Grand Illusions

Makers of Modern Strategy: from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age

edited by Peter Paret, with the collaboration of Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert
Princeton University Press, 941 pp., $12.95 (paper)

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…

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