Scribbles from the Ivory Tower


War and Psychology

Le’ Notes #21: The Rubicon theory of war

This post discusses the Rubicon theory of war — where leaders fully commit to war after crossing the Rubicon River as Caesar did.

In role-playing games, it’s known as the “point of no return“, where you can no longer save your progress and have to fully commit to battling the game’s final boss, either in sequence like Kefka’s epic finale in Final Fantasy VI or alone, like Izanami no Ookami’s true ending battle in Persona 4. The fact that you can no longer save or go back to finish your unfinished business in the game world triggers this mindset that sorta goes “Since I can’t go back, might as well get this over with”.

Continue reading “Le’ Notes #21: The Rubicon theory of war”

Le’ Notes #20: Heuristics and biases

This post serves as an introduction to the heuristics and biases school (HB) and how it might be applied in assessing war decisions.

One of the features of the naturalistic decision-making (NDM) school is their belief that people can be trained to make better decisions by becoming experts and developing better mental models. The rationalistic school already assumes that people are similar to robots, i.e. they make sound, rational judgments based on the availability of information at that given time.

However, the HB school would beg to differ. People are inherently biased in making decisions, mostly due to their reliance on intuition, which stems from a number of heuristics that we have developed as a part of the evolutionary process.

Continue reading “Le’ Notes #20: Heuristics and biases”

Le’ Notes #19: Naturalistic decision making, part 2

This post visits the Battle of COP Keating in October 2009 as a case study in seeing naturalistic decision making at work.

The previous post discussed the foundations of naturalistic decision making. Let’s see whether or not the framework works. I’ll be using only the account of Jake Tapper [book] as the main historical reference. I know this limits the playing field a bit since we need a lot of information to do case studies. However, this is simply an exercise and not intended to be a research paper. Furthermore, I simply don’t have the capacity to peruse so many resources.

Continue reading “Le’ Notes #19: Naturalistic decision making, part 2”

Le’ Notes #18: Naturalistic decision making, part 1

This post departs from the rationalistic school to the naturalistic school of decision-making, where assumptions of rationality are thrown out of the window.

We’ve discussed at length about rational choice theory (Part 1 and Part 2). So far, I’ve come to the conclusion that rational choice theory is kind of detached from reality and tends to ignore the small things that make us human such as our habits, culture, etc.

Now, we visit the naturalistic decision-making (NDM) school that has a different set of core assumptions. Also known as “recognition-primed decision-making” (RPD for short), this school of decision-making believes that the rationalistic approach does not hold when humans are observed in a “natural” setting, such as in a real crisis or actual wartime setting.

Continue reading “Le’ Notes #18: Naturalistic decision making, part 1”

Le’ Notes #17: Rational choice theory, part 2

This post continues the discussion on rational choice theory from Note #16. Now, I explore the core assumptions of rational choice theory and their application in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Previously, we’ve seen an application of game theory in assessing a wartime decision and a bit of the debate surrounding the rational choice theory school. Now, let’s dive in deeper into the rationalistic school and explore the core assumptions, which include bargaining theory, brinkmanship, and miscalculations/misperception.

Of course, this means borrowing a lot from behavioural economics, so we’ll have names such as Von Neumann and Thomas Schelling.

Continue reading “Le’ Notes #17: Rational choice theory, part 2”

Le’ Notes #16: Rational choice theory, part 1

This post discusses the rationalistic approach to war decisions and application of game theory in Napoleon’s Battle of Waterloo.

Why do people go to war?

There are a number of approaches that attempt to explain how people, especially political and military leaders, make decisions. I focus on wartime decisions: the decisions to start, wage, and end wars.

In the study of war decisions, the first we stumble upon is rational choice theory. This theory assumes that when making decisions, humans are completely rational. Of course, there are certain caveats. A person can only be rational so far as the amount of information they have at a given point in time. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20.

I present the views of Fearon and Kirshner in regards to the rationalistic approach of war. We’d see that the rationalistic approach does have its merits and drawbacks in assessing war decisions. And to cap it all, I’ll present Mongin’s application of game theory in assessing the feasibility of Napoleon’s decision in the Battle of Waterloo.

Continue reading “Le’ Notes #16: Rational choice theory, part 1”

Blog at

Up ↑