I love military history. What started as a simple hobby has become the passion of my life. I started college hoping to be a pre-MED student, but the math was too hard. I kept rounding out my schedule with history classes and the rest as they say is “history” (pun, intended).
Military history (read: war) can be seen as a rather perverse and not very much encouraged pursuit of study. I just started a hectic self-study (read: self-inflicted) reading and studying program to make me a better writer, soldier and person.
I am convinced that the “cement” that holds history together is war. It is the “walls” and “foundation” of the house of time. Through wars we see social changes, large technological leaps and entire civilizations become different.
For instance, in the first decade of this century, American life is radically different due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not the first time.
The American Civil War began as a rural war, but by the end the Union progress and innovations turned the US into an industrial superpower. This would progress through the world wars.
The Causes of War
Over the years all the reasons to conduct a war have changed little throughout the American socialist, Pitirim Sorokin estimated that England has been at war, since the Norman Conquest, for more than fifty years of each century. Russia and Spain have only slightly better records.
Noted British military historian, Liddell Hart says that wars are linked to the economies of the nation’s fighting. He writes that war is only “personal” in the sense of the personalities of leaders in of that country. It has certainly done a lot things to our own economy. Money is power after all.
War is a reflection of the society that engaged in it. War can be seen as the ultimate “cultural exchange program. As we see in Leonidas laconic reply to Darius’ offer of surrender in the movie ‘300,’ “We’ve been sharing our culture with you all morning.” War is a study of culture in the extreme.
It is a curious exchange that affects both sides of a war. Prolonged warfare causes nations to begin to resemble the enemy. Don’t think so?
At Waterloo we see both the British and Prussians adopting French tactics at this point in the last great battle of the Napoleonic War. Irregular, guerilla fighters adopt military ranks as Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara did fighting in Cuba as Marxist revolutionaries. Regulars adopted the “hearts and minds” tactics of the successful insurgent as we did in the Surge in Iraq in 2008.
The American experience in World War II against the German Army allowed for a revival in American military doctrine in the early 80’s based on heavy weapons platforms and a war in the desert.
The American AirLand Battle Doctrine has many elements the German Blitzkrieg strategy used to conquer much of Europe in the 1940. This doctrine adoption allowed for the short, decisive campaigns of Desert Storm and the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Success in Battle
Battle is a confrontation of technologies, an amassing of men and machines. Great military leadership is neither a skill nor an art, but more like the game rock, paper and scissors. Success in battle is a combination of skill and luck.
The trick is bringing the forth the weapons and tactics that defeats the enemy at the right time. Most military professionals spend a lifetime studying for that test, and it never comes.
When history has recorded an army that has unprepared for war, it hardly ever mentions a force unready for battle. It always refers to men who are prepared to meet a different sort of opponent.
Hiltaire Belloc defined tactics as, “…the maneuver of men after contact with the enemy.” Tactical genius is a combination of personality, intelligence and the skill of the commander. Strategy, he said, is concerned with bringing armies into action in a fashion best calculated to give them an advantage.
Battle is both strategic and tactical combined with a little luck, both good and bad. Great commanders are able to create a tactical advantage with strategic intention. What defines truly great commanders in history is the ability to have the determination to fight, to employ tactics in battle to ensure victory. They do all they can to stack the odds in their favor before they even reach the battlefield.
The initiative and resolve of the commander play a decisive part in the ultimate success. The great commander wins by making the best use of his available resources, engaged the enemy with a positive willingness to fight and win. This is the essence of tactical genius.