Infinity Journal Volume 2, Issue 2, Spring 2012 - page 11

Volume 2, Issue 2, Spring 2012
Infinity Journal
Page 9
to do the impossible. The logic is inexorable, but in historical
practice often one cannot follow the logic. For example, the
overriding problem in 1914-18 was that policy required the
military effort to accomplish military results that literally were
beyond its ability. Therefore, the deadly tactical problem of
the offence-defence relationship in World War I was really a
political problem. Policy did not fit military conditions until
the Hundred Days Campaign of August-November 1918.
German military manpower and other assets needed to
be massively attrited and their morale had to be destroyed.
The technical and tactical key to battlefield success was
the generation of a battlefield dominance enabled by an
unmatchable quantity and quality of precise artillery fire.The
underlying problem, of course, is that when one chooses
to fight, or even conduct “armed and episodically violent
social work”, one cannot know just how hard one will have
to fight, or for how long. Future warfare is the kingdom of
guesswork. Because of the inherent uncertainty about the
course and outcome of future warfare, it is a little unsettling
to realize that the key factors in decisions to fight or not to
fight frequently are not assessments of the believed military
balance and suchlike rational matters. Instead, what matters
most is the measure of the most influential policymaker’s
personal tolerance of risk. And an individual’s risk tolerance/
aversion varies widely, as investment and insurance theory
and data tell us. Official processes of policymaking should
discipline unduly adventurous policies, but all too obviously
frequently they either do not really exist or they simply fail to
function as a dampener of unwarranted optimism. Some
politician policymakers are highly risk-tolerant; indeed, there
are people who derive pleasure from the thrill of danger,
physical,political,andmoral.Yet others will not be risk-tolerant,
but instead will be risk-blind, if not indifferent. Peril will not be
recognized, or will be noted but hastily dismissed because its
possibility is so unwelcome. One should never discount the
sovereign potency of human weakness, folly, incompetence,
and sheer ignorance, over a context of strategic decision
that must strain the abilities even of those who are sober,
capable, and well informed. Because strategists strive to
cope well enough with a professional realm wherein chance
can rule, even their well-laid plans and sound practice can
be undone unfairly by the contingency known simply as bad
It is my hope that these notes will serve as a contribution
to an ongoing conversation among the readers of Infinity
Journal about the enduring nature and changing character
of strategy. The general theory of strategy does not change,
but it can and should find some new expression for our times.
Also, although there is no new knowledge to be discovered
about strategy, old knowledge can be lost.
[i] Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p.30. Murray is quoting himself from an
article he published in 1988. His important thought must not be permitted to encourage any temptation to understate and undervalue the mutual dependency
of strategy and tactics.
[ii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, tr. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1832-4; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 81.
[iii] Colin S. Gray,The Strategy Bridge:Theory for Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
[iv] Justin Kelly and Mike Brennan, Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, September 2009),
takes no conceptual prisoners.The argument is probably overstated, but in the main it is plausible.
[v] Robert Lyman,The Generals: From Defeat to Victory, Leadership in Asia, 1941-45 (London: Constable, 2008), p.341.
[vi] Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers:The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War (London: John Murray, 2001), would be amusing were it not such
a sad tale that it tells in such detail that is appalling. For historical depth, see the case studies that extend from Ancient Greece to the Cold War of the twentieth
century, in Williamson Murray and Jim Lacey, eds.,The Making of Peace: Rulers, States, and the Aftermath of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
[vii] Clausewitz, On War, p.88.
[viii] Ibid., p.85.
[ix] Gray,The Strategy Bridge, Ch. 5.
[x] Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (New York:The Free Press, 2002).
[xi] Charles E. Callwell, Small Wars: A Tactical Textbook for Imperial Soldiers, 3rd edn. (1906; London: Greenhill Books, 1990), p.90.
[xii] Edward N. Luttwak, Strategy:The Logic of War and Peace, rev. edn. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p.xii.
[xiii] With apologies to the late Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (1960; New York:The Free Press, 1969), p. 287.
[xiv] Antulio J. Echevarria II, Preparing for One War and Getting Another (Carlisle,PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, September 2010), is
indispensable as a clarifier of confusion.
[xv] I wrestle with the issues of relevant education in my Schools for Strategy:Teaching Strategy for 21st Century Conflict (Carlisle,PA: Strategic Studies Institute,U.S.
Army War College, November 2009).
[xvi] Clausewitz, On War, p.104.
[xvii] Colin S. Gray,“The Strategist as Hero”, Joint Force Quarterly, No. 62 (3rd Quarter, July 2011), pp. 37-45.
[xviii] Clausewitz, On War, p.85.
[xix] My confidence in this line of thought has been strengthened helpfully by Patrick Porter, Military Orientalism: Eastern War Through Western Eyes (London: C.
Hurst, 2009), esp. pp. 65, 170.
[xx] Murray, Military Adaptation in War, advances our understanding usefully.
Strategy: Some Notes for a User’s Guide
Colin S. Gray
Future warfare is the kingdom
of guesswork.
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