Essays & Reviews

Aeschylus and Strategic Culture

Fire, Aristotle observed in the Nicomachean Ethics, burns both here and in Persia, but what is seen as just seems to vary. Aristotle, of course, depended on the universality of nature (fire), including human nature (with transcendent standards of justice), to stake a claim for the possibility of political philosophy – as compared to relying on the claims of the ancestral or of convention. Of course, Aristotle goes on to say that natural right is changeable.And reflective Greeks had to take into account the real-world differences between the city states of Hellas and the empire of Persia, especially when it came to war. One such reflective Greek was the dramatist Aeschylus, whose tragedy, The Persians (performed in 472 BCE), recounts the moment when the Persian court and queen learn of Emperor Xerxes’s defeat by the Greeks in the 480 BCE naval battle near Salamis.

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Essays & Reviews

The Bhagavad Gita and the Cross of Thought or Action

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” So J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, said he had reflected while witnessing the detonation of the first atomic device in July 1845. The source of this inspiration, or despair, was the Hindu scriptural epic, the Bhagavad Gita. 

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Essays & Reviews

Harry V. Jaffa: Can There Be Another Winston Churchill?

Jaffa references several of Churchill’s well-known major works on strategy and history (some of which were also autobiographical in nature): The Second World War, of course, as well as The World Crisis (covering World War I and its aftermath) and the biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough.  The latter two works are important not only for the topics at hand but because they were written between the two wars and reflect upon the great question, or theme, with which Churchill was then grappling, and which makes sense of his approach to politics and war as a whole. Is the scale of life in the modern world too large for human virtue to control?

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Essays & Reviews

Jakub Grygiel on the Two Princes

As a young man, before assuming the throne, Frederick the Great of Prussia famously wrote a tract, Anti-Machiavel, attacking Machiavelli’s teachings in The Prince. Frederick did so ostensibly under the influence of the nascent Enlightenment (and in the spirit of enlightened absolutism), but his later conduct of foreign policy, particularly his grab of Silesia, struck many as being rather more in the spirit of Machiavelli. Either that, or the Enlightenment misunderstood itself.

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Essays & Reviews

Journalistic Classics of the Crimean War: Tolstoy and William Russell

In the Western media’s analyses of Russia’s recent moves in the Crimea, the historical context of great-power conflict over the region is often overlooked, including that of the Crimean War (1854-1856).  It is often said that the Crimean War – generally known in Russia as the Eastern War – constituted the first modern conflict, as it clearly foreshadowed the military developments that characterized the following century and beyond (most immediately, the American Civil War). These elements included the employment of railroads and steam-powered naval vessels for the transportation of troops and supplies (including the first appearance of iron-clad vessels, for bombardment), modern rifles, and telegraphic communications. It is known in popular imagination, if at all, for the charge of the Light Brigade and the British-French siege of Russian troops in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol (Sebastopol).

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Essays & Reviews

Executive Authority and the Constitution: Reflections by Owens and Knott

Mackubin T. Owens and Stephen Knott have published a monograph in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Philadelphia Paper series, The Evolution of the Executive and Executive Power in the American Republic.  They consider the role that a republican executive has, and ought, to play in domestic affairs – (what James Ceaser terms “the zone of law”), as compared to that concerning foreign and defense policy (a “zone of ‘high’ discretion”). They trace the evolution of thinking about the executive, from Machiavelli through Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and the American Founders, following Harvey Mansfield’s Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power

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Essays & Reviews

Dwight Eisenhower, Monuments Man

Are high-level military strategists born or made?  Some of both, one must suppose. Strategic excellence means something more than the proficiency to win battles and conduct successful military operations, but to win wars. Winning wars, in turn, means something more than being able to defeat an adversary’s armed forces and/or occupying its territory. Which means that Army officers (in this case) must not only be able to coordinate operations with those of the other services, but also take into account the overarching political and geopolitical components of the conflict (or potential conflict).

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Essays & Reviews

David Tucker on the Classic Dimensions of Strategy and Intelligence

David Tucker (Ashbrook Center, Ashland University) has published a book, The End of Intelligence: Espionage and State Power in the Information Age, in the Stanford Security Series (Stanford University Press). To a first order, the book examines – and finds wanting – claims that the recent information revolution has weakened the state, revolutionized warfare, or changed the balance of power between states and non-state actors. It can be read at several different levels: as a primer, or refresher, on the various dimensions of intelligence (e.g., collection, analysis, espionage, counterintelligence, and covert action); as high-level exploration of the relationship among philosophies of government and human nature, historical eras, and various approaches to the means and ends of intelligence; and for its considered judgment of the possibilities, and particularly the limitations, of intelligence.

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Essays & Reviews

Of Geography and Politics

If statesmanship or the political art is synonymous with the art of war or the art of acquisition on the grandest scale, then mastery of geography becomes "the first part" of the statesman's arsenal. "[H]e should learn the nature of sites, and recognize how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and marshes—and in this invest the greatest care.… And the prince who lacks this skill lacks the first part of what a captain must have." If the "desire to acquire" or the "lust for power" is inherently unlimited and is the governing principle of politics, then the primary concern of politics with geography, the concern with acquisition of territory, in principle knows no bounds. The concern of politics with geography, at a certain point in history, expanded its scope, not just in principle but in fact, to encompass the world.

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Essays & Reviews

On Strategic Thinking: Patterns in Modern History

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.

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