Monday 2018-12-17

Masters Of War by Michael Handel

Handel compares and contrasts Sun Zi, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Jomini, and Mao for land-based war, and Corbett and Mahan for naval. While aerospace is not covered, communications and command are less covered than expected.

Handel takes the charitable interpretations of military classics to put each author's ideas in the simplest light for comparison -- i.e. there is little consideration of audience, which might change how one views a text. That said, Handel assumes each author to be intelligent and works to understand their ideas, as opposed to others who have read, not understood, and declaimed the perceived errors. In this, Handel seems quite correct; it is far better to wrestle with the strongest adversaries.

We are not interested in generals who win victories without bloodshed. The fact that slaughter is a horrifying spectacle must make us take war more seriously, but not provide an excuse for gradually blunting our swords in the name of humanity. Sooner or later someone will come along with a sharp sword and hack off our arms. (Clausewitz, On War, p. 260)

To their detriment, U.S. policymakers and strategists during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf seem to have forgotten this principle. In the spring of 1951, the U.S. offensive in Korea, first under General Ridgeway and later under General Van Fleet, which led to the defeat of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army, came to a halt on the ground by June 1951 as soon as the Chinese and North Koreans indicated their readiness to negotiate. And since the Chinese and North Koreans were using this break in the fighting to recuperate and build up their defenses in depth, American negotiators soon found that the enemy was in no hurry to conclude an armistice. ...

Had the U.S. applied steady pressure on the defeated Chinese army while negotiating, the war might have terminated with a quick armistice. But by interrupting its advance before any agreement had been reached, the United States eliminated the Chinese and North Korean incentive to negotiate.

Machiavelli tells us, Rome was a republic that produced citizens of various character and dispositions such as Fabius, who was excellent at the time when it was desirable to protract the war, and Scipio, when it became necessary to terminate it. ...

republics or democratic regimes, which by their nature are able to change political and military leaders as the circumstances require, can better adapt to the continuously changing nature of war. By contrast, authoritarian regimes, which encourage conformity and discourage innovation, are more likely to retain the same leaders, who by their nature and political culture are disinclined to meet change with flexibility.

The means they (medieval Europe) had available were fairly well defined, and each could gauge the other sides potential in terms both of numbers and of time. War was thus deprived of its most dangerous feature, its tendency toward the extreme No great expansion [of the armed forces] was feasible at the outbreak of the war. Knowing the limits of the enemys strength, men knew they were reasonably safe from total ruin; and being aware of their own limitations, they were compelled to restrict their own aims in turn The conduct of war thus became a true game, in which the cards were dealt by time and accident. ...

Even the most ambitious ruler had no greater aims than to gain a number of advantages that could be exploited at the peace conference Not only in its means, therefore, but also in its aims, war increasingly became limited to the fighting force itself (Clausewitz, On War, pp. 589591)

When these indolent princes or effeminate republics send a general with an army into the field, the wisest order they think they can give him is never to risk a battle and above all things to avoid a general action. Such orders as much as say to him, Give battle at your enemy's convenience but not at your own. (Machiavelli, Discourses, Modern Library Edition, pp. 444-445) In todays world as in Machiavellis, the desire to minimize risks and avoid casualties through war by remote control can produce similar restraints on the freedom of field commanders with equally disastrous results.
Bonaparte could ruthlessly cut through all his enemies strategic plans in search of battle, because he seldom doubted the battles outcome. [Which is, of course, a good explanation for Napoleons neglect of the higher strategic level of warfare.] So whenever the strategists did not endeavor with all their might to crush him in battle with superior force, whenever they engaged in subtler (and weaker) machinations, their schemes were swept away like cobwebs Bonaparte was well aware that everything turned on tactical results That is why we think it is useful to emphasize that all strategic planning rests on tactical success alone
A general whose genius and hands are tied by an Aulic Council five hundred miles distant cannot be a match for one who has liberty of action, other things being equal. (Jomini)
to attempt to restrain such a mob by a foreign force is to attempt to restrain the explosion of a mine when the powder has already been ignited: it is far better to await the explosion and afterward fill up the crater rather than try to prevent it and to perish in the attempt (Jomini, The Art of War, p. 26).
Clausewitz and Jomini define the nature of guerrilla warfare in a strikingly similar way. Each recognizes that it is extremely difficult for a regular military force to win against a mobilized nation; each also identifies the same types of conditions that would support such a war and indicates the desirability of command and control by a core regular force.
A short jump is certainly easier than a long one; but no one wanting to get across a wide ditch would begin by jumping half-way.
The situation is completely different when a defeated army is being pursued. Resistance becomes difficult, indeed sometimes impossible, as a consequence of battle casualties, loss of order and of courage, and anxiety about the retreat. The pursuer who, in the former case had to move with circumspection, almost groping like a blind man, can now advance with the arrogance of the fortunate and the confidence of the demigod.
The Gulf War provides yet another example of military operations that were prematurely terminated. While the United States and its allies need not have marched all the way to Baghdad, the threat to do so, combined with steady pressure on the ground and in the air might have brought the war to a more satisfactory conclusion. The United States and its allies should have insisted that Saddam Hussein either resign and leave the country or stand trial as a war criminal (as in the trial, eventual abdication, and escape to exile of the Kaiser in 1918).
The people of that town sent many citizens to ask pardon from the Senate [When] one of the Senators asked one of them what punishment he thought the Privernati deserved the man answered: That which they deserve who think themselves worthy of liberty. To this the Consul replied: And if we should remit the penalty to you, what sort of peace could we hope to have with you? To which he replied: If you grant a good one, loyal and lasting; if a bad one, not very long. Therefore the wiser part of the Senate said they had heard the voice of one who was free and a man, and they did not believe it possible for any people, or even an individual, to remain longer in a painful condition than they must. Peace would be sure where willing men had made it, and where they tried to get servitude, they could not hope to have loyalty. (Machiavelli, The Discourses, pp. 390391)
Athenians brutally crushed the rebels in order to deter other members of the Delian League from making a similar mistake. While the Romans gained a loyal ally, the Athenians only fuelled Mytilenes resentment, which ultimately led to another, successful, revolt by a coalition of Athens enemies. Clausewitz makes yet another important point that explains why the result in modern war is never final. Before the French Revolution, most wars of the ancien regime were conducted between professional armies of limited size for limited interests. Under such conditions, once an army had been defeated on the battlefield, given the moderate demands of the victor, it was relatively easy to agree on peace terms.
The people became a participant in war; instead of governments and armies as heretofore, the full weight of the nation was thrown into the balance. The resources and efforts now available for use surpassed all conventional limits; nothing now impeded the vigor with which war could be waged War, untrammeled by any conventional restraints, had broken loose in all its elemental fury. This was due to the peoples new share in these great affairs of state. (On War, pp. 592-593)
For example, all belligerents during the outbreak of the First World War expected that the war would be relatively short and entail reasonable costs relative to the anticipated benefits. But as the war progressed, the objective changed from the desire to alter the European balance of power, from border and territorial modification to a question of survival. After six months and hundreds of thousands of casualties, how could the German military and the Kaiser turn to the population and say, Sorry, the war did not turn out as we expected: the costs are too high and we must now quit the war as quickly as possible.5 When the very survival of the political leaders is at stake, it is that much more difficult, especially in a democracy, to admit to such colossal miscalculations.
Even if one of the belligerents has, through rational calculations, decided that it is time to make peace, he may be prevented from doing so unless his opponent agrees or offers him reasonable terms. Unfortunately, that which one side deems rational is often not considered so by the other. Thus, Clausewitz raises the question of interaction between the two sides in reaching a decision on the optimal point for termination of a war.
Sun Tzu seems to ignore the fact emphasized by Clausewitz that even if perfect and timely intelligence were to exist in war, the pervasive effect of friction makes the accuracy of all calculations and forecasts doubtful at best. The obvious question is: how can anyone know, in a world of secrecy, deception, and subjective perceptions, that his estimates of the enemys strength are correct? Clausewitz comments: The difficulty of accurate recognition constitutes one of the most serious sources of friction in war, by making things appear entirely different from what one had expected. (Clausewitz, On War, p. 117)
The availability of almost perfect intelligence on the operational and tactical levels is still no guarantee of success (as illustrated, for example, by the British experience in the Battle of Jutland or in the Battle of Crete).28 Thus, it is not surprising that Clausewitz introduces the concept of friction immediately after his discussion of intelligence. Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war
Friction is the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper This tremendous friction which cannot, as in mechanics, be reduced to a few points, is everywhere in contact with chance, and brings about effects that cannot be measured just because they are largely due to chance Action in war is like moving in a resistant element. Just as the simplest and most natural of movements, walking, cannot easily be performed in water, so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results. (Clausewitz, On War, pp. 119121)
Most of these requirements for military leadership, such as clear perception, the ability to understand human factors, and proficiency in exploiting fleeting opportunities, depend largely on the experience and intuition of the master of war. Sun Tzus insistence on the necessity of making fast decisions in order to capitalize on unique opportunities implies that the commander must rely on his gut feelings; after all, he has no time to contemplate an infinite number of ever-changing variables. According to On War, the commander or military genius cannot cope with the chaos on the battlefield unless he depends on his coup doeil, which Clausewitz variously refers to as: that superb display of divination (Clausewitz, On War, p. 112), the inner light (Clausewitz, On War, p. 102), the inward eye (On War, p. 102), discreet judgment (On War, p. 573), unerring prescience (On War, p. 573), and the sensitive instinct (On War, p. 213). It is a higher form of analysis (On War, p. 192), which Clausewitz defines as: the quick recognition of a truth that the mind would ordinarily miss or would perceive only after long study and reflection. (Clausewitz, On War, p. 102)
It is almost always easy to determine the decisive point of a field of battle, but not so with the decisive moment; and it is precisely here that genius and experience are everything, and mere theory of little value. (Jomini, The Art of War, p. 334)
In war, the power to recognize your chance and take it is of more use than anything else. Machiavelli, The Art of War, p. 718
The principal lesson Corbett draws from Britains strategy in the Mediterranean during the War of Spanish Succession is that it reveals how an intelligent, if limited, appreciation of sea power to a tender diplomatic situation could produce results out of all proportion to its real physical potential.
Limited war is only permanently possible to island powers or between powers which are separated by sea, and then only when the power desiring limited war is able to command the sea to such a degree as to be able not only to isolate the distant object, but also to render impossible the invasion of his home territory. (Corbett, Some Principles, p. 57)
Even if a naval power is weaker in absolute terms, it can not only hold its own but can also use its power overseas to compete with more powerful land powers. This, in Corbetts estimation, was the secret of British power that explained how a small country with a weak army should have been able to gather to herself the most desirable regions of the earth, and to gather them at the expense of the greatest military powers It remained for Clausewitz, unknown to himself, to discover that explanation, and he reveals it to us in the inherent strength of limited war (Some Principles, pp. 5859).
Furthermore, public opinion can be fickle, swayed by the last success or failure on the battlefield, and lack the perseverance necessary to fight a prolonged war. As Churchill said, Nothing is more dangerous in wartime than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll, always feeling ones pulse and taking ones temperature.
Jomini defined logistics (a term he invented) as the art of moving armieswhich brings the troops to the point of engagementthe means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics (see Jomini, The Art of War, p. 69; see also pp. 4351, and 252268). For a historical perspective on logistics in war, see Martin van Creveld, Supplying War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
Indeed, sensible men are prudent enough to treat their gains as precarious and think that war, so far from staying within the limits to which a combatant may wish to confine it, will run the course that its chances prescribe; and thus, not being puffed up by confidence in military success, they are less likely to come to grief, and most ready to make peace. This, Athenians, you have a good opportunity to do now with us [the Spartans] and thus to escape the possible disasters which may follow upon your refusal, and the consequent imputation of having owed to accident even your present advantage (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 4, Section 18, p. 233) ...

For Themistocles was a man who exhibited the most indubitable signs of genius; indeed, in this particular he has a claim on our admiration quite extraordinary and unparalleled. By his own native capacity, alike unformed and unsupplemented by study, he was at once the best in those sudden crises which admit little or no deliberation This extraordinary man must be allowed to have surpassed all others in the faculty of intuitively meeting an emergency. (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 1, Section 138, p. 79)

Further notes:
strategy in the early 1980s and (albeit indirectly) on the formulation of the Weinberger Doctrine. See Harry G. Summers Jr., On Strategy. A Critical Analysis of the War in Vietnam (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982).
Azar Gat, The Origins of Military Thought from the Enlightenment to Clausewitz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 217226.
Daniel, Donald C. and Herbig, Katherine, eds. Strategic Military Deception. New York: Pergamon Press, 1982.
Handel, Michael I., ed. Military Deception in Peace and War. Jerusalem: Papers on Peace Problems, The Leonard Davis Institute, The Hebrew University, 1985.
von Senger, Hans, ed. and trans. M.B.Gutitz. The Book of Stratagems: Tactics for Triumph and Survival. New York: Viking, 1991.
Whaley, Barton. Stratagem: Deception and Surprise in War. Cambridge, MA: Center for International Studies, MIT, 1969.
For a historical perspective on logistics in war, see Martin van Creveld, Supplying War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).