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‘A Hungering for Great Things’
A History of Strategy: from Sun Tzu to William S. Lind by Martin Van Creveld

2015 Castalia House, previously published by Cassel, 135 pages

Endlessly bored with Sun Tzu and having failed to extract much more out of two readings of Clausewitz in my 20s than an appreciation for the fog and friction of war, I am much indebted to the author for putting these two pillars of military thought in perspective. As well, Creveld’s discussion of primary ancient sources which I had read in my 30s was a lesson to me that much of my reading before age 40 was low in yield.

Creveld’s greatest insight rests on his comparison of the Chinese view of war as a disorder, an unharmonious sickness of the geopolitical heart, contrasted against the European notion of was as geopolitical means. His methodical unveiling of 18th century military theory, and how far that theory in the face of more lethal means veered towards the Chinese view of war as disharmony, is as instructive as the return of western military theory of the 19th Century with its vastly increased means, to the seeking of annihilation, a seeking which seems to have resulted in the Occidental suicide of 1914-45.

Of further interest is Creveld’s brief survey of the Byzantine method of military stereotyping of their many foes which again reminds the reader that the concept of the Whiteman is a modern construct without ancient origin. Below are quotes from the Byzantine [medieval Greco-Roman Christendom] Strategikon:

“the Persian nation is wicked, dissembling and servile, but at the same time patriotic and obedient.”

These foes are to be met in the open, head-on.

“the light-haired races place great value on freedom. They are bold and undaunted in battle; daring and impetuous as they are, they consider timidity and even a short retreat a disgrace.”

The general is advised to avoid battle with these “races” [again, showing the ancient appreciation of race as tribal and cultural rather than homogenously superficial] and deprive them of shelter, rest food and especially wine.

The above hilariously sounds like self-defense advice I have dispensed for avoiding street-fights with different types of ethnic Americans. It is pointed out that the “light-haired races” must be “warred with” with great care, by using tricks and ambushes and such.

Interestingly, in a later section on French military thinking in the 1800s, Creveld treats us to another description of indigenous European fighting men by Ammianus Marcelinus, probably the most entertaining of the ancient sources:

“…tall of stature, fair and ruddy [not white but pale and red-flushed], terrible for the fierceness of their eyes, fond of quarreling, and overbearing insolence.”

In his discussion of Montecuccoli, Crevet points out that by the 1700s war was something waged by states rather than peoples of this or that religion or ethnicity and his examination of other 18th and 19th Century military theoreticians reinforces the standard understanding of the modern European nation state emerging in accord with the statesman’s desire for a standing army. After his discussion of Clausewitz he does emphasis that the traditional Chinese emphasis on minimal force and the European emphasis on maximum force, does often result in the same bloody mess and that attrition-based warfare is an enemy of each of these opposing philosophies, which is what you get with 4th Generation warfare.

Lind breaks modern war into 4 generations:

-1. 1525-1815 rise of infantry over cavalry

-2. 1816-1918 dispersal of infantry due to increased lethality or weapons

-3. 1917-1950 combined infantry & technology for mass shock resolution

-4. 1950- low intensity asymmetrical warfare

Hybrid, 2nd and 3rd generation, warfare is being used to counter 4-G war currently, which is basically an attempt to combine the oriental ethos of trickery with the occidental ethos of annihilation. This confirms the end for Trinitarian warfare so brutally spelled out in 3-G war, in which the Government, the Military and the People were regarded as separate systems through most of the modern era. Nations and lager interest groups are now behaving as ancient tribes once did, using trickery in seeking annihilation.

Creveld ends his survey on a cautionary note concerning the “hungering for great things” which is one of the pitfalls of both the Western and Eastern ways of war, even as the modern police state wades in the mire of the other pitfall that awaits both philosophies, holding the attritive 4-G war dragon by the tail.

Shelters for the Self

The Captured Diary of Petty Officer Second Class Koyama

Add Comment
KmanFebruary 10, 2019 11:44 PM UTC

Regarding Clausewitz, I thought that his notion of identifying the enemy's "Centers of Gravity" to be most useful. For example, in todays culture war I see the centers of gravity as the media, the courts and the schools,
Bryce SharperJanuary 29, 2019 10:58 PM UTC

I have an extensive 4GW reading list I'll post on my blog, as well as some thoughts as to how it will appear in the US based on my own observations and yours from Crackpot #13.

In "Victoria," Lind gave a concise definition of strategy: disconnecting your enemy from his centers of power while adding your own centers of power. He said that this was the only definition of strategy he'd ever heard that made sense.