Having been at this for a while, I should share my thoughts about the military philosophy of The Military Philosopher. After a lifetime of reading military history, studying wargames and simulations, walking battlefields, time spent in various uniforms in the Army National Guard and as a living historian, and a career working in political military affairs in both the State and Defense Departments, I do have a military philosophy. It principally draws upon Clausewitz mixed with a bit of Sun Tzu, a dash of Liddell Hart and the indirect approach, JFC Fuller’s mobile warfare, and odd ideas here and there from many others. What I propose to do here is to hit some of the highlights rather than attempt to replicate On War or The Art of War.
Let’s begin by defining some terms. War is the organized use of the threat of violence and/or actual violence in conflict between two or more states (or proto-states). Warfare is how humans go about conducting a war. War is universal while warfare is where we see the impact of culture, history, social organization, technology, personality, inspiration, etc. War and warfare exist upon one extreme end of a spectrum that runs from that extreme to the other – peace. This spectrum presents the range of activities of states and proto-states as they interact with each other.
The first lesson I took away from reading Clausewitz at the Naval War College was what I read as his insistence in the introductory chapters of On War that war is absolutely, definitively the dumbest possible way to resolve a dispute. The rest of the book is for the benefit of those who ignore that advice and read on as Clausewitz explains what war is, what warfare is, and how to be successful in waging war.
The Principles of War are a checklist, a reminder, not a straightjacket. The commander needs to mentally run down the list in planning or executing military operations to determine which ones are relevant, but there is no need to churn out reams of explanation of how each one does or does not apply. I’m not fixated on any one version of the many lists of principles that have been put out, primarily because there is a lot of overlap from one list to the next and usually the variations reflect a particular technological period and are adjusted as technology changes.
· Speed is I think the most important of the principles of war – but in the sense given it by Suvorov when he said, “Speed is essential, haste harmful.” Speed is critically important for seizing and maintaining the Initiative as John Boyd famously captured the thought in his OODA Loop – observe, orient, decide, act – in order to get inside your opponent’s own OODA cycle and put him into a purely reactive posture.
· Surprise means doing anything that your opponent did not expect, i.e. attacking him in a place, or at a time, or with a capability that he didn’t expect. Surprise is one of the very earliest ‘force multipliers.’ A critical effect of surprise is to give the attacker the Initiative.
· Mass and/or Unity of Effort are aspects of the same challenge for the commander, i.e. making sure that enough friendly force is concentrated at the right place and right time to ensure victory and that few if any friendly forces are needlessly left out of the fight.
· Simplicity – as in “Keep it Simple, Stupid”. Combat is a multiple body problem and as the physicists/astrophysicists know the more bodies you have in motion the harder it is to know who’s doing what much less control them as they do it.
You never want to pit your strength directly against your opponent’s strength. You want to commit it against his weakness – never fight fair. Therefore, all properly executed warfare is Asymmetric Warfare.
The Combined Arms approach to combat is essential – infantry, armor, artillery, air and sea power. No single arm wins wars without the support and aid of the other forms of combat power. While never denying the delight in having effective close air support (among other things), nothing says victory like a foot parade through the streets of the enemy capital (though the political decision-makers may conclude that it’s better to trade that pleasure for a sustainable peace after the war). When everything inevitably breaks down, everyone in uniform is an infantryman. When all else fails, you should still have your personal weapon(s) and the knowledge of how to use them effectively.
As for commanders, I have seen at least two senior German Generals, General Kurt von Hammerstein and Field Marshal von Manstein, quoted as offering a formula which must have been taught at one of the German training schools (or learned in the corridors, so to speak). I prefer the version attributed to von Hammerstein but both say essentially the same thing:
“There are four kinds of officer: the lazy, stupid type who do no harm; the intelligent, hard-working type who make good staff officers; the lazy, intelligent type are the best strategic leaders; and, finally, the stupid, hardworking type who must be dismissed immediately as they will lead to disaster.”
Thomas Kuhn argued that his concept of scientific revolution was not applicable to the social sciences but I disagree. I am a believer in the concept of The Revolution in Military Affairs, though I do not buy in to all of the touted RMAs cited over recent decades. RMA is still not widely or correctly understood. For example, many people do not realize that there can be more than one RMA at work simultaneously and that they are usually more easily recognized after the fact. It is also overlooked that the real revolution is in the application of a “new” technology – often something that has in fact been around for a decade or two before its optimal application is understood, recognized, and used. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as an obsolete weapon or military technology; it retains value as a niche or situational tool.
Holding the Moral High Ground in conducting military combat operations is critically important. This is true for the individual soldier, sailor, marine, or airman as well as for the armed forces to which they belong, and for the nation that sent them out to do so. We have to give the individuals all of the tools – physical, mental, spiritual – that will enable them to identify and secure that moral high ground in every tactical, operational, strategic, and political situation. They need to begin building this from their first day of training because done correctly this will also equip them for the transition back into the civilian world upon the completion of their service.
To close, I offer one final observation. Having invented warfare in order to better harness war and bend it to benefit humanity, history amply demonstrates that after millennia we generally are not very good at it. The expenditure of treasure and blood is usually greater than whatever material benefits (barring simple survival) have been gained by that expenditure. Even the greatest masters of the art of war like Napoleon I and Alexander the Great fell short over the span of their careers. This should give us all added reason to pause and think calmly about any decision regarding launching a war because war always includes renewed validation of the Law of Unintended Consequences.