The title Makers of Modern Strategy, wished upon its editors by the long, worldwide, and deserved success of the original edition of 1943, is, of course, a misnomer. Strategy is made by men of war, often without benefit of book learning. Strategic theory, which is what this work is about, by contrast reeks of books, often written by scholars who never smelled powder. Occasionally soldier and scholar inhabit the same skin; they did so in the persons of Montecuccoli, Frederick the Great, and Mao Tse-tung, who all figure in these pages. Soldier sometimes blurs with scholar: Count von Moltke, the nineteenth-century chief of the Prussian army, was a man of scholarly mind, though his literary output was small; Admiral Mahan, whose real weapon was the pen, had seen service afloat during the American Civil War; B.H. Liddell Hart, the great newspaper campaigner of the 1930s, had been a subaltern on the Somme; and De Gaulle, when he found time, wrote beautiful French prose and some not unoriginal military thoughts. But like Molière’s bourgeois gentil-homme, who found he had been speaking prose uninstructed since infancy, most men of war, before the coming of the book, marched out on campaign without anything but native wit and folk wisdom to teach them how to fight.
That is not to say either that pre-Gutenberg soldiers altogether neglected to think about war in a rational way or that modern strategic theorists are mere commentators on events. We know that Alexander the Great, to take only one example, calculated the odds between options to a fine degree. And we also know that theorists, Clausewitz foremost among them, have had a deep effect upon the conduct of war, often disastrously so, particularly when misunderstood. Nevertheless, a review of strategic theory is no more a study of war than a history of political science is a handbook of government. Those who can, fight; those who can’t, theorize. It is in that spirit that we should approach this enormous, fascinating, and immensely important book.
How does it compare with the first edition? In length, it contains eight more essays than the original’s twenty. Of the total, fifteen are on new subjects by new authors, six are rewritings by new authors, four are revisions, either by the original author or another, and three remain unchanged. The decision to leave untouched the piece on “the economic foundations of military power” by Edward Mead Earle, the book’s moving spirit, is, for reasons of filial piety, entirely understandable; less so to retain the essays on Vauban and Frederick the Great, on whom much subsequent work has been done, notably by the Sandhurst scholar, Christopher Duffy. Duffy is now the world’s leading expert on fortification, of which Vauban—the seventeenth-century genius of siege warfare—was the Palladio, and he is the author of a definitive military life of Frederick the Great.1 A contribution of his on either or both of those subjects could not have failed to be an improvement.
About the general improvement in the book’s quality, however, there can be no doubt, and it would be ungenerous to quibble over details. The improvement is a reflection, in great part, of the extent to which writing about war has benefited over the last forty years from the wider application to it of first-rate academic intellects. Few academics were, in 1943, interested in war or, indeed, thought it in any way worthy of academic study. There is a strong feel about the first edition of minds being wrenched out of their accustomed paths to confront subjects both unfamiliar and inimical to them. To this edition no such sense clings. Six of the authors are professional military historians, a calling scarcely known before the Second World War, while many others have had doctoral training in or devoted their scholarly lives to the subject at a later stage of their careers. The result is that all the new essays are of a quality equal to that of any other branch of modern historiography, and some are outstanding; one would single out for special mention Gunther Rothenberg’s two essays on strategic thought in Central Europe and Michael Geyer’s on German strategy in the twentieth century.
The synoptic essays by Gordon Craig and Felix Gilbert, two of the original contributors, are also of the highest quality and value, which makes it puzzling that neither was asked to assist with the introduction. That piece, by Peter Paret, is disappointingly short and makes little effort to define for the general reader how “strategy” is to be understood. The word is, of course, a catchall, whose many meanings are best grasped by reading the book as a whole. Some analytic definition ought, nevertheless, to have been offered, if only as a baseboard against which the varied offerings of the individual contributors might be bounced.
Given that the book is lacking, this review ought to begin with a sketch of what it might have said. Strategy is “the art of the general,” for whom strategos was the Greek word. But that definition introduces an immediate difficulty. There was a world before that of the classical past in which generals were unknown, while the Greeks themselves recognized a transformation in the nature of generalship during the evolution of their civilization. All three ages—of preheroic, heroic, and postheroic leadership—lend something to a definition of strategy and each requires examination, therefore, if we are to understand the form it has taken in modern times.
Modern warfare is purposive—fought, that is to say, for some more or less well-defined end. But, in the days when the world was young, warfare was an endemic activity, largely ritual in form and to our eyes purposeless in nature. “To our eyes” is an exact phrase because fragments of that military past still survive in remote corners, notably in the mountains of New Guinea. There anthropologists are able to study a system of tribal relationships based on the premise of permanent warfare but also on a practice of conflict where the act of killing is severely deprecated. Deaths, naturally, do occur, but one death, in a formal encounter between contending tribes, is usually enough to bring it to an end and often to precipitate peace negotiations.
Anthropologists discount the notion that what they call “primitive warfare” is altogether without function (as opposed to explicit purpose). Over time, they have observed that stronger tribes do tend to increase the area of their territory at the expense of weaker neighbors. But such concepts as “victory” or “conquest” seem quite alien to the tribal elders who preside over the confrontations of the young warriors. Their aim seems to be to restrain rather than foment their aggressiveness, which is largely discharged in insult, violent gesture, and the casting of missiles at ranges just too long to find the mark.
When primitive warfare became purposive we cannot guess. Why it did so may be an easier question to answer, if only because of where it survives. Eskimos scarcely practice anything recognizable as warfare, while Stone Age warriors live in regions where the land supplies an easy living and the climate is kind at all seasons of the year. The first group is, in a sense, too oppressed by the struggle for existence to have time to fight, the second so little oppressed that fighting supplies the only element of struggle in their lives. It is in the intermediate geographical zones, where the seasons alternate sharply and man must save in the good times to survive in the bad, that the need to fight man, rather than the elements, in a competition for resources—water, grazing, game, metals—of which there are never enough to go around, appears to have taken hold.
Competition presupposes organization and organization leadership, whether one takes the Hobbesian view that the weak seek the protection of the strong or prefers to believe that society is a free association of equals; even the most egalitarian society seeks leadership when crisis threatens. The simplest form of leadership we call heroic. It is that celebrated by Homer and it continued to be practiced in the Alexandrian Age—Alexander the Great slept with the Iliad under his pillow—and, leaping a civilization or two, by Henry V and Gustavus Adolphus. But the later Greeks, like the Romans of the imperial age and the soldiers of the Enlightenment, came to recognize that there was more to leadership than heroism. Philo of Byzantium, writing in the second century BC, exactly defines the shift from the exemplary to the directorial in the practice of generalship. The general, he says, does of course advance his cause by being seen to share the risks his soldiers run. His death in action would, however, set it back further than he can hope to promote it by acting the hero. Better, therefore, that he station himself behind his soldiers, whence he can “reinforce weak points in his line, reward the brave and punish the cowards.”
The break between the exemplary and directorial style was never to be absolute. As late as the third month of World War I, even such a stereotypically directorial general as Douglas Haig would think it right to mount his horse and ride out into shellfire to set the example of shared risk to his soldiers at a crisis of the First Battle of Ypres. But from at least the second century BC, the directorial style was available; it was practiced by the generals of all states in which a division of responsibility between political and military leadership was to any degree established. As that division was set ever wider, it tended to become the norm. And its effect, in one direction at any rate, was to generate the literature of which this book is a survey.
It is a pity, given how much earlier the second style of generalship appeared than the first edition’s chosen starting point in the Renaissance, that the new editors did not therefore decide to consider some of the ancient military writers. None, it is true, wrote “strategic theory” as we understand the term today. Vegetius, the late Roman author whose work nearest approaches the genre, was interested in technique and tactics rather than means and ends. But Caesar, though he discussed his generalship implicitly rather than explicitly, could undoubtedly, had he chosen, have abstracted the principles by which he operated. And both authors are important for the period with which Makers of Modern Strategy begins, for their rediscovery coincided with the Renaissance and, by way of their translation into Italian, English, and French, was as important an influence on the contemporary “art of war” as Machiavelli or Montecuccoli.
Nevertheless, the book is as near to being comprehensive as matters; and its exclusions are justified because the period it covers is the first in which strategic theory was continuously rather than just intermittently of influence. The question is, of course, how influential was it? Charting the interrelationship of thinking and doing is one of the most tantalizing, if demanding, of all intellectual enquiries. Even in fields like mathematics and physics, in which fruits of thinking are exactly verifiable, there is a notorious time lag between the demonstration of proof and its general acceptance. In the softer sciences the gap is longer still and acceptance rarely, if ever, general; economics is the most notorious case in point. And war is not a science at all, even though “the science of war” was the term by which modish military thinkers tried to replace the old “art of war” in the heyday of scientism at the end of the nineteenth century. Theory did, nevertheless, influence the way wars were fought from the fifteenth century onward. And Makers of Modern Strategy does help us to understand how.
The first way it did so was by helping members of the Renaissance political class to comprehend how war was changing in their own time, what relationship they should establish with the military class, and how the new military means should be adjusted to political ends. But to say all that is to take an almost entirely novel situation for granted. There had in the past, it is true, been divisions between political and military elites in society, and there had been military revolutions. The two metal revolutions, of bronze and iron, the two horse revolutions, producing the war chariot and cavalry, had been of enormous historical significance. But, though we can guess and even occasionally see that they toppled elites, they did not divide them as they were later split, and then progressively separated, by the gunpowder revolution of the sixteenth century. Earlier separations between political and military leaders had been predicated on age—men got too old to fight—or ethics—some societies deemed some men too holy to fight. But the gunpowder revolution, by replacing the deployment of muscular energy, possessed by all men, with the management of chemical energy, a specialty in its own right, at the center of warfare, determined that henceforth political and military leaders should be breeds apart. Other factors worked, of course, to widen the separation. Gunpowder armies consumed revenue in quantities so large that money-making and tax-gathering classes required major expansion for their support. But the root of the division lay in the military revolution itself. Strategic theory was to be the means by which those on one side of the divide were to communicate with those on the other.
The first man to see the divide and try to bridge it was Machiavelli, who is also the subject of the book’s first essay. His starting point was the outrage that he, like all thinking men of the sixteenth-century Italian city-states, felt at the excesses inflicted on their polities by the mercenary bands they employed to wage their wars. Mercenaries’ swords had always been two-edged, but few older societies had needed, or been foolish enough to rely upon, their services exclusively. The Italian states, at the dawn of the gunpowder age, had chosen to do so, with disastrous results. Their hirelings neither fought very hard nor respected their paymasters. The antidote to this destructive dependency, Machiavelli saw, was to replace hired soldiers with citizen militias. The model he took as his exemplar was the Roman army of the mature Republic. Were the city-states of his own day to replicate its military organization, he argued, they would spare themselves the threat of mercenary takeover, while running a better chance of actually winning their battles against their predatory neighbors—which, as he pointed out, was the only point of waging war in the first place.
This remarkable anticipation of Clausewitz’s theory did not immediately catch on. The traditional military elites, who generally retained in northern Europe the role they had lost in Italy, continued for some time to practice that strange blend of primitive and purposive warfare which was so distinctive of the feudal era. But, as the costs of treating war as the principal rite of prevailing culture grew even steeper, the harder-headed among the old feudal class progressively inclined toward the Machiavellian view. The military leaders of the Dutch republic, Maurice of Nassau foremost among them, not only grasped that its survival required instituting military reform. They also saw that war (against Spain in their case) must be fought not for pleasure but for decision. The Dutch army of the later sixteenth century was therefore both remodeled on a pattern borrowed from the Roman legionary system and taught to go for the kill. Gunther Rothenberg’s essay on Maurice’s innovations, and on his near-contemporary Raimondo Montecuccoli’s treatise on practical leadership, is one of the best new contributions to the book, and a collection of insights of permanent value.
The impulsion toward battle-winning was not, however by any means the only fruit of the gunpowder revolution. Precisely because gunpowder, or more specifically artillery, confronted states with a risk of defeat altogether more sudden and complete than any they had run before, it put the highest premium on discovering effective means of defense. Gunpowder had toppled with derisory ease the walls behind which feudal castle owners had defied the authority of medieval kings. Charles VIII of France had blitzkrieged his way through Italy in 1494 simply because he had laid out the money to buy an artillery train against which no castle was proof. And the spectacle of large-scale foreign invasion, rather than local law enforcement, succeeding with such spectacular speed gave all sovereignties cause for thought. The outcome was a bonanza for fortification engineers. Anyone who could produce plans for artillery-proof defenses found himself enjoying the same official consideration as the geologist who claimed to have a nose for oil was to do anywhere around the globe in our century.
First on the scene were engineers from Italy, where the artillery revolution had achieved its earliest sensations; Leonardo da Vinci, in a letter to a patron, actually represented himself as someone to be thought of as an engineer rather than a painter, which suggests where the serious money was going in the early sixteenth century. And the particular geometrical innovations made by Italians in those years were never really to be improved upon while the gunpowder age lasted; the “angled bastion” of the sixteenth and of the nineteenth century scarcely differed. It was elsewhere, however, that invention was to be transformed into system. Large-scale fortress building required money equivalent, in relative terms, to Star Wars expenditure. Few states could contemplate it: the Dutch a little, the Hapsburgs when they were in pocket. But the big spender in the fortification business in the high years of the artillery age could only be France. Thus it was that the master of the business of both the “attack and defense of fortresses” turned out to be French—Vauban.
The pity of not revising the essay on Vauban has already been remarked. It might, for example, have allowed some light to be shed on one of the few remaining obscurities of military history, why fortifications so suddenly lost their apparent value at the end of the eighteenth century. Up until the French Revolution, any thick belt of fortification, like that dividing France from the Low Countries, could be guaranteed to delay an invading army for at least a season, if not several years. Marlborough had not quite penetrated the French defensive belt after ten years’ campaigning in Flanders. Then, as if ditches and bastions were immaterial, the armies of the Revolution walked all over them.
They were, of course, armies different in spirit from those of the eighteenth century, impatient of tradition and strong in belief in their own powers. And it may well have been that there was an element of confidence trickery about fortification systems: that they demanded to be attacked because they were there but, if ignored, they lost their defensive magic. R.R. Palmer’s essay on Frederick, Guibert, and Bülow touches on this point. But, unfortunately, it is one of the unrevised contributions, and much work, particularly on logistics, has been done since it was written. Logistics may well be the key to the problem, since fortifications were obstacles not so much to fighting troops as to their supply trains. But until detailed modern scholarship in the field is applied to contemporary theory, we shall be unable to unlock it. Again, Peter Paret’s essay on Napoleon, whose way with fortifications was particularly peremptory, does not much help. It is largely concerned with well-worked issues like his staff organization and battle-winning techniques.
Napoleon was to be almost the last strategist who sought to exercise political and military command in his own person—in that respect, he was a reincarnation of Alexander, whom he so much admired. This temporary reconvergence was followed by a marked and ever-widening divergence, demanding an ever-greater effort in the explanation of strategy to statesmen and politics to strategists. Clausewitz was both a manifestation of and a response to the need, and in the essay on his importance Peter Paret, joint translator of On War, rises to the occasion. It is succinct, authoritative, and down-to-earth. Equally so is John Shy on Clausewitz’s less inspired but more immediately influential contemporary, Jomini. He is particularly good on tracing forward the effects of Jomini’s thinking on Mahan and Douhet, the pioneer theorists of sea and air power respectively.
Having crossed the watershed of the French Revolution, the book steadily widens in scope, thereby very properly reflecting the increasing complexity of war as states grew richer, economies more diverse, peoples more volatile, and military establishments more autonomous and extortionate. Almost all publicists with a claim to be taken seriously had something to say on the relationship between army, people, and state in the nineteenth century, and their intellectual military contemporaries demanded to be heard also, if only to warn how dread were the consequences to a society that would not pay the price necessary to secure its defense. Alexander Hamilton, to that end, urged the expansion of the United States Navy, Friedrich List the construction of a Prussian state railway system; these two form the subject, with Adam Smith, of E.M. Earle’s essay on “The Economic Foundations of Military Power.” Moltke and Schlieffen, who between them almost continuously directed the Prussian General Staff from 1857 to 1906 (Waldersee, who briefly intervened, is chiefly memorable for having given Puccini, through his liaison with a geisha, the theme for Madama Butterfly), wrote for private rather than public audiences; but their insistence on the need to create armies and war plans that would return lightning victories were decisive in shaping German foreign policy in the era of nationalism. Gunther Rothenberg’s essay on their role is as good as his earlier contribution on the “military revolution” of the seventeenth century.
The allure of military power in the nineteenth century seems universal. Fancy suggests many names whom the editors might have justifiably included—Juarès, Bergson, Sorel, Nietzsche, even Freud—though control over the dimensions of the book might then have escaped them. But they were absolutely right to have retained the essay on Marx and Engels, whose interest in strategy was almost as obsessive as theirs in revolution. Engels was, of course, known to his intimates as “the General” because of his military writing, which exceeds his political writing in bulk. But Marx, too, was fascinated by almost everything military, and for a very understandable reason. The way to power, for the class which he had championed, lay through the adoption of military methods: discipline, central organization, staff work, elite leadership. Little wonder that this Prussian enemy of Prussia wished to infuse his revolutionary program with Prussianism.
Marx was a failure in his own time. But in his urge to militarize the practice of politics, he was, as in so much else, to reap a terrible posthumous victory. If the unspoken theme of this book is how politics and war are made to hear each other’s voices, its concluding chapters come to sound like a chorus. If one were to choose a theme essay, it would be that of Michael Geyer on “German Strategy in the Age of Machine Warfare,” since he does indeed succeed in demonstrating how strategic necessity, or more properly the perception of such a necessity, came to permeate a nation’s world outlook at a moment when it was crucially placed to affect the world’s well-being. Overthematic though the essay is, it is by far the most coherent piece of argument in the book, cleaves nearest to its informing idea, and promises to be the foundation of a larger and even more impressive work in the field.
Geyer’s thesis, in essence, is that external war came to seem to the Germans the solution of their internal problems. The idea is not, of course, new. Aristotle detected this as the principle upon which Dionysius of Syracuse conducted his tyranny. Applied, however, to German twentieth-century history, it does yield a plethora of insights, not least in explaining how the Germans came to consign their destiny to a man whose claim to lead derived, as much as anything else, from his status as a “front fighter,” a common soldier. Hilter’s awful appeal was to promise the Germans a good peace, should it last, but, should it not, to bring them victory. He claimed, in his person, to embody the understanding both of peace and war and so to comprehend the secret of the universe.
Such a Faustian understanding is something from which liberal politicians have always shrunk; indeed, one definition of the liberal might be that he is a man to whom war is as alien intellectually as it is morally. It is the fate, nevertheless, of liberal politicians in the twentieth century to have had to understand war, like it or not, and the concluding chapters of the book are largely devoted to charting the moral conflict that that necessity entailed. David MacIsaac’s essay on the democratic powers’ espousal of strategic bombing is a splendid investigation of the politics of hypocrisy (“the bomb I don’t see fall is no blot on my conscience”). Brian Bond and Martin Alexander are excellent also in their essay on Liddell Hart’s “indirect approach,” in effect a theory of defeating the enemy without actually hurting him; not for nothing was Liddell Hart the son of a Nonconformist minister. And Maurice Matloff, in his discussion of Allied strategy in Europe, conclusively reinforces the point that liberals fight wars with their eyes shut, regarding them as an “aberration to normality to be concluded as swiftly as possible.”
The great challenge to liberalism has come, of course, with the appearance of nuclear weapons. While neither the Soviets, who have learned to admire Clausewitz from Marx, nor the national liberationists, whether Marxist or not, have ever found the least difficulty in seeing that war and politics march hand in hand, liberals have persisted in consoling themselves with the thought that the onset of peace permitted a moratorium in thinking about war. The bomb has changed that. Even Jimmy Carter, least bellicose of men, was doomed by his urge to exercise presidential power to undertake military responsibilities as weighty, as unrelenting, ultimately as corrosive as those borne by Alexander the Great—and without the emotional release allowed to Alexander when he clapped spurs to horse and charged to glory through the thick of the enemy.
Who would be a maker of modern strategy? The bomb has brought the bird of ill omen home to roost. Reagan lives with it on his shoulder, day in, day out. This remarkable book is, in effect, the chronicle of an illusion: that those who exercise political power need not necessarily burden themselves with military authority. There was, it is true, a blissful and brief moment when that may have been the case in the Western world. But it is gone for good.
The reality that has replaced the liberal illusion provides the material for Lawrence Freedman’s essay on “The First Two Generations of Nuclear Strategists.” Avowedly a study of the American breed—since the Russians keep their strategic thinking largely to themselves, and the French, British, and Chinese scarcely count—it makes for painful reading. Under the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, strategic thinking amounted to little more than an ideology of threat—at first believed to be intrinsic in the atomic weapon, then made specific by Dulles’s famous speech of January 1953 promising “massive retaliation.” The double-edgedness of crude threat so alarmed the incoming Kennedy administration that it rapidly elaborated the “mutually assured destruction” doctrine still in force today.
But the shift from crude threat to “controlled response” cast statesmen deep and inextricably into the day-to-day management of the nuclear armory. Worse, it committed them, as Robert McNamara specified in a speech soon after he became secretary for defense, to “its use, in event of attack, in a cool and deliberate fashion and always under the complete control of constituted authority.” Such a commitment, antipathetic to the liberal tradition, sat all the more uneasily on the democratic leaders of the United States, quintessentially a country dedicated to the idea of progress and principle of optimism in public life.
As Edward Luttwak, the eminent strategic analyst whose new collection of essays, On the Meaning of Victory,2 usefully illuminates the mode of thinking that prevails in Washington today, puts it, “the ineluctable fact [is] that to achieve even moderate success the nation’s external policy must [now] be guided by the alien rules of strategy.” Alien is an exactly appropriate choice of word. Alienation in both of its senses—of leaders from led, of leaders from the awful reality of their function—is the fate that the making of modern strategy threatens.
July 17, 1986