, regional expertise, linguistic capabilities, advisory ability, and civilian-acquired professional skills”29 enable them to discriminate between priority and ancillary data points.
For CA forces, the COP is the canvas and the pieces of civil information gathered through CR and CE are the colors on the palette. Information management systems and practices are the brushes that feed the information into the overall COP. Civil Information Management (CIM), the third CAA function, is the process by which the colors are blended and arranged on the canvas to reflect reality. In this process “data relating to the civil component of the operational environment is gathered, collated, processed, analyzed, produced into information products, and disseminated.”30 CIM is how the particulars become actionable to the general and the statesman.
The purpose of the COP is to enable the commander to achieve a single unity of conception. In a properly “painted” picture of the civil component of the COP, every detail, “however distant, however subordinate, is set forth naturally and in its true proportion and relation.”31 This is vital because, “Like the details, the conception of the work must be true. For the painter, nature appears on the canvas with ‘startling obedience,’ but only when the painter studies it attentively and faithfully.”32 The civil information gathered during CR and CE must be accurate, but their aggregation must not skew any aspect or make it any more or less significant than it is. Reality as communicated by the data, not preconceived notions, must drive the COP.
Preconceived notions, or assumptions that have not been confirmed or denied, amount to nothing more than theories. Churchill believed, “The painter’s art—and also that of the general…and the statesman—does not consist in admiration for or faith in theories.”33 Theories are valuable as a starting point, but the role of CA includes verifying or refuting these assumptions to produce hard data that concurs with reality.
The CIM process and the resulting COP is “a service to the truth as it is to be observed in nature.” The verified details that feed into the COP are crucial, but the COP “is more than and different from the details of which it has been composed. The nature of the thing seems to bring in qualitative factors, factors that are apparent only in the details, but factors that are not the same as the details.”34 The aggregate significance of the COP, not just reliable bits of information, is both built by the details and also becomes a separate entity. The resulting single unity of conception drives military and policy decisions.
According to Churchill, both the general and the statesman “must see things as they relate to one another in magnitude, significance, and causality. Seeing in this way is not just seeing the details but seeing the order in the details.”35 The civil component, perhaps the most ambiguous and constantly shifting of all aspects of the OE, is also the one that requires the most persistent engagement. Army CA doctrine recognizes, “The land domain is the most complex of the domains, because it addresses humanity—its cultures, ethnicities, religions, and politics.”36 The information gathering and production process helps the “superior” commander “bring these shifting details into order and comprehension,” thus emphasizing the actionability of the data, and avoid the danger of becoming merely an “intelligent scribe.”37
Actionability and Cooperation
The CIM process produces actionable information of a kind that Churchill referred to as “practical knowledge,” the purpose of which is “not knowing, but doing. The result of prudential reasoning is a choice and the result of a choice is an action.”38 Churchill recognized that the “business of statesmanship,” as well as generalship, “was choosing.” Due to the constant flux of circumstances, the statesman and general must “choose at the moment when choices are possible, in the present when the future ‘though imminent is obscure.’”39
Statesmen and generals, policy makers and commanders, bear the burden of making consequential decisions. For this reason, the purpose of CIM is not academic but action-oriented. In the CIM process, “The data is used as civil considerations input into possible courses of action to determine the impact of military operations on the civil component of the OE,”40 as well as to describe “how the civil population affects military operations.”41
In Churchill’s experience, “War actually calls forth the most intense forms of cooperation.” War “is not only a cooperative and political event: it is the supreme event of that kind.”42 He discerned that the “maneuver which brings an ally into the field is as serviceable as that which wins a great battle.”43 CA not only provides the commander with actionable information through the COP, but also forges partnerships within and without the U.S. military. CA forces engage “IPI and unified action partners to establish and maintain relationships and communication channels in order to enhance and influence the relationship between military forces and the civil component.”44 The nexus of this coordination is the Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC).
The CMOC, the fourth CAA function, is the workhorse of the CA branch. It is “a primary capability for coordination of the activities of the Armed Forces of the United States with unified action partners, IPI, and interagency.”45 When necessary, the CMOC can also be augmented with relevant specialists, such as engineers, military police, medical, and transportation to provide the supported commander with a one-stop-shop for subject-matter experts.46
Reflecting the proactive nature of CAA, CMOCs may provide Civil Liaison Teams (CLT) to key partners. The CLT guards against miscommunication and allows for constant coordination and near-instantaneous synchronization. It also “provides the supported CMOC with a CR and CE capability for…coordination without interfering with the regular staff functions.”47 These capabilities make CA “the Joint force of choice to work with many civilian agency, non-governmental, civil society, and private sector actors whose capacities best mitigate drivers of conflict and instability and promote peace.”48
Ultimate Practical Accuracy
For Churchill, success “on the battlefield cannot be ‘calculated on paper alone, and never copied from examples of the past.’ The solution must be ‘evolved from the eye and brain and soul of a single man,’” with the goal of “achieving an ‘ultimate practical accuracy.’”49 This is especially true in the 21st century and, as COL Lipson asserts, “There has never been a more pressing need to understand the importance of the integration of civil information into operational planning.”50 Fortunately, the commander need not be alone in his pursuit of “ultimate practical accuracy.”
Civil Affairs Operations Staff Support, the fifth and final function of CAA, provides the commander with civil-military experts who are “aware of cultural nuances, divergent world views, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes that affect both the civil component and military operations.”51 CA staff, in conjunction with and supported by the CMOC, provides “support during the military decision-making process (MDMP) and the joint planning process.” CA staff also “synchronizes, integrates, and coordinates the civil component with the commander’s CMO [Civil-Military Operations] responsibilities and operational plans.”52
Input from CA staff supports whom Churchill would consider the “great” general. In Churchill’s view, “Generals are supposed to add something to war to bring it to the right conclusion and to mitigate its effects. ‘Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.’” He believed that the greatest “contribution” of the general is to achieve victory while suffering “few casualties,” leaving “the enemy puzzled as well as beaten.”53 Churchill’s generals were challenged to “find easier ways other than sheer slaughter of achieving the main purpose.”54
CA staff, more so than traditional command staff positions, contribute to preventing the loss of human life, property, and social capital. Rather than simply solve problems after they have been created, CA staff helps the commander mitigate or defeat sources of instability well before kinetic action is called for. The fact is that “in today’s dynamic world, it’s likely that a conflict can arise before the presence of an enemy is even fully understood.”55 These conflicts “can only be won at the civil-military level,” where “coming to grips with the deep internal divisions and tensions of the host country, and the pressures from outside states, are critical.”56
CA staff acts as the commander’s conduit to CIM and facilitate its integration into his COP. Rather than react to one threat after another, CA staff helps the commander understand the factors that contribute to civil unrest and make societies vulnerable to nefarious actors. Facilitating the commander’s single unity of conception, CA staff enables him to make decisions that not only defeat threats but prevent them from arising in the first place. When kinetic operations are the priority, CA staff provides solutions to reduce “the friction between U.S. forces and the local populations,” as well as mitigate “their impact on military operations.”57
The effects produced by CA staff are felt well above the level of their supported command. “Policy, doctrine, and strategy have increasingly leaned on the information gleaned from nontraditional sources…such as through social actions, internet, and private sector partners to create a more accurate view of the area of responsibility.”58 Just as “generals must prioritize when they fight,”59 they must prioritize how they train. CA staff provides these real-world inputs to enable the U.S. military in its entirety to train as it fights, further contributing to its readiness.
The Right Way of Warfighting
In Churchill’s mind, setting these conditions culminates in war being fought the right way. He saw war and politics as two extremes on the same spectrum, in which “the real work of politics begins where war ends—and ends where war begins.”60 He found that “the distinction between politics and strategy diminishes as the point of view is raised. At the summit true politics and strategy are one.”61
This being the case, for Churchill it was “not enough to win. One must win in the right way in order to serve the purposes of peace, which are the purposes of politics.”62 The greatest generals were those who “conducted war in ways that were compatible with the aims of politics.”63 They “manage to make the gravest choices well because they combine the functions of statesman and general,”64 meaning that they account for both the military and political consequences of their decisions.
Churchill’s analysis holds true in today’s geopolitical climate. Dr. Kevin Melton and COL (Ret.) Christopher Holshek acknowledge, “Ultimately, neither stability nor security are ends within themselves, but a way to foster an environment necessary for enhancing social cohesion, governance, economic livelihood that comprise the grand strategic goal of peace.”65 Consequently “the U.S. can neither afford—fiscally nor politically—to engage in perpetual warfare, nor to ignore simmering dynamics that have the potential to eventually threaten national or global security.”66 It is in this reality that CA forces are best positioned to prove their value, because the end of all CA efforts is to translate military victory into political gains.
In 2016, then-Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster “described war as essentially political, human, and uncertain—and thus the key role Civil Affairs plays in managing those determinants.”67 In shoring up the civil foundation of a given society, CA forces lay the groundwork for stable and sustainable governance well before kinetic operations have begun and long after they have ended. They do this “by building and sustaining relationships with host nation and non-state partners, and proactively engaging in activities such as supporting local governance, education and employment programs, and elevating moderate voices in civil society through active engagement.”68
While emphasizing the ethical need to fight wars the right way to bring about the desired political effects, Churchill also stressed the economic necessity of doing so. He found, “Wars fought strategically are cheaper, in both men and materiel. They happen faster, and so they economize the time spent in conflict.”69 Both the low-cost and non-kinetic nature of CA contribute to economy of time and resources, as does the prevention of economic loss among the civil populace. Described by COL (Ret.) Holshek as the “low-tech solution to low-tech problems,” CA forces produce effects disproportionate to their cost.70
An accurate and complete grasp of the truth, the on-the-ground reality, in both the particulars and as a single unity of conception, enables both statesmen and generals to make those consequential decisions pertaining to the national security of the United States. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute agrees that the recipe for success is clear: “Understand the reality. Look at the problems. Identify the solution. Keep an eye on dangerous currents. And remember that any solution that does not lead back to the true roots of stable governance will be no solution at all in the long run.”71 Army CA forces are single-mindedly committed to supporting those efforts, and they start by simply paying attention.
1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018), 276.
2. Dr. Arnn currently serves as the President of Hillsdale College. He earned his Ph.D. in Government from Claremont Graduate School and served as the director of research under Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. He also served on the U.S. Army War College Board of Visitors for two years, for which he earned the Department of the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal.
3. Larry P. Arnn, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2015).
4. Department of the Army, FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations (Washington, D.C., 2019), 1-5.
5. Ibid., 1-6.
6. Arnn, 58.
7. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 2-3.
8. Churchill, quoted in Arnn, 58.
10. JP 3-0 defines “common operational picture” as a “single identical display of relevant information shared by more than one command that facilitates collaborative planning and assists all echelons to achieve situational awareness.” Department of Defense, JP 3-0: Joint Operations (Washington, D.C., 2017), GL-8.
11. Ibid., 68.
12. Vera Zakem and Emily Mushen, “Charting the Course for Civil Affairs in the New Normal,” (July 2015): 3-4, accessed January 2, 2018, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/COP-2015-U-010995.pdf.
13. John K. Karlsson and Michael K. Karlson, “There are more than Two Crayons in the Box,” 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers: Leveraging Civil Affairs (Carlisle, PA: Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, 2017), 5, accessed September 1, 2017, http://pksoi.armywarcollege.edu/default/assets/File/CA%20issue%20paper%20Volume%203.pdf
14. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-2.
15. Ibid., 2-3.
16. Zakem and Mushen, 3-4.
17. Jeffrey P. Lipson, “Civil Reconnaissance and the Role of Civil Affairs,” Marine Corps Gazette 100, no. 1 (January 2016): 77, accessed January 6, 2018, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1758309338?accountid=12085.
18. Ibid., 77-8.
19. Arnn, 82.
20. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 2-3.
21. Arnn, 10.
22. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 3-19.
23. David Kilcullen and Curtis Lee, “Marine Corps Civil Affairs – The Future: SOF Integration and Virtual Presence,” Marine Corps Gazette 101, no. 1 (January 2017): 36, accessed January 6, 2018, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1856557513?accountid=12085.
24. Peterson, 229.
25. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-7.
26. Churchill, quoted in Arnn, 61.
27. Churchill, quoted in ibid.
29. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, v.
30. Ibid., 1-4.
31. Churchill, quoted in Arnn, 61-2.
32. Ibid., 66.
33. Ibid., 67.
35. Ibid., 66.
36. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-1.
37. Arnn, 58-9.
38. Ibid., 64.
39. Ibid, 76.
40. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-4.
41. John K. Karlsson and Michael K. Karlson, “There are more than Two Crayons in the Box,” 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers: Leveraging Civil Affairs, 2.
42. Arnn, 52.
43. Churchill, quoted in ibid., 77.
44. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-5.
45. Ibid., 1-4.
47. Ibid., 2-5.
48. Christopher Holshek, “Executive Summary,” 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers: Leveraging Civil Affairs, ix.
49. Arnn, 58.
50. Lipson, 78.
51. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-5.
52. Ibid., 2-5.
53. Arnn, 70.
54. Ibid., 73.
55. Lipson, 77.
56. Anthony H. Cordesman, “Stability Operations in Syria: The Need for a Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs,” Military Review 97, no. 3 (2017):44, accessed January 6, 2018, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/Online-Exclusive/2017-Online-Exclusive-Articles/Stability-Operations-in-Syria.
57. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 1-6.
58. Lipson, 78.
59. Arnn, 84.
60. Ibid., 51.
61. Churchill, quoted in ibid., 73.
62. Ibid., 72.
63. Ibid., 71.
64. Ibid., 53.
65. Kevin Melton and Christopher Holshek, “Symposium Workshop Report,” 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers: Leveraging Civil Affairs, xxvii.
66. Clay Daniels and Morgan G. Keay, “Supporting the Trickiest Task: How Civil Affairs Can Bring Essential and Missing Capabilities to Geographic Combatant Command’s Mandate to Prevent Conflict,” ibid., 16.
67. Kevin Melton and Christopher Holshek, “Symposium Workshop Report,” ibid., xviii.
68. Zakem and Mushen, 3-4.
69. Arnn, 72.
70. Christopher Holshek, “Civil Affairs in an Era of Engagement,” (August 8, 2016), accessed September 1, 2017, https://www.ausa.org/articles/civil-affairs-era-engagement.
71. Danielle Pletka, “A Survey of AEI’s work on the Middle East,” (June 2018): 6, http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/A-Survey-of-AEIs-Work-on-the-Middle-East.pdf.