Theory, Strategy, and Tactics

“It [theory] is meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield; just as a wise teacher guides and stimulates a young man’s intellectual development, but is careful not to lead him by the hand for the rest of his life.”


Military history is the most accessible source for learning about tactics, and in some ways it is the most popular. The reading lists of various military leaders are filled with military history tomes. However, military history has shortcomings. Clausewitz himself noted the challenges of trying to learn from the experiences of others and carrying that knowledge forward to battle. His main purpose for writing theory was to mitigate this shortcoming by providing a framework and to “educate the mind” of the practitioner to learn from engaged reading.

The pursuit of civility?

For Williams, the question of how you maintain some amount of order in a society where there are deep and enduring differences was an immediate and practical one. He did not imagine that profound mutual respect was going to emerge under such conditions. To the contrary: He knew that when faced with deep and enduring differences, people were going to want to yell at each other. Williams himself wanted to do that; he was an evangelist who never tired of telling others how damnable their beliefs were. His mere civility was a means by which people could be true to their own partiality within the context of a functioning society. Williams did not think that civility required deep respect for the inner lives of other individuals, just a minimal respect for social order. Bejan describes Williams’s thought this way: “While we are stuck in the same boat with people we hate, we had better learn to make the most of it. There is no reason, however, to think that this will make us respect or like each other more. It is usually the opposite.”

This is an interesting read…

Confidence… not perfect knowledge 

Uncertainty is part of conflict. The antidote to uncertainty is not perfect knowledge but confidence. In conflict, leaders need the confidence to act despite risk and imperfect knowledge and to move forward into the fog of war despite ambiguity. If we are to draw any lessons from 1962, it is that a challenge posing unacceptable harm to the United States requires a firm response that, while weighing the risks, is not paralyzed by them.

‘State-in-society’-in-social sciences

“Too often, especially in the new social science literature reviving the states as a major actor and unit of analysis, the state has appeared as a given–autonomous, impenetrable, the ultimate independent variable.”

(Migdal 1988, 180)

“Social control is the currency over which organizations in an environment of conflict battle one another.”

(Migdal 1988, 32)