Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 9, Issue 3, What Would the Greats Say About War in the 21st Century  /  


The modern approach to military history is to view the subject as a collection of narratives that help us comprehend the modern world. This means a collection of stories to entertain.

The objective of military history is to inform and educate leaders and decision-makers on how to best deal with today and prepare for the future. What is contained within this edition is aimed at precisely that.

Unless military history, or indeed history, has some type of conceptual framework on which to base analysis and understanding, then it is merely stories, and stories do not tell the truth. They dismiss critical facts and alter context in the same way that song lyrics have abstract meaning. No one ever “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”. It’s more complicated than that.

What follows could be considered a set of warnings about professional military education (PME). Very few cultures have a sound grasp of military history as a tool for improvement. The Germans and, more specifically, the Prussians did at some point. So did the British and the Americans. Most European democracies follow suit, but many others do not. Many others have a history skewed by myths and narratives that justify all their ills. North Korea is a good example, but it is only the most extreme of many similar ones.

If you do not have strategy and the ideas and writings of those who influenced the men who made it happen, then you merely have the chronology and commentary for what passes as history.

To paraphrase Colin S. Gray’s comment on Air Power – War and Warfare are fundamentally about ideas, not technology. The study of ideas, therefore, is critical to understanding where the technology comes from and, more to the point, how you conduct engagements for the purpose of the war. When the word strategy had a specific and useful meaning, that was critical.

The key bit of insight I would ask readers to engage with, in this special themed issue of Military Strategy Magazine, is that all “The Greats” we cover here faced considerable challenges in their own time. Many of them had seen close-range combat. With the possible exception of some Soviet Theorists, none of them were deluded into advocating for “new ways of war” or claiming the history to date had been wrong about some fundamental aspect of the conduct of war and ‘why can’t we all just get along.’ They all understood the fundamental relationship between Policy and Strategy, and that if the tactics and logistics could not make it a reality, then all else was for nought. Not one of them was hamstrung by over-intellectualising the future as “fast-changing” and “increasingly complex”, which are just indicators that authors of such terms are probably over-promoted.


William F. Owen
Editor, Military Strategy Magazine
Volume 9, Issue 3, “What Would the Greats Say About War in the 21st Century”
May 2024