Life is always fleeting for those prone to function error. This term–as I choose to conceive it–being reserved for those individuals or organizations who inaccurately perceive their purpose. This cataracted vision consistently leads to a nearly always fatal preoccupation with tactics over strategy. I’ll give an example. You know of the Ford Motor Company. But how familiar are you with the Abbot Downing Company (ADC)? The latter being a concern founded 77 years before the former, and one that enjoyed broad commercial success before before William Ford ever planted the seed that became Henry.
Both companies produced revolutionary forms of transportation, with the flagship ADC vehicle being legendary for its quality and innovation. That vehicle was called the Concord. It was lavishly appointed for the time and came in three chassis capable of conveying up to twelve passengers. Though the most renowned feature of the Concord was its suspension called a “thorough brace.” This was an intricate series of leather straps arranged somewhat in form and function to the interlocking fingers of two hands. This enabled the passenger compartment to rock back and forth, absorbing shocks in the process. Mark Twain described it as a cradle on wheels. It was coveted by travelers across the country.
Abbot Downing was piloted by serious and intelligent men. Men who engineered elegant design solutions and brought value and cachet to their customers. So why did the last ADC vehicle roll desultorily from production nearly a century ago, while Fords still role desultorily today? Because ADC was in the transportation business. But management mistakenly viewed themselves as in the stage coach market. Their confusion proved fatal.
I think of ADC when contemplating our formidable technologically advanced western militaries. And I reflect on what remarkable stage coaches they are. Look upon our works, ye mighty.
Bearing in mind the army’s actual rather than perceived mission, it’s difficult to imagine hostilities commencing in any fashion other than present. Why would foreign nationals ever take up futile arms, when they can instead be welcomed with them open? Wombs and votes will assure the control that bombs and bullets could never wrest. And no enlisted man ever received an EBT card from the enemy for his heroism in battle.
I have to imagine Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi is now kicking himself in the grave for being absent the foresight to simply march his unarmed force before Martel at Tours. To subsequently demand refugee status along with access to food, housing, women, and preferences in the Frankish court. Had he known of this trojan vulnerability in the western psyche, he may have even chided his hosts for their unconscionable ill-will in previous skirmishes. It would be something he would certainly want European children demeaned about for generations at the least. With merely the motion of time and fecundity, his posterity could own the realm without the firing of a single trebuchet. And in his defense, he and his men would be just trying to make a better life for themselves. Perhaps at the expense of others, though this is a rationale modernity has come to find compelling. Regardless, if our own modern militaries don’t achieve clarity of purpose, their future weapons systems will look very much like this.
There’s a famous line from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in which one character asks of another:
“How did you go bankrupt?”
To which is responded…
“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
As we survey scenes across the West from Calais to California, there are only two ways society will go bankrupt: gradually, then suddenly. And the finest thorough braces in the world aren’t going to cradle the impact.