The Problem Of Simultaneous Fronts

From time to time I note [1] that sometimes the most ideal way to solve a problem is to make it bigger.  This is contrary to the usual expectation.  Normally, we like to solve a problem by making it smaller and think that the simpler a problem is the easier it is to solve.  And sometimes a problem can be simplified, which is to our benefit.  There are problems, though, that need to be made bigger in order to be resolved at all, and it is these sorts of problems that I seem to specialize in in life.  This is certainly the case at work, and I often find it to be the case in other problems that I deal with in life, and so let us spend a bit of time discussing what to many readers will seem rather tedious, in order to demonstrate that making problems bigger is (sometimes) a very good idea.

So, at work, one of my tasks is to deal with commission statements that ensure agents get paid (something they care a lot about) along with the deposits of money we get that belong to those statements.  There are occasions where we have money and no statements and statements and no money to go along with them, which usually requires me to either investigate where said statements may be found or play collections agent, something I hate, in order to get the money.  Sometimes, though, one happens to find that of the the carriers that was missing money but had statements matches with one of the carriers that had money but was missing statements, and so instead of two problems, one has no problems except for the fact that the two carriers are given different names in the two situations.  This amounts to a translation problem, and one that can be dealt with.  It might be considered as a case where one has two halves of a puzzle that join up that one can put together to make one complete picture, and that is always something I appreciate as someone who likes to put together puzzles.  One simply has to recognize that the two pieces belong to the same puzzle, and that can sometimes be a difficult trick.  Once one realizes that, what appeared to be two problems are simultaneously reduced to zero.

There are other occasions where making a problem bigger can make it easier for you.  This is when you make a problem bigger for the other person and allow for attention and resources to be divided to handle two threats that may have been able to succeed if there was only one threat to manage.  Militaries manage this often in wars by opening up secondary fronts and dividing the attention of their opponent, seeking any breakthrough if the other side cannot successfully defend all of the attacked points.  When one is making simultaneous moves on different fronts, there are risks to be sure, especially the risk of being defeated in detail if someone is able to deal with the threats in a successive nature, but if the threats are simultaneous and pressed, the results can be dramatic.  One of the most striking examples of this was in the Civil War when the Union in 1864 attacked on five fronts at once.  While the three smallest efforts were defeated in the Shenendoah Valley, near Richmond, and in southwestern Virginia at Saltville, the two main attacks managed to gain their objectives and win the Civil War through forcing the two main rebel armies to surrender, which led to a general victory.  Southern efforts to have done the same thing at Perryville and Antietam earlier had been unsuccessful, but the Union was able to make their strategy of simultaneous attacks on multiple fronts pay off, adding a successful defense of Nashville, a destruction of rebel forces in the Valley at Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek, and Waynesboro, and successful combined forces moves on Mobile and Wilmington that cut the Confederacy off from the outside world.

Here we see the importance of logistics in dealing with problems.  When we make a problem larger by recognizing that the parts of the problem we have been wrestling with separately are part of the same problem, we turning two separate problems into a separation where one part of the problem provides resources to the other part of the problem and an excess pays a deficit until both problems are resolved.  In creating simultaneous fronts, though, we deny this capacity to our adversaries, since we are creating two problems that need to be resolved when there is only one set of resources that can be used to deal with them.  In order to do this, though, one often needs a certain degree of communication to overcome the problems of distance and coordination, and these were difficult to manage until relatively recently in history.  Increases in technologies of transportation and communication made it possible for there to be some sort of command and control over a larger theater of operations, making it possible for simultaneous and directed efforts to be made that had to be dealt with by a weaker party that had sought to take advantage of the defensive.

If one is on the defensive, how does one maintain some advantage of the defensive?  It would appear that it is in the best interests of the weaker but central party to seek to increase the problems of communication and transportation that are required to successfully handle simultaneous operations.  This can be managed if one can spot which units or aspects of one’s opponents are handling the most simultaneous effort in order to keep logistics working or keep communication going.  Attacking these links can paralyze the ability of one’s adversary to communicate or transport men and materiel where it is needed, thus making a problem possible to deal with one at a time.  Of course, this cannot always be done, but where one has advantages in knowledge, even inferior resources can be successfully husbanded and the vulnerabilities of one’s opponent can be successfully exploited.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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