Paul Rahe on Spartan Grand Strategy

The grand strategy the Spartans embraced had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. Their perch was precarious.  The Lacedaemonians understood from early on what history would eventually confirm: that it took but a single major defeat in warfare on land to endanger the city’s very survival. Even when their population was at its height, as it was in the late archaic period, there were never more than ten thousand Spartiates, if that; and the territory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition.

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Paul Rahe on Spartan Grand Strategy

The grand strategy the Spartans embraced had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. Their perch was precarious.  The Lacedaemonians understood from early on what history would eventually confirm: that it took but a single major defeat in warfare on land to endanger the city’s very survival. Even when their population was at its height, as it was in the late archaic period, there were never more than ten thousand Spartiates, if that; and the territory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition.

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Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822 (1957)

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problem of Peace, 1812-1822, Kissinger's first book, was written in the early 1950s while Kissinger was a young doctoral student at Harvard. The book was initially not as famous or as influential as his later books. Its focus on diplomatic negotiations following the fall of Napoleon was seen by his peers as esoteric and out of tune with the times. In a world featuring nuclear weapons, why dissect the diplomatic wrangling of the 19th century? This view may have characterized the dissertation turned book at the time of its writing, but today Restored is widely regarded as essential reading for the student of strategy and diplomacy.

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Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822 (1957)

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problem of Peace, 1812-1822, Kissinger's first book, was written in the early 1950s while Kissinger was a young doctoral student at Harvard. The book was initially not as famous or as influential as his later books. Its focus on diplomatic negotiations following the fall of Napoleon was seen by his peers as esoteric and out of tune with the times. In a world featuring nuclear weapons, why dissect the diplomatic wrangling of the 19th century? This view may have characterized the dissertation turned book at the time of its writing, but today Restored is widely regarded as essential reading for the student of strategy and diplomacy.

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Bhagavad Gita (3rd Century BC- 3rd Century AD)

Great works of literature, including religious literature, often have a major influence on the strategic culture and outlook of civilizations and nations. The Bible and Homer are certainly prime exhibits.  Yet such literature does not always generate a single strand of thought about war and peace, but often competing strands, or ideas that metamorphose under different circumstances. In a New York Review of Books essay, Wendy Doniger asks: How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?

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Bhagavad Gita (3rd Century BC- 3rd Century AD)

Great works of literature, including religious literature, often have a major influence on the strategic culture and outlook of civilizations and nations. The Bible and Homer are certainly prime exhibits.  Yet such literature does not always generate a single strand of thought about war and peace, but often competing strands, or ideas that metamorphose under different circumstances. In a New York Review of Books essay, Wendy Doniger asks: How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?

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Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government

Churchill’s prescriptions, general and particular, were and are worthy of debate.  He might not have been willing to intervene in Indochina to pull French chestnuts out of the fire, but throughout his career he arguably expected the United States to support the British cause in regions that the United States might regard as peripheral. To American commanders during World War II, he seemed obsessed with fighting on the fringes rather than at the center, and by doing so he drained resources necessary to fight at the center, which defied the ultimate principle of economy. Sometimes, as during the American Civil War, slaughter is necessary to create the conditions for maneuver. But it surely can be said that Churchill’s works deserve inclusion in a list of the Classics.

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Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government

Churchill’s prescriptions, general and particular, were and are worthy of debate.  He might not have been willing to intervene in Indochina to pull French chestnuts out of the fire, but throughout his career he arguably expected the United States to support the British cause in regions that the United States might regard as peripheral. To American commanders during World War II, he seemed obsessed with fighting on the fringes rather than at the center, and by doing so he drained resources necessary to fight at the center, which defied the ultimate principle of economy. Sometimes, as during the American Civil War, slaughter is necessary to create the conditions for maneuver. But it surely can be said that Churchill’s works deserve inclusion in a list of the Classics.

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Structure and Contingency: the Causes of the Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) was “a war like no other.” It was a 27 year conflict that brought an end to the fifth century Athenian Golden Age, killed more Greeks in one year than the Persians killed in ten, and, in the end, seemed to solve nothing.

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Structure and Contingency: the Causes of the Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) was “a war like no other.” It was a 27 year conflict that brought an end to the fifth century Athenian Golden Age, killed more Greeks in one year than the Persians killed in ten, and, in the end, seemed to solve nothing.

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Colin S. Gray on Thucydides and the Definition of Future Threats

Thucydides leaves us no doubt that the principal threat to the security of Athenians flowed more from the distinctly flawed working of the empire’s democratic politics, especially its procliv­ity to promote crowd pleasing demagogues who were short of competence, high ethical standards, or both, than from vengeful Persians or strategically pedestrian Spartans. Political ruin tends to begin and end at home. Students of international relations need to remember this plain warning from the historical record.

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Colin S. Gray on Thucydides and the Definition of Future Threats

Thucydides leaves us no doubt that the principal threat to the security of Athenians flowed more from the distinctly flawed working of the empire’s democratic politics, especially its procliv­ity to promote crowd pleasing demagogues who were short of competence, high ethical standards, or both, than from vengeful Persians or strategically pedestrian Spartans. Political ruin tends to begin and end at home. Students of international relations need to remember this plain warning from the historical record.

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Are We all Clausewitians Now? Reflections on the Work of John Keegan

“I have not been in a battle; not near one, nor heard one from afar, nor seen the aftermath.”  Thus John Keegan, later Sir John, began his landmark book, The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, published in 1976.  Despite this bit of caution, Keegan’s book was immediately hailed as a classic; one that conveyed what the experiences of combat was like for the participants, above all the common soldier. 

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Are We all Clausewitians Now? Reflections on the Work of John Keegan

“I have not been in a battle; not near one, nor heard one from afar, nor seen the aftermath.”  Thus John Keegan, later Sir John, began his landmark book, The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, published in 1976.  Despite this bit of caution, Keegan’s book was immediately hailed as a classic; one that conveyed what the experiences of combat was like for the participants, above all the common soldier. 

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On Sophocles’ Antigone and Modern Tyrants

Tyrants are prone to seek domination of ever-larger possessions, and the only constraint on their expansion, aside from internal strife, is effective opposition by external powers. If they are not combated, tyrants can indeed be highly disruptive of international stability.

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On Sophocles’ Antigone and Modern Tyrants

Tyrants are prone to seek domination of ever-larger possessions, and the only constraint on their expansion, aside from internal strife, is effective opposition by external powers. If they are not combated, tyrants can indeed be highly disruptive of international stability.

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Naval Works of Note: Herbert Richmond’s Statesmen and Sea-Power (1946)

British grand strategy has from the very outset been confronted with notably complex issues.  On the one hand, there is the necessity to control of the sea, as the sine qua non of the entire system, in order to ensure against invasion, secure trade, and maintain their colonies against European rivals.

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Naval Works of Note: Herbert Richmond’s Statesmen and Sea-Power (1946)

British grand strategy has from the very outset been confronted with notably complex issues.  On the one hand, there is the necessity to control of the sea, as the sine qua non of the entire system, in order to ensure against invasion, secure trade, and maintain their colonies against European rivals.

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