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A Question of Relevance

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In this essay, a fictitious Air Force Colonel assigned to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon is tasked with an assignment from his boss, who reports directly to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Chairman has asked for some innovative thinking about the current and future state of warfare, He challenges his staff to develop creative proposals for a strategy designed to best exploit projected U.S. military capabilities in the year 2000 and beyond. The Colonel does some brainstorming and comes up with two basic ideas precision delivery of weapons and unprecedented information capability. To develop a strategy to exploit the dawning of the new information age, the Colonel believes he may find some parallels with the armies of the early 20th century, who were slow to adjust to the technological developments brought on by the industrial revolution. He decides to focus on the industrial age and its effects on armies, and how the theories of Carl von Clausewitz helped to shape military strategy at the time. Specifically, he examines the influence of Helmuth von Moltke and Alfred von Schlieffen on the Prussian Army. Both Moltke and Schlieffen were disciples of Clausewitz, yet their military strategies failed. The Colonel then reviews criticisms of Clausewitzs theories by the strategist Sir Basil Liddell Hart. Hart believed that the Prussian leaders failed in their military strategies because they adopted pithy phrases of Clausewitz without grasping the more practical and substantive meanings of his writings. Did the Prussians blindly adhere to selected portions of Clausewitz, as Hart suggests, or was part of Clausewitzs teaching overcome by technology and no one realized it The Colonel concludes that our best judgment is all we can count on. Study of the master strategists does not guarantee success in the next war, but prudent adoption of their principles, in the context of todays environment, can serve us well.

Subject Categories:

  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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