ANALOGIES AT WAR, Yuen Foong Khong

Assigned chapters 1,2,3,5,6,7

Chapter 1

“This book is about how and why policymakers use historical analogies in their foreign policy decision-making and about the implications of their doing so. It builds on previous attempts to understand the role of “learning from history” in international politics” pg 6

“…historical analogies is striking proof of the power of ideas – mistaken or otherwise – in influencing policy decisions.” Pg 7

Schlesinger “…to what extent the invocation of history is no more than a means of dignifying a conclusion already reached on other grounds.” Pg 8

Examples –

  • George Ball opposes committing one hundred thousand troops to Vietnam. McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, and Robert McNamara attacked his arguments in succession. The US ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, delivered the coup de grace: summarizing his colleagues’ analysis as well as their impatience with Ball, Lodge blurted out, “I feel there is a greater threat to start Word War III if we don’t go in. Can’t we see the similarity to our own indolence at Munich?” pg 3
  • “No More Munichs”
  • “No More 1917s”
  • Kennedy’s use of 1914 and Pearl Harbor (attacking Cuba would be Pearl Harbor in reverse) were examples of use of anology that resulted in greater caution. Pg 5


Munich analogy: appeasement in Munich (A) occurred as a result of Western indolence (X); appeasement in Vietnam (B) is also occurring as a result of Western indolence (X). Appeasement in Munich (A) resulted in a world war (Y); therefore appeasement in Vietnam (B) will also result in a world war (Y). The unknown consequences of appeasement in Vietnam (B~ are inferred through the analogy to Munich. 7

How well are analogies used?" As I have indicated, "Not very well," 9

The AE (Analogical Explanation) framework. Simply stated, the AE framework suggests that analogies are cognitive devices that "help" policymakers perform six diagnostic tasks central to political decision-making. 1. Nature, 2. Stakes, 3. Prescriptions, 4. Options by predicting, 5. Moral rightness, 6. Dangers. 10

He suggest that the Korean and Munich analogy or rather, the lessons the policymakers drew from these historical parallels-predisposed them toward military intervention in Vietnam. 11

The skeptics' arguments are ultimately misplaced because their view of the relationship between analogies and policy is unduly restrictive. 15

Chapter 2

“…analogies “help” define the nature of the problem or situation confronted by the policy maker by comparing the new situation to the previous situations with which the policymaker is more familiar. This comparison highlights the similarities between the two situations and downplays their differences.” Pg 20

New events tend to be "assimilated into preexisting structures in the mind" because of the limited cognitive capacities of human beings. 25

A schema is a generic concept stored in memory. It may refer to objects, situations, events, or sequences of events and people. 26

The difference between a schema and an analogy is not easy to discern, because their users constantly shift between the two knowledge structures or the two levels of abstraction. 26

How is one analogy chosen over another in a given situation? 35

According to cognitive psychologists working on judgment heuristics and analogical problem solving, these characteristics-proclivity.ies toward using analogies most easily recalled and most superficially similar-are also responsible for schema arousal and activation. 35

The more recent events are more available. 36


Policymakers are more sensitive to incoming information consistent with their analogies, they seem to have great faith in their analogies, and they persist in using their analogies even when defects have been pointed out to them. 37

The statesman who seeks the help of historical analogies in dealing with foreign sihaations is isl a deferent position. His task is anything but routine, and he operates in the less familiar but more complex environment of the international setting, 45

Chapter 3

Munich analogy is, "Aggression unchecked leads to general war later." 64

Process-tracing seeks to establish the ways in which the actor's beliefs influenced his receptivity to and assessment of incoming information about the situation, his definition of the situation, his identification and evaluation of ions, as well as, finally, his choice of a course of action. 64

The determination of consistency is made deductively. From the actor's beliefs, the investigator deduces what implications they have for decision. If the characteristics of the decision are consistent with the actor's beliefs, there is at least a presumption that the beliefs may have played a causal role in this particular instance of decision-making. 66

Chapter 5


Inability of the United States to prevent China from turning communist in 1949 and lamented its consequences: In Korea, the United States succeeded foiling the expansionist plans of North Korea and its backers, China and the Soviet Union, at the cost of 150,000 American casualties and $18 billion. 99


Kennedy had argued in the November 15 NSC meeting that "Korea was a case of clear aggression" whereas the "conflict in Vietnam" was "more obscure and less flagrant." 110

“The private lessons that Johnson and his advisers drew from Korea and applied to Vietnam may be summarized as follows: like South Korea, South Vietnam was in danger of being taken over by an aggressive North; the stakes in both conflicts, for the United States and for world peace, were extremely high. Moreover, the Korean precedent also suggested that using military force to stop the North Vietnamese was an option, and a morally acceptable one at that.” 117

In their public speeches, their memoirs, or their writings, the Vietnam policymakers often made the point that Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler at Munich helped start World War II 134

Dien Bien Phu

The user of the analogy is likely to see any Western nation fighting the Vietnamese communists as taking the position of the French, or the oppressors. Finally, the Dien Bien Phu analogy also predicts that the Vietcong's adversary would be unlikely to win. 145

Chapter 6

From 1948 until 1954, the United States provided France with $4 billion to fight the Vietminh. The United States had identified itself with the colonial oppressor. 152

If Paris had lacked the will, support, and unity to prosecute the war successfully in the 1950s, the United States possessed the determination, support, and unity to do what was necessary in the 1960s. 156

Chapter 7

Munich and the 1930s

Munich conference of September 30, 1938, agreeing to Germany's annexation of the Sudenten part of Czechoslovakia. 175

Kennedy and his counterinsurgency enthusiasts considered Malaya, the Philippines, and Greece to be the more pertinent analogues to Vietnam. 177

With Johnson as president and Rusk as his trusted secretary of state, Munich and Korea came back into vogue. 177

The domino theory is unquestionably 180

In this sense, the Munich analogy was the intellectual basis of the domino theory. 184

Munich suggested that South Vietnam mould be the first victim of expansionist communism, just as the Sudentenland had first succumbed to fascism's advance, 185

Fear of the German Luftwaffe, for example, caused the British and French air staffs to be against war at almost any cost. 187


Actors are assumed to look after the interests of their organization by preserving its autonomy and missions-hence the dictum, "Where you stand depends on where you sit." 198

Conclusion (Unassigned reading)

The whole point of the AE framework is to indicate how. 252

Firsts we seem able to identify the point in the decision-making process when analogies play the greatest role. 253

Second, our analysis also indicates that a major source of the power of historical analogies is their heuristic or diagnostic versatility. 254

Third, using the lessons of Korea, Munich, and Dien Bien Phu to analyze America's Vietnam decision-making has allowed us to explain decision outcomes at a level of precision not obtained by other approaches. 254

Best and the brightest," America's Vietnam policymakers also used history sloppily. 255

Has "Vietnam" become the dominant analogy of our time? 257

Sugar's Tips on Morgan and Khong

We live in an infinitely complex world, but only have a limited amount of time, and only a finite number of words with which we can effectively communicate with each other. So what do we do? We seek shortcuts. Just like computer programmers that use assembly code to replace the 1s and 0s of machine code for standard operations, we “package” our messages in analogies and metaphors, and assume that the person we’re trying to communicate will assign meaning to the metaphor in much the same way we do. It’s a quick way to impart meaning and impact to your message, even if one assumes that not all of the minute assumptions will be shared. For instance, I could take hours to describe the tenuous relationship dynamics between men and women, the intricacies of anatomy and human sensory perception, and the mechanics of objects thrown from automobiles onto the side of the highway, but all I really have to say is “Lorenna Bobbitt” and 99.9% of the guys who were around in the 90s will grimace and instinctively lower their hands to a protective position…

As humans, we also need and love stories (read anything by Joseph Campbell for a discussion of this). We need to understand why things happen, what it all means, and where we fit in. Analogies and metaphors help us to do this - it's one thing to say that the first SAMS grads were seen as invaluable to the commanders who hired them, but the fact that they called them "Jedi Knights" invoking the "full power of a fully operational" Star Wars saga, with all of the mental imagery of lightsaber clashes, interstellar dogfights, and saving princess (or princesses saving themselves when the guys screw up the escape plan) that were the common vocabulary of the "Superfriends" and "Spaceghost" generation, also brought that classic Good vs. Evil struggle right into the current ones (and not so subtly implied that we're the good guys, too). Meanwhile, Saddam was doing the same thing with the Crusades - he was the second coming of Saladin, after all.

There are a few flipsides to this:

1. You can’t always assume that the assumptions about the analogy or metaphor will be shared. I know that there are probably Catholic churches in both places, but I’m betting that membership in the “Knights of Columbus” men’s organization is much higher in New York City or Pittsburgh than it is on a Native American reservation…

2. It’s tough to take a cookie cutter approach to two different scenarios – especially when they’re separated by time and historical context - and still be sure that the analogy or metaphor applies without missing key aspects that make the situations different. Calling Vietnam another Munich, or Iraq another Vietnam are popular examples. Comparing Afghanistan to Iraq is a more recent one.

3. You may not be aware of all of the significant “baggage” that comes with the analogy or metaphor that you choose unless you are very familiar with its origin, and even if this is so, your audience might still assign a very different meaning to the one you choose than you intended. For example, Gen Petraeus chose a cowboy picture by Remington to dramatically symbolize the position he felt US forces were in, and to try to encourage the physical and mental toughness he knew his new strategy would require from the men and women of his command. Very good choice overall, as it should appeal to the majority of the troops : 1. Cowboys are manly and cool (so are cowgirls, but in a womanly sense – none of that wussy side saddle stuff !), 2. The desert is very much like the Old West: everybody carries guns, the natives don’t want you there, , and the weak don’ t survive long, there are poisonous things climbing into your boots at night, and it’s tough to find a beer. 3. What’s more American than a Cowboy? Aren’t the Cowboys America’s team (I know, I know, believe me – I’m a Pittsburgh fan)? 4. Even the name implies toughness – anybody ever tell you to “Cowboy Up” and “Get ‘er Done

Of course, then there’s the flipside of the metaphor. What’s the common generic name for Western movies? “Shoot’em ups”, right? Not exactly in concordance with the “knock and talk” approach to counterinsurgency that you’re trying to push.

4. You may be vastly oversimplifying the situation with your metaphor. Saying that our business is to put “warheads on foreheads” is a snappy way to reflect a warrior ethos and imply that the threat of force - and prompt, precise execution- is an integral part across the entire range of military operations. But out of the right context, it only serves to confirms the suspicions of others in the interagency community – albeit incorrectly - that the military is a bunch of ham-fisted bulls in the china shop that can’t be trusted not to make things worse with literal mayhem...

Main takeaway – metaphors can be very useful as ways to impart multiple levels of meaning, provided that you mention the key differences after you imply commonality as a shortcut to the big ideas. Beware of anybody who uses superlatives, like “No more…” or “this is exactly like”, because they’re either selling something or are morons.

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