Book: Makers of Modern Strategy

Edward Meade Earle’s Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler (Princeton University Press, 1943) brought together many of the leading historians of the period, including Craig and Gilbert, R.R. Palmer, Hajo Halborn, Stefan T. Possony, and Margaret Sprout.  The contributors considered those writers, statesmen, and military officers who had thought most seriously about the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation or a coalition of nations, to promote and secure their interests against enemies, actual, potential, or presumed.  These resources included not only the armed forces but a variety of nonmilitary factors, economic, psychological, moral, political, and technological.  The highest type of strategy—sometimes called grand strategy—so integrates the policies and armaments of the nation that the resort to war is rendered unnecessary or is undertaken with the maximum chance of victory.

Those who made the list of makers of modern strategy included Machiavelli; Vauban; Frederick the Great, Guibert, and Bülow; Jomini; Clausewitz; Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List; Engels and Marx; Moltke and Schlieffen; Du Picq and Foch; Bugeaud, Gallieni, and Lyautey; Delbrück; Churchill, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau; Ludendorff; Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin; Maginot and Lidell Hart; Haushofer; Mahan; Douhet, Mitchell, and Seversky; and Hitler.

According to Earle, certain well-defined themes ran through the story from Machiavelli to Hitler.  Among these are the concept of lightning war and the battle of annihilation; the war of maneuver vs. the war of position; the relationship between war and social institutions and between economic strength and military power; psychology and morale as weapons of war; the role of discipline in the army; the question of the professional army vs. the militia.   Although the development of strategy cuts across national lines—as do ideas and ideologies related to war—the national factors in strategy are frequently the determining factors. In part they grow out of differences in the character and psychology of peoples, as well as their standards of values and their outlook on life.  In part they are the consequence of political, social and economic institutions; even more they are the political and military expression of geographical situation and national tradition.

Earle and his contributors were particularly interested in an enduring strategic topic:  the relative merits of offensive and defensive warfare.  “If one were to generalize,” Earle writes, “one could say that the defensive usually enjoys a technical advantage over the offensive.  But there are times when the offensive sweeps the defensive entirely aside, overwhelming it as a flood overwhelms all natural and artificial barriers in its path.  This is true when a fundamental social revolution occurs, such as that in France in 1793 and in Germany with the advent of Hitler in 1933.  The revolution not only adopts the Dantonian policy of audacity, again audacity, and always audacity, but it demoralizes the older order by a confusion of counsels and a conflict of ideologies.”  Technological or other military innovations, such as gunpowder or the tank and airplane, can also give the offense precedence over the defense; or, as with the machine gun and the submarine, the defense may benefit.   As society and warfare become more highly industrialized, logistical and tactical factors may condition strategy more highly than in the past.

Makers of Modern Strategy was compiled not just for scholars or senior military officers.  “It would be folly to leave the comprehension of war policy to soldiers alone or statesmen alone or to soldiers and statesmen together,” Earle writes. Even in a democratic society, strategy must be set and implemented by responsible officials, but “the strategy determined upon can succeed only if it has the support of enlightened and determined citizens; they must dedicate to the success of that strategy their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.”   Democracies require great leaders and heroic figures like Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, and FDR, “but the wellsprings of such leadership come from deep in the heart, the will, and the conscience of the people.  Even the private soldiers and junior officers of an embattled democratic society”—and such was the case for the United States when Makers was written and published—”must know the purposes for which they risk their lives.”  The book was intended to provide the broader canvas, over a longer period of time, to explain the manner in which the strategy of modern war had developed.  “Since it is the concern of all the people, all the people must realize that it is their concern.  In wartime this involves a total effort; in time of peace, as in time of war, it demands wide understanding.” Walter Lippmann, who had just published his own classic monograph, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic, recognized that Makers “is destined to exert a deep and long influence.…Only a deep seriousness, of which Mr. Earle’s book is so fine an example… can give the nation the men who know how to guard the Republic.”