No one ever seems to discuss the principles of war without quoting General Forrest. The author will be no exception. The General managed to sum up in one brief, homely sentence eight of the nine principles of war when he reputedly said: “I allus gits thar fustest with the most- est.” This clearly expresses every thought covered by the principles except cooperation, and it most certainly does no violence to the spirit of that word. To “git thar fustest” is to achieve surprise by movement. To do this we must have security. “Thar,” of course, is the objective. The whole phrase burns with the spirit of the offensive. To have the “mostest” is to achieve mass and this means economy of force at all other places. Finally, his terseness and clarity of expression is the very essence of simplicity.
There have been many words written and spoken about the principles of war. Much of this has been wisdom; some of it nonsense. The attitude varies from the worshipful approach of the cultist who regards the principles of war as “basic and immutable” to the complete rejection of one who said: “The science of war is so obscure and imperfect that its sole foundations and support are prejudice confirmed by ignorance,” and the other who snorted: “Principles are just a lot of substantives!”
The principles of war have been helped none at all by the strange conduct of some of their exponents. We have the case of General Townshend who wrote learnedly on the subject but demonstrated his complete incomprehension of the true meaning of the principles. His disastrous campaign in Mesopotamia ending in the humiliating surrender at Kut-el-Amara contains more valuable lessons on how not to fight war than all of that unfortunate general’s writings.1 Then, as was said before, others resist all attempts at an objective approach by adopting the emotional attitude that such an approach cannot be tolerated; it is heresy.
So at the very beginning one point should be clarified. This article seeks to make no converts. It is simply a discussion of the principles of war. The author considers them interesting and helpful. Since war is a dangerous and dreadful enterprise, let us borrow all the help we can find to make it as short as possible and victorious for our side. But these principles are not sacred nor are they immutable. We must treat them for what they really are—merely assumptions and abstract ones at that, which have been derived from a study of the mass of complicated war experience throughout history. These assumptions or axioms are abstractions drawn from a particular historical context. As science changes the context of society and weapons, the old assumptions may or may not retain validity. If better ones can be found, the present ones should be discarded, easily, casually like an old skin.
The principles can be dangerous, too. War cannot be fought by a book of rules. Ability to think is always essential. Adherence to one principle frequently demands violation of another. Any leader who adheres inflexibly to one set of commandments is inviting disastrous defeat from a resourceful opponent.
Nor can the rules themselves be accepted without repeated and critical analysis. The constant repetition of even unassailable truths is not good practice. Beware the man who is constantly quoting the principles of war! It makes such statements border dangerously upon cant. It creates dogma and inhibits original thinking. But even more dangerous is the tendency it develops to search for rules and accept pat and sonorous phrases as gospel and guide. This we must never do.
Indeed it is because of this tendency towards dogma that much of the opposition to the principles of war can be traced. It may have been because of this that General Fair- child (now Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, but lately Commanding General of the Air University) took steps to insure that there would be no blind acceptance of the principles of war in the Air Force. This distinguished officer required that they be reexamined in the light of modern war. He gave this as a continuing task of the Air War College, a task that, happily, is being adhered to by his successors.
My personal studies have not led me to materially change my views on the nine principles as listed by Leavenworth (not even in the light of modern war). But no one should take my word for it. Each student should approach the subject critically and objectively. Each principle should be viewed with suspicion and made to prove its worth. If you find one in error it will not be the first time a “principle” has proved to be misleading. Napoleon once compiled a list of “maxims” as he called them. And yet his very first maxim shows how grievously wrong even the greatest military commander can be. Napoleon said:
Maxim 1—The frontiers of a state are either large rivers, or chains of mountains, or deserts. Of all these obstacles to the march of an army, the most difficult to overcome are deserts; mountains come next; while broad rivers occupy the third place.
Note the absence of the sea as a frontier! This amazing omission is in itself a tragic explanation of Napoleon’s final downfall. Napoleon, emperor of a land whose sea frontiers are her longest frontiers, forgot the sea! Napoleon, who paced the cliffs of Boulogne in 1805, vainly seeking a way to get his army across the English Channel, said a desert was the greatest obstacle to the march of an army!
Napoleon never understood the sea. He insisted that the same “ground rules” he had so brilliantly mastered in land warfare applied beyond the shore. His stubborn efforts to master an element without first understanding it was his final undoing. English sea power was the instrument of his defeat.
So in this day of air power students must submit the principles of war to searching analysis. Furthermore, whether they stand or fall, the important point to remember is, as General Fairchild has intimated, that rules can aid the wise but they are a snare to the fool.
The principles of war have been called “distilled history.” They are “capsules of wisdom” which have been derived from profound studies of the successes and failures of the past. They are guides in formulating a theory of war. They are goals to be obtained in fighting a war. They are an aid to us in grasping the essentials of a difficult art. The mere knowledge of the principles of war will certainly not provide us with the solution of a problem of war, but it will lend order and guidance to a mind trained to analyze and form conclusions from an objective study of the problem. It will allow us to translate an incoherent and shapeless mass of truth into a sharpened weapon ready to our hands.
The principles of war deal with the science of war. Some say war is an art, not a science. But to say this is to sacrifice truth for a maxim. There is both an art and a science of war. Were there no science of war, war would tend to become a lost art for want of a continuing body of knowledge to keep it alive. Art and science are not incompatible. They are both found in all forms of human endeavor. The arts of the musician, the sculptor, and the painter all are erected on the firm foundations of their particular sciences. Science consists of knowing; art of doing. Science is knowledge; art is knowledge translated into action. Indeed science is more than knowledge. It is classified knowledge. It is useful knowledge. But science is only an instrument. It can never be master. Art is the master.
Not all are agreed that “the principles of war” is the proper name for these concepts. In this paper they have already been referred to as “fundamental assumptions.” Some would call them “factors.” Liddell Hart calls them “axioms.” Napoleon lists “maxims.” But under “maxim” Webster’s Dictionary tells us to see “axiom,” and Webster’s says an “axiom” is an established “principle” which is universally received. Actually, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, so a plague on all semanticists! By common usage we have decided that they are “principles.” Let’s let it go at that, remembering always that, in this case, a principle is not a “fundamental truth,” but rather a “fundamental assumption.”
There is equal difference of opinion over the proper number of principles. As will be discovered later, I have a leaning towards eleven. Leavenworth, of course, lists nine. Another student insists there are only five true principles of war: “the objective,” “mass,” “security,” “cooperation,” and “simplicity.” He proves this first by assuming that a “principle” is a fundamental truth, second, by pointing out that a fundamental truth has no exceptions, and third, by noting that there are exceptions to the other four so-called principles since we do not always have surprise, we do not always have movement, etc. Therefore, he concludes, those which have exceptions are not true principles, they are merely “doctrines.” Liddell Hart presents us with six new principles, or axioms which he describes in rather fancy words. But after careful study it really appears that Hart has offered us only two principles of war—only Hart speaks with a stutter. Translated into other language, Hart appears to have reduced it to: surprise, surprise, surprise, flexibility, flexibility, flexibility!
A friend of mine holds that there is only one true principle of war, the principle of the objective. He points out that, regardless of how the various lists of principles may otherwise disagree, most authorities seem to agree that “the objective” should lead the list. The reason for this, he says, is plain. Without the objective, all other principles are pointless. Once we have determined the objective, all other so-called principles actually become ways and means of attaining that objective. They deal with the mechanics of achieving the objective. They are, in fact, only methods, not principles.
Some say the principles of war should be restricted to those which govern the employment of armed forces. Others say that the list should also include those on which armed forces are organized, developed, and administered. This includes supplies, transportation, and a full treasury, or its modern equivalent. But there seems little real justification for limiting the scope of the principles. If we are to restrict them to employment, the same arguments can be used for restricting them to tactical employment. Conversely, if we are to allow them to enter the field of strategy, let us remember that there is practically no limit to that field. Strategy is born in parliaments and springs from the governing heads of nations. If the field of strategy has no limits, then why restrict the field of the principles of war?
All of these points of view are interesting and valuable. They show that there are many minds which are not content to accept the principles on their face value and which are examining and reexamining the subject. We will find it profitable to follow closely their reasoning. It will help us in our own attack on the problem.
But we have tarried long enough. Let us now examine the principles themselves:
The Principles of War
(As listed by Leavenworth)
1. The Object
2. The Offensive
7. Economy of Force
During the last war an English naval officer gallantly took his ship into action against overwhelming odds in order to cover the escape of his convoy. It meant certain defeat, yet he sought battle and fought to the bitter end. This was because he had a true grasp of his objective. He sought not victory but the safety of his convoy.
The objective, also described as the “mission,” “aim” or “purpose” of our efforts, is unquestionably the most important of all the principles of war. It is the connecting link which, alone, can impart coherence to war; for fighting just for the sake of fighting becomes insensate slaughter. Without the objective, all other principles are pointless. It gives the commander the “what.” The other principles are the guides in the “how.” It is therefore sometimes spoken of as “the fundamental military principle.”
The nation, the armed forces, and each element of the armed forces down to the lowest echelon must have its own objective. Also, at any level there can be a primary objective and one or more secondary objectives. But this is the important point: the primary and secondary objectives of each echelon must, in the final analysis, contribute to the national objective.
Once the objective has been stated and understood, the whole problem becomes immensely simplified. It is the selection of the objective which is the difficult decision. On each level, the selection of the best objective can only be arrived at after careful and thoughtful evaluation of the objective of the next higher level. That is the central idea around which have been built both the new Naval Manual of Operational Planning (recently prepared at the Naval War College) and the Armed Forces Estimate Form.
Much has been written on just what is the true or ultimate objective in war. Leavenworth maintains that the true objective is always the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces. This, it is felt, is far too limited in its scope. In the First Dutch War, Holland sued for peace without the foot of an enemy touching her soil. In the Second World War Japan did likewise. And if a Third World War should come, England can be forced to surrender by an enemy if she can succeed in cutting off England’s shipping. Without this life line, not all of the soldiers and tanks and airplanes in the world can save England. Some airmen and some sailors have therefore concluded that the true objective is the destruction of a nation’s ability to wage war. But that, too, still appears far too restrictive. The true objective in my opinion is the national objective, whatever it may be. Once that is determined, it simplifies the problems of all concerned. From the Joint Chiefs of Staff down to the man with a bayonet, it then becomes much easier to determine one’s own objective.
“But,” one is told, “the national objective has already been determined and is written in a hundred text books. The objective of a nation at war is to impose its will upon the enemy.”
But what is a nation’s will? Here we have something that can be written in no text book. It must be determined each time by the nation itself.
In the First World War our national objective was the overthrow of the enemy’s government. In the Second World War our national objective was “unconditional surrender.” The effects that these two diverse objectives had on our military people were profound and far reaching. In World War I we were able to greatly weaken enemy morale with words, Wilson’s fourteen points. But in World War II we were forced to destroy one government and its armed forces and to bend another government to our will before we could win to victory. The common man in both of the principal enemy countries stood his ground until the last—which he certainly did not do in World War I.
The selection of a sound national objective is, therefore, the most important single decision of a war. It must be prefaced by consideration of the kind of social and material conditions we wish to leave in the enemy country and in the rest of the world, when military defeat has been inflicted upon the enemy. The soundness of this is borne out by both logic and experience. Within slightly more than a score of years we have won two wars at great cost in life and property, only to lose the peace both times through lack of clear and consistent national policy objectives.
Theoretically we now have an effective method of determining our national policy objectives. Policy, based on adequate intelligence, originates at the highest level of civilian authority.2 It then passes down through the National Military Establishment for translation into strategic plans, and finally for technical implementation by the services. It then returns upward in the form of specific budgetary programs through successive stages of review for final action by Congress.
But, as a matter of actual fact, this is not being done. The bitter lesson of the past two wars does not seem yet to have been fully learned. Our foreign and military policies are not yet firmly tied together. Strategic plans are being made without clear guidance of long-term peace aims. They are being based on assumptions derived by the military, which may or may not be correct. In other words, the military are planning how to fight the next war—if this tragedy should occur—without knowing exactly what we would be fighting for. Or, to say it in still another way, in default of political guidance the military are, in effect, determining certain phases of foreign policy.
Indeed, it is even worse than that. Instead of the military implementing directives received from above, they are attempting to reach a compromise solution based on three sets of ideas which represent the expression of service ambitions generated from below. In fact some are not content with that but, through the office of a single chief of staff, hope to see the triumph of one or another of these service ambitions. They seek a shotgun wedding which would compel the development of strategic plans and their implementation by the maximum correlation and unification of service missions, service logistic responsibilities, service operation plans, and service personnel and equipment based not upon national objectives as determined at the highest level of civilian authority, nor even upon a compromise solution reached at the top level of military authority, but upon the triumph of one particular service’s ambition.
The time to select a national objective is before war starts, not in the heat of battle. When international tensions are such that our possible antagonists become apparent we should carefully examine not only the probable nature of the threatened struggle but, again let me repeat, the kind of post-war world we would wish to see. It is improbable that our quarrel will be with our enemy’s populace themselves and even more improbable that we will have any claim on territory that is truly theirs. But it is entirely possible that our aim in the event of war will be the overthrow of the enemy’s government as in-imicable to our future peace and security. Such an aim, if adopted and adhered to, can be a great source of strength. It can be used not only to unify our own people but as a basis for a direct and possibly dramatic appeal to the people of the enemy country. On the other hand a demand for “unconditional surrender” reflects a decision to push the war to the ultimate conclusion of completely subjugating our enemy before confiding to him his future fate. It holds out no hope to people of the enemy country beyond our possible charity. It is bound to steady rather than weaken the enemy’s ranks. It is a decision so grave that it should never be reached when under the influence of the passions that are inevitably aroused once war reaches the shooting stage.
The Offensive means carrying the war to the enemy. Neat formations, elegant solutions, and an air force or fleet in being will not bring victory. All of these things are effective only when galvanized into life by the resolute spirit of the offensive. The essence of war is violence. The harvest is gathered by the side which takes the offensive. Victory is not won by passive defense which merely serves to avert defeat.
This does not mean that defense is never permissible. But even when on the defensive, it must be in the spirit of the offensive. The defense, in the final analysis, must either represent a delayed offensive or a local defensive to cover the real offensive.
What the offensive does not mean is almost as important as what it does mean. Headlong attack will not lead to success. Indeed this obsession can lead to disaster. We love to quote Danton’s famous words: “l’audace, encore l'audace, et toujour l’audace.” But the attack is not to be sought for its own sake. The aim must be to create favorable conditions for attack. It is the limed attack that counts. It must be skilfully handled, otherwise it reacts on the user.
Mass has sometimes been called the most vital principle of all. It means superiority at the point of contact. It means superiority which can be sustained as long as the situation requires (or, as some term it, “capacity”). The correct and skilful application of all the other principles of war should lead to one single end: the concentration of maximum combat power at the selected time and place to strike an overwhelming blow at the decisive point, in order to achieve the objective.
There are other names given to this principle, such as “force,” “power,” “superiority,” and “concentration.” None of the terms is completely descriptive. “Mass,” the most commonly used word, implies something exceedingly ponderous and unwieldy. “Concentration” has a more dynamic connotation and is preferred by many.
Mass means superior numbers, but not numbers of fighting units alone. It means materiel, fire power, weapons, skill, resolution, discipline, leadership, administration, and morale.
British Staff Colleges list these last two as separate principles of war. There can be no serious quarrel with this. It may lengthen the list, it may be raising sub-titles to the rank of titles, but it also serves to give emphasis to these two exceedingly important factors.
Naturally it is just as great an error to overstress administration as it is to ignore it. We all know there is much more to command than being a good administrator, an efficient office manager. But there are unquestionably many “horrible examples” of the baneful effects of poor Administration. We can all recall instances, but one which the British like to cite was the total destruction of two British regiments in the Zulu War because there were no screwdrivers to open the ammunition boxes.
Today increased emphasis has been laid on the need for efficient administration due to the flood of revolutionary developments which we are facing. Of all of these developments, the most dramatic of course is the atomic bomb. But perhaps the greatest factor among them has been the final “breakthrough” of industrial warfare with its mass armies, fleets, and air forces and its mass techniques of supply and organization. In its sheer extent of fighting in space and time it has been enough to swamp the minds of the observers.
As previously mentioned, it may be an error to harp too much on administration, but morale is something which it is difficult to overstress. In my opinion, the American Military neglected morale badly in the last war. This may startle some who will ask: “What about our USO shows, our mail services, our humane treatment of our men, etc.?” Granted. All of that was important, but it only netted up to a curious mixture which might have been concocted by the joint efforts of a psychiatrist and a YMCA secretary. It was more or less forced on us because of our own lack of a military plan for morale. We let Yank and Stars and Stripes get out of hand. We allowed our officer corps to be shamed, humiliated, and abused in front of their men. Our enlisted men were made soft instead of being given that fierce, tough fighting spirit which experience has shown makes the best warrior. To be sure, we toughened our men in barbed wire under live machine gun fire, we developed physical toughness with many ingenious devices, and we made many other effective innovations in our training. Reference is not made to the things we did do but to the things we failed to do. The word “coward” was translated into euphonious and non-descriptive phrases which may have been clinically correct but which did not belong in a fighting man’s vocabulary. We allowed the rot of an almost feminine concept of discipline to spread through the whole structure of our command. Our Army and Air Force were faced with riots and mutinous assemblies at the war’s end. In fact some say we were only saved by the innate decentness and toughness of our American youth.
Whether the reader is in complete agreement or not, we must all realize that next time we will not be so lucky. In a future war the first to come under attack will probably be our officer corps. We may be sure that any potential enemy will have studied well and can efficiently apply the lessons learned in the last war. He will not neglect this chink in our armor which is part of the price we pay for our democratic way of life.
We must have a plan to combat these attacks. The time to make that plan is peace time. It is the most important single task we have before us and it should be undertaken as a matter of immediate urgency.
The “know how” of building up a warrior’s morale is as old as war. We should draw on it in making up our plan to secure morale. There is the “belief in the cause”; that is, a firm conviction that the war is a just war, and that it is vital to the nation’s future existence to win it. Cromwell said: “I want a soldier who knows what he is fighting for and loves what he knows.”
Another characteristic that can maintain morale is the soldier’s belief in his own inherent personal superiority to the men of any other country or any other race. It has been happily called “the immortal prejudice.” It is the very soul of esprit de corps. It is that feeling of being “the best damn man in the best damn squad in the best damn company in the best damn army in the world.”
The welfare of the men and their families is obviously important, too, and earlier remarks should not be construed to indicate otherwise.
In fact there are dozens of factors which contribute to morale: confidence in leadership, which can only come from competent leadership; symbols of organization, such as the eagles of the Roman Legion and the shoulder patch of the modern military man; and those much derided but invaluable adjuncts known as “pomp and ceremony” and “spit and polish.”
Then there is the task of restoring public confidence in the warrior, and reinstilling an appreciation of the nobility of his profession in the hearts of our countrymen. America is not China, where the fighting man who would dedicate his life to his country is only a person to be despised and sneered at. And yet we all know that there is a modern American tendency to despise anyone who would seek to lead our fighting forces, and to use the word “brass hat” as a synonym for brutality and stupidity. How much of this is Communist inspired and how much of it is the result of a secret feeling of inferiority among some of our scribblers, is not known. But we must begin a vigorous and intelligent campaign to correct this debilitating philosophy. The following quotation from Colonel Maude’s introduction to Clausewitz’s book, On War, paints the true picture of the nobility of the true warrior:
. . . Finally, for those who would fit themselves in advance for such responsibility, I know of no more inspiring advice than that given by Krishna to Arjuna ages ago, when the latter trembled before the awful responsibility of launching his Army against the hosts of the Pandav’s:
“This Life within all living things, my Prince,
Hides beyond harm. Scorn thou to suffer, then,
For that which cannot suffer. Do thy part! Be
mindful of thy name, and tremble not. Nought
better can betide a martial soul
Than lawful war. Happy the warrior…
To whom comes joy of battle…
. . . But if thou shunn’st
This honourable field—a Kshittriya—
If, knowing thy duty and thy task, thou bidd’st
Duty and task go by—that shall be sin!
And those to come shall speak thee infamy
From age to age. But infamy is worse
For men of noble blood to bear than death!
“Therefore arise, thou Son of Kunti! Brace
Thine arm for conflict; nerve thy heart to meet,
As things alike to thee, pleasure or pain,
Profit or ruin, victory or defeat.
So minded, gird thee to the fight, for so
Thou shalt not sin!”
And finally, lest we forget, there is the best and most certain of them all and the one we are most tempted to relax—discipline, discipline, DISCIPLINE!
There is no limit to the amount that can be written on this subject. The list of morale maintainers is long, and all have been tested and found sound. They have been used in the past to take a dreadful mixture—the sweepings from the streets, the dregs of the gutters, and the victims of the press gangs—- and make them into tough, ferocious fighting men. We must use this same “knowhow” in an intelligent and humane manner to develop even greater warriors from the fine material we now have, the modern youth of America, who will be entrusted to us if we are again called on to defend our country and our way of life.
Movement gives Mass. It is the vehicle that carries force to the best position to accomplish the objective. It is the catalytic agent that fuses principles into a successful plan. Movement (or mobility) has sometimes been considered synonymous with surprise. But this is over-simplification. Surprise is merely one of the advantages of mobility. The English held Gibraltar throughout one long siege, and, in the last world war, held Malta throughout another, not by surprise but because the fleet never lost its mobility.
Many successful commanders of the past (Hannibal, Napoleon, Stonewall Jackson, etc.) were successful through rapidity of movement. Perhaps this dramatic quality of rapid motion is one of the reasons why it is no longer stylish to think of the sluggish surface ship as representing movement. Against the blinding speed of the modern airplane the slow freighter seems fixed in space. But the principle means a lot more than the ability to move fast. For not only must we be able quickly to transfer force from one place to another, we must be able to maintain it in action once we have moved it. This is the reason some prefer “mobility” or “flexibility” to “movement.” Actually, as with mass, none of these titles is truly descriptive. Flexibility itself is a relative term. Absolute flexibility does not matter nearly so much as relative flexibility. It is sufficient that our forces be more flexible than the enemy. For example, there are many places which are further in space from, but closer in time to, the United States than they are to a possible enemy, if that enemy must confine herself to land communications. Furthermore, if you knock out certain key bridges and other communications, particularly where the terrain is rugged, the enemy may find himself right back to the pack mule. A pack mule can carry two hundred pounds 20 miles in a day, if we push him. But the next day he can only go 10 miles. And if he goes many days we must start counting the nine pounds of grain per day he must carry to keep going, for he will eat up his whole pay load in about 300 miles. Meanwhile a Liberty ship can carry six thousand tons 240 miles per day, day after day. Furthermore, compared to the pack mule, fuel consumption is one of its smallest problems.
If a landpower could quickly concentrate her air force at any threatened point she might give trouble to our carriers. Unfortunately for the landpower there is always the logistic headache of maintaining a fraction of her air force in forward areas. Tactically an air force is the most flexible weapon in existence. But strategically its flexibility is seriously compromised by the heavy installations and tremendous logistical supplies it requires. It is only when air power is wedded to free moving sea power that it achieves true mobility. This is so, whether it is operating from a carrier or from sea-supported bases in the forward area.
Surprise is frequently termed the greatest weapon in war. It is certainly one of the most effective methods of obtaining victory. It has a tremendous effect on morale. Only those who arrived in Pearl Harbor the first week after December 7 can have any conception of the tremendous shock effect of that attack. The degree that the Japanese might been have able to exploit that surprise will long be a matter of debate.
Surprise is the creation of an unexpected situation for which the enemy has not properly prepared himself. It strikes a telling blow which is not only physical but mental. Surprise can give us all the advantages of good staff work while denying them to the enemy. The situation is new to him; he must improvise. The situation is old to us; it has already been coolly and carefully thought out, planned for and, at the very least, mentally rehearsed by all the key people in our forces.
Surprise runs through all the other principles of war. The best results are attained when the other principles are applied with surprise. The principle of mass must be applied with surprise, otherwise it cannot be exploited. The Japanese surprise at Pearl Harbor was a blow in the air when viewed against the whole perspective of the war. The Japanese had neglected the principle of mass.
Factors entering into surprise are secrecy, preparation, rapidity of execution, and deception. The element of surprise can be in time, place, direction, force, strategy, tactics, or weapons. No surprise is more effective than this last, the surprise of the new and novel device or weapon. The examples are many: gas, tanks, radar, rockets, the “Mulberry” artificial port, the influence fuze, and the atomic bomb. Their value is never greater than when first introduced. And again let it be repeated there must be mass to ensure exploitation. It is extraordinary what folly has caused man to fail repeatedly to exploit new weapons simply because he neglected mass.
Surprise can be a boomerang, too. It can so intoxicate the user as to lay him open to an even greater surprise. In war we must never become too intent on our own aims. The enemy, too, may be planning a surprise. Let us use this fact as a weapon instead of permitting it to become a trap for our own unwary footsteps. It is the author’s conviction that it can be our best weapon in another war if only we have the wit to use it. It seems generally conceded that, if total war comes, it will probably come at a time and place of the enemy’s choosing. This appears to be a too gloomy view but, assuming the country continues to subscribe to it, this means that, if war is coming, our enemy is planning a surprise. Even under these circumstances we can still accomplish much through surprise. Any surprise we too have up our sleeve will be doubly effective against an enemy intent upon his own aims.
The whole course of the war can be greatly and favorably affected by any successes obtained during the early days of the war. We must have a well conceived plan for withdrawing any of our forces which may be in exposed positions. This plan of withdrawal must be predicated upon a series of lines involving key positions. It must permit timely advantage to be taken of any lack of enterprise on the part of the enemy. At the same time it must avoid jeopardizing the whole scheme of regroupment should the enemy’s offensive prove unexpectedly well-planned and vigorous. But withdrawal is not all we should have in mind. During this phase we too can seize territory, if we keep our aims within the horizon of our limited capabilities. The advantages to be gained will justify certain calculated risks. For we will be acquiring territory at little cost—territory for which we must pay a bitter price in blood and treasure if we permit the enemy to advance at his will and then consolidate his gains before we are ready for some ponderously conceived counter-offensive.
One of the greatest advantages that a sea power possesses over a landpower is the sea power’s ability to avoid headlong collision. Instead she can surprise and outflank her landpower opponent by striking at some unguarded point. She can exercise wide latitude in choosing bases—bases that can be supported by the easy road of the sea. Indeed their seizure may come right in the teeth of the enemy’s offensive, for sea power (through its innate ability to effect surprise) can, in the future as it has in the past, use limited forces to obtain results all out of proportion to their size.
The mission of security is to give us freedom of action. It has been called the handmaiden of surprise. It prevents surprise by the enemy; it is essential to surprise of the enemy. It means not only denial of information to the enemy but the ability to obtain information about the enemy.
But security is more than mere information. It is also protection, the ability to prevent hostile interference. A big bomber base requires security. There is the security from air attacks that a fighter can give; security from ground attack that a soldier can give; and security of its overseas communications that a sailor can give. Nor is security always attained by defense. As often as not it can be achieved by attack. The bomber itself can defend its own base by the effectiveness of its attack.
Economy of Force
The complement of mass is Economy of Force, implying the least possible resources elsewhere than at the decisive time and place. This principle is, in a measure, a recapitulation of the principles of the objective, offensive, mass, and security. Good intelligence reduces security requirements. This increases mass available. It enhances our ability to take the offensive.
Economy of force does not denote stinginess. It means wise spending. It has been defined as an intelligent expenditure for present needs in order to preserve maximum power for the future or final need. Its application involves the question of what is and what is not a “necessity.” If this principle is violated there can be no mass.
This principle implies that there is always a compromise between two allied demands, dispersion and concentration. But the ideal is attained when we achieve concentration while forcing dispersion upon the enemy. This is most easily achieved by a sea power when opposed by an enemy land power. For once, the land power will find the greater her size, the more she is undone. She must disperse to guard herself on all sides. She must be prepared to oppose landings and fight off air attacks that may come from a myriad of directions. Furthermore, there are many other complications. Along the fringes of the average land power’s coastline are obstacles to her efforts such as deserts, mountains, water barriers, and wastelands. It is impossible to move even a fraction of her troops across these desolate regions or to give effective logistic support to defensive airfields she may wish to have in these areas. This means larger forces must be held in reserve as close to the vulnerable areas as they can be maintained. Meanwhile sea power and sea-air power can effect overwhelming superiority at any chosen point on short notice.
The British Staff Schools no longer consider cooperation a principle of war. In my ignorance of their reasons 1 can only adhere to my own conviction that it is a most important principle of war. The principle of cooperation, like the principle of the objective, is a unifying principle. Objective designates a common aim. Cooperation results in a common method. It is the fusion of many minds to produce a common mind or, better said, common understanding. It brings the full power of the nation against the enemy—military, political, economic, financial, and psychological. Within the military field, cooperation implies correct organization at the top, mutual confidence and respect, mutual knowledge of the powers and limitation of the other arms and services, and above all combined training. It means teamwork, with each member of the team laboring for the common good without reference to his personal fortunes. Only with cooperation can the component parts coalesce to develop the full measure of their strength. The absence of cooperations mean selfishness, disloyalty— and defeat; each for himself and the devil take the hind-most. If this foundation is not laid before battle it is too late to build it in battle.
In the widest sphere there must be cooperation and harmony between allies. This is never easy to secure, as national characteristics, prides, and prejudices have to be overcome. The success of our Combined Chiefs of Staff in the last war is without historical precedent. It is an achievement in which both Britain and America can take deep pride. But one wonders how successful a Franco-American or Anglo-French Combined Chiefs of Staff might have been.
Today, honest and sincere efforts are being made to foster cooperation between the sister services. We have the Secretary of National Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National War College, and the Armed Forces Staff College. Also at the Naval War College, at the Air University, and at Leavenworth we have students from the sister services. We have our various joint theaters with their joint staffs. And now we have Air Force pilots being trained in Navy carrier squadrons.
I would go even further if I had the power. I would exchange students and faculty members between West Point and Annapolis. They should be made to remember that they are just a bunch of American kids who came from around the corner from each other. Out of the four year course, each student would spend one year in the sister institution— football players and all! The present system of sending them down for week-end visits does not accomplish the desired results. It only gives them a chance to strut around and brag a bit and irritate each other.
This brings up the ultimate step, a single Chief of Staff. Should we have one?
If by this is meant a Naval Officer, my reply is NO! I know too much about Naval Officers. I am certain that the best interests of the Air Force would suffer. So would the best interests of the Army.
If an Air Force officer is meant, I again say NO! I know too much about Air Force officers, too. And the same thing goes for the Army!
Besides, this is not the best way to obtain cooperation. The Air Force tried it when they were with the Army. Did it work? They had their single Chief of Staff. He could have been an airman as well as a soldier, but it still would not have worked. If it would not work for two services, how in the name of logic would it work for three? Cooperation is not something obtained on order. It can neither be purchased nor commanded. It must be given.
The great merit of simplicity is that it facilitates cooperation. It makes for order. It clarifies the objective. It allows the observance of all of the other principles. Simplicity is the keynote of correct planning. Directions must be so plain that- “he who runs may read.” Plans must be simple and easy to understand; orders direct, clear, and definite. If a plan is simple it is also probably rugged and will withstand shock. Simple and direct methods usually preserve the elasticity needed to meet the ever changing situation.
But the need for simplicity goes beyond directives. There should be simplicity of strategy. There should be simplicity in weapons. There must be simplicity in organization, too. Command relationship must be clear and the chain of command direct and unbroken. One man must serve only one master.
Simplicity, of course, is relative. Operations that are simple to well-trained and indoctrinated forces may seem highly complicated to untrained units.
The great enemy of simplicity is vacillation. Nothing can complicate and confuse the situation more than frequent changes. The old French proverb sums it up well and tersely by saying: “Order, counter-order, dis-order.”
The elder Moltke was famous for the simplicity of his orders. In the war of 1866 his most important orders were simple and brief but exceedingly clear. They entered into no details except when details were essential. They avoided cramping the actions of the recipient.
In conclusion, we see that the various principles of war overlap and complement each other, are dependent on one another, and can, on occasion, conflict with each other. And we must remember this: they are simply tools. They must remain our servants. They must never become the master of our thoughts. They are not, as some think, ingredients which will, if compounded in the right proportions, produce a species of victory cake. They are more like the colors of an artist’s palette, which only in the hands of an artist can produce a masterpiece.
And, lest we grow arrogant in all of our new scientific knowledge of today, let us remember that it is still the artist, not the scientist, who rules the art of war. For the great prime mover of all weapons is still the human mind, which is the same today as when man first fought with stick and stone.
In the stone age there grew up artists who by a few deft strokes with a broken flint on a splint of bone could produce a picture of a stag or bison which still excites our admiration as a work of art.
In the thirteenth century an uncouth, illiterate tent dweller named Jenghiz Khan rose to be a truly phenomenal master of the art of war.
Both men took the materials that lay to hand. But the skill with which they used them proclaims the artist.
The opinions or assertions in this article are the private ones of the author, and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Navy Department or the naval service at large.
1. In the period between December 8, 1915, and April 29, 1916, a British-Indian detachment under General Townshend made a successful advance up the Tigris and almost captured Bagdad. But poor planning and political pressure caused him to overextend, whereupon the reenforced Turks pinned him down to Kut-el-Amara. Efforts to relieve him failed and cost 24,000 casualties. He finally surrendered after the last of the mules was eaten and the last of the costly attempts at relief had failed. This ignominious surrender was traceable to the complete uncertainty of the objective, which was changed and enlarged after every initial success; to the failure to appreciate qualities of the enemy; and finally to the utter collapse of administration.
2. The National Security Council.