The History of Strategy
History is the record of man's steps and slips. It shows us that the steps have been slow and slight; the slips, quick and abounding. It provides us with the opportunity to profit by the stumbles and tumbles of our forerunners. - Bevin Alexander
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military officer once held captive by Napoleon, studied the Napoleonic campaigns and wrote Vom Kriege, known to us as On War. Clausewitz is also attributed with the notion of the “fog of war,” although he never actually used that term.
D-Day and the Normandy Invasion. The military historian Liddell Hart says that the purpose of strategy is “to diminish the possibility of resistance.” “Even if a decisive battle be the goal,” he says, “the aim of strategy must be to bring about this battle under the most advantageous circumstances. And the more advantageous the circumstances, the less, proportionately, will be the fighting.” To ensure a position of advantage on D-Day, Allied strategy called for keeping the German army too dispersed to mount an effective counterattack.
Liddell Hart. Over the course of his career, Basil Liddell Hart distinguished himself as a military historian and strategic thinker to such an extent that his writing directly influenced the course of the most global war in human history. To master the art of strategy, it is essential to consider Hart’s notion of the indirect approach.
Lincoln on Strategy. Abraham Lincoln’s deep empathy for the people of America motivated him to agonize over finding just the right words to truly articulate his vision of the future.Gary Wills points out in Lincoln at Gettysburg:The Words that Remade America that in Lincoln’s three minute address during the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, he reestablished the meaning to which Americans attribute the Constitution.
Sun Tzu. Twenty four centuries ago, Sun Tzu explained in The Art of War that the strategist seeks the state of shih - having positioned his forces at a place of advantage over rivals. In that same era, the Greek historian Thucydides wrote that the events of the past "will at some time or other, and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future."
Napoleon on Strategy. Biographers of Napoleon Bonaparte talk about his ability to size up a situation with a single coup d'oeil,(pronounced koo-DOY), meaning “a stroke of the eye” or “glance.” Napoleon was so knowledgeable about his strategic situation—the landscape, the enemy, available technology, similar situations from the past—that he could understand and respond quickly to ever- changing circumstances.