First generation warfare concerns the classic notion of war as an attempt to control territory, and the battlefield reflected this. Typically, lines and columns of men sought — with pike and musket — to decide the ownership of a battlefield, and this ownership conveyed victory. This was also an era of highly formulaic and ritualized siege-craft.
In Second Generation Warfare, while terrain remained important for its intrinsic features (as it still does), the real object of warfare generally and in a battle specifically was to inflict undue losses on the enemy. In 1864, Grant wasn't as interested in capturing the Confederate Capital of Richmond as he was in destroying Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The machineguns and artillery of the First World War were weapons of attrition as million-man armies sought to induce each other's collapse.
The carnage of Second Generation Warfare led to the reliance on maneuver and its effect on morale which characterizes Third Generation Warfare. The blitzkrieg of the Stukas and panzers, the Soviet operational maneuver group, and US air assault troops reflect an idea that precise firepower, operational art, and disruption can yield victory by imposing paralysis and bewilderment on an enemy rather than seeking his absolute physical destruction.
Many critics of the theory of Fourth Generation Warfare allege that it is nothing more than repackaging of the traditional clash between the non-state insurgent and the soldiers of a nation-state. The core idea of 4GW is that politics and warfare become blurred, and what is really being fought for is a grip on the mental state of the consciousness of entire peoples. The North Vietnamese, for example, count the 1968 Tet offensive as a victory — not for any direct battlefield successes (they didn't have any and the US thrashed their forces) — but because it convinced enough of the domestic US population that the war was unwinnable.
Let's apply the theories of Generational Warfare to a wrestling match: In 1st Generational wrestling, victory only comes if one pushes their opponent out of the ring. In 2nd Generation wrestling, the first man to collapse from exhaustion and injuries loses. In the 3rd Generation, one uses superior skill and agility to pin their opponent.
In 4th Generation wrestling, the real prize is the sympathy of the audience - much like it is in what passes for so-called professional wrestling today. In such a conflict, much depends on what segments of the audience one is trying to impress, how you hope to get their attention; and what you hope to achieve with it. The human taste for narrative being what it is, a variation of "small but plucky fighter takes on big brute" can often do quite well.
Read the whole article here: On Fourth Generation Warfare.