Advice to Graduates: Consider the Brusilov Option

It’s that time of year when most people who graduate from anything actually do it.  And graduation brings up more the most important issue: where do I go from here?  Really, if you’ve waited until graduation to answer that question, you’re in serious trouble.  If you’re reading this long before graduation, perhaps it will save you lost income and other dire consequences of an unexamined life.

The Russians are all “the thing” these days.  Everyone seems to be obsessed with them.  Did they throw our election?  Do they get special treatment from our current President?  Is your tax accountant a Russian spy?  (I have a relative who actually experienced that problem.)

For those of you who aren’t paying attention (and my classroom and lab experience tells me that’s me that’s a lot of you) we’re travelling through the hundredth anniversary of World War I, and this year the Russian Revolution.  Rolling all of that into one brings us to the best part of Russia’s war effort in World War I: the Brusilov Offensive and its commander, Aleksei Alekseevich Brusilov.

From the beginning of the war, Russia’s war effort was dogged by difficulties.  Some of these were due to the nature of the country: large, poorly connected by roads and railways, its soldiers recruited from an illiterate peasantry, its industrial base small and underdeveloped.  Others were due to the uninspiring leadership from its Tsar, Nicholas II, his family and hangers-on, not the least of which was Rasputin.  The result of this was, by the end of 1915, the Germans and Austrians had taken Poland and Russia had no good prospect for improvement.

Enter Brusilov.  Taking command in 1916, he prepared for a major offensive primarily against the Austrians, which he perceived to be the weaker opponent.  Discarding putting everything into one type of military operation (a persistent fault of World War I command) he organised a multifaceted operation including infantry, artillery and cavalry assault (this last was sometimes beneficial in the East, not in the West.)  It was well organised and supplied (neither a given with Russian operations) and he kept the secrecy of the preparations to a higher than usual level.

The last worked: the Austrians were not ready when his armies began their assault on 4 June 1916.  Over the next two months the Russians advanced anywhere from 25-50 miles along an approximately 300 mile front.  Although the Russians were not able to follow up on their success, his offensive forced the Germans to take the pressure from the French and Italians, and his offensive pretty much broke the Austrians as a major ally for the Germans.

The benefits to Russia of their victory have long been debated, especially since their revolution took place the following year.  But one Russian was obviously impressed with the results: Lenin.  Brusilov was never a Bolshevik or Communist, but Lenin recruited Brusilov to serve in the Red Army as an advisor and trainer.  And Lenin did win the Russian Civil War.

So why is all of this relevant for you?  The question you need to ask yourself is simple: are your abilities and skill set of such a calibre that your enemy would value you enough to retain your services?  Or, if things changed significantly like they did for Russia in 1917, would you be able to survive the change?  Russians were faced with the same choice when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and watching them take the challenge changed the way I looked at many things.  Is your degree or skill set dependent on things going on the way they are?  Most of you are products of an educational system whose main goal is to make you fit for the existing system.  What happens when that system changes radically or goes away?  The fear of that result is what’s driving the assault on free speech we see on campuses today.

And then there are those immigrant people.  They came to this country to seek success in a different system.  Could you do the same by leaving this country for another one?  What foreign language skills do you have?  Are your skills marketable outside of this bubble?  Do you even understand the metric system of weights and measurements?  Why is it that everyone has to move here?  These are questions no one is asking these days, but we’ve seen many “unexpected” things in our lifetime, why not some more?

Christians, who are way too heavily invested in these United States, need to think about this as we debate Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.”  That will never work unless we in turn adopt the “Brusilov Option” of being able to survive and thrive in a hostile world.   Failure to do so will make any “Benedict Option” economically unviable.  (Remember that Benedict’s motto was “To Work is to Pray.”)  We live in a trashy and slovenly culture; unless we can seriously rise above it, we are toast.

Unfortunately for many of you the die is cast with your major, although strange major/career combinations are not unknown.  For those of you reading this who have a better head start, you should think about it.  We have a society which likes big talk about “pursuing your dream” and “changing the world.”  But if the world changes and you’re not ready for it, you’ll wish you had considered the “Brusilov Option” when you had the chance.

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