Cult of the Cyber Offensive

In military circles 100 years ago, whatever the question was, attack was always the answer.

Attaque à outrance, or “Attack to excess,” was a concept that took hold in European military circles at the turn of the 20th century. The idea was that new technologies like the railroad and telegraph gave an advantage at the strategic level to whichever nation could mobilize first and go on the offensive, while new technologies like the fast-firing cannon, machine guns, and rifles meant at the tactical level that the troops who showed the greatest offensive élan (a concept that combined both willpower and dash) would always carry the day on the battlefield. The philosophy gained huge popularity. In Germany, it drove the adoption of the Schlieffen Plan (which envisioned a rapid mobilization of the army to first knock out France to its west with a lightning offensive and then swing back to face Russia to the east), while in France it was actually written into military law in 1913 that the French army “henceforth admits no law but the offensive.”

There were only two problems with Attaque à outrance, an idea that historians now call the “cult of the offensive.” The first was that it drove the European powers into greater and greater competition and ultimately war. When crisis loomed after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, few thought it worth going to war. But soon the sides feared that they were losing a tight window of opportunity during which to mobilize to their advantage, or even worse, that they would be caught helpless. Fear of being on the defensive prompted the powers to move to the offensive, launching their long-planned attacks as part of a war most didn’t want. The second problem was even worse. These new technologies didn’t actually give the offense the advantage. Once the war started, it became clear that “attacking to excess” against fast-firing artillery, rifles, and machines guns was not the way to quick victory, but rather to a quick death. A bloody stalemate of trench warfare instead resulted.

via Cult of the Cyber Offensive.