What is the Fog of War?

Michael Pollick

Military operations depend heavily on communications and intelligence to be successful. When one or both of these elements becomes compromised, the result is often called the fog of war. This phrase encompasses all of the confusions and miscalculations that can occur during an actual combat situation. There is also a political version, in which public opinion can be swayed by misinformation or ambiguous reporting of the facts.

A soldier.
A soldier.

One common event caused by the fog of war is called "friendly fire." Troops may be positioned on the battlefield according to a master plan, but those positions could change without warning during the actual battle. The results of this unplanned movement could be catastrophic, as friendly forces fail to recognize their comrades, or target positions thought to be clear of friendly troops. A number of accidental "friendly fire" deaths can be attributed to the confusion of wartime.

Communication failures can also occur as a result of the fog of war. If the field commanders cannot relay vital course corrections or enemy positions to the operation center in real time, soldiers and military equipment could be put in harm's way. Such delays and miscommunications are typically blamed on the fog of war, since combatants may have to improvise a new strategy or retreat without sufficient time to relay their actions to headquarters. This can also work in the opposite direction, when vital orders from commanders cannot reach the battlefield in time.

The concept has come under considerable criticism over the years. Families of soldiers killed by "friendly fire" often blame their deaths on poor planning by superiors. The military's response to these allegations often includes an allusion to the fog of war, meaning that some battlefield casualties were due to real-time confusions or miscalculations, not poor planning. Some critics charge that the military depends too heavily on this defense to excuse their own actions or missteps.

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Discussion Comments


Fog of war is an idea that war is going on only to think that it is your brain that's in a fog and you don't defend yourself, only to find out that there really is a war and that in your fog you didn't react and next thing you wake up and find yourself in a real foggy bottom. Like Hillary and the Benghazi tragedy because she was in a fog of war. Or some such nonsense.


If you want to learn more about what goes on in terms of communication during modern warfare then I recommend you view The Fog of War documentary. The film offers quality insight about war and the difficulties modern war presents.


I have never fought in a war, so take my opinion for what it is worth. With all that is going on during a battle, it seems virtually impossible to me that there would not be numerous failures in communication. Whether caused by human error or mechanical failure, something is bound to go wrong regardless of planning and preparation,


I agree with the last sentence of this article and with the critics that it refers to when it states that some people believe that the military establishment leans too heavily on the idea that some deadly mistakes should be simply accepted as a part of what happens in combat.

I know there are risks that every person who signs up for the military must accept, but every precaution should be taken to ensure their safety, and when someone makes a mistake then that person should be held accountable.

And we should constantly examine our strategies and procedures of war to eliminate as many friendly fire incidents as possible. No incident of friendly fire should be categorized as an unavoidable product of war.

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