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Stray Voltage: War in the Information Age.

Stray Voltage: War in the Information Age. By Wayne Michael Hall. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2003. 248 pages. $36.95.

For over 40 years, the term "stray voltage" has been used by agriculturalists to describe voltage developed on the grounded neutral system of a farm. If intense enough, the voltage can cause a mild shock to animals, resulting in flinches or even avoidance behavior. Those who read Stray Voltage: War in the Information Age by Brigadier General Wayne Michael Hall (USA Ret.) may suffer similar effects. They might flinch with excitement over his new ideas in this interesting book, or avoid portions of it due to a plethora of terms that can exhaust the reader.

What first strikes this reader is the extent to which Hall has deeply thought about concepts that have consumed the pages of foreign and domestic military journals over the past few years. Knowledge war, asymmetric war, information war, and information operations are a few of them. Hall has put his soul into this work, and has done a commendable job of addressing these and other topics few wish to consider. For this alone he deserves our praise and admiration. That Hall has thought about each area deeply is clear throughout each chapter. In the end, the book's essence is built around two concepts: defending against enemy attempts to disrupt US decisionmaking and damage our national will, while simultaneously discussing US means to attack enemy (terrorists, guerillas, etc.) decisionmaking and will to resist.

The commentary is filled with details, and his weaving of one concept into another is done with care. He uses current examples to promote his theory, and it is this method that produces the flinches of excitement (and fear) about tomorrow's reality. This is not your average book on the information age. While agreeing with other commentary on the value of Stray Voltage (creative, stimulating, controversial, informed, and comprehensive to name just a few) there are one or two problem areas.

By the time one finishes Stray Voltage, readers have encountered a myriad of new terms. Consider, for example, just the term knowledge. The reader is introduced to knowledge war, knowledge attribution, knowledge-based operations and strategy, knowledge engineering, knowledge management, knowledge managers, knowledge mapping, knowledge rheostat, knowledge weapons, knowledge maneuver, and knowledge workers. These terms exhaust the serious reader who doesn't just accept Hall at face value but attempts to ascertain if his ideas are of true value. General Hall must have suffered the same exhaustion as he tried to handle each term and weave his tapestry.

Other terminology in Stray Voltage also contains contradictions. Let's examine the term asymmetric war. On page xi, asymmetric war is defined as "the strategy, tactics, and tools a weaker adversary uses to offset the superiority of a foe by attacking the stronger force's vulnerabilities, using both direct and indirect approaches to hamper vital functions or locations for the explicit purpose of seeking and exploiting advantages." Page 43 notes that "asymmetric war involves a strong force either using or threatening to use an advantage that the weaker opponent cannot respond to; it also involves a weak force seeking offsets against the stronger force; and it usually presents a social or political dilemma to the stronger force." That is, in the first case only a weaker adversary's role is addressed, and in the latter case both strong and weak forces are addressed. Which one is it? Such confusing uses of terminology and definitions are the major problems with the work.

Returning to the positive aspects of the book, General Hall is absolutely correct in noting that we must not mirror-image our opponent, and that we need to have people who think like our enemy thinks. This is a very important point, one which he could not have emphasized enough. For the so-called opposing force (OPFOR) to be successful as he recommends (military personnel who understand how the other side thinks, how his culture views certain developments, and what his operations order looks like), the OPFOR must be composed of foreign area officers (FAOs) from the US armed forces and civilian area specialists.

Finally, Hall is absolutely on point in emphasizing the need for thinkers in the years ahead. That's why Hall's version of information superiority, for example, is so impressive. He has a corner of the market now on what it really might mean, not just what someone else said it meant. Thinkers like Hall won't simply accept terminology, they will examine and critique it. He almost certainly does not want the reader to just accept his terms and definitions either, but to think about these concepts for themselves.

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Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy L. Thomas, USA Ret., an analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
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Author:Thomas, Timothy L.
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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