Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Thin Red Line and Peak Oil

At the Battle of Balaklava on 25 October 1854 (during the Crimean War) seeing that his infantrymen were all that stood between a large force of Russian cavalry and the British base at Balaklava, Major General Sir Colin Campbell, commanding the British 93d Regiment, formed his men into a long line of two ranks, later immortalized as the “Thin Red Line” to block the Russian advance.

Emboldened by their commander and armed with new rifled percussion muskets, the ’53 Pattern Enfield, the 93rd Regiment was able to place two aimed volleys into the charging Russian cavalry, stopping them dead in their tracks. Campbell’s leadership, combined with a significant advance in military technology, turned what should have been a debacle into a stirring victory.

The action has become a byword for stubborn heroism, devotion to duty, and steadfastness in the face of overwhelming odds—but also futility, incompetence, and poor communication. All eight of the “points of good leadership” were violated sometime during the battle—generally with tragic results. The Crimean War can be seen as the beginning of the end of the era of the “gentleman amateur” in the British Army. In its aftermath, a series of reforms was put in place. However, the human failings displayed at the Battle of Balaklava still serve as a useful example: an example of how not to do things, and the potential cost of leadership failures.

What all that to do with the Peak Oil movement?

Nearly 150 years after the Battle of Balaklava another Campbell - Dr. Colin Campbell - founded a scientific regiment – Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (or ASPO).

The mission of this regiment was defined to (1) define and evaluate the world's endowment of oil and gas; (2) model depletion, taking due account of demand, economics, technology and politics; and (3) raise awareness of the serious consequences for Mankind.

Like the 93rd Regiment’s scientific advance in military technology, ASPO has been endowed with several scientific advances – resource depletion methods, extensive data and scientific knowledge – to keep the thin red line in the battle of Peak Oil.

Similar to the Major General Sir Colin Campbell, Dr. Colin Campbell shouts, “ASPO! There’s no retreat from here! Ye must stand!” This was so far effective.

But I believe that time has come for Dr. Campbell to repeat Major General Campbell’s call out, "ASPO, ASPO, damn all that eagerness!"

It should not be forgotten that to win a battle requires also good communication and logistics. In my opinion, while the battle continues and ASPO keeps the line, the Peak Oil Illiteracy has to be reduced and awareness should be increased in the main base. The Peak Oil movement still has no unified definition, no clear single document to be called THE Manual, no clear orientation and no single voice.

For example, many people still use Peak Oil as a synonym to Running Out of Oil. Many believe that ASPO is an environmental lobby.

The lessons drawn from the Crimean War should give some guidance.

Background: The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line was a famous military action by the British Army's 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment at the Battle of Balaklava on October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War.

The Battle of Balaklava was a key battle during the Crimean War, fought between the allied forces of the United Kingdom, French Empire and the Ottoman Empire on one side and Russia on the other. It was the first of two attempts by the Russians to break the Siege of Sevastopol. The battle was fought in Kadikoi, in Crimea (now Ukraine) of the Russian Empire.

The Times journalist W.H.Russell, who standing on the hills above could clearly see that nothing stood between the Russian cavalry and the defenseless British base but the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel" of the 93rd. Condensed almost immediately into "The Thin Red Line", the phrase has survived to this day as the chosen symbol of stubborn heroism, devotion to duty, and steadfastness in the face of overwhelming odds.

Two hundred years of experience dictated that the only way infantry in the open could resist cavalry was to form a defensive square. Asked why he had been so unorthodox as to receive a cavalry charge in line instead of in a square. Sir Colin Campbell said; "I knew the 93rd, and I did not think it worth the trouble of forming a square."

Campbell shouted, “Ninety Third! There’s no retreat from here! Ye must stand!” as he rode down the line. And the reply of John Scott, the right-hand man, was taken up by them all: "Ay, Sir Colin. An needs be, we'll do that." They fired two volleys and the cavalry charge split in half, galloping to right and left and finally into full retreat. Some of the younger soldiers started excitedly forward for a bayonet charge, but Sir Colin called out, "93rd, 93rd, damn all that eagerness!" From the Argylls History

Sources used on The Thin Red Line:
Anna Maria Brudenell,
Lessons in Leadership: The Battle of Balaklava, 1854. Military Review. March-April 2008. 77-84. And Wikipedia.

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