The combination of abundant networked information and
fluid, unfamiliar situations in the current era makes it at once possible
and imperative to improve decisionmaking in combat. The key
to improvement is to integrate faster reasoning and more reliable
intuition into a cognitive whole to achieve battle-wisdom. Although
the technologies that both demand and facilitate battle- wisdom
are new, military history holds lessons on combining reasoning and
intuition in conditions of urgency, danger, and uncertainty.
Today’s fast and distributed style of war has antecedents in
the reconnaissance and strike operations of 19th-century American
cavalry, which depended on similar qualities—speed, flexibility,
and command “at the edge.” Cavalry officers had to make quick
decisions in unfamiliar circumstances with imperfect information,
and without seeking instructions.
There may be no more arresting case of fateful decisionmaking
by a commander in combat than that of George Armstrong
Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer’s reliance on his
legendary intuitive powers, which had produced many victories
during the Civil War, was his undoing. Instead of analyzing his
options when he learned of Major Reno’s failed attack and Indian
strength, he evidently satisfied himself that his original plan still
made sense. Famous for his self-confidence, Custer never asked
himself the critical question: Could I be wrong?
Although intuition remains central to decisionmaking under
time pressure, the ability to combine intuition with reason in the
crush of battle is increasingly important to commanders. The
need for this combination of cognitive skills has implications for
the recruitment, retention, development, selection, training, and
education of military decisionmakers.
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