The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H208 Feel Lucky?

The title of a famous book on the battle of Midway Island is “Miracle at Midway,” indicating the degree to which “luck” played a role in the US victory in the battle. How do you feel about luck in military operations? Clausewitz called it chance –and recognized that it had a role in determining the outcome. Jomini might have said that things like luck and chance play on both sides and cancel each other out and therefore are irrelevant. Where do you stand? Also, how do you think the role of chance or luck should be addressed in PME or should it be addressed at all?

February 9, 2016 - Posted by | H200, military history, Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. I believe that there is a significant element of luck that determines the outcome of military operations. This is because of the fog of war and the many variables that are beyond one’s control. However, this does not mean that there is nothing one can do to improve the odds for one’s success. A forward-looking military would project future war scenarios based on known trends and undertake diligent preparation to be ready for future conflicts.

    However, because of unknown unknowns, it is impossible to accurately predict future war scenarios. Militaries would then need to manage this risk by diversifying their portfolio of capabilities. Instead of relying on a single capability, militaries would need to develop multiple capabilities across different domains. This lesson was learnt at the Battle of Midway. If the US Navy had developed only battleship capabilities, which was the predominant focus at that time, it would not have discovered the potential of aircraft carriers in naval conflicts. By maintaining a diversified portfolio of capabilities, including battleships and aircraft carriers, the US Navy was able to exploit the capabilities of the aircraft carriers and achieve victory at the Battle of Midway

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | February 10, 2016

  2. This prompt brings to mind the quote, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I believe Midway, and many military operations, are reflected nicely by this insight. Just as important, is building flexibility into planning that allows a unit to adjust to the threat and the environment around them. Too often, military planning creates a rigidity that inhibits adjusting to the environment. The environment one begins planning in is rarely the same environment that one will execute in: it is constantly changing and the enemy is constantly reacting to your actions. It is essential to continuously examine initial planning assumptions, and if necessary, throw away a plan that may have been great if those assumptions no longer hold true. Getting “married to the plan” is a dangerous behavior, and prevents the sort of flexibility necessary to get “lucky.”

    Comment by Kyle Johnston | February 11, 2016

  3. Louis Pasteur said that “chance favors the prepared mind,” a sentiment he likely borrowed from Sun Tzu. This preparation is a requirement for military professionals and helps focus PME toward preparing servicemen and women for conflict. Invariably, future conflict will require innovation and deviation from existing doctrine to win the wars of tomorrow. This ability to innovate directly enabled success at Midway as Nimitz utilized loose doctrine with fortunate conditions to beat the Japanese.

    The Battle of Midway shows the importance of preparation with effective doctrine to enable luck. The optimal area for PME to demonstrate the consequences or opportunities inherent to fortune is in simulation. An underutilized resource at ILE is the simulations department which provides an excellent learning opportunity for military professionals. Every exercise should culminate with a simulation wherein results are demonstrated and the vagaries of chance either for or against can be represented.

    PME must prepare the mind and outline the importance of thorough plans complemented by innovation. This requires permissive doctrine and innovative individuals who are not slaves to a capability but instead masters of flexibility.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, 19A | February 11, 2016

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