The Fog of War

In following the recent events in Iran, I’ve been amazed at the depth, nuance, and sense of immediacy Twitter has lent to the proceedings. Reading tweets from thousands of miles away, I can’t help but feel a sense of being there, on the ground, experiencing the excitement, the terror, the bravery and the confusion in real time.

In a world where everything is covered, where canned statements are issued ad nauseum, where pundits pontificate endlessly, there’s something disconcerting yet refreshing about not really knowing what’s going on. We don’t have Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper or (god forbid) Geraldo Rivera reporting live. Instead we’re getting this rough, confused, ecstatic, frenzied, scattered reporting straight from the protesters. This unedited, unabridged data flow is something new, even in this world of mass, instant communication. In many ways, it’s very similar to actually being there, in the crowd.

This realization got me thinking about the very real, on-the-ground confusion that’s so often ignored in history. When we read the accounts of battles, or protests, or disease, or any other calamitous event, it’s typically from this bird’s eye, 20/20 hindsight perspective. But the on-the-ground reality, as we’re seeing in Iran right now, is so much messier, so much more confused. Carl von Clausewitz called this confusion, this lack of information, the “fog of war”. While a very apt description, I do think it’s important to keep in mind that this fog extends beyond the battlefield, especially when we’re talking about an age where information could only travel as fast as a guy on a horse (or in a boat).

As I start thinking about how to structure and approach the Belisarius novel, I keep coming back to this sense of confusion. Information flow, or lack thereof, plays a critical role in pretty much every aspect of Belisarius’ career. And while it’s something I’ve always planned to bake into the story, it’s taken a new media revolution in a far-flung Middle Eastern country to really bring it home.


2 Responses to The Fog of War

  1. marksbody says:

    Regarding the speed of information, I think this is one of the best things about writing a historical novel. Adventure fiction of any kind should follow the J. Michael Straczynski rule: “all ships travel at the speed of plot” …if it needs to arrive in the nick of time, it does. If it needs to be too late, it is. Since in ancient times information travels on ships, information also flows at the speed of plot. Separated groups are unaware of crucial events.

    Speaking of Iraq, in “Saint Mark’s Body” I desperately needed a way for the Caliph in Baghdad to affect events in Alexandria, hundreds of miles away. A little research turned up a system of fast roads and relay horses. The messengers rode out from Baghdad at the “speed of plot” and delivered the message four days later.

    webnovel in progress at

  2. Matt says:

    Love that JMS rule!

    I agree completely about the speed of plot…and there are some key scenes in Belisarius’ career where information (or the lack thereof) figures prominently into the way things go down, and into the actions Belisarius himself is forced to take. Should be a lot of fun to play around with!

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