"Godzilla should not be destroyed," says scientist Kyohei Yamanhe in the classic 1954 film. "He should be studied." And how right he was! James Butler, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, argues that a deeper understanding of Japan's 300-foot-tall, ill-tempered celebrity could be crucial to winning future wars.
You're probably a bit skeptical about Butler's "Godzilla Methodology" (yes, that's what he calls it). But, he wouldn't be the first military strategist to briefly put aside his tattered copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War and instead seek inspiration from popular culture. Max Brooks, author of World War Z, has delivered lectures to Department of Defense officials and the Naval War College about the importance of preparedness. Ender's Game is recommended reading for a proposed U.S. Infantry "Leader Development Plan." And Anthony Cordesman, a prominent analyst at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, once wrote a study titled, "Biological Warfare and the 'Buffy Paradigm'."
So, in retrospect, Butler's meta-analysis of Godzilla has been a long time coming. He begins by explaining the basics:
Since Godzilla first terrorized Japan in Ishiro Honda's 1954 film (appropriately titled Godzilla), this monster has wreaked havoc on civilizations throughout the world. As a fictional creature born from the fallout of atomic bomb testing in the Pacific, this giant quasi-dinosaur has gained popularity as both a destructive monster and as a hero, a defender of friends.
Godzilla had the power to reach out and destroy antagonist forces and protect friendly forces from harm. For example, as an antagonist, he was depicted sinking ships, downing aircraft, and even destroying cities; as a hero, he was depicted as defending friends from imminent destruction by other mythical monsters.
In military-speak, Godzilla is a multipurpose assault weapon. He can be deployed anywhere in the world, either offensively or defensively. He is a walking amphibious vehicle, capable of effectively striking against enemy forces either on land or at sea. He is equipped with formidable anti-aircraft defenses. In short, he can destroy anything, anywhere.
So far, so scary. But how does this monstrous insight help America's armed forces?
Rest assured, Butler is not proposing the construction of a Godzilla drone. (That's DARPA's job.) Instead, he uses Godzilla as a thought experiment—a solution to a strategic conundrum known as "identifying the center of gravity."
Here's the part where we need to take a brief detour into military history. The "center of gravity"—which traces its origins to Carl von Clausewitz's famous treatise, On War— is defined as "the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed." In other words, the center of gravity is not simply a concentration of enemy military strength, but the primary source of the enemy's military strength. It is the one thing—a type of weapon, a group of specially trained troops, or even a single commanding officer—that is crucial for success. If you can destroy that "center of gravity," you'll likely achieve victory.
Let's consider an historical example: During Operation Desert Storm in 1990, the objective of the United States and its allies was to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Iraq had a formidable arsenal, including an integrated air defense system, land-based ballistic missiles and missile-armed surface combatant ships. However, Butler says, Iraq's true center of gravity was Saddam's elite Republican Guard, which was "the source of power used to achieve his objective of occupying and holding Kuwait. That was the force the allies needed to degrade, neutralize, or destroy to prevent Saddam from achieving his operational objective of defeating or neutralizing the coalition force attempting to liberate Kuwait."
But, usually, Butler adds, the solution is not so obvious:
For years, commanders and their staffs have struggled to correctly identify centers of gravity. If an enemy has multiple forces that are strong and formidable, how does a planner determine which one is the center of gravity? For example, enemy sources of strength may include a strong army, superior navy, and formidable air force. Which force should commanders devote their maximum effort toward attacking, neutralizing, or destroying?
And here is where Godzilla enters the picture: as an ally to assist military planners in determining which element on the long list of enemy threats is the true center of gravity.
Butler illustrates this concept with a simple scenario: What if Godzilla had fought for the Japanese during World War II?
OK, so imagine that you're a Japanese staff officer and Godzilla is waiting for you to issue orders. Here's the situation that confronts you, according to Butler:
The ultimate strategic objective of the Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II was "the unconditional surrender of Japan." The immediate Allied strategic objective was "to obtain positions from which the ultimate surrender of Japan can be forced by intensive air bombardment, by sea and air blockade, and by invasion if necessary." An Allied generic operational-level objective, nested under these strategic objectives, might have been to seize an island in the Pacific in order to establish an airfield, which would be used to facilitate follow-on operations for the island-hopping concept developed during World War II.
The Allied forces are coming at you with everything they've got. How do you determine their center of gravity? No worries, you've got Godzilla in your corner. You tell the big guy to obliterate one force at a time, and then you analyze if your attack had the desired effect:
First order: Tell Godzilla to destroy all the enemy submarines.
Result: Ineffective. The Allied forces still possess the means to conduct an amphibious landing and seize the island.
Second order: Tell Godzilla to destroy all the enemy aircraft carriers.
Result: Ineffective. The Allied forces could still use their remaining forces to assault and occupy the island.
Third order: Tell Godzilla to destroy the enemy amphibious attack force.
Result: Success! This is the center of gravity, because it is the only force capable of actually landing Allied forces on the island. Aircraft, ships, and submarines cannot seize and hold territory.
Now, imagine if you didn't have Godzilla at your beck and call. You might have decided that the aircraft carriers were the primary threat and attacked them. You might even have won the battle. But your forces would be depleted, and the Allied forces would still have been able to complete their main objective.
Okay, let's fast-forward to today, the real world. Butler explains that this Godzilla Methodology "can be used by commanders and their staffs during the planning process to determine which forces are necessary to achieve military objectives." Conjure up your imaginary, 300-foot, indestructible friend, and contemplate the consequences of wiping out each part of the enemy forces, until you find the one that is central to achieving your opponent's goal. Destroying that center of gravity might not be easy. In fact, it might be the most heavily fortified enemy unit. But, at least you know how and where to concentrate your forces, instead of dispersing them against a lesser target.
Regrettably, Butler never attempts to identify Godzilla's center of gravity. I guess we'll find out for ourselves, when the movie opens next month.
Read James Butler's article, "Godzilla Methodology: Means for Determining Center of Gravity," in the journal, Joint Force Quarterly