Solving the problems of the past
The only thing we can know for sure about the present is that it is not like the past. Charting a course forward then always requires a step into the unknown and a dance with uncertainty.
By Capital Thinking • Issue #879 • View online
The Maginot Line was a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles and weapons built by France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany.
When it was built, the Maginot Line was believed to be one of the most significant innovations in national defense.
Foreign leaders came from all over to tour it.
The Maginot Line Problem
It was an impressive-looking series of fortresses and railroads, resistant to all known forms of artillery. It had underground railways that made it invulnerable to bombings and tank fire and state-of-the-art living conditions with air conditioning for stationed troops.
French military experts extolled the Line as a work of genius that would deter German aggression. They believed that it would both deter Germany and, in the case of an attack, it could slow an invasion force long enough for French forces to mobilize and counterattack.
The Maginot Line extended into the border with Belgium but stopped at the Forest of Ardennes because of the prevailing belief among experts that Ardennes was impenetrable.
To spoil the ending, the Ardennes was not impenetrable.
At the start of the war, The Germans deployed a small force to the Maginot Line as a decoy then sent a million men and 1500 tanks through the “impenetrable” Ardennes.
A rapid advance through the forest encircled much of the Allied forces, resulting in a sizeable force being evacuated at Dunkirk leaving the forces to the south unable to mount an effective resistance to the German invasion of France.
The Germans attacked on May 10th and by June 14th, Paris fell to the German army. On June 22, the French government signed an armistice. A feat that had not been accomplished in five years of bloody trench warfare in the First World War happened in just over five weeks.
Why did this happen? Why were the French so wrong and defeated so quickly?
The Army is Now Fully Prepared to Fight the Previous War
They fell victim to The Maginot Line Problem: they learned the lesson of the First World War much too specifically: “The Germans came across right here so we are going to build a big wall there”, and failed to update their thinking as technology and the world around them changed.
Though the Maginot Line is a particularly good example, this is a much more general class of problem.
Some sort of shock to a system (be it a military system, economic system, personal personal system, etc.) happens. The system is then redesigned to prevent that specific problem from happening again without thinking deeply about the more general system dynamics.
Photo credit: Wikipedia