Classic Works

David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964)

While great power war defined the first half of the twentieth century, insurgencies defined its latter half. Given present trends, these types of conflicts will rage for the foreseeable future, and students of strategy and diplomacy will want to consider classic counterinsurgency (COIN) writings as they face this future. Central among these is Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula. This book written in 1964 was in many ways a forgotten work; however, it quickly grew in prominence as the United States and its allies found themselves facing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan during the opening years of the twenty-first century.

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Essays & Reviews

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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American Classics

Ronald Reagan, Address in Berlin (1987)

On June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan traveled to West Berlin, to the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall, to deliver a speech commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin.  Eastern Europe, under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, had closed itself off from Western Europe, often through physical means (the Berlin Wall being one of the starkest reminders of that separation).  Reagan’s address spoke of a vision of Europe that was open and connected, that was no longer divided, and that was inundated with the principles of freedom.  In giving his speech, Reagan attempted to push Gorbachev more fully to the side of openness. This is nowhere more clear than the famous words uttered by Reagan during his speech: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

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Classic Works

François de Callières, The Art of Diplomacy (1716)

In The Art of Diplomacy, secret diplomacy is considered as embedded in the art of negotiation. In this regard, Callières notes that secrecy is absolutely necessary for the generation of confidence and understanding. He advocates that secret negotiations could help maintain peace and thus are necessary to manage relationships between states. Callières believes that before a diplomat could progress towards a negotiated settlement of a dispute, confidence and confidentiality have to be established. He explains that “an able minister will take care that no man shall penetrate into his secret before the proper time.”

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Classic Works

Plato, Laches (Fourth Century BC)

One might wonder what someone as supposedly “abstract” or “metaphysical” as Plato could offer by way of strategic insight. Why should practical men, not philosophers, read Plato? Although one could point to a number of examples showing both the speculative and practical worth of the Platonic corpus, the Laches stands out for two reasons. The first is that it is a dialogue on courage, or more literally “manliness,” which seems a quality above all necessary for the successful conduct of warfare.

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American Classics

U.S. Marine Corps, Small Wars Manual (1940)

The American military and the U.S. Marine Corps in particular had been fighting and analyzing counterinsurgency operations decades before their boots marked the sands of the Middle East and South Asia. Sadly, many of the lessons from these experiences languished on the shelfs of war colleges even as they became vitally important in the field. A handful of forward thinking officers cried for their reconsideration and modernization, and these efforts ultimately led to The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual No. 3-24. However, long before General David Petraeus blended the wisdom of soldiers and scholars to produce his manual, an earlier effort already chronicled many of the central considerations for fighting against insurgencies. The Marine Corps Small Wars Manual, published in 1936 and updated in 1940, remains an important document for understanding the historical development of American counterinsurgency strategy and tactics.

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American Classics

Henry Luce, The American Century (1941)

In February 1941, Henry Luce, the editor, publisher, and creator of Time and Life magazines, proclaimed to the readers of Life that America was in the war.  To many of his readers, such a bold assertion probably came off as perplexing.  After all, World War II, at this point ravaging Europe for about a year and half, did not involve American blood.  For at least some Americans, it was unclear that the war would ever involve American blood—arguments in favor of isolation were still strong, and many Americans were unwilling to believe that the problems of Europeans could ever become their own.  So how, then, could Luce make such a claim?

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American Classics

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (1952)

In writing The Irony of American History, Niebuhr provides a framework through which we can interpret, organize, and create patterns out of the facts of history.  In order to do so, Niebuhr points us towards three broad categories: pathos, tragedy, and most importantly for Niebuhr, irony.  The Cold War conflict between liberalism and communism, and in particular America’s role, is Niebuhr’s case study for understanding those categories of history.

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Classic Works

Giulio Douhet, The Command of The Air (1921/1927)

Giulio Douhet, an Italian army officer who never learnt to fly, first published one of military theory’s most recognized and controversial works on airpower, The Command of The Air, in 1921. Just three years after the end of the First World War and the first widespread use of airplanes in warfare, this new technology had yet to be fully integrated into military strategy. Douhet advocated a new strategic application for what he identified as the airplane’s superior capabilities in order to avoid the destructive stalemate of the First World War in future wars. Promising a quick and decisive end to war, The Command of The Air synthesized concepts, namely strategic bombing, an independent air force, the dominance of an offensive strategy, and breaking the will of the civilian population, among others, which contributed to the development of the modern air force.

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