Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 45 the form to leave the form’.[xx] Principles of war are no different: we learn about them to leap away from them. Principles of war can hardly be useful to the strategist if he cannot have a practical grasp of them first. The problem is that at times of peace, there is no way to really experience the true utility of these principles and get a natural understanding of them. This is why it matters all the more to actively place principles in confrontation with each other, instead of simply learning how they apply in theory one after the other. The fact of thinking about these principles, why one sounds more appealing than another, confronting them while analysing a historical or fictional situation, or even better, using them directly while playing wargames, allows for a more intimate understanding of them and of their potential uses. This is a very personal process, and it requires an active engagement before these principles can be internalized and be used in a practical situation. Thus, I assert that doctrines are not of any use if they remain abstract references and distant guides for action. They are only useful when put in comparison with each other, especially with a potential adversary. To quote German historian Hans Delbrück, “since everything is uncertain and relative in times of war, strategic actions cannot come from doctrines, they come from the depth of one’s character”.[xxi] Ultimately, principles of war are what we make out of them. Some principles will have greater resonance in some minds than others. Blind adherence to any set of principles will lead to the worst results. What matters is not their content, but the thoughts and reactions these principles provoke. As such, they can be an excellent starting point for deeper intellectual investigation of some features of war, and eventually improve one’s natural understanding of the conduct of war. Once internalized, they can prove to provide a useful unconscious mental framework in order to find creative solutions to a specific problem. Their whole point, in the end, is to provide the strategist with a betternuanced intuition when the time comes to make difficult decisions. Conclusion This essay started with a quote from Maurice de Saxe, implying that no principle of war can truly be defined. This is true from a logical point of view, since strategy, being always concerned with contexts, cannot stand any universal law. However, it does not mean principles of war are useless. They are always shaped according to one’s perception of the nature of war, strategic culture and understanding of a certain context. When confronted with one another, these principles are great ways to generate critical and creative thinking about deep features of war, and allow strategists a better grasp of what strategy is all about: the combination of means and ideas to reach a certain goal. Discussing, comparing, and contrasting these principles allows for their progressive internalization into intuition as a useful framework for actual decision-making. This process of internalization is essential in order to be able to readily draw inspiration from these principles, but also to leap away from them when they seem irrelevant to the current situation. In that sense, world chess champion Garry Kasparov was accurate in saying that ‘rules are not as important as their exceptions’ – but it takes a deep understanding and internalization of the rules in order to spot these exceptions. This relative utility of principles of war, and the fact that conducting warfare is all about continuously breaking these rules when necessary, is perhaps the reason why Napoléon never made a formal list of the principles behind his understanding of the art of war. He encompassed, however, the importance of imagination. And it is also by imagining newprinciples for new contexts that, eventually, we develop a better awareness of the strategic issues of tomorrow and how we can work our way through them. References [i] Saxe de, Maurice. Reveries, or Memoirs Concerning the Art of War: To Which Is Annexed His Treatise Concerning Legions. Forgotten Books, 2018 [ii] Desportes, Vincent. “Quels Principes Pour La Guerre ?” DSI (Défense et Sécurité Internationale), no. 131 (2017): 80–83. [iii] Chastenet de, J-F, marquis de Puységur. Art de la guerre, par principes et par règles. Paris, 1748. What is the Utility of the Principles of War? Baptiste Alloui-Cros