Thursday, February 26, 2009

Military Strategy Annotations #2

In view of the continuing scholarship on military strategy I felt compelled to offer some of my favorite works that should be part of any historian or military strategists' collection:

Foley, Robert T. Alfred von Schlieffen's Military Writings. London: Frank Cass Publishing, 2003.

Over 80 years since his death, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen's military writings remain one of the most comprehensive work's of pragmatic military doctrine and have inspired countless military theorists, historians, and political scientists since 1914. The importance of this book is twofold: first, to date there is only one other piece of translated work on Schlieffen, Gerhard Ritter's The Schlieffen Plan, and second Alfred von Schlieffen's Military Writings provides English-speaking students with rare documentation concerning staff rides, memoranda, and fully annotated archives. Furthermore, the compilation of essays found within the pages represents the best source for Schlieffen's ideas about warfare and the contemporary strategic setting. It offers the closest thing to a complete treatise on continental modern wafare.

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Ed and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Peret. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976. 184-185.

Paret and Howard's translation of On War is generally considered to be the best translation into English of Carl von Clauswitiz's Vam Kriege and is now treated as a standard work. Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist and author of contemporary military strategy in his treatise Vam Kriege, addresses several key issues including: the dialectical approach of miltiary analysis, the relationship between political and military objectives in warfare, and the factor of 'friction.' The latter is especially important because it explains the resistant element in war, which concerns destabilizing political and military 'centers of gravity.' Clausewitz's innovative strategies and philosophies have even been applied to business strategy and sports. Every military historian should have Clauswitz's treatise tucked away in their bookcase, right next to Sun Tzu and Alfred von Schlieffen.

French, David. The British General Staff: Reform and Innovation. Routledge: Routledge University Press, 2002.

This book is the first modern analysis, based on extensive archival research, of the British General Staff in the period up to the eve of the Second World War. Some of the world's leading historians, including Brian Bond, came together to produce a collection of essays that explore three broad themes: the inception of the general staff, the role of personalities in expending power and command authority, and the influence of the General Staff on the development of British strategic policy. Of noted interest, is the discussion on highly-detailed simulated war games: for starters everything was quantified and specific to the last detail. The rate of travel of military units over land forms was modified by terrain, the type of force, and a host of other factors including, weather, supply availability, unit density, and morale. The most important aspect of this simulation was that the war game began the process of "replacing nebulous ideas" with practical military operations. It is the practical military applications that are of particular interest to myself and military historians as it demonstrates the trend away from classical military thought and towards real-world applications of military principles.

Williamson, Samuel R. and Russel van Wyk. Soldiers, Statesmen, and July 1914. Beford: St. Martins, 2003.

This text is proof that solid scholarship, mixed with anecdotal and historical archives, can be presented in a manner that engages undergraduates. Samuelson and Van Wyk make significant, original contribution, one that not only enlightens students and scholars about the origins of the Great War, the first continental world war, but also informs politicians and soldiers about the urgency of trust, cooperation, command, and authority in the political-military arena. The book is a prime example of the relevance of history to contemporary society, as well as the importance of collective decision making on the part of military and political leaders who represent the public. The piece is most important for two reasons: it is engaging and it demonstrates the importance of historiography in assessing evidence and different points of view in history. It is crucial that any historian, student of politics, contemporary society, military studies, and international relations digest these two important points, as they are the two most fundamental elements of great writing narrative compelling historiography.

Below I have also added a few more sources that can satisfy the historian's intellectual thirst for scholarship:

Lawrence, Richard D. The Art and Practice of Military Strategy. Washington D.C.: National Defense University, 1984.

Wallach, Jehuda L. The Dogma of the Battle of Annihilation. Westport: Greenwood P, 1986. 90.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Military Strategy Annotations

In compiling and analyzing the myriad of sources that are the authorities on military strategy, I felt that it would be useful to share some of the most useful sources for historians, strategists, and political scientists:

Collins, John M. Military Strategy. Washington D.C.: Brassey’s, 2002.

Military Strategy provides an overview of the principles, theories, policies, and fundamentals of modern warfare, and their applications in the twenty-first century. The piece is a comprehensive survey of the checklist for military procedures, including modern methods of warfare: coalition strategies, counter terrorist strategies, insurgency tactics, and sociopolitical terrorism. Military Strategy also provides an in depth analysis into the war-fighting concepts and theories behind military practitioners such as Field Marshall Douglas Haig and Mao Zedong. The piece acts as a handbook for students of military strategy, as well as for politico-military policy-makers, strategists, and planners. Students of military strategy will find that Collins blends the ideas of military thought and military principle to develop a spotlight historical approach with which to view assorted military strategies. Part I of the piece is especially important in understanding the fundamentals of military doctrine and is a perfect introduction even for the lay individual.

Wylie, J.C. Military Strategy. New York: Rutgers, 1967.

Wylie's treatise offers a new aspect of military strategy that has "not yet been clearly posed, much less clearly answered." To that end Military Strategy discusses the patterns of thought the military mind does use, and speculates on some that it might use. Wylie strains himself to stay clear of the students of warfare that studied and juggled around the detailed specifics of strategy and the statistics of war. Rather, he employs a framework to answer the questions, "Why does a soldier think like a soldier? Why does a sailor think like a salior? Why does an airman think like an airman?" The piece offers a much needed vistation of a different aspect of military strategy, rather than simply the principles or theories behind it. The organization is broken up into case analysis of different theories behind military thought, including maritime control and air theory, while examining the limitations of the existing theories, any underlying assumptions, and the development of a "general theory" that can be applied to observations in the last chapter. Military Strategy is clearly an innovative piece of scholarship that should be in the bookcase of any practitioner, philosopher, or purveyor of military strategy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swat: Not Special Weapons And Tactics

I listened to reports by the Associated Press this morning concerning the takeover of Swat by Taliban militant fighters. At first I was concerned that somehow, in a devious conspiracy theory this division of the umbrella organization Al-Qaeda had control over the elite tactical units in the American police system called by the same name. It soon came to my attention the Pakistani government would allow the Taliban's version of Sharia law in the Malakand region of Swat, an administrative district in the North-West Frontier Province. In return, Malulana Fazlullah's followers, members of TNSM militant Islamist faction, agreed to observe a ceasefire negotiated by Sufi Muhammad, Malulana's father in law. Gerald from Internet Anthropologist addresses this situation in his article New State: Taliban Swat. I further posted a comment on Gerald's site regarding this very serious international issue. Gerald notes that at Fazlullah's insistence he
"has successfully organized a campaign opposing polio vaccinations and has forced the closure girls' schools throughout the region."
It is important to remember that in counterinsurgency strategy,
"the side that prevails in an insurgency does so in part by creating an air of inevitability among the populace about its ultimate victory." (James Holmes)
By "winning hearts and minds" depends on a genuine presence among the people. No where is this more evident than the failures of Vietnam and Korea, where insurgency and asymmetric warfare were consuming to the point of attrition. The dominance of the Taliban in the strategic Swat valley is not only a major setback for Obama's administration, as
"it hopes to mount a united front against militants,"
but a setback in international law, as it conflicts with state sovereignty over a defined territory. U.S. Special Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke said that he
"Is very concerned about Pakistan and stability."
As he should be. On Tuesday, President Obama announced plans to boost U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by 50%, marking a change in the theater of the "War on Terror." Lawmakers and strategists alike conclude that Afghanistan will be the dominating factor in U.S. military affairs for the term of the Obama Administration. It seems that Obama's call for bipartisanism, cohabitation, united fronts, and peace, was challenged with the same issues that President Bush had to deal just a different front.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Strategist's Soulmate

While sifting through "My Watchlist" on Diigo, the tagging and bookmarking epicenter of Web 2.0, I came across FruFru FourOne while searching for tags related to military strategy and political decision making. FruFru is an avid, frequent social bookmarker, with more than 10,000 tags, hundreds of bookmarked sites, and an flourish of group followers, FruFru is the amagamation of the intellectual, the Web 2.0 junky, and my perfect social bookmarking soulmate (plus FruFru is a she). Initially, I had to wade through the knee-deep topics of FruFru's interests: including 215 tags on Politics, 237 tags on strategy, 167 tags on technology, and over 4,000 tags on blogging and reading. What is remarkable about FruFru, is the frequency to which she posts comments, and suprisingly, how thorough the comments are. For an example I turned to a strategy bookmark concerning how to publically speak and "mingle." FruFru offered an extremely detailed comment, with a 4-step directions process in how to properly achieve the goal of "mingling," beginning with:
Casually approach the group and discreetly introduce yourself to the person closest to you without drawing too much attention. Use a lower voice than the rest of the group. Do this without pulling the person out of the main group. If there's a gap in the group, place yourself there otherwise stand in a location where the other person doesn't have his/her back to the main group.
While exploring bookmarks in FruFru's "military" section I came across a very interesting article entilted "Why the U.S. Loses 'Small Wars'" In this discussion Larry Kahaner discusses how the historical background of assymetric warfare, where "the relationship between the combatants is decidedly unbalanced," often leads to guriella tactics, prompting
contemporary small forces that use simple, durable and easy-to-use and obtain weapons, mainly the venerable AK-47 rifle backed up by Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
The most interesting aspect of FruFru's tagging is that while it is quite copious, every bookmark I came across, even when it was not related to my field, was surprising and engaging. I felt like I established a connection with another individual that shared my passion for knowledge, not simply military history, the historical method, politics, and the like, but everything from Design with Intent, a handbook for sustainable architecture, to Visual Literacy: An E-Learning Tutorial on Visualization in Communication.

FruFru has a whole host of a list of great resources, including news listings, how-to-guides, online learning tools, fascinating obscure topics, posts on my particular interests, and a variety of well-informed, well-discussed comments. FruFru is my social bookmarking soulmate because she offers intellectual discussion in a variety of disciplines, including my own, and offers insight into each of these disciplines. When reading through her recent comments I came across an article on Mendel's Law of Dominance. FruFru astounded me with engaging, intellectual commentary:

Offspring that are hybrid for a trait will have only the dominant trait in the phenotype. While Mendel was crossing (reproducing) his pea plants (over and over and over again), he noticed something interesting.When he crossed pure tall plants with pure short plants, all the new pea plants (referred to as the F1 generation) were tall.

It is remarkable how FruFru seems to have command of a variety of different disciplines, which is evident in her well-discussed commentary. Through FruFru's level of frequency in her bookmarking posts, her impressive level of commentary, her intellectual inquiries, and her captivating list of useful sites, I found my social bookmarking soulmate in not just another purveyor of strategy, politics, and history, but a passionate intellectual exploring the realms of other disciplines.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Good morning everyone, I decided to refurbish my original three posts, please see them below:


War should be the only study of a prince. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, which gives him leisure to contrive, and furnishes as ability to execute, military plans.

–Niccol├│ Machievelli

"Hello World"

Military strategy, as Sun Tzu remarks, is "of ritual importance to the state" and must be studied to understand the dimensions of international relations, economic development, and political motivations. The literature of warfare and its strategies is impoverished. Of all the men who have written on the subject of warfare, I think that only seven have contributed significantly to the understanding of it and have by force of idea, influenced the course of it. Chronologically, the ones I have in mind are Sun-Tzu, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Mahan, Corbett, Douhet, and Liddell Hart. I intend in this discussion with you to examine some of the patterns of thought that the military mind does use, and to speculate on some that perhaps it should use. There is a wide collection of scholarship focused on the examination of military strategy; however, a better understanding of military decision making has not yet been clearly posed, much less clearly answered.

"What can military strategy and the decision making processes of commanders teach us about history?" "What is the relationship between history theory and history practice?" These questions are at the crux of understanding military strategy: the art and science of employing armed forces under all conditions to attain national security objectives during war. The technique of war concerns, on one hand, the instruments of warfare (weapons and organizations) with which war is carried on and, on the other hand, the utilization of these instruments (policies and operations) to achieve the objects of war. The establishment of these principles of military strategy is essential in the understanding military decision making as well as understanding the current political and international situation.

My purpose is to introduce you, the reader, to the use of original sources—memoirs, diaries, government documents, newspaper editorials, and other contemporary accounts—coupled with current analysis—blogs, new media, and professional commentary. It is my hope that during our discussions we can come together to understand the difference behind the different types of military decision making. These can range from the theoretical framework of military strategy, which employs concepts and other intellectual tools to prepare overarching plans and conduct implementing operations, to the practical application of military thought that is executed by practitioners who perform military operations in pragmatic feats on land, at sea, and in the air.

It goes without saying, that the opinions or assertions in this discussion are mine and are not fool proof. However, like all intellectual discourse, I know that my speculations, whether valid or not, provide an introduction for others to propose something different and better. If this occurs my discussion will have served its purpose.

"Profile of the Blogosphere"

I came across an interesting article posted by Americus Maximus of the Eagle Standard in late October of last year. I am particularly interested in the conclusions that Americus has come to regarding the military efforts in Afghanistan, asserting that it is in the best interest of the United States Armed Forces to utilize the bulk of its army to “engage an entrenched enemy in a vast and complexed mountainous region where no large military force has ever truly been successful in conquering (Soviets -1980's).” Furthermore, Americus disagrees with the contention that eliminating Osama Bin Ladin will result in a collapse. The common misconception, Americus says, is that by eliminating Osama Bin Ladin "the threat of terrorism from around the free world will immediately come to an end." This is hardly the case. Americus' audience is surely aimed at historians, military professionals, and worldly individuals.

I say this because he mentions a variety of military tactics attributed to the famous military theorist, Sun Tzu, and he employs military jargon such as “entrenching forces” and the military principle of “terrain.” Furthermore, to understand the current situation in Afghanistan somewhat requires the understanding of the Soviet mire in the 1980s and the historical notion of the "grave of nations," countries that have failed military operations in Afghanistan, including the Macedonians and the British Empire. His blog is clearly a scholarly analysis of military strategy and its impact on the current theatre of warfare.

Additionally, Americus' posting is essential to the greater arena of military strategy because of the overwhelming lack of reputable scholarship on how military strategy and military decision making affects the current international situation, whether economically, socially, or politically. Like a United States Navy SEAL I scoured the depths of the Blogosphere in search of scholarly, updated blogs on military strategy. My search turned up nothing. I have a few theories behind why this exploration yielded very few results in such an important topic. One, it seems that in the field of history today there is a revitalization of cultural and social history aimed at movements such as nationalism and concepts such as class and identity. The 'traditional' sense of history, including political, military, and economic dimensions, seems to be somewhat lost in the excitement of newer discoveries in cultural and social history. Second, the assessment of military strategy requires a solid foundation in a variety of fields including history, political science, and economics. Americus’ blog is unique in that it exposes a small niche in the Blogosphere. Furthermore, Americus focuses on combined scholarship on military and political news, unlike other blogs that often reference current social trends or sizzling news gossip, which are often easily commented on by the public at large because of the ease of comprehension.

I must agree with Americus that the military struggle in Afghanistan will not be won by the elimination of Osama Bin Ladin; as a caveat; however, it is imperative to eliminate him as it would do a great justice to the American people and those that have lost their lives in the War on Terrorism.

The German military strategist Alfred von Schlieffen remarked that in strategy and tactics the rule applies that when the enemy has been located it is imperative that current operations reflect the need to strike immediately, instead of waiting for the enemy to make any movement. "Many Gentlemen did not content themselves with the most immediate task of attacking the enemy where he happens to be and where he happens to be found...through such considerations they came to one of the worst errors that can be committed in operations: awaiting the effect of the envelopment before advancing against the front." The point of an attacking force is to enable it to be effective; without immediacy in decision making strategy becomes immobilized. This applies directly to the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The United States Armed Forces should heed the call of immediacy over delay.

While new theories of strategy and tactics evolve during every confrontation, continental theory of organized warfare is still the best policy. To conclude a word by German military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz: "Destruction of an enemy's force...only by means of the engagement...only great and general engagements will produce great results...results will be one great battle."

"An Assessment of Voice"

This week I am particularly interested in examining other blog rolls about the subject of the recent war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Kings of War, Pat Porter focuses on reviewing some aspects of the so-called "War on Terror", including the language behind the terminology and the definition of warfare. Porter's use of rhetorical quotations emphasizes the intellectual connection between the writer and the reader: "Was this a war?" "Even if it was a war, on what?" Moreover, this is valuable to the reader because it evokes contemplation and curiosity on the subject. Porter then explains that the "War on Terror" has historical underpinnings by quoting the Secretary of Defense, then Donald Rumsfeld, as a “global struggle against violent extremism."

The use of persistent quotations by person's of authority assists Porter in building an "authoritative" voice. More concrete evidence of this authoritative voice is evident in Porter's use of parallel structure and the nature of the organization of the article. It begins not by wielding some vague terms or opinionated conjecture, but by simply exploring the history of the language behind the terminology of "The War on Terror," and in an effort to define it, offers thoughtful questions to the reader.

Quotations by United States military personalities such as Admiral William Fallon, Commander of US operations in the Middle East, with the statement "Long War" makes Porter's voice even more academic and substantive. Porter’s use of the term “Long War” in conjunction with Fallon establishes a dialogue of rapport with the reader, because of the simultaneous action of using an authority coupled with the use of military jargon. There is a particular passage I would like to look at for a more in depth discussion: "So where are we now? The ‘Global Counterinsurgency’ template, as far as I can tell, has not yet been retired. But as a description, one label might usefully summarize the approach of Obama: the Right War. This is not a partisan claim that Obama has it right and others had it wrong."

The initial probing question at the beginning of the paragraph asks the reader to access the situation of the United States in terms of military and political policy and decision making. This initial request of the reader is very important in establishing academic, or as I have noted earlier, "authoritative" voice. The reason for this is that it creates an aura of thought provoking discussion, whereby the reader is engaged in the simultaneous act of accepting information and then deciphering the author's argument. By creating a rapport with his readers, the readers began to routinely comment on his articles. In one instance, an initial blog post discussing the future of terrorist assassinations sparked a wave of intellectual discussion on the comments section, more like a symposium or a forum than a blog post. In most cases the Porter would respond in a continuous dialogue of probing questions and clarifying statements. In a particular case Porter established a 5 point model for assessing the Taliban attack on Kabul earlier this year, which caused immediate dialogue between readers. Some echoed his sentiments saying, “You are absolutely correct in that assessment.” Others, “comment[ed] on the target selection” of Kabul, its historical importance, and even referred to other media and international authorities, including the Pakistan Ministry of Justice. The most important distinction about Kings of War is that through authoritative language and probing questions and rhetorical devices, the readers gain a sense of community with which intellectual discussion takes place on a regular basis.

In a comparative analysis, I envisage my blog as having characteristics similar to an "authoritative" voice. I encourage the reader to access my information, such as my posting on Strategies Against the Taliban, and then proceed on an intellectual analysis of information. Is the information consistent with historical views? Does the reader agree with the information presented? Why or why not? In my posting "Hello World" I addressed my enthusiasm for this blog to be an intellectual exercise for the reader, addressing probing questions and accessing decision making. These intellectual enterprises are similar to Porter's use of quotations by military personalities. I often strive to use military strategists' quotations in my work, such as the initial quotations by Carl von Clausewitz and Alfred von Schlieffen. Additionally, Porter's use of parallel structure is echoed in my own work, with the use of the military mind in the initial "Hello World" post. In accessing the voice of Pat Porter's King's of War I have not only been able to compare my own voice to another military enthusiast, but I have been able to express my passion in words. In the words of Confucius: "Words are the voice of the heart."