Gail Regan is vice-chair of Cara Operations, retired.  She chairs Energy Probe Research Foundation and is a member of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise.  She has a PhD in Educational Theory and an M.B.A. in Finance.  Her background in sociology and personal experience of business has given her an intellectual interest in the problem of evil.  








Handling Complexity In The Nineteenth Century

Chapter Two




Clive Ponting’s book The Crimean War: The Truth Behind the Myth illustrates how nineteenth century society handled complexity.  The story provides some lessons learned for today’s challenges.


Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Sardinia, France and Britain fought the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856.  The centre of action was in the Crimean peninsula, but there were skirmishes around the Black Sea, and in the Baltic, the Arctic and the Pacific.  This expensive war killed over half a million people and did extensive damage to the Russian city Sevastopol, numerous ships and forts.  It was the crisis of its time.

Events as they unfolded made it painfully clear that the conflict was not solving anything.  The most notorious example of bad judgment is known as “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” a suicidal exercise resulting from the misinterpretation of confusing orders.  There was worse.  Disastrously, the disease cholera broke out and with few habits of cleanliness or knowledge of germs, thousands died.  Logistics were poor.  British soldiers were expected to buy groceries from their supply ships, so the turnaround time was slow, limiting access to the harbor, Balaclava.  A severe storm sunk the ship with the winter clothing (which could not get into port due to the delays from the grocery business.)  Thousands froze to death as a result.  There was not enough fodder for the horses and many animals starved.

When I examine today’s efforts to cope with recession, terrorism and pollution, I am concerned that there are similarities to the Crimean War.  As in 1853, there is so much vested interest and so little understanding of the forces that lead to crisis, that history will see us flailing around in boondoggles rather than solving our problems.  But perhaps, as in the Crimean War, we will develop in the face of failure.

Horse starvation was taken very seriously and the British army contracted to have a small railway built to relieve the animals’ burden.  The project was very successful and inspired railway building throughout Europe.  Rail turned out to be a foundation for nineteenth century prosperity and is still a source of wealth today.

Crimean War soldiers died in hospital from disease, not in battle.  Efforts to properly plumb the hospitals reduced the death rate and inspired nineteenth century water systems, still in use.

Although the Crimean War was prosecuted stupidly, excellent diplomacy resolved the underlying tensions and each belligerent got something of value.  Over 50 years of prosperous peace ensued.

These happy results show that there was no shortage of skill, intelligence and ingenuity at the time.  There was a shortage of immediate application of these human capabilities to the presenting difficulties.  Fortunately, nineteenth century society was flexible enough and courageous enough to empower its leaders to replace bullying with technological development and international calm.  May it inspire us to creatively understand our dilemmas, embrace change and move forward.


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