Complexity Rolling Over Hubris

Why did the massive Tsarist army collapse in the face of German attacks during the long years of trench warfare? Solzhenitsyn offers a concise explanation at the beginning of November 1916 with timeless relevance for leaders whose hubris gets them entangled in complex historical processes they cannot control:

…так заклинилась позиционная война, что и перевеса использовать было нельзя: на целых армейских участках всё связалось и окостенело. Так усложнились, возвысились все решения войны, что нельзя было и пошевельнуться меньше, чем целым фронтом. Оставались — поиски и демонстрации. [Октябрь Шестнадцатого 27 on]

…trench warfare had reached such an impasse that neither side could exploit local superiority. In whole Army sectors there was deadlock and paralysis. All military decisions had become so complicated, and were referred to such remote heights, that nothing smaller than an Army Group could bestir itself. All that was left was raids and maneuvers.[H.T. Willetts, Trans., November 1916 (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 16.]

In appearance simplicity itself – Germans facing Russians and no one can move – but over time, the situation would transform itself into real complexity, a complexity out of which would emerge Soviet Communism. The “great men” did have a choice…at the beginning; they had the choice of whether or not to set the system in motion. By so doing, however, they gave up their freedom of choice, choosing to enter a realm beyond their capacities to manage, choosing to surrender their freedom of choice. And the red wheel of fate rolled over them all.


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