Monday, March 30, 2015

"A necessary supplement to Clausewitz"

A HISTORY OF STRATEGY: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind

Martin van Creveld ranks high among military historians, and given the changes in technology since Napoleonic times, his work is a necessary supplement to Clausewitz. His reflections have influenced strategists and grand tacticians since his first books appeared, and as an Israeli historian, he has been in a unique position to observe the changing nature of modern warfare on both the grand strategic and tactical levels, particularly with regards to asymmetric warfare. Scholars and military planners ignore his thoughts at their peril.

I don’t entirely agree with him on the effectiveness of guerilla operations absent a sanctuary, or with his conclusions concerning Viet Nam, which I consider to be a victory won, then given up. And while the Iraq War was certainly unwise, I don't believe that it was necessarily unwinnable, as the U.S. military was given an impossible mission, then undermined by political errors made above their pay grade. That being said, if winning is defined as a nation being better off after the war than it was before, it is hard to see how winning in Iraq was ever possible. So perhaps we agree after all.

But whatever your position on modern conflicts might be, Martin van Creveld’s writings are worth reading and they are vital to reaching informed conclusions about the art of war.

Jerry Pournelle
Studio City, California

Castalia House has published a lot of books over the last twelve months. I'm proud of those books and I believe all of them are worth reading by at least one specific group of readers or another. But most books, even the excellent ones, are not what I consider to be absolute must-reads by everyone of sufficient intellect to comprehend them. Such books are very few and far between; the last one we published that I personally felt this strongly about was AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND by John C. Wright.

I feel much the same way about A HISTORY OF STRATEGY: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind by Martin van Creveld, although for very different reasons. Most of you are aware that I am very well-read in strategic matters. I read Caesar and Mahan and Oman for entertainment, I rely heavily upon Frontinus, and to a lesser extent, Onasander and Vegetius, in my fiction, and I am no stranger to the great works of military strategy and tactics from the ancients to the moderns.

And yet, in A HISTORY OF STRATEGY, van Creveld not infrequently cited military thinkers of whom I'd never even heard before, let alone read. This is not a history of war, but a history of thinking about war, and it is arguably one of the most masterful summaries of a single millennia-spanning train of thought ever written. It's not long, it's not deep, and it's not hard to follow, but it is an education in 116 pages. Read this and you will be better-informed on the subject of war than 99.99 percent of the human race.

Better still, you will be in a position to dive deeper into any one of a hundred areas and to understand where you are diving as well as the historical significance of that area. Van Creveld begins at the beginning, with the ancient Chinese, and proceeds methodically through time, crediting each cognitive breakthrough to its author before explaining its significance as well as its consequences.

I highly recommend this book, especially to parents who are homeschooling teenage boys. Featuring the foreword by Dr. Jerry Pournelle quoted above, it is available for $4.99 at Castalia House in both EPUB and Kindle formats and at Amazon.

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Blogger Mr.MantraMan March 30, 2015 8:42 AM  

Read "Transformation" years ago at the reco of Thomas Chittum author of "Civil War Two", thought provoking book, but unsuitable for the reactionaries of the right who stuck themselves in the tar pit decades ago. Conservatives just love their tactical battles, their operational money sinks and their grand strategy of being the noble loser that god takes a shine to.

Anonymous Titus Didius Tacitus March 30, 2015 9:04 AM  

Better and better.

Anonymous Mike M. March 30, 2015 9:20 AM  

Just bought a copy, we'll see how it reads.

BTW, Vox, if you want naval strategy, I highly recommend Corbett's "Some Principles of Maritime Strategy". Mahan was too fixated on fleet actions between states with equal need for control of the sea - not surprising, given that he started his studies with the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Corbett provides a more comprehensive analysis.

Blogger Vox March 30, 2015 9:39 AM  

Yes, I know. Because Martin addresses the difference between Mahan and Corbett in the chapter entitled "War at Sea". And if that title strikes a certain crowd as familiar, well, I AM the editor, after all.

Anonymous Quartermaster March 30, 2015 10:01 AM  

Getting men of the weight of Pournelle and Creveld will do much to cement the reputation of your publishing house as a heavy weight.

Anonymous frenchy March 30, 2015 10:03 AM  


When do you expect the hard copies to come out for many of these books you've been publishing? I'm talking about Victoria, On War, This book and that other book by Van Creveld with the John Williams Waterhouse cover?


Anonymous Aeoli March 30, 2015 10:35 AM  

That was the most convicing pitch I've ever read, and I'd have taken your word for it anyway.

Blogger bob k. mando March 30, 2015 10:46 AM  

someone seems to be searching for Narcissistic Supply.

Anonymous Viking March 30, 2015 10:52 AM  

This does sound like a great place to start. I also picked up "On War" a while back. Do you think you could put together a good Military Strategy reading list for us? Just some highlights? You can find lists all over but I am not sure I can trust what is currently accepted.

Anonymous Mike M. March 30, 2015 11:53 AM  

Viking, I can tell you what I'd advise. Take it for what it's worth:

Clausewitz's "On War" is the masterwork on politics and war. Get the Michael Howard and Peter Paret translation, earlier translations are unreliable. Read Books 1, 2, and 8, and the commentaries on them. The rest of the book is a Napoleonic staff officer's manual you may safely ignore if you want an overview.

James Dunnigan's tome, "How to Stop a War" is long out of print, but rewards reading. It's an analysis of why wars happen...and how to stop them. It was written in the late 1980s, and has proven frighteningly prescient in predicting the conflicts of the last thirty years.

On naval affairs, I recommend Sir Julian Corbett's "Some Principles of Maritime Strategy". This is the best overview of seapower I can think of, and is more comprehensive than Mahan.

The second book on naval affairs I'd recommend is Alfred Mahan's "The Influence of Sea Power on History". This is THE classic work on the subject, and sparked a 30-year period of incredible analysis of the subject.

I also highly recommend Wayne Hughes' "Fleet Tactics". This is probably the best high-level work on naval tactics, as opposed to strategy. In particular, Hughes does an outstanding job with the historical background, showing how naval and land tactics are fundamentally different.

Another educational read is David Chandler's "The Campaigns of Napoleon". Get this from the library, it's massive. Read the section on Napoleon's art of may omit the rest of the book unless you are really into the period.

Finally, read Possony and Pournelle's book "The Strategy of Technology". This was the basic manual for winning the Cold War.

Anonymous mistaben March 30, 2015 11:54 AM  


I saved this list a while back. I believe it is William Lind's 4GW canon:

C.E. White, The Enlightened Soldier
Robert Doughty, The Seeds of Disaster
Bruce Gudmundsson, Stormtroop Tactics
Martin Samuels, Command or Control?
Robert Doughty, The Breaking Point
Martin van Creveld, Fighting Power
Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War

Naval bonus work: Andrew Gordon, The Rules of the Game

See also van Creveld, Technology and War

Blogger Vox March 30, 2015 11:55 AM  

someone seems to be searching for Narcissistic Supply.

Ignore it. I'm just spamming him now.

Blogger Vox March 30, 2015 11:56 AM  

When do you expect the hard copies to come out for many of these books you've been publishing? I'm talking about Victoria, On War, This book and that other book by Van Creveld with the John Williams Waterhouse cover?

Victoria next month in trade paperback. Then the two van Creveld books in hardcover the month after that. On War, I don't know.

Anonymous Sensei March 30, 2015 12:22 PM  

Really enjoyed this one. Review should already be up on Amazon.

Blogger bob k. mando March 30, 2015 12:25 PM  

Vox March 30, 2015 11:55 AM
Ignore it. I'm just spamming him now.

there's a reason why my statement was *about* him but not directed *too* him.

Blogger ScuzzaMan March 30, 2015 5:43 PM  

What is this idiocy about Vietnam and Iraq?

The entire escapade was, in both cases, a boondoggle from start to finish.

There was no Gulf of Tonkin incident, the whole thing was a lie fabricated by the US.

There was no Weapons of Mass Destruction cassus belli in Iraq, the whole thing was a lie fabricated by the US.

On the basis of these lies millions of people are dead, millions are refugees, millions are maimed, entire nations were made charnel houses.

What the fuck is this "winning" shit? How does an otherwise intelligent, educated, and erudite individual manage to so blind himself as to speak in the abstract about such crimes?

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Enough with the absurdities already.

Anonymous Quartermaster March 30, 2015 7:28 PM  

"There was no Gulf of Tonkin incident, the whole thing was a lie fabricated by the US."

This is true.

"There was no Weapons of Mass Destruction cassus belli in Iraq, the whole thing was a lie fabricated by the US."

This is patently false. Chemical weapons stores were found as was the remnants of Saddam's nuke program. 22 long tons of yellow cake were shipped to Canada for disposal. We also had film of the shipments of the nuke program to Stria. The Isralis destroyed it in NE Syria after it had been reassembled in 2007.

OTOH, you're welcome to believe what you wish to believe. Up to, and including, the nonsense you posted.

Blogger Hd Hammer March 30, 2015 7:35 PM  

I do hope Lind will also be published in hardcover. Got all Creveld's and Lind's epubs fro Castalia House, the hardcovers are definite buys for me.

Blogger JaimeInTexas March 30, 2015 11:05 PM  

1/4 master. My understanding is that those stores were the remnants of chem. weapons disposals, per agreement.

On Iraq's yellow cake you mentioned, first time I hear of this.

Anonymous Fp March 30, 2015 11:38 PM  

" 22 long tons of yellow cake were shipped to Canada for disposal."

Then Iraq was complying. What's the problem then?

Blogger JaimeInTexas March 30, 2015 11:47 PM  

Who shipped the uranium and when?

Blogger ScuzzaMan March 31, 2015 3:34 AM  

Scott Ritter and other UN inspectors were adamant that Iraq possessed no significant capability for manufacture or delivery of WMDs.

I'm sure you, another anonymous nobody on the internet, know more about it than they did ...

Blogger JaimeInTexas March 31, 2015 7:39 AM  

Scuzza, who are you addressing?

Anonymous Luke March 31, 2015 11:12 AM  

So, nobody respects Victor Davis Hanson's "Carnage and Culture"? I found his chapters on Midway, Cortez, Alexander, and Rourke's Drift to be informative, well-written, and periodically persuasive. A retired USMC Colonel with combat experience that read the books thought well of it as well.

Blogger ScuzzaMan March 31, 2015 3:36 PM  

JIT: same person you were, I think. The Quartermaster

Anonymous Titus Didius Tacitus March 31, 2015 11:17 PM  

Luke: "So, nobody respects Victor Davis Hanson's "Carnage and Culture"?"

I like it and respect it, but I don't always agree with it. This superior Western way of war? Subutai Khan never encountered it. The wars of Alexander -- merely the execution of the cold instructions of a tyrant, without the fighting heart that only democratic soldiers can have? I don't think so.

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