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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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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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Herodotus, The Histories (5th Century BCE)

Herodotus, who wrote a generation after the Persian Wars, puts these battles in the context of a great clash of civilizations, between Greek freedom and Asian despotism. He seeks to explain why and how a relatively poor, small, and divided collection of Greek-speakers were able to defeat a much larger, wealthier, and centralized empire. On the battlefield itself, on land and at sea, the Greeks were better disciplined and employed superior close-order tactics, such as staying in ranks rather than attempting to kill the greatest number of enemy soldiers in open combat. But Herodotus' generic answer reflected the views of his contemporaries and greatly influenced the West's understanding of itself: "As long as the Athenians were ruled by a despotic government, they had no better success in war than any of their neighbors. Once the yoke was flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world."

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Tom Ricks on Piers Mackesy

Tom Ricks, the Post's Senior Military Correspondent, calls Piers Mackesy’s book on the “strategic history” of the American Revolution, “the single best such work that I have ever encountered.”

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