There’s a scene in Spielberg’s World War II spoof movie starring John Belushi playing a crazed Army Air Corps pilot roaming solo across the West Coast in his P-40 Warhawk. Multiple sub-plots of the story coalesce in Los Angeles as a bar fight among brawling service members and local Zoot-Suiters turns into a full blown street riot. Belushi winds up unwittingly attacking a wayward American training aircraft (itself fraudulently requisitioned for a romantic jaunt by a self-serving Army officer and a female reporter). The unarmed trainer flees from Belushi’s bullets as the two dodge around buildings over the rioters in the streets below. Belushi eventually crash lands in the middle of the tumult just as his previous aerial “combat” triggers the air raid alarm.
Dazed, half-drunk and demonstrably insane, Belushi finds a civilian inadvertently wearing the jacket of an Army platoon sergeant and orders him to ensure air raid defensive procedures, saying “Kid, you gotta knock out those lights”. He then passes out. The civilian, taking advantage of the authority afforded to the man “wearing the stripes” then directs the soldiers around him to begin shooting down the street lights and neon signs of downtown Los Angeles.
In essence, the comedy of errors and destruction were “much ado about nothing”. Belushi’s Captain Wild Bill Kelso attacked an allied aircraft and after triggering the air raid alarms, dropped in on American military members fighting each other and the local civilians. From this, the next objective became employing military weaponry to destroy public infrastructure and business property.
This entertaining episode illustrates how bureaucracies fail to identify valid and legitimate objectives. Militaries are notorious for taking action for the sake of demonstrating action itself. Unfortunately, these actions in many instances make conditions worse. Mission analysis must clearly identify what the desired end state is to be and then ask why that end state is desirable. The assumptions must be thoroughly questioned: What will that end-state deliver? Why is that desirable? Can that deliverable be obtained in another way?
So often, military planners jump to course of action development without clarifying their understanding of the mission, or they mis-identify the objective. Finite resources are then mal-invested, time is wasted, and energy is exhausted working toward undesirable ends. Transactional friction expends even greater resources as activities are re-oriented toward the updated goals. This is why Sun Tzu described skillful military operations as “not mobilizing troops a second time or loading provisions more than twice”.
When it comes to mission analysis, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.