Essays & Reviews

On Strategic Thinking: Patterns in Modern History

Strategy is the organization and application of power—especially military power—to achieve national policy objectives. Because it is not an exact science, strategy has a “history” only in inexact ways: there has been continual change but little that resembles true development in strategy. Strategy is part art as well as part science. And like painting, the art to which Winston Churchill compared it, strategy has moved through time less along a line of development than in angles, curves, and loops. The old and even the primitive in strategy may be rediscovered and successfully re-presented, perhaps with a new twist; the armor battles in the Middle Eastern sands during the Gulf War recall those of a half-century earlier.[1] By corollary, the very new in strategy may prove to be imaginative but also ineffective and transient.

Whether an original strategy will be a better one is a question that depends upon circumstance, judgement, morale, and many other factors, [2]including luck. What is more certain, and what most great strategists and commanders have recommended, is that history offers rich stimulus for thought about strategic problems of the present. This is not because what has been done should be repeated, but because the story of the past and its understanding in the present afford insights into the nature of good strategic thinking. Such useful study cannot be neglected; lives depend upon its.

Strategy’s past is accessible in at least four ways. In the study of persons: the great leaders of governments and of armies, and the contributions they made to leadership and to military art. In examination of past campaigns: choices in military history which, though made, are not closed to later appreciations and reassessments. In contemplation of principles: the very existence of principles of strategy is much debated; the Swiss Baron Henri Jomini and the American naval officer Alfred Mahan are among the serving officers and theorists who have sought to identify and establish enduring principles of strategy, while two similar nineteenth century figures, the Prussians Carl von Clausewitz and Helmuth Von Moltke (the Elder) rejected this possibility. Finally, strategy’s past is accessible in patterns of strategic thinking and acting. These patterns are more general and more timeless than the analyses of particular events and individual strategic choices which historians usually make. On the other hand they are less general, less timeless, than the promising but elusive (or illusive) principles sought by the more determined proponents of applied science. They represent a kind of continuity in strategic thinking throughout modern history.

If there are at least these four ways to approach strategy’s past, the present essay will follow the last, least traveled path, this one of patterns. Perhaps the less conventional kind of route will bring us to more interesting fruit. This essay commences with those patterns in strategic thinking which usually precede war; it then selects for discussion certain others which should or do occur during war; it ends with patterns in the ways statesmen and generals finish war and arrange the peace.

The Challenge of Pre-War Assessment
When Clausewitz wrote his now-famous passages describing war as something done for political purposes, he was not suggesting that war is something which may be taken up lightly. War may be a tool of politics but it is a blunt and dangerous one; there are other means to political ends. He cautioned further that if war is chosen, it must be thought out in the most deliberate fashion: “No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so—without being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” [3]Pre-war net assessment is thus the belligerent’s first strategic requirement. How well the assessment is performed may determine the war’s results. Realities as diverse and difficult to measure as national strength, morale, preparedness, geography, and the enemy’s dispositions and character are all factors to be included in the process of deciding whether to fight, what to fight for, and how to fight.

The Chinese general Sun Tzu, author of the earliest known treatise on The Art of War, is much studied by strategists in modern times. He took the process of pre-war appraisal so seriously that assessment emerges sounding far more like a hard science than an art. “With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot,” he writes unequivocally. [4] What deserves closest study? Two material factors: weather and terrain. And perhaps more importantly, three human factors: morale, or the harmony between a people and its leaders; command, meaning the general’s qualities; and doctrine. One might argue—Clausewitz does argue—that mastery of such fundamentals cannot guarantee victory. The fact that the enemy could pay still closer attention to Sun Tzu’s five fundamentals is but one reason to think that the Chinese thinker exaggerates. Yet surely the failure to do adequate pre-war estimates is a direct cause of defeat.

Adolf Hitler is a notable example. After an almost unerring series of judgements in the decade ending in 1940, the German dictator then made poor assessments in nearly all of Sun Tzu’s rubrics in planning “Operation Barbarossa” for the invasion of the USSR in 1941. Soviet morale was thought to be hollow because of the sapping influences of Bolshevism and “jewry”: “I will kick down the door and the whole rotten house will collapse.” [5] The truth was that Russian will held, among the officers and in the ranks, just as it had in 1812 when Napoleon’s armies ranged about the Russian plains in ungratified desire for a decisive battle. Of course, Hitler, like his generals, many of whom opposed the planned invasion, were conscious of that French precedent. But the pattern Hitler hoped to echo was not 1812 but 1917, when Imperial German victories in the east helped drive Czarist Russia from the First World War. The Russian failure of 1917 had occurred because of weak leadership, however; it was as weak as Stalin’s would be strong late in 1941. Internal enemies were a second plague of the Russian government of 1917, while by 1941 opposition to Moscow in the army and civil society alike had been suppressed by the combination of feverous purging and coldly efficient state totalitarianism.

Sun Tzu’s “fundamental factors” of weather and terrain also came to mock the Nazis’ stunning initial advances into the USSR. Hitler chose to start his troops eastward on virtually the same day in June as had Napoleon, and with equally ill preparation for winter cold. Hitler judged that to issue winter clothing would suggest that victory would not come as swiftly as planned. If in 1812 the Russians proved difficult to bring to battle, a century and a half later they did not cease giving battle, and in fact counterattacked repeatedly and ferociously. Thus for a new reason there was an old problem: there could be no quick victory for the invader. As the extensive terrain and winter climate took their toll on the war-hardened Wehrmacht, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill permitted himself a black joke in a world broadcast of the time: “Hitler…forgot about the winter. There is a winter, you know, in Russia. For a good many months the temperature is apt to fall very low. There is snow, there is frost, and all that. Hitler forgot about this Russian winter. He must have been very loosely educated. We all heard about it at school; but he forgot it.” [6]

Pre-war assessment of “command” meant to Sun Tzu taking the sum of the opposing generals’ qualities. These are not merely technical, but include wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness. Here was a decisive part of the task of knowing the enemy and knowing one’s self. Not surprisingly, Hitler expected to capitalize on the purges which had decimated the Red Army command structure. But what strengths did Germany have against this weakness of command? Some Nazi generals possessed qualities Sun Tzu demanded, and some were quite gifted, but they were usually overpowered by their fuhrer’s force of personality and prior successes in international politics. They permitted Hitler to lead, and he led them to defeat.

Only in aspects of “doctrine,” such as organization, control, supply, and tactics, could the Nazis have impressed Sun Tzu and counted on distinct advantages in the Russian campaign. One factor of five will not make for victory; the other four may add up to defeat. [7]

The inclination to place one’s hopes on enormous persistence and tactical brilliance, while neglecting the correct assessment of broader strategic factors, was a characteristic of German performance during both world wars of the twentieth century. Kaiser Wilhelm II, and his military high command dominated by Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, anticipated Hitler in making gambles reflecting operational confidence and technical proficiency but also strategic short-sightedness. Two were particularly significant. In 1915, after an alarming brush with America’s President Wilson over unrestricted submarine warfare around the British Isles, a policy which endangered and killed American sailors and would have drawn the new world into the war of the old, Germany backed off. Yet it did so only to repeat the gamble in 1917 when distorted assessments made prospects again seem favorable for starving the import-dependant English by sinking their merchant shipping. The German hope was that the strategy would prove decisive before America could mobilize sufficient support. Britain nearly did starve. But being ‘nearly right’ was of no help to Germany. She sought to eliminate an enemy in Europe but gained a far more powerful one in America.

This failure of German assessment, which meant that two million American troops would join the Entente in Europe, echoed the equally bold, equally flawed decision to launch the sledgehammer attack on Belgium and France three years before in 1914. There was but one prospect if it failed: war on two fronts simultaneously (since Russia’s participation on the allied side was assured by pre-war diplomacy). Much has been written about why the Schlieffen Plan for the conquest of France failed. The most interesting explanation actually pre-dates the war and demonstrates one man’s remarkable powers of assessment. It was written across the Channel in 1911 by the newly-installed First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Already working closely with the Director of Military Operations, General Henry Wilson, who kept an enormous wall map festooned with colored pins marking force positions, the First Lord produced a memorandum for the cabinet about the prospects for the anticipated German swing through Belgium and into northern France. When Churchill wrote he did so perhaps with, or perhaps without, the benefit of Clausewitz’ analysis of a “culminating point of victory,” [8] which is that point at which any successful offensive must begin to flag. He nonetheless predicted exactly when the German advance would grind to a halt—on its twentieth day—and did the same for the next important marker—the fortieth day, when a counteroffensive might be possible. Three years later the Schlieffen Plan unfolded as if according to the memorandum, and German power was turned by French and British soldiers in the Miracle of the Marne. [9]

The Offensive and the Defensive: Respective Advantages
In 1914 Germany chose to initiate world war by taking the military offensive. The plan was to deal quickly and decisively with the West first, then turn with full force against the East. All the other large powers, even those expecting attack, also chose offensive plans. The German choice was one a hundred other modern powers have had to face. The decision between the alternatives of strategic offense and strategic defense is the most direct link between pre-war assessment and opening battles. Once made, the choice reveals much about a state’s objectives and political intentions. And it may well help to determine the chances of achieving these goals.

There is no evidence in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, only qualified advice in Clausewitz, and little in the patterns of historical experience, to support the proposition that the offensive is superior to the defensive. The offensive offers the great advantages of initiative, surprise, and establishing the terms of the engagement. But a defender may also choose his ground and, if he defends it well, may then choose the time of his own counteroffensive strikes. Yet in the modern period, which is said to begin with the wars of the French Revolution, it was the offensive army which seemed to become the victorious army. Overleaping the day of small, professional forces, the French leadership of 1792 turned to the full strengths of its large population. The spiritedness and numbers of the citizenry, when fused with the training of established units and recent tactical innovations like mobile artillery, repeatedly drove better-drilled armies from the field. When victory did not come in the first day, the French tended to ignore custom and press the fight into the night, and if need be into the next day, until a decision was forced. Their relentlessness was as effective as it was unusual in that age. On assuming power, Napoleon refined and improved these revolutionary virtues. He also consistently chose the offensive, and pursued it with overwhelming commitment, destroying armies schooled on the eighteenth century methods of prolonged maneuvering, frequent retreat for position’s sake, and a willingness to leave the defeated enemy a way out. Napoleon’s armies sought less the defeat of the enemy army than its annihilation.

French success with the doctrine of the offensive and elan, or spiritedness, established a legacy for the nineteenth century. It endured into the twentieth, and partially explains Paris’ insistence on meeting the German attack of 1914 with an attack of her own. But Napoleonic strategies taught different lessons in America. At West Point in New York, Dennis Hart Mahan (father of Alfred Thayer Mahan) and other professors groomed the young men who would one day officer Union and Confederate troops, and they taught them the principles of Napoleonic warfare as witnessed by Jomini. The Swiss Baron, then credited with capturing Napoleon’s methods better than any other contemporary, [10] muted the Napoleonic emphasis on the offensive. West Point’s Jominians taught military science—formulated principles, buttressed with much work on civil engineering and fortification, on mathematics, on army administration, and on tactics (but not strategy). The product of the American academy was thus only partly bred to the doctrine of the offensive; if some Civil War generals were inclined to it, this was most likely due to personal experience with successful offensives in the Mexican war.

While President Abraham Lincoln needed West Point’s science-trained generals to perform the prodigious engineering feats of the Civil War, he needed still more a general capable of taking the military offensive. For this purpose George McClellan, the early general-in-chief whom newspapers desperate for heroes called “The Young Napoleon,” was inadequate. His view was that the Union’s war was a limited one for limited ends. This outlook, combined with a scrupulous concern for training and preparation, exhausted the patience of a President desperate for victories essential to Northern support for the war. Victories could not come without fighting, and McClellan preferred preparing to fighting.

General Henry Halleck shared Lincoln’s irritation, and wrote of McClellan: “It requires the lever of Archimedes to move this inert mass.” [11] And yet Halleck, author of a distinctly Jominian textbook used at West Point, also lacked Napoleonic aggressiveness once actually given the mantle of chief general. He tended to avoid not only the offensive but major decisions simply—even after direct exhortations from the President. This is not odd; Clausewitz argues that even the boldest junior commanders tend increasingly towards caution as their responsibilities increase and their perspective broadens. But Clausewitz thought this a characteristic of senior officers, not necessarily an advantage. Ultimately Lincoln found Ulysses S. Grant who, incidentally, boasted of never having read Jomini. No one had to urge Grant to see the necessity of combat or beg him to take the offensive. That strategic posture suited Grant. He saw that he possessed a manpower pool superior to his enemy’s and that it had been trained by his Union predecessors like McClellan. Grant created multiple broad fronts and then drove the South to exhaustion.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, West Point graduate and war veteran, chose a strategy based on the advantages inherent in the defensive. War of limited aims better suited the South’s political position than it did the Union of Gen. McClellan, for the Confederacy only needed to survive and its objectives would be achieved. But his most interesting generals were West Pointers who were different; they took their Napoleon straight, without Jominian flavoring. Robert E. Lee had been Commandant at the Point. Library records of the time reflect his use of few books, but most of those few were on Napoleon. General Lee, and General Thomas J. Jackson too, shared U. S. Grant’s Napoleonic instinct for seeking out and annihilating the enemy army. Neither was inclined to entrench, build, and prepare, as much as to attack and to fight. Neither feared to race out ahead of supply lines, a Napoleonic stratagem which often meant incautious living off the land.

There was a problem with General Lee’s inclinations. They might produce magnificent forays into Pennsylvania, with hopes of dealing the North a political and military blow, or towards Washington to threaten the Union capital. But while planned as offensive punches, intended to put power into a largely defensive posture, they instead exhausted the Confederates’ smaller armies while failing to advance larger strategic purposes such as damaging Lincoln politically, breaking the Northern will, or swinging European neutrals into collusion with the South.

What lessons did the American Civil War appear to teach about the advantages of the offensive or defensive? Tactical offensives were often self-destructive, given the capacity of entrenched riflemen to decimate advancing infantry; this suggested that firepower was now more important than elan. But only vaguely did it presage the horrors of trench warfare; maneuver was never killed in the Civil War. Some offensives, strategic as well as tactical, often succeeded—for the North if less often for the South. Perhaps the war suggested that modern conflicts could not be won quickly—Union and Confederacy alike had expected a short war, just as would all belligerents in 1914, only to find themselves committed to years of hard fighting.

Most Europeans regarded the American Civil War with detachment. That cost them opportunities to learn. The German General Staff did do a three-volume study of the war, but it was little read. Of surpassing interest to them were the three German wars of unification, launched by Chancellor Otto von Bismark about the time of the strife in America. The first two, against Denmark and Austria, were won very quickly with punishing strategic offensives. Denmark fell in about ten weeks, and yielded all trace of authority over the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein. Then Austria, in many respects Prussia’s equal, was bested in “The Seven Weeks War” and forced to yield control of the confederation of German states. The third war, with France, did bog down, but only for seven months, and with Prussia’s victory came territories in Alsace and Lorraine and indemnities in gold. It was therefore not Grant but General Hulmuth Von Moltke and Bismarck whose war-making gripped European attentions in the mid-nineteenth century. Before their eyes, Europe’s leaders were watching war used as a strikingly successful implement of policy—a Prussian/German policy of territorial acquisition as well as ethnic and lingual unification. Little wonder that there is a path, if not necessarily a straight one, from the Prussian victories of 1864, 1866 and 1871 to the German gambits of 1914 and 1936-40. [12]

Almost every major power which went to war in August 1914 took the strategic offensive. It was well known that the advantages of the defense had been enhanced by repeating rifles, machine guns, and artillery batteries. But men judged that these could not be avoided, and would have to be overcome by superior morale. It is remarkable how well in fact the morale of millions of human beings did hold up despite the unspeakable horrors of World War One. Only after the most staggering combats and privations were there mutinies among the French, and these were contained. Russia alone broke. The German army did not, winning major victories as late as the summer of 1918, victories which later seemed to prove to Corporal Hitler and others that defeat in November 1918 had been the product of some vague plot among civilians behind German lines. [13]

Trench warfare suggested the power of the defensive, but neither this technique nor this strategic posture were to be the legacies of World War One. The offensive-defensive screw turned once more in the opening of World War Two in 1939. Nazi “lightening war,” or blitzkrieg, destroyed Poland in September 1939, parts of Scandinavia in four weeks beginning the following April, and then most of France in May and early June. Cavalry charges—armored cavalry—had suddenly retaken their place in the battlefield, closely supported by winged weapons in the air. With these new technologies, and with motorized infantry, speed and maneuver regained the place they had enjoyed in Napoleon’s time. What Guderian, Rommel, De Gaulle and Patton had grasped was that the true lesson of the first war was not to be found in the trenches of the first four years but in something more like the advanced tactics of 1918, when a combination of surprise, the tank, creeping artillery barrages, storm troopers, and air reconnaissance rebalanced the offensive/defensive calculus in favor of the offensive.

Ultimately, the choice between the strategic offensive and the strategic defensive must be taken with a view to what best suits a state’s policies, national strengths, strategic position, military training, and character. World War One commanders seemed to assume, in part from an inadequate understanding of Clausewitz’s emphasis on spiritedness and force, that the offense will always be superior. It is not, and Clausewitz never called it so. This the Prussian did counsel: if one fights only on the defensive, even the best defense may ultimately fail the repeated tests put to it by the enemy. The line will be probed until it is broken. Some offensive action is a necessity. There is a bitter truth in the incessant question of William Roberts, Chief of Britain’s Imperial General Staff, who shared the anguish over mass casualties from western front offensives but incessantly demanded of critics: “If you go on the defensive, gentlemen, please tell me how you are going to win the war.” [14] This thought also lay behind the pressure Robert E. Lee exerted upon President Davis to take the war beyond the Confederacy’s perimeter and into the Union.

Direct Verses Indirect Approaches
No less important than the choice about posture, offensive or defensive, is a related question which presses itself upon decision makers as war begins and then recurs again and again throughout the course of conflict: whether to take a direct or indirect approach. Deciding this question may have little to do with aggressiveness. “Stonewall” Jackson’s preference for the tactical offensive did not imply assaulting the enemy’s strong front; instead his rule of strategy was to “always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy.” Such respect for the indirect style of warfare was codified by Sun Tzu and used by Mao Tse Tung for guerrilla doctrine. It was also elevated to a precarious doctrinal height by the British officer and writer B. H. Liddel Hart, whose On Strategy is a reinterpretation of known military history as a demonstration that the indirect attack is more successful than the direct. The “rule” is to avoid the enemy’s strength and strike at his weakness. In the first of the two twentieth century world wars, for example, this would imply preferring First Lord Churchill’s Dardanelles plan, an attack through Turkey towards the Austro-German heartland, as against renewed offensives against the German trenches on the western front. In the second of the two great wars, it might imply preferring Prime Minister Churchill’s plan to begin fighting the Nazi army in North Africa, or Sicily, or the Balkans, or even in Greek islands, rather than launching a direct invasion of the continent so early that its success would be uncertain.

By contrast, Carl Von Clausewitz argues that it is not the periphery but “the hub of all power” which should be attacked. This hub might be the capital. It may be a single leader. Usually it is the enemy army. Aim directly at the hub, or “center of gravity,” he thought, and the rest of the enemy wheel will collapse with it. Thus it seemed to World War One General Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France, for whom there was no realistic alternative to the close-order-carnage of the western front. If getting at Berlin through Turkey looked easier, it was because Germany rightly regarded Turkey as less worthy of defense than the western front. Imperial Germany had to be broken where Germany’s armies were; the search for an easy way to Berlin was illusory. So also it seemed after 1941 to Communist Party General Secretary and commander-in-chief Joseph Stalin who found it foolish to fritter about on the Mediterranean periphery at the expense of an early drive on Berlin from the west and east alike.

Modern experience offers only limited answers to the dilemma about whether to attack strength or weakness. The peripheral operation in the Dardanelles in World War One could have succeeded, but ill execution cost the Allies many lives and Churchill his portfolio. Even this failure was useful, however, in so far as it kept Germany off balance and German forces dispersed around a periphery many times longer than the western front, making later Allied offensives on that primary front somewhat easier. Yet the greater truth is that victory in 1918 was won primarily by direct attacks. And World War Two was won by a strategic combination of direct and indirect operations, waged from air, sea, and land alike. Once again, Germany held the advantage of interior lines of communication and reinforcement, but once again Germany faced nightmarish choices about allocation of armies between distant theaters besieged by numerically superior enemies, enemies who were cooperating and were able to press an advantage or merely hold on, depending upon their choices.

It is useful to reach further back to the French strategy against England between 1793 and 1815 for other illustrations of the appeal and promise of clever peripheral operations as against direct, more dangerous frontal attacks upon enemy strength. France did contemplate direct invasion of England during this two-decade war. The Normans had done so successfully in 1066, and their able descendants wanted to do so again. Yet the pattern of the intervening centuries had been one in which foul weather, winter darkness, poor generalship, navigational mishaps, and other factors deterred, confounded, or swallowed up attempts by Spanish, Dutch, and other national forces to cross the deceptively narrow Channel.[15] So too failed the attempts of the revolutionary Directory and of Napoleon to organize an armada to land in the south of England or sail up the Thames River: geography, shortages of boats and barges, and the Royal Navy’s forward-based flotillas all were hindrances. Paris was forced to abandon the idea of direct attack and to press instead for indirect ones. The new plans, like the Allies’ 1915 Dardanelles expedition against Imperial German power, showed imagination, and with better luck could have produced limited success.

Prospects were especially good for the first of the French expeditions to Ireland—in 1796. All but undefended early in the war, always ready to revolt against English rule, Ireland lay tantalizingly close to France. Not far inland from Ireland’s south-western shores lay Cork, a great storehouse for the Royal Navy. Could a French landing force not draw upon Irish sentiment and English stores to prompt a rebellion? At the very least this would draw British troops into Ireland in unprecedented numbers, where they could neither threaten France nor defend London against another, more direct incursion. [16] But Britain was saved when the French armada intended for Ireland became divided and its unconfident commander became lost. The storm-battered French warships and troop transports limped back by increments into Brest harbor. Ironically, Ireland did revolt, but two years later, at a time when French eyes were turned to a different British flank and the target of the next French indirect attack: the Middle East.

Why in 1798 should France go so far as the Levant when her war was with her neighbor England? General Bonaparte’s letter of that year to the Directory gives the reason. He envisaged three options for breaking the British. The first was direct: a cross-channel invasion. For this French shipwrights and engineers at Bologne, Calais, and ports in the northern Mediterranean were already laboring, unaware that their efforts would be for naught. The second strategic option was economic: crush the continental bases of English trade. This was a strategy the future Emperor would indeed use, calling it the Continental System. The third option was a classic indirect strategy: an expedition of conquest to the Eastern Mediterranean, long vital to the British trade there and in the Far East. Chosen when the invasion schemes failed, this indirect option led to the swift French conquest of Egypt and a northward march along the Mediterranean coast into Palestine. But their way was barred by a British-Turkish defense of Acre, and then Admiral Horatio Nelson and his captains sank the French fleet at the Nile, blocking even a withdrawal from Egypt. Thus perished the second major French attempt of the war to get at the periphery of British power. [17] Indirect attacks had worked for France no better than had the plan for direct invasion.

For A Balanced Strategy: Combined Arms
The blow Nelson and his captains dealt the French fleet on which Napoleon’s Levant expedition depended was one of the more decisive in modern history. Tactically, the Battle of the Nile was dazzling; what it demonstrated in strategic terms was the French neglect in this period of a balanced land power-sea power relationship. This was a central reason for Napoleon’s failure. It was not of course the only one: neglect of diplomacy, unrestrained ambition, and the gradual improvement of the armies against him all contributed to his defeat. But it is apparent that Napoleon had a one-dimensional view of military power. He never understood the sea, never gave his admirals trust or admiration, and never devoted the resources to fleet construction and training which might have allowed him to threaten the Queen of the Seas in her island home. In one sense Napoleon made for himself the worst of both worlds: not content with absolute supremacy on the Continent, or unsure whether he could retain it with England still a lively foe, Napoleon expended time, effort, and treasure on invasion schemes and ship building campaigns which were large enough to draw down French resources but too small to succeed. In this, the Corsican presaged the German Kaiser of a century later in 1914, building a fleet large enough to anger Britain but too small to keep London out of the coming Austro-German land war against France and Russia. An enthusiastic student of history ‘s great army commanders, Napoleon had little interest in naval strategists, let alone captains of ships. He once indicated this by including none of them in a list he made of great commanders: he observed that “the principles of warfare” and indeed “a complete treatise on the art of war” could be found in the study of the eighty-three campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene of Savoy and Frederick the Great. [18]

Notably absent from Napoleon’s list are leaders of Sparta or republican Rome, two great land powers which did develop the ability to fight and win on the water. Rome, having found her expansion checked by the Mediterranean’s leading trade power, Carthage, and being without a single sea-worthy warship, created a fleet of 120 ships which could transport an army of fifty thousand. And this was but a hint of the depths of Rome’s determination: several times, storms wreaked disaster, but Rome did not fail to rebuild the fleet. At war with Carthage about as long as Napoleon was with England, some quarter-century, the sons of Romulus and Remus won the first Punic War—on the water, near Sicily. Carthage never again possessed command of the sea, which Rome held for centuries.

Here, in this rich saga, was a lesson lost on Napoleon. But it was not lost on Alfred T. Mahan. The American Captain discerned between the lines of Theodore Mommsen’s history of ancient Rome the insights later written down in 1890 in The Influence of Sea Power Upon History[19] and taught to every subsequent class of officers at the U.S. Naval War College. Mahan, who served that college as lecturer and president, went on to write another great work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, which examined the triumph of British-led alliances against Paris. After centuries, Mahan had finally illuminated and set in writing that which many had known only instinctively: the importance of commerce, overseas ports, and navies to the greatness of a nation. Indeed, he implied that a great power, be it preeminent on land or on the sea, can ignore the other martial environment only at great peril. To close the case of the Napoleonic wars, it must be observed that without Prussia, Russia, Austria, and the other continental partners, whose foot soldiers England often paid, armed, and kept in the field in the years 1792-1815, defeat would not have darkened France. But with England’s commercial and naval power, international coalitions were inspired and could be sustained, and in time Napoleon’s defeat did come.

Among those most receptive to Mahan’s commentaries on naval power were the leaders of Imperial Germany and Imperial Japan of the 1920s and 1930s. Both governments were somewhat Napoleonic in their geographical ambitions. Both were affected by Mahan’s hortatory appeal to fleet construction as a necessary element of national power. Both then went to war—with sea and land forces—and were ultimately defeated, also by combined arms, by democratic coalitions. This fact has given rise to a Naval War College lecturer’s joke that the chief contribution of former President A.T. Mahan is his responsibility for the defeat of two of our enemies who took his work seriously—Germany in the First World War and Japan in the Second.

The Emperor William II’s Germany possessed few of the geographical advantages of the maritime archetype described in the opening chapter of Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. Of the factors Mahan looked for in a prospective naval power, three concerned geography and three its people: geographical position, physical conformation, and extent of territory, as well as population, character of the people, and character of the government. Germany could lay hard claim to only one of these six (if we leave aside the advantages of affiance with Italy, as indeed we may). German geography dictated that her fleet would be disadvantaged by division between the North and Baltic Seas. Cutting the Jutland Peninsula with a Kiel Canal wide enough to accommodate the new battleships largely remedied this problem, and served among the first notices to modern peoples that even geography, that seemingly most immutable factor of strategy, may be altered by man. Indeed, as this new canal opened, just weeks before the outbreak of World War One, another was being completed in distant Panama, where its August initiation achieved for U.S. citizens attentive to Mahan’s directives the same strategic advantage Germany gained by finishing work at Kiel. Now each state could shift its concentrated fleets at will, whether for offensive purposes or to prevent attack on her coastlines.

Yet even with the new advantages of the canal, Germany remained by Mahanian standards a small country, cramped in its access to the sea and crowded by powerful contiguous land powers. [20] Germany’s physical conformation offered few harbors. The pre-World War One decision to let Holland remain neutral restricted German options on the northwest coast, while the longer northeast coast suffered from the usual and crushing disadvantage that England could block its limited exits to the high seas. True, the German population was large, growing, talented, and industrially-capable, and might thus be expected to overcome some disadvantages of geography. Moreover, the German national character showed energy, resolution, and military prowess. Unfortunately Mahan’s point was that there were men and there were sea-faring men; compared to the British or even the French, few Germans had lived their lives upon the sea in trade and war. Sea-faring experience in Germany was not inborn and would have to be made, as Rome had made hers.

The character of the German government for its part was helpful. A more or less coherent leadership offered national support for merchant ship and war fleet construction. By imperial mandate, every German middle school held a copy of Mahan’s leading volume. Enormous naval increases were pressed through parliament, setting off one of history’s greatest naval arms races. The Emperor spoke about expansion and war with an arrogance Europe had not seen since the first decade of Bismarck’s Chancellorship. Europe had learned to heed Bismarck’s threats, often loud and almost always calculated; they believed Wilhelm’s, which were simply loud.

Grand-Admiral Alfred Tirpitz, supremely calculating, never colored his pre-war assessments with expectations of clearing the seas of the British battle fleet in a single Mahanian stroke. He called the ships building in German yards “a risk fleet,” a sea-mobile demonstration of force large enough to deter England from the risk of joining in the war intended for the continent. But Wilhelm II wanted a combat fleet, to be used as Mahan recommended, with concentration and overwhelming force, its victory to be followed by a blockade of the hapless island enemy. England accepted Tirpitz’ “risk” and joined battle when Germany made war on the Continent. There never was a “decisive sea battle.” Yet it is striking that without such a contest, Britain completely commanded the surface of the globe. Five months after the commencement of war, every German warship in the High Seas Fleet had disappeared from the high seas, and British predominance continued through 1918. Even when the naval struggle shifted to the realms below the surface, England found ways to strangle the U-Boat too.

There were other Royal Navy roles. Like the undersea war, these were more prosaic than Nelsonian cannonades but also just as vital to success. The commitment to the Continent’s defense against the Austro-German alliance in 1914 meant bridging the Channel with British warships and troop transports. That route remained open for all Allied transports and the soldiers they carried, despite dreaded German mines and submarines. The Royal Fleet protected the British Isles as the staging area and logistics supplier to the continent, just as it had for the allies in the face of Napoleon’s land armies, and just as it would in the face of Hitler’s. Clearly the survival of England did more than save the English; it saved the multinational coalitions which ground down these three continental hegemons.

In the last two hundred years, land empires have struggled to the death with great sea powers five times, and five times lost. Naval powers, in coordination with coalition land armies, have triumphed over Napoleon, the American Confederates, Russians in 1905, and German coalitions in two world wars. The victories were won with combined arms. The last of these struggles indicates that a belligerent may require adeptness not just on land and at sea, but in the air. Future war may require similar accomplishments in the newest martial medium, space.

“Learning” In War
The kind of adaptability or “learning” in warfare which ancient Rome demonstrated in going to sea against Carthaginian maritime power is supremely difficult; certainly revolutionary France and Imperial Germany have found it so in modern times. Learning is always arduous, even in a quiet classroom, but in wartime learning must take place while the enemy is shooting at the schoolhouse, as it were. And moreover, war is the cruel sort of teacher who continually produces surprises and then savagely whips those slowest to adapt.

When Europe’s impassioned armies locked themselves into a diagonal line in northern France in the autumn of 1914, old ways of thinking and persistent illusions did not die. Or, they died less quickly than the brave men following officers whose tactical ideas were in the grip of tradition. Germany first took French soil and then assumed a strategic defensive, leavening this with tactical offensives as appropriate. French forces were compelled to assume offensives, as against merely digging in, because the war was fought on and for their national territory: German forces stood astride French land, population, and minerals. The question for both sides, once their first offensives had been stopped and the opportunities for maneuver lost, became one of how to break the enemy’s trenches. In some sectors these systems ran back four miles, and were in all places formidable. For an endless three years it seemed that the sky might fill with hailstorms of steel and the ground swell with blood without either side attaining any success of strategic proportions. No amount of courage seemed enough to break through.

There are many reasons why a solution to trench defenses was long in coming. There was the usual difficulty of learning in wartime. There was the age and conservatism of the Allies’ commanders. There was also the matter of their distance from the front: orders “Forward!” from headquarters far in the rear could always produce assaults by courageous junior officers and soldiers, but not necessarily advances. Conditions were near-impossible. Those who could observe and participate long enough to digest their tactical experience and suggest innovations were few, as the life of a junior officer during battle on the front might be measured in seconds. To these difficulties was added a further complication: there was a dearth of good training schools. Britain altogether closed the schools which trained at the supra-divisional level and their faculties, like many General Staff officers, scattered to the front, each man eager for a command. The doleful result was that an innovation by one unit at one part of the front might remain there a good while before finding dissemination throughout the army? [21] Prospective technical and weapons innovations met further barriers in the excruciating pressures imposed on all war industry for regular manufacture of essential arms and equipment. Winston Churchill had the vision, from his post at Admiralty, to see the need for the tank. But to get eighteen prototype “landships” built in early 1915 he had to use Royal Navy funds covertly, daring not to inform the Ordnance Department or even the Treasury? [22]

But the British first tried to adapt strategically rather than tactically; they sought ways to perform an end run around the German continental defenses. The Dardanelles operation was but the best known attempt to open a front in a new theater and thus make the western front less important. There were schemes for amphibious landings in the Baltic, but these were barred by German sea and land defenses. There were amphibious operations in northern Greece late in 1915 to save Serbia from defeat by Austro-Hungarian forces (the British and Allied forces were too late), and again in the next year when the Entente’s new ally Romania was under attack from the Central Powers (this strategic diversion failed). All of these attempts were true to “the British way of war,” the heart of which was captured by Sir Francis Bacon’s words: “… he that commands the sea is at great liberty and may take as much and as little of the war as he will…” [23] That maxim offers a strategic conception, but as the British pattern of World War One suggests, much also lies in the power of execution.

The British way of war was understood intuitively and via experience more than it was grasped by study. For example, the strategic value of the range and initiative which naval and amphibious forces can offer was formally and expertly laid down in 1911 by Sir Julian Corbett, a lawyer-turned-maritime historian, in Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. But a letter of a British Lord of the time suggests that Corbett’s book was perhaps read by Winston Churchill and no one else in the Cabinet. Still less learning—about amphibious doctrine in particular—went on after the war. After 1918 the British all but forgot about the art of limited amphibious warfare and its utility for strategic purposes, even though limited engagements by sea-borne soldiers had been a central pattern in their own history. Fixated by the disaster at the Dardanelles in 1915, the post-war British military establishment made little haste to study that failure or the future of amphibious warfare. It was the U.S. Marine Corps which thoroughly studied the Dardanelles, learned from mistakes made there, and during the 1920s and 1930s produced the first written doctrine for amphibious warfare. The Corps’ mastery of it turned on highly trained assault forces operating with air support and devastating naval bombardments. These lessons were vital to the success of dozens of efforts in Second World War Pacific campaigns, not to mention the “Overlord” invasion of occupied France on D-Day in June, 1944.

British failures at indirect attacks along the so-called “soft underbelly” of Europe during World War One led to other innovations intended to crack German power along the western front. Thinking about alternatives in this war thus turns with renewed force to such mechanical marvels as the tank. There were many inside the British government who sought technical alternatives to placing uniformed chests in the way of aimed rifle fire and artillery, but the three most responsible for the development of the tank were the Admiralty’s Mr. Churchill and two men at the War Office: the Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, and a highly-motivated reservist engineer, Col. Ernest Swinton. At the front, and independently of Churchill, Swinton had conceived the concept of the tank and fought to persuade procurement authorities of its utility. The machine was designed with caterpillar treads, armor, and guns, and was intended to be a trench-crossing, machine-gun killing, and even troop transporting vehicle which could punch through defensive embattlements and barbed wire. Then the tank might pivot and sweep along the trenches, enfilading the enemy with guns or flamethrowers, or forge ahead, friendly infantry following, to reduce rear defenses and reserves. Perhaps many such actions could help produce advances of truly strategic scope.

Doctrine for coordinating the tank with infantry was slow to develop. And the first use of the new weapon betrayed the insistence of Swinton and Churchill that there should be no field employment until there were sufficient numbers to create a great effect. Sound strategic sense did not prevail, and the tank was first used—and exposed to German eyes—at the Somme in inadequate numbers. As predicted, the machines did terrify the German soldier, and proved especially effective as a weapon of psychological and physical shock. As predicted, they did have only a limited tactical effect because of the difference between a few new weapons and the immensity of the German defenses. And as predicted the ever-innovative Germans set about studying and copying this new weapon. Unpredictably, General Ludendorf concluded that the Somme battlefield proved the limits to the tank’s value, and Germany thus moved only slowly towards tank production. Britain moved more quickly; by November 1917, hundreds of tanks could be thrown into battle at once at Cambrai to create a notable salient in the German lines just north of the Somme River. [24]

If the Germans were slow to see the virtues of the tank, their learning with respect to new infantry tactics in World War One rivaled or exceeded that of all the other belligerents. The high command showed imagination, skill, and persistence in evolving new weapons and new doctrine and spreading them deep down into the ranks with systematic training. This showed itself first in flexible defense, which temporarily withheld reserves and let a weakened front absorb the frontal Allied attacks. Then second and third-echelon German forces would assault the aggressor’s exposed flanks. The Germans even trained special counter-attack units for this system.

It was in the offensive mode that German learning was most impressive. They learned from a notebook lost by a French officer, and even introduced his tactical suggestions into combat more quickly than did the French. They adopted what they could from the methods of the creative Russian General A.A. Brusilov, whose innovations opposite Austrian trenches on the eastern front in June 1916 produced a stunning breakthrough that rolled Germany’s southern ally back and raised the specter of her defeat. [25] The British added their own tactical innovations on the western front shortly thereafter, and from these, too, the Germans learned. Finally, the Germans produced new weapons to accompany new tactics, both those adopted from others and those of her own invention.

In the latter years of the war, Germany thus launched offensives with a panoply of new methods. Artillery barrages, formerly lasting for days, were telescoped into “hurricane barrages” that did their deadly work against defenses but did not entirely sacrifice the ele-ment of surprise for the subsequent infantry attack. Special “storm troopers” were trained to use the cover of night, fog, or smoke to pass through the first defensive lines, take out the second defensive layer, interdict enemy reserves as they moved towards the threatened sector, and thus soften the Allied lines for a full offensive attack. Such infiltrators first appeared at Cambrai where, after a lull brought on by the British tank offensive, the Germans launched a successful attack of their own, retaking much of the lost ground. Where the hurricane barrage was not appropriate, Germany had recourse to use of artillery in a “creeping barrage,” which moved forward slowly and just ahead of advancing infantry, forcing the machine gunners and riflemen in the enemy lines to remain deep within their bunkers until the infantry were upon them. This was perilous to the attackers’ leading ranks, but spotting by airplanes was helpful to the accuracy of the Germans’ gunners in this respect. German aircraft, ever improving, assumed another role in trench war when, fitted with good machine guns, they poured fire into trenches or strafed those rushing in to reinforce during attack or defense.

German learning did not cease with the armistice of 1918. The army continued its studies, its training and its doctrinal work under the noses of a world focusing on disarmament. France thought the lesson of World War One had been in its first years, and accordingly built the Maginot Line. Germany took its inspiration from the renewed movement of the last years, and began readying a force so mobile and mechanized that it would shock anyone who believed that modern firepower had doomed the idea of attack. Since Napoleon’s time, the wheel had come fully around; in 1939 the world learned that speed, mobility and audacity were again decisive.

Military Technology
The tank is a fine example of that kind of adaptation in war, and between wars, which is technological. It was important, but by no means decisive, in the defeat of German forces in 1918. And yet material changes—in weapons and equipment—are sometimes declared to be the most important factor in the outcome of conflict. It was the opinion of Britain’s Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, whose reputation derives from interwar promotion of the tank and a doctrine for armor warfare, that every age of conflict has its “principle weapon.” He meant a technological innovation so new and so deadly that it creates dramatic differences on the battlefield and channels military thinking and procurement. Pre-modern examples of such technological revolutions might include the stirrup, varieties of the bow, and the corvu, a hinged and spiked gang-plank by which Roman marine forces turned sea battles into something at which they excelled—face to face combat with the short sword.

Clausewitz might question the Fuller thesis. Among the leading concerns of Clausewitz was morale, an element of combat which he thought far more critical to victory than anything material. Indeed, On War is nearly silent on the subject of technology, perhaps because it was written prior to the impending revolution in armaments. This is of special interest because Napoleon, the contemporary who so inspired the Prussian author, never disdained technological advantages. When they are available, said the Emperor, “thunderbolts…should be preferred to cannon.” Yet if a choice was necessary, Napoleon too favored morale as more important than material. Well acquainted with the advantages of firepower, technology, logistics, and numbers of soldiers and weapons, he nonetheless observed that in war, “moral factors account for three-quarters of the whole” and material strength for one-quarter only. [26]

This debate is as old as warfare itself. Russian war thinkers divided on the question during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A “national” school argued for the importance of morale and the fighting spirit that brought a soldier to close with the bayonet. Modernist Russian technocrats and academics argued for an appreciation of new weapons for their devastating firepower. Later, Soviet theorists sought to close up the argument by emphasizing both moral and material factors.

China’s Mao Tse Tung, perhaps because he was a leader of a backward country which lacked the industrial labor force and technology of the Russia of 1917, argued for “man’s dynamic role.” He judged that people, not things, were decisive in war, and he ridiculed the “mechanical” notion that “weapons decide everything.” To him the bomber was just a new spear; the concrete bunker was just a new shield. [27] It was natural that Chinese Communism might propound doctrine with marked appreciation for the well-indoctrinated man at arms. But the “People’s Liberation Army” lost nearly a million men to American firepower in the Korean War, a brutal experience which moderated its faith in ideological inspiration and human wave attacks as against the mechanical instruments of war. [28] The shift brought Chinese doctrine more into line with traditional and conventional Marxism-Leninism, which takes pride in scientific and industrial accomplishments. In recent years, the PLA has been cutting back its manpower while pressing its technological work as one of “The Four Modernizations.”

The second objection Clausewitz might have to J.F.C. Fuller’s search for “a silver bullet” in each military age would be framed around his concept of “interaction.” Clausewitz believed that one made war not against inanimate matter but against living human beings. For that reason, every major effort or innovation had to be considered not as decisive but as part of a dynamic. An enemy might imitate; he might block an advance; he might escalate his own level of effort to match his opponent’s. Just as any effort might be resisted or surpassed, any given victory on the battlefield or in the diplomatic drawing room would not necessarily be final. Neither would be any achievement by a laboratory specializing in defense technologies. Fifty years ago most Englishmen knew the ditty which explained the annihilation of the Dervish tribesmen by Kitchener’s army in the Sudan in 1898: “Whatever happens, we have got / the Maxim gun and they have not.” What all Englishmen knew still better was the story of the Somme, where on July 1, 1916, German machinegunners, often hidden in armor emplacements, killed almost half the British soldiers engaged in a great offensive. But the machine gun did not and could not win World War One. Not only did the Allies have their own machine guns, they learned to crush these vipers nests with the new tank and with new tactics. Thus the miracle weapon met its match.

The tank itself may be reconsidered in the light of this principle of interaction between living human forces. Its modest part in late victories in the First World War seems outdone by its early triumphs over Poland and France in the second. But German lightening war combined aircraft, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and strategic surprise, and it was that devastating combination which won those battles and fundamentally altered the course of modern war. Blitzkrieg shoved the dreaded trench into an obscurity from which it has only rarely emerged, as on the Korean peninsula in 1951, and in the “sitzkrieg” of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. But the answer to the tank could be seen emerging even during World War Two: in enemy tanks, and in a variety of anti-tank weapons, especially the German panzerfaust bazooka and 88 mm. gun. To these have now been added wire and laser guided munitions for attacking tanks from the ground, as well as tank-killing ground attack airplanes and helicopters. Tank makers have not quit the fight; they have returned with special ceramic armors capable of deflecting super-high heat shells, and even with “reactive armor” which answers the explosion with its own explosion. And still Clausewitz’ principle of inter-action remains, as reactive armor suddenly faces potential obsolescence in the form of planned new anti-tank rockets that use kinetic penetration principles and cannot be deflected. There are other plans for air-dropped submunitions which attack the lightly-armored top of the tank.

After World War Two the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) became the dreaded silver bullet. But its tenure has been short, a matter of a few decades. The scientific laboratories which can build such a missile to kill may also learn to build systems which kill missiles, and an effective countermeasure to the ICBM has come increasingly close. The success of the aging “Patriot” missile against Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missiles was but the most recent indication of the steady development of missile defenses. Indeed, had the Soviets had been able to continue their spending on anti-ballistic missile capacities, spending which averaged about $15 billion annually in the early 1980s, the answer might have been found already. When this occurs, strategic rocket forces will lose much of their enormous political and military utility. They are after all not less vulnerable in flight than that first delivery system for strategic munitions, the manned bomber, which held Europe in terror during the 1930s. Most people agreed with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that “the bomber will always get through;” Baldwin believed this so strongly he implied that to hold a different opinion was stupid and even dishonest. But the Prime Minister was wrong. Antiaircraft guns, the proximity fuse, metal “chaff” and above all human beings in fighter planes downed hundreds of manned and unmanned bombers. The exponents of strategic air power who were so vocal in the 1920s and 1930s were largely frustrated in their expectations. The bomber was no silver bullet.

Nor will the ICBM be tomorrow. Viewed as one part of the long process of technological interaction by human combatants, the ICBM is less the dramatic departure and certain war winner than contemporary popular opinion assumes. If countermeasures make its successful use too difficult to hazard, it will become something akin to the succession of “war winners” introduced to the world between 1914 and 1918, all now relegated to a considerably lower position at the war planning table. Policy and strategy, not technology, still sit at the head of that table. The wonder weapons—machine guns, gas, [29] tanks, submarines, aircraft, even aircraft carriers—are all still with us; none has been decisive; each weapon system is continually adapted and improved so as to evade the dangerous mechanical enemies designed to lurk in wait for it. As the blitzkrieg example suggests, it has probably been not so much “silver bullets” which have won wars but combinations of weapons, and above all their skilled and practiced use, which have enjoyed the greatest effect.

Statesmanship In Strategy: War Preparedness
A great statesman and war leader once wrote: “The distinction between politics and strategy diminish as the point of view is raised. At the summit, true politics and strategy are one.” [30] Statesmanship is more than another component of strategy; it is the central component. More mutable than geography both in its character and its results, less predictable than technology, no less susceptible to human weaknesses or passion or personal interest than generalship, statesmanship is nonetheless the most important factor in modern war. It is the statesman who must avoid war and prevent war, where appropriate. When he does choose war, or has it thrust upon him, then it must be he, with his captains of war, who direct its winning. As supreme political leader he shares with his senior commanders the considerations and the dilemmas discussed in the previous pages. Above all, two of his many burdens he bears nearly alone: preparedness for war in peacetime, and the making of the peace in the wake of war.

Many statesmen-generals, including George Washington, have pronounced their own versions of the ancient Roman adage: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” [31] The advantages of readiness are apparent to prudent people, and not principally because of the greatness and longevity of Rome. Yet that ancient society abandoned its inner republican institutions during an outward push for world mastery, and is thus an imperfect model for modern democracies. No doubt President Washington expected that a democracy need not decline in its internal integrity merely because it was taking precautions against external attack.

But there is a vital question which in the modern age recurs in each national debate over preparedness. Will war preparation, however benignly intended, excite war fever in foreign rivals? Just how dangerous is unrestrained or poorly-guided preparation for war? The answer depends of course upon the intentions of the enemy, as well as upon one’s own intentions. The Emperor of Germany was undoubtedly resolved upon super-power status (weltpolitik, as he called it) and was prepared to go to war in 1914 if that would be required. But did Russia’s partial mobilization also help precipitate the summer crisis of that year? Was the Russian Czar courageously doing the necessary, before the danger was too great? Or was he making preparations which were inflammatory and dangerous? These are the questions which beguile the statesman. He must move in one direction or another, and the furrow he plows is then forever trod by the historian, the critic, and the student of military science, each eager to know whether he proceeded well, made the right decisions, and defended his people, or whether he advanced recklessly and placed all his citizens in mortal danger.

Winston Churchill, who has had no rival among modern voices for military preparedness, treaded lightly indeed in the pre-World War One period as he dealt with diplomatically explosive matters pertaining to the fighting posture of the Royal Navy. He pushed hard to guarantee Britain’s readiness, yet he explicitly denied that war was inevitable, [32] and amidst the international tensions of the summer of 1914 he wrote: “A war postponed may be a war averted.” It was his good fortune that in the July crisis he could, as First Lord of the Admiralty, hold the fleet together past the end of its scheduled maneuvers; full preparedness for war required no more belligerent an act than not dismissing the ships of the Royal Navy to distant stations. Churchill’s deft handling of these matters resembles the actions of President Lincoln who smoothly and favorably positioned his government during the 1861 crisis over Fort Sumter. The President did not want to forcibly relieve the Union fort, then under Confederate siege, for fear it would precipitate the war he expected but did not want. Neither could he afford not to relieve the anxious and hungry troops in the fort, for to fail to do so would be to fail the cause of union. Lincoln chose to dispatch nonmilitary supplies to the besieged, an act which both held the Union’s ground and modestly bettered the garrison’s capacity to resist. He had anticipated war over the fort, and helped to prepare the Union troops deployed there for it, but no reasonable man could say his act precipitated war.

Circumstances do not often allow for such finesse. But such exemplars of the statesman’s art deserve study and admiration. The feelings of democratic citizens about the justice of what they are asked to do in war matters greatly; Lincoln once said simply that in a democracy, public opinion is everything. As the Civil War began, border states were won or lost in part because of their views of the justice of the rival political causes. It was a strength of Lincoln, and thus of the Union and its ideals, that many men and women living between the far North and the deep South were inclined to think well of “Honest Abe,” did not see the North as an aggressor, and viewed Washington as less prone to violations of the neutral American states’ territories than was Richmond. President Lincoln remarked, with respect to this drama over the wavering border states: “I want God on our side, but I have to have Kentucky.” He got it, and Jefferson Davis did not. This indicated something about the limitations of the Confederate statesman, who neither directed the South particularly well nor won over the neutral states—American or European—which could have been an immense help to him. Nearly every great modern war has been a coalition war, and the inability to build coalitions may mean the inability to win victory.

But is it true that “A war postponed may be a war averted”? World War One and the Civil War surely did come. Many wanted these wars; some caused them; untold thousands were willing to fight in them. If today many believe the First World War was unnecessary, most also think the American Civil War was not only necessary but virtuous. History does furnish certain examples for Churchill’s dictum which suggests that a statesman’s restraint or diplomatic skill has been rewarded with the perpetuation of a worthwhile peace. Those obsessed with economic causes of war, like V. I. Lenin, author of the book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, would have had no end of reason to expect war between the British and the Americans in the latter nineteenth century or at any time during the twentieth, for America had become a trading rival to Britain. But never did war divide the two as it had briefly in 1812-1814; instead they became the closest of allies. Russia and America offer another example. Closing the first volume of his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw the dramatic rise of the United States and Russia as world leaders and world rivals with dangerously antagonistic characteristics. This was prophetic. But Tocqueville stopped short of prophesying open war, and in that, too, he was judicious. There would be half-hearted skirmishing between Americans and Bolsheviks in Russia between 1918 and 1920 and, still later, several profoundly grave decades of cold diplomatic relations, hot rivalry, a race in armaments, and perennial covert and overt struggle in third countries. But full scale war never did occur, and today that grim prospect, so real for so long, appears less likely than at any time in the twentieth century. This suggests that preparedness, fighting spirit, cool statesmanship, and luck (including that contributing to the sudden failure of Soviet Communist will) may indeed defer devastating conflict between great armies backed by entire nations.

Rarely do liberal democratic states lust for war. Surely this also is part of the explanation for the fact that their preparedness, while potentially dangerous to stability, does not lead inevitably to war. The perennial problem for democracies is not overpreparedness but unpreparedness. In 1902, as Britain’s Victorian grandeur was being marred by a somewhat ineptly run war against the South African Boers, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem, “The Islanders,” about the years of military neglect which had led to the current embarrassment. Written in full consciousness of Britain’s great martial past, it warned in scorching words that the disdain democratic peoples have for soldiers during long years of peace can mean unnecessary death for the untrained soldier and national peril for an entire people. Claiming that Englishmen gave more attention to sport than to war, and trained farm animals more attentively than draftees, he wrote:

Fenced by your careful fathers, ringed by your leaden seas,
Long did ye wake in quiet and long lie down at ease;
Till ye said of Strife, “What is it?” of the Sword, “It is far from our ken”;
Till ye made a sport of your shrunken hosts and a toy of your armed men.
Ye stopped your ears to the warning—ye would neither look nor heed—
Ye set your leisure before their toil and your lusts above their need.
Ye hindered and hampered and crippled; ye thrust out of sight and away
Those that would serve you for honour and those that served you for pay. [33]

In retrospect it is fortunate that this frontier war shook out some of the genteel conservativism of the Victorian military. The South African cloud over this “empire on which the sun never set” did became a kind of psychological preparation for the storm of 1914-1918 in which the entire national life was at risk.

The American grand strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan also took note of England’s proclivity for unpreparedness. And in The Influence of Sea Power Upon History he quoted from the commentator De Witt on the Dutch people’s pronounced distaste for sacrifice in time of peace. [34] Mahan’s real target in doing both was the United States, which in 1890 possessed no modern battleship and almost no ocean-going warships to protect its trade or other interests. Readers included President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped work an American transformation. Much later, in 1915, that same statesman was writing a volume of commentary critical of the American failure to “take its own part” in World War One. He began with a bitter anecdote of how, in 1814 when our Capitol was half burnt by the British, “dissident patriots” had scrawled on the walls: “Fruits of war without preparation” and “Mirror of democracy.” A century later, in December 1914, observed Roosevelt, the same New York Evening Post which had reported these scorching epigrams could be found “championing the policy of national unpreparedness and claiming that democracy was incompatible with preparedness against war.” [35] Relatively few listened to Roosevelt, by then a failed independent candidate for the 1912 presidency. “Neutrality” was an easy position and a morally powerful word. But behind it, the German Empire’s crimes in Belgium and France continued to go unpunished, as Roosevelt had feared they would.

When Americans did go to Europe, in a swelling stream after June 1917, they were, and seemed to their European allies to be, a true expression of their polity: young, physically fit, idealistic, amateurish and unprepared. Half went on British ships because America had so few transports. Most had to fight without adequate training. Some had never before fired their arms. Most or all of the artillery, tanks, and combat airplanes American forces used were provided by the allies. [36]

If one pattern in democratic strategy and policy is underpreparedness for war, another is the swift return to such an untenable posture immediately after war. The U.S. Army was very quickly demobilized after the Armistice of 1918, and reduced to near-starvation wages. By 1923 Chief of Staff George C. Marshall was warning of “the regular cycle in the doing and undoing of measures for the national defense. [37] But undoing continued. The fall of France in 1940 startled the country into a draft, but a year later, just months before Pearl Harbor and with Tokyo and Berlin already triumphant and the world already in flames, America faced the prospect of losing the new army it had just trained. The House of Representatives dared to come within one vote of defeating a bill extending the service of the draftees for another six months.

After 1945 the United States retained far more men under arms. But that period looks like an American aberration. By the 1970s defenses had badly declined again. The upward swing of American preparedness in the early 1980s also represented the crest in Soviet power and belligerence, as well as the Reagan/Bush Administration’s determination to block them. American forces escaped the test of a great war but proved superb, when reserves and allies were mobilized, for a small one, against Iraq. The new climate has thus been a dangerous mix of post cold war relief, defense cuts, and victory fever, and the latter quickly faded. What goes unmentioned in American political conversation is that in real terms American defense spending has declined every year since 1985; the 1993 fiscal year budget was almost a full third less in real terms than the 1985 year. And yet some, including the new President, say the paring away must be accelerated far beyond current trends. Such spokesmen are responding less (than they think) to the Soviet collapse than to the age-old siren call common to democracies in peacetime. Like so many lax peoples before us, we risk becoming akin to the Dutch described by De Witt: democrats who wish to live well until the very moment that “danger stares them in the face.” He called them “liberal to profusion where they ought to economize, [and] sparing to avarice where they ought to spend.” [38]

In the United States, it has been some twenty years since federal outlays for domestic purposes first exceeded those for defense; they have continued to do so ever since. Today the defense budget, already representing less than one quarter of the federal total, is being cut further while other federal spending continues to swell, as it has for decades. The most significant trend in modern American fiscal policy is this indominatable interest in new domestic spending; it has assumed its own momentum, quite apart from the changes in the world, foreign problems, and the national indebtedness. The pattern belies the notion, made fashionable by Yale historian Paul Kennedy, that defense spending is America’s leading economic problem.

This current national debate also recalls Halford J. Mackinder’s observations in Democratic Ideals and Reality in 1919. The geographer was disturbed to see “the housing problem” and other social concerns obliterate American interest in shaping the post-war world. [39] Mackinder, with his book, and President Wilson, with his 14 Points (including a proposal for a League of Nations), were asking the democracies to be “outward looking” and to think strategically at a time when not yet compelled to do so by crisis. These two were less successful than Mahan, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt had been at the turn of the century in coaxing Americans into commencing construction of a war fleet and consideration of “foreign entanglements” long disdained by earlier American statesmen. Mackinder and Wilson were making their arguments in the wake of the shattering global war of 1914-1918. They wanted that struggle to inaugurate an epoch of American leadership and foreign engagement. Instead, war had tired the American people and left them inclined to resume their inner national life.

Statesmanship In Strategy: Peacemaking
Peacemaking demands as much of the statesman as does military preparation before war. At both times, the horizon is clear of crises, and so the leader is unlikely to have the full attentions of a people. While Woodrow Wilson is sometimes regarded as having “lost the peace” after the Treaty of Versailles, it might be said more generously that his political abilities, his internationalist commitments, and his proposal for the League of Nations could not overcome the isolationism traditional with Americans. The reemergence of the sentiment for keeping to ourselves had grave consequences for the interwar period. As America made herself less involved abroad she naturally became less militarily prepared for the next war. This left the dictators and militarists of the world unopposed. Moreover, by turning down the offer for a League mandate over Armenia, Americans turned away from some of this century’s first crimes of racial persecution on a mass scale within the shell of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

The League of Nations was thus plagued with two problems: constitutional weaknesses (including lack of an enforcement mechanism) and disinterest in membership by the U.S.A., the decisive partner in the Allied coalition. War avoidance by America and other powers led rather directly to aggressive war by dictatorships. In Manchuria, Ethiopia and Central Europe, where Japanese, Italian and German militarism were conquering or seeking to conquer in the 1930s, there was no useful resistance from Washington and thus none from the millions of American men of fighting age whom Washington represented. Treaties, disarmament, and endless talk of both in Geneva conferences proved a soporific and a substitute for action. The great democracies’ half-readiness proved an apparent advantage to new aggressors.

As Americans who observed the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf war know, among the many difficult questions about war termination which the victorious statesman must answer is that of whether to occupy the vanquished country. General John Pershing, chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War One, wanted not an armistice and agreement on borders, but an invasion and conquest of Germany proper, to end in Berlin. Among the victorious allies, his position was among the harshest, exceeding the recommendations of his British counterpart, Douglas Haig, who wanted to seize the German fleet and some artillery and demand the cession of Alsace-Lorraine to France. France, being closest to the German problem, demanded a stringent settlement involving annexations of large border areas, as Bismark had after conquering France in 1871.

General Pershing’s view was not approved by his President and was not seriously entertained in official circles. The statesmen at Versailles took the view that a Germany beaten on the battlefield should not also be beaten down at the peace table. British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill argued for magnanimity. They thus found themselves in 1919 coaxing towards moderation the very same public in which they had helped breed the warrior spirit as an answer to German aggression of 1914. That public wanted monetary reparations, in the European tradition; some wished to “squeeze the lemon until the pips squeaked.” This never occurred. There were reparations, but never the brutal sort—not enough to justify the subsequent cries of Germans and a certain Austrian corporal about “the humiliation of Versailles.” Most German soil was not marked with the boots of Allied soldiers. The Versailles statesmen made do with disarmament, the return to France of Alsace and Loraine, and a reparations plan which would later be watered down. Even so, the settlement did engender a desire for revenge.

In demanding that American troops march to Berlin, General Pershing may have recalled any number of historical examples suggesting that occupation was necessary to secure the peace. America’s Mexican war provided one. Still another was the utter completeness of the North’s conquest of the Confederacy in 1864 and 1865, the partial occupation, and the good done in reconstruction which followed. [40] Perhaps an Allied presence in Berlin after 1918 would have persuaded reasonable Germans of the reality of their army’s defeat. What is certain is that had there been continuous occupation, the Allies could have prevented the German army’s reacquisition of weapons. But this seemed inconceivable at the war’s end, when foreign soldiers in France and Germany were rioting for the “right” to return home and resume their private lives. The Allies believed they had fought to set Europe right, not to remain and rule it. It may well be that the homeward rush was a mistake, a mistake to be bloodily corrected later at the end of what Marshal Foch (in 1919) perceptively called “not a peace but an armistice for twenty years.”

In modern times there have been examples of both success and failure with magnanimity in peace settlements. Defeated in the Battle of Nations at Leipzig, Napoleon found his fate decided in 1814 in the first treaty at Paris. Peace was granted on easy terms; cries for territory were ignored; Napoleon was merely exiled. This reflected the view of statesmen who, with every passing day, were thinking less of battle and more of post-war settlement and the future of Europe. They had no desire to “handicap the new French government on which they placed their hopes” [41] for the future stability of Europe. Yet Napoleon took advantage of their magnanimity, storming back from exile on the Island of Elba and ripping Europe open again in the “Hundred Days” that ended only at Waterloo.

Similarly moderate settlements followed Bismarck’s short wars with Austria and Denmark. The Chancellor had almost dragged his king into war with Austria, but once Prussia was victorious Bismark sought to dissuade him from a triumphal parade through Vienna, since a quiet victory was sufficient for policy’s purposes and seemed more prudent than a parade humiliating to the Austrians. The French war of 1870-1871 was the exception, growing longer and far bloodier than Berlin had hoped, which may be why it ended with outright annexations. It has already been suggested that French bitterness over the annexations and indemnities of 1871 led to 1914, just as the terms of Versailles in 1919 would lead on to 1939. [42]

There are other modern cases in this pattern, each with its important points of uniqueness. There was the occupation of Japan after World War Two, central to making another democracy of a near-fascist state. There are as well the settlements of limited wars for limited purposes. American and United Nations forces remained in Korea after the armistice of 1953 as a guarantor against renewed aggression by Pyongyang, a strategy which achieved its end of maintaining an independent noncommunist South. By contrast, Americans and their allies not only failed to defeat North Vietnam but declined to remain as a ground force beside their South Vietnamese allies following the 1973 Paris accords, precipitating a failure as disastrous for American policy as it was for the lives of tens of millions of Vietnamese.

The Study—and the Neglect—of Strategy
So perilous are the sums of strategy that no political order can survive if its citizens, much less its statesmen, wander along as if in some domain of the dormant. In such states there are rude awakenings. Periodic disasters remind the world—or should remind it—of what it means to lose a war. Lives, constitutions, traditions, territories: all these and more may perish. Even before our own sorrowful twentieth-century era of “total war,” even in the Renaissance, when battle might be an affair of bright banners, glittering armor, and nobles captured for ransom, even then could history thrust before an inadequate statesman like Pope Clement the wreckage wrought by irresponsibility in defense and foreign policy. Standing on the walls of the Castle of St. Angelo amidst an occupied and burning Rome in 1527, there rose up to him the most terrible sights and cries of agony from a conquest he had not prevented. Clement is said to have wailed, like Job, “Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?”

Today it may well be that the great democracies have been both successful and lucky. The West’s containment policy and its diverse supporting strategies—from nuclear and conventional armed strength, through covert war in the Soviets’ third world satellites, to diplomacy and economic resilience—have succeeded in permanently checking the twentieth century’s most enduring and powerful ideological tyranny, Soviet communism. For pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninists, to be sure, these years are a quiet pool to the side of that great historical stream of world-wide efforts, sprung forth in St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1917 and inevitably to resume its flow when its forces are gathered anew. But we may judge that, as has so often been the case, the Communists are wrong. Their recovery in Eurasia in this decade is most unlikely. And we may hope that the Chinese Communist Party, long the world’s largest, comes to see communism’s future as exceedingly dark. There are of course other Eurasian contingencies to which strategic thinkers must attend, especially the rise of a new, anti-democratic government in Russia. That is something which could in fact occur within this decade.

Such dangerous contingencies may indeed arise, as they so often have. Who, besides France’s Marshal Foch and a very few others, judged in 1918 that Germany, a defeated and powerless nation, would in twenty years become the world’s paramount military power and the master of Western Europe? [43] In 1990 at a graduation ceremony at the Naval War College, Defense Secretary Richard Cheney suggested that there are many examples of such dramatic geopolitical changes during our century alone. Speaking on a sunny June day when the world was calm, the Secretary told the assembly of officers: “History teaches us to expect the unexpected. What appears impossible today can be reality tomorrow.” [44] Weeks after his speech, Iraq crushed Kuwait, and many of the leading nations of the world prepared for combat in the Middle East. It is not only the coincidence of these events but the patterns of modern history that reveal the prescience of Secretary Cheney’s admonition.

The necessity for sound strategy and sound strategic thinking is enduring. The organization and application of power to achieve national policy objectives goes on in times of peace as surely as in war. If it does so in peacetime with less intensity and in less violent ways, its consequences for the long term and the well-being of the polity are not necessarily less. Strategy can be either the bridge between war and peace, or the barrier between them, depending upon the national interests and the policies of government. The dangers and challenges of the world, not now frightening, remain sufficient to demonstrate a continuing need for statesmen who are well informed about military affairs. And yet many men and women in politics show only considerable indifference, while others deprecate foreign affairs outright, as if ours were some new age in which the press of international responsibilities had vanished, or could vanish if we willed that it would. While few expect national leaders to have the wisdom of a Lincoln, they can at least emulate the modesty of this man who, in the crisis of 1860, turned to the Library of Congress for books on military strategy and proved himself a most able student.

The corollary of the statesman ‘s need of military knowledge is the military professional’s need of understanding extra-military dimensions of war and peace. So ubiquitous are the political factors in modern war—the tendency to wage limited wars by alternately “fighting and talking” is one example—that military commanders cannot hazard political ignorance any more than they would, as junior commanders, disdain attention to topography. Their thoughts must range beyond the operational dimension of war, and their decisions and recommendations to political authority should be informed by more than military science, as Clausewitz enjoined a century and a half ago. In 1911, as Winston Churchill assumed the Admiralty, he was disturbed by one characteristic of Royal Navy officers: they seemed narrow-minded. Unmatched as navigators, practical experts of innumerable kinds, fine leaders of men, they were nonetheless untutored and unthoughtful about strategy and the wider problems of war. As Churchill wrote later, in a note which speaks volumes about the nature of war and the requirements for peacetime education about war and strategy:

[T]here was no moment in the career and training of a naval officer, when he was obliged to read a single book about naval war, or pass even the most rudimentary examination in naval history. The Royal Navy had made no important contribution to Naval literature. The standard work on Sea Power was written by an American Admiral [Mahan]. The best accounts of British sea fighting and naval strategy were compiled by an English civilian [Corbett]. “The Silent Service” was not mute because it was absorbed in thought and study, but because it was weighted down by its daily routine and by its ever-complicating and diversifying technique…we had more captains of ships than captains of war. In this will be found the explanation of many untoward events. At least fifteen years of consistent policy were required to give the Royal Navy that widely extended outlook upon war problems and of war situations without which seamanship, gunnery, instrumentalisms of every kind, devotion of the highest order, could not achieve their due reward.
Fifteen years! And we were only to have thirty months! 45

It is precisely during the historical lulls, the quiet backwaters, that the most thinking about strategy should be done—by officers and by political leaders, both serving or aspiring to service. Nor are democracy’s other citizens free to ignore defense and foreign affairs; they too might attend to Kipling’s poem of warning. Thinking about strategy in peacetime is even more vital than material preparation, though both are vital. Because when war comes, it may be too late. During war, it may be too difficult. In defeat, it will be of no use.

This essay was originally published in Christopher C. Harmon and David Tucker, eds., Statecraft and Power: Essays in Honor of Harold W. Rood (Lanham, MD: University Press of America and the National Institute for Public Policy, 1994). Copyright, Christopher C. Harmon and David Tucker. This essay should not be reproduced or cited without permission of the editors.

[1] For example, a correspondent to the Naval War College Review has written on similarities in the great movements of armor to the north and then west towards the sea, first in the German move around Belgium in May-June of 1940, and then in the movement of allied forces around Kuwait in February 1991. Lt. John O’Brien, USN, “Desert Storm: 1940 Revisited,” Naval War College Review 45, no. 3 (Summer 1992): 112-116. Return to Text.

[2] “There are no precise, determinate rules: everything depends on the character that nature has bestowed on the general, on his qualities and defects, on the nature of the troops, on the range of the weapons, on the season of the year, and on a thousand circumstances which are never twice the same.” Napoleon, in a dictation; J. Christopher Herold, The Mind of Napoleon (New York: Colombia University Press, 1961), 223. Return to Text.

[3] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 579. Return to Text.

[4] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, ed. Samuel B. Griffith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 63, 71. Return to Text.

[5] Quoted in John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: Viking, 1990), 174. Return to Text.

[6] “Prime Minister for Two Years,” a world broadcast on 10 May 1940, The End of the Beginning: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill, ed. Charles Eade (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1943), 126. Return to Text.

[7] Clausewitz would have been intensely interested in Hitler’s invasion plans. After all, he had predicted Napoleon’s debacle of 1812, and he later analyzed that expedition within his usual framework for assessing national power: the “trinity” of government, army, and people.
In 1812 all three parts of the Russian trinity held fast. They did so again in the early 1940s. But Clausewitz would also bring broader questions to his analysis: When Soviet Russia had just been made a German ally in a 1939 treaty, should it now be made an enemy? Did history not advise—had Hitler not written—that in the First World War Germany had been wrong to fight on two fronts? In 1941 England had not yet been beaten, even if France had. What of this three-pronged attack on a broad front, so different from and so much more demanding than Napoleon’s single advancing front? It seemed well aimed not just at conquest but also long-term annexation. But could this broader advance be maintained? Clausewitz had described how every offensive gradually weakens in the march forward; there is a culminating point of victory, he argued, beyond which the enemy’s positions and opportunities commensurately improve. Finally, could the offensive not be supplemented with diplomacy aimed at the Soviet empire’s subject peoples—the Baits, Ukrainians and Georgians through which the Wehrmacht swept? Not so, for Hitler’s policy was to destroy these “undermen” to make room for German settlement. Policy demanded a brutality which barred even the modest alternative taken by Imperial France in 1812 and Imperial Germany after 1914, which was to largely ignore the potential of the Russians’ subjects. More than those before him, Hitler thus created armed partisans amidst the defeated, opponents who, when well organized, proved important to his own defeat in Russia. Return to Text.

[8] There are many other classic instances of an offensive exhausting itself as it passed the “culminating point of victory.” One mentioned by an American military manual in the context of Clausewitz’ idea was General Patton’s drive across France, which bogged down in Lorraine. FM 100-5: Operations (Washington: Headquarters, Dept. of the Army, 1986). Return to Text.

[9] Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. 1, 3rd ed. (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1924), 53, 60-64. It is of further interest to note that, while Wilson and Churchill agreed about Germany’s intention to sweep through Belgium in an attempt to smash France from the north-east, they disagreed about the planned French counter-offensive which was to thrust upward from the south-east into the German center. Wilson thought it would succeed; Churchill believed it would not. It failed, and France was saved only by the aforementioned defense in the north, just above Paris and along the Marne. See Churchill’s post-war letter on his interchange with Henry Wilson in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: The Prophet of Truth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977), 701-702. Return to Text.

[10] His apparent rival, Clausewitz, also a veteran of those wars, thought Napoleon “the god of war” and little presumed to be able to “capture” this god’s methods. But Jomini tried. Return to Text.

[11] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 568. Return to Text.

[12] It is a tenet of Harold W. Rood’s teaching that the challenge Hitler presented to Europe can in more respects than not be seen as a logical successor to the challenges posed by Bismarck and by Emperor William II. Return to Text.

[13] Historian John Terrain has made sufficient answer to the argument that Germany was not truly beaten in World War One: To Win A War (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1981). The German army was battered and outmaneuvered by a series of Allied offensives throughout the summer and fall of 1918. And American entry into the war placed Berlin at an impossible manpower disadvantage. Return to Text.

[14] Quoted by Professor Steven Rosen, “World War One: Strategic Alternatives,” Lecture at the Naval War College, Newport, RI, 9 October 1989. Return to Text.

[15] The pattern of Continental Europeans’ attempts to invade Ireland or another part of Britain or the United Kingdom so as to hand London a defeat is an elaborate and long-standing one. A good source on these efforts is Frank McLynn, Invasion: From the Armada to Hitler, 1588-1945 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987).
The converse of this pattern has been England’s determination that the Lowlands of Holland and Belgium, including Flanders, should never be controlled by a hegemon on the Continent, because once ensconced there an enemy would represent a perpetual threat to England. There was an old maxim that “He who holds Flanders holds a pistol at England.” London has always paid heed to this weapon, even though it usually misfires. Return to Text.

[16] Paris had another option, expressed in a secret document still held in French archives. The Irish, when won over, could be handed back into British hands in a cold realpolitik bargain. This would signal the end of a catastrophe for Britain and win concessions for France, perhaps even a separate peace with London that would allow Paris the liberty of better fighting her continental opponents. Professor Steven T. Ross, “Napoleon: Policies, Strategies, and Operations,” Lecture at the Naval War College, Newport, RI, 2 December 1988. Return to Text.

[17] In a commentary, Alfred Thayer Mahan refused to mock Napoleon’s failure, noting how only a generation later a Pasha with remarkably similar plans advanced north from Egypt and conquered all of Asia Minor. The flaw in the French plan, he wrote, was one of grand strategy. To expect that this fruit-filled branch of British trade could be cut away was not unreasonable. But English merchant ships could resume trade almost anywhere; they proved this by expanding trade with the New World when Napoleon’s Continental system closed off much of Europe’s perimeter. Thus, unless France was sufficiently adept to exploit the commercial possibilities of the trade mutes seized, the damage to Britain would be minimal, Mahan argued. In any event, history did not allow France this economic opportunity. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1 793-1812, vol. 1, 4th ed. (London: Sampson Low, Marson, Searle, and Rivington, n.d.), 299. Return to Text.

[18] Quoted in Herold, Napolean, 224. Return to Text.

[19] Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, 12th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942). Return to Text.

[20] Germany itself may be indefensible, according to Harold W. Rood. “It must be remembered that in the two German wars fought in Europe in this century, German military operations were conducted initially outside German territory. There is a reason for that. It is a strategic fact that Germany itself is indefensible. That has been demonstrated in two world wars, in the Napoleonic Wars and in the Thirty Years War, and in the struggles before then, for unification of the German Empire.” Harold W. Rood, “A Trojan Horse of Any Other Color is Still a Trojan Horse” (Paper for the Center for Defense and Strategic Studies, Southwest Missouri State University, 1990), 30. Return to Text.

[21] This observation is owed to Dr. Rosen’s lecture on “Strategic Alternatives.” Return to Text.

[22] “I took personal responsibility for the expenditure of the public money involved, about 70,000 pounds…Had the tanks proved wholly abortive or never been accepted or never used in war by the military authorities and had I been subsequently summoned before a Parliamentary Committee, I could have offered no effective defense to the charge that I had wasted public money on a matter which was not in any way my business and in regard to which I had not received expert advice in any responsible military quarter.” So wrote Churchill in September, 1919, to Sir Charles Sargant, who was reviewing the invention of the tank. The document appears in Companion Volume 2 accompanying vol. 4 of the official Churchill biography by Martin Gilbert, 886-893. On Churchill’s perspective of tank development, see also his war history The World Crisis, vol. 4, pt. 2 (1927), 343-348. Return to Text.

[23] Quoted in Julian S. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1911), 55. The Bacon aphorism represents, in germ, the thesis of Corbett about sea power. Return to Text.

[24] Earnest Dunlop Swinton, Eyewitness (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, and Company, 1933); Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, one vol. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949), 313-323. Early use of German submarines may constitute another instance of weapons employment in World War One which, being somewhat premature, sacrificed what could have been strategic surprise; see Churchill at 693-694. Return to Text.

[25] Bernadotte E. Schmitt and Harold C. Vedeler, The World in the Crucible, 1914-1919 (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 148-153. Return to Text.

[26] See the dictations, and a note of 27 August 1808, in Herold, Napolean, 219. Return to Text.

[27] Selected Military Writings of Mao Tse-Tung (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967), 217, 230. Return to Text.

[28] The view that China acquired an appreciation for American firepower is that of Dr. Arthur Waldron, “Sun Tzu’s Art of War,” Lecture at the Naval War College, Newport, RI, 14 November 1988. Return to Text.

[29] An account of the interaction between users of gas in World War One and those defending against it—a pattern in which every gas prompted defenses and every defense a new gas—was written by Victor Lefebure, The Riddle of the Rhine (New York: The Chemical Foundation, 1923). Return to Text.

[30] Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. 2, 2nd ed. (1923), 21. There is a parallel line in Clausewitz; On War, 607: “In short, at the highest level the art of war turns into policy.” Return to Text.

[31]Si vis pacem, para bellum.”
No one understands unpreparedness better than potential aggressors. For example, of that time before 1866 when Prussia was goading Austria into war, one historian has written of Bismark: “He knew the weakness of [Austria’s] military system: that she required, for her mobilization, three or four weeks more than Prussia. She was, indeed, confronted by the dilemma of every militarily unprepared state: either to make hasty preparations and therefore to be accused of aggressiveness, or to keep quiet and risk defeat at the very beginning.” Erick Eyck, Bismark and the German Empire (George Allen & Unwin, 1958; repr. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1968), 118. Return to Text.

[32] Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1991), 242. Return to Text.

[33] Collected Verse: Rudyard Kipling (Garden City, NY: The Sun Dial Press, 1940), 202. Return to Text.

[34] Mahan, Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 49. Return to Text.

[35] Theodore Roosevelt, America and the World War (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), vii. Return to Text.

[35] Schmitt and Vedeler, Crucible, 255; Cyril Falls, The Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Capricorn Books, 1959). Return to Text.

[37] Quoted by Congressman Ike Skelton, “Don’t Kill the B-2 Bomber, We Need It,” U.S.A. Today, 2 August 1990. Like Rep. Skelton, Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell have expressed concerns that defense cuts are coming too quickly. See for example Powell’s fine speech at the Confidence and Security Building Measures Military Doctrine Seminar in Vienna, Austria, 16 January 1990, reprinted in the Defense Department publication Defense 90 (Alexandria, VA: American Forces Information Service, March/April, 1990). Return to Text.

38. Quoted in Mahan, Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 49. Return to text

39. Halford J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1962), 23-25. Return to text

40. Initially after the Civil War, the manifestations of racism were somewhat successfully repressed and there was a remarkable number of successful black candidates for Congress. Only later, after northern troops retired and southern administrators gained or regained influence, was there a marked relapse into blatantly racist legal and political practices, as well as a sharp decline in successful black congressional candidacies; Peter J. Parish, The American Civil War (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1975), ch. 19. Return to text

41. R.R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World, 6th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), 417-418. Return to text

42. A French town which requested words from Winston Churchill for a war memorial after 1918 turned down what he offered, probably because it truly demanded peaceableness of Paris. Churchill saved the words written, and they became the famous motto for his Second World War history: “In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity. In peace, good will.” The words had an antecedent in those of a Roman emissary to a foreign ruler between the second and third Punic wars. According to a passage in Polybius, the speaker says: “Brave men, when actually at war, should be terrible and full of fire; when beaten, undaunted and courageous; when victorious, on the other hand, moderate, placable, and humane.” Polybius on Roman Imperialism, ed. and trans. Alvin Bernstein (Lake Bluff, IL: Regnery Gateway, 1987), 343. Return to text

43. The prediction was that of Marshal Foch; many of the words in my sentence are a paraphrase of Rood, Kingdoms, 270. Return to text

44. “Remarks Prepared for Delivery by the Honorable Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense, Naval War College Commencement, June 22, 1990,” (Washington: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense). Return to text

45. Churchill, The World Crisis, 1: 93. For different wording of these thoughts on the education of naval officers and on war preparation, done as an official memorandum from the Admiralty on 28 October 1911, see that document in Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume Two, Part Two (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969), 1303-1308. Return to text