Somehow Morgan Housel’s prescient January 5th blog post popped up on my screen the other night.
It happened after a day of listening to analysts speculate about Vladimir Putin’s mental health,
The efforts come as longtime Putin-watchers have publicly speculated that his behavior has become increasingly erratic and irrational. Since he launched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last Wednesday, senior US officials have asked intelligence agencies to gather any new information they can on how the Russian leader is faring and how his mindset has been impacted by the unexpectedly unified and tough response from European neighbors and allies around the world. – CNN
Battle Of The Bulge
Here’s the excerpt from Morgan’s post that floored us,
Historian Will Durant once said, “logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe.” And it often is, which can drive you mad if you expect the world to work in rational ways. A common cause of everything from divisive arguments to bad forecasting is that it can be hard to distinguish what’s happening from what you think should be happening.
…[a] short war story to show you want I mean.
The Battle of the Bulge was one of the deadliest American military battles in history. Nineteen thousand American soldiers were killed, another 70,000 missing or wounded, in just over a month as Nazi Germany made an ill-fated last push against the Allies.
Part of the reason it was so bloody is that Americans were surprised. And part of the reason they were surprised is that in the rational minds of American generals, it made no sense for Germany to attack.
The Germans didn’t have enough troops to win a counterattack, and the few that were left were often children under age 18 with no combat experience. They didn’t have enough fuel. They were running out of food. The terrain of the Ardenne Forest in Belgium stacked the odds against them. The weather was atrocious.
The Allies knew all of this. They reasoned that any rational German commander would not launch a counterattack. So the American lines were left fairly thin and ill-supplied.
And then, boom. The Germans attacked anyway.
What the American generals overlooked was how unhinged Hitler had become. He wasn’t rational. He was living in his own world, detached from reality and reason. When his generals asked where they should get fuel to complete the attack, Hitler said they could just steal it from the Americans. Reality didn’t matter.
Historian Stephen Ambrose notes that Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley got all the war-planning reasoning and logic right in late 1944, except for one detail – how irrational Hitler had become. But that mattered more than anything. – Morgan Housel, Jan 5th
More Dangerous Than October 1962?
I had a debate with a Polish friend the other night if the current crisis is more dangerous than the October 1962 Cuban Missile. My position was it is infinitely more dangerous if Putin is not rational. The short-term stakes are existential and the future of the world depends on assessing the mental health of one man.
I suspect it’s why the administration is slow walking it’s response and, what seems, a “too careful” policy to address the atrocities being committed against the Ukrainians. Eventually, the West will have to call Putin’s nuclear bluff, if, we hope and pray, it is a bluff.