Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Book VII—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira SpecGram Vol CLVIII, No 3 Contents Black Box Testing in Linguistics—Nachele Thanhthu and Nyklus Affanita

Ready! Fire! Aim!
A New Approach to Military Combat
Using Language Science

by François Achille Bazaine
as told to Guy de Maupassant (1869)
translated from the French by Ambrose Bierce (1874)

One of the aims of any branch of scientific inquiry is to improve the lives of men. Surely the Science of Language is no different, and just as surely the lives of soldiers are among those most in need of improvement. The French military has had a long and varied history, with its share of both victory and defeat. There is as much if not more to be learned from failure as from success, if only one will take the time to understand. After much reading of the writings of my countryman Jean-François Champollion, I have taken it upon myself to apply the principles of Language Science to the goal of the betterment of the French military.

The tripartite command known to soldiers the world over, “Ready! Aim! Fire!”, has long been a staple of French military leaders instructing their men to engage in battle. Its tradition is long, its status is honored, and its use is ubiquitous, but still may we ask: is it the most effective way to launch our weapons against the enemy?

A careful evaluation of the timing of each part of the command, its use, and its effectiveness in battle reveals much that had apparently been hidden before the advent of Language Science and its myriad methods of analysis. The results are shocking, and reveal a clear path to the improvement of the readiness, speed, and effectiveness of our fighting forces. Careful study of battle-hardened fighting men engaged in mock combat on military proving grounds was the first component of my research.

First, the “Ready!”A firm getter of attention, and of short duration, the effects of the “Ready!” command are seen instantly among archers, musketeers, and cannoneers. The spines of the men stiffen, their eyes become more alert, and their hands tense in anticipation of the task at hand. All in less than a heartbeat.

Next, the “Aim!”By far and away the longest of the three commands, it is also that which shows the least visible purpose. The men shift slightly, almost as if fidgeting while waiting for the real action to begin, while the enemy has time to continue his advance, change his position, or otherwise make tactical improvements in his offense or defense.

Finally, the “Fire!”Of the shortest duration and most devastating effect, the “Fire!” unleashes the harsh hell of our projectile weapons into the midst of the enemy’s forces. The action is instantaneous, and the effects are disastrous to the enemy.

On the military proving grounds, during these mock battles, careful use of the cold truths of the statistics of military engagement are employed to give the most realistic substance to the proceedings. Long, hard-won experience tells the commanders that under specific conditions of weather, weapons, and terrain, a fusillade of cannon, for example, will have a predictable effect on the enemy’s forces.

As such, in these mock battles particular men are assigned to “die” or have their artillery, horses, or other supplies “destroyed” when a particular cannon fires. Similarly, each man knows his mathematically determined fate, and when and where and by what means—be it cannon ball, musket shot, or bayonet—he will “die” in these proceedings. How so much more scientific are the proving grounds exercises compared to the frightful mess that is true war!

The second component of my research was a careful and logical analysis of the tripartite command under consideration, along with the design of experiments to test my tentative conclusions of the effects of these, perhaps improperly, hallowed words. Clearly, “Fire!” is by far the most efficacious of the commands. I reasoned that perhaps it could serve on its own, though I had some residual doubts concerning the necessity of the “Ready!” command and its usefulness. After a mere handful of days spent in contemplation of the evidence I had gathered, and consideration of the alternatives available to me, the outlines of an experimental plan made themselves manifest to me.

This brought me to the third and final component of my research, experimentation. For Language Science, even in pursuit of what some may consider a base military application, is still science and thus in need of experimental verification of any new claims. As I alluded to before, the clean scientificality of the statistically controlled mock battles of the military proving grounds makes for a fine laboratory—one in which I could quite readily and most definitely put my theories to the test.

An accommodating commander of a cannon brigade allowed me to work with his men. In the first test, the “Fire!” command alone was used. The expected but nonetheless impressive gains in speed made in the time between when the commander made his decision and when the troops had executed his will was more than offset by the lack of coordination among those troops, as I had feared in my earlier consideration of the “Ready!” command. Fully half of the cannons were not fired on command. Miscoördination, miscoöperation, and miscomunication ruled the day. Several cannons misfired, and several more did not fire at all in the expected effective window of battle operations. Only half of the expected number of the opponent’s men were “killed”. Clearly battles are not won by “Fire!” alone.

The “Ready!” command, then—much as I had anticipated—serves not only to alert the soldiers and get their attention, but also to synchronize their actions, converting the separate men and their war machines into a single effective weapon. A second test, using “Ready! Fire!” alone, was much more successful. In the battle laboratory, just as many enemy men were “killed” by the cannons, all fired successfully, with this significantly shorter command.

I repeated my “Ready! Fire!” experiment with a musket brigade the next day, with similar results. I felt that my tests at this point justified an immediate change of strategy by the entire French military to use my new and improved system, and I was ready to recommend as much to the military commanders the very same day. However, the musketeers overheard my conversation with their commander along these lines, and several felt the need to speak up in protest.

The long and short of their objections seem to come down to a psychological need on their part for the traditional tripartite command. While, scientifically speaking, the long, slow, ineffectual “Aim!” command accomplished nothing, it is a well-known fact that the backbone of the effectiveness of the military, the willingness of men to lay down their lives for their country and for each other, comes not from scientific principles, but from the feelings of camaraderie and belonging to a proud military tradition.

Though I am a man of science, and though the expertise and acumen of Language Science clearly indicate otherwise in the careful and controlled laboratory of the military proving grounds, my heart is not so hard as to be impervious to the needs of these men in holding to their traditions. Nonetheless, traditions cannot be allowed to impede the pace of progress.

With this in mind, I recommend instead a simple rearrangement of the components of the traditional tripartite command so as to make it more effective while holding on to its traditional roots. The solution is simple: move the slowest command, shown least effective in laboratory tests but bound up in tradition, to the place after the most rapid, efficacious command has been completed.

The result is nothing less than a monument to French military ingenuity, the creative genius of man, and the powers of Language Science—the most effective new weapon in the French arsenal: “Ready! Fire! Aim!”

Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Book VII—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Black Box Testing in Linguistics—Nachele Thanhthu and Nyklus Affanita
SpecGram Vol CLVIII, No 3 Contents