A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind – Martin van Creveld

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Synopsis

In A History of Strategy, celebrated military theorist Martin van Creveld charts the evolution of strategy throughout its checkered history from antiquity to the present epoch. The survey Creveld offers underscores the paramount ideas of strategy within each era, and pinpoints their ideological prime movers.

Excerpts

“To restore the power of the offensive and save casualties, Liddell Hart went on to recommend ‘the indirect approach.’ Rather than attacking the enemy head on, he had to be weakened first by having his limbs cut off, his organization disrupted, and the mind of his commander unbalanced.

“Spurred by America’s failure in Vietnam, which was blamed on the strategy of attrition adopted by the US armed forces, the 1980s saw a revival of conventional warfare theory centering on such ideas as maneuver warfare and AirLand Battle. As their names imply, both focused on strategy and the operational art while all but ignoring strategy.

“With Fuller acting as the stimulant, mobility was married to mechanization. The outcome was something known as ‘the battle in depth’: meaning a highly offensive campaign which would be launched not merely along the front but against the enemy’s communications, depots, and command centers as well.

“Later the idea of ‘Massive Retaliation’ was adopted by the incoming Eisenhower Administration. As Secretary of State Alan Dulles declared in a famous speech, the US would not permit the other side to dictate the site and mode of the next war. Instead, any attempt by the Communists to engage in aggression anywhere in the world might be instantly met with means, and at a place, of America’s own choosing.

“…by 1990, at the latest, the Clausewitzian framework was beginning to show serious cracks. As has just been said, it proved incapable of incorporating warfare by, or against, non-state actors. To this point that Clausewitz himself, in the five pages he devoted to the subject, treated guerilla warfare solely as an extension of the struggle between states. At the same time, the question could not be avoided as to whether his insistence on the inherent tendency of war to escalate made him into a reasonable guide to nuclear-armed military establishments, one of whose objectives was deterrence rather than warfighting.

*All excerpts have been taken from A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind, Castalia House.