A few months ago, we talked about one of the pitfalls of modern military technology—its propensity to be used to micromanage Soldiers in the field. There are numerous anecdotal references regarding this phenomenon—many of which involve Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and OH-58D helicopters catching Soldiers in the act of not wearing uniforms correctly or, um, yeah, other things.
However, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that this is entirely a 21st Century phenomenon. Far from it—in a book entitled War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age, the authors remind us that information technology has been causing leaders to micromanage from afar for a century and a half.
Regarding the use of telegraphs during the late 19th and early 20th Century:
But [the telegraph] had unwanted side effects, even in armies that had a legacy of colonial warfare that emphasized the exercise of responsibility by the men on the spot. The British government began to bother its generals with suggestions, recommendations and useless requests, such as inquiries into the well-being of individual officers. It also became possible to micromanage war from capitals: Napoleon III attempted to direct tactics and strategy from Versailles. Having a delegate from supreme headquarters visit was bad enough, Moltke wrote when he was on the receiving end of the chain-of-command, but a “telegraph wire in the back” was even worse. The permanent changes the technology brought were profound. The telegraph heralded the era of centralized control and command—the operational or theater level of war was born.