I would like to thank Nate Finney for extending an opportunity to participate in this forum. I value and admire the significant contributions that the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum offers our profession. DEF’s role in fostering innovation and creativity is important. I thought that I might offer a few thoughts on how we might improve our understanding of war and warfare.
Approaching the Study of War and Warfare
The best approach to studying war and warfare is found in historian Sir Michael Howard’s 1961 seminal essay on how military professionals should develop what Clausewitz described as their own “theory” of war. First, to study in width: To observe how warfare has developed over a long historical period. Next to study in depth: To study campaigns and explore them thoroughly, consulting original sources and applying various theories and interdisciplinary approaches. This is important, he observed, because as the “tidy outline dissolves,” we “catch a glimpse of the confusion and horror of real experience.” And lastly to study in context. Wars and warfare must be understood in context of their social, cultural, economic, human, moral, political, and psychological contexts because as Sir Michael observed “the roots of victory and defeat often have to be sought far from the battlefield.” And Professor Howard also reminded us that the purpose of such an approach to the study of military history and our profession ought not to focus on making “us cleverer for the next time,” but instead to help make us “wise forever.”
To develop understanding in “width, depth, and context,” we must be active learners dedicated to self-study and self-critique. Yet, increasing our understanding of war and our profession does not mean that we should read and think about our profession on our own. Discussion and debate with others will further our understanding of war and warfare by exposing us to different perspectives and interpretations. Discussing ideas with fellow officers and leaders will help us consider how what we learn applies to our responsibilities. This is why forums such as the DEF are important. We must debate key issues, challenge our assumptions, and refine our thinking.
Participative intellectual activity is critical to the “Self-Development Domain” of our Army’s leader development efforts. And the self-development domain is as important as the Operational Domain (unit training and operational experience) and the Institutional Domain (official Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps schools) in helping leaders prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. Guided self-study and lively debates help military professionals reflect on their experiences and place those experiences into context.
Understanding the Context—and the Continuities—of War
American military leaders—from George Washington, to Winfield Scott, to Alfred Thayer Mahan, to Dwight D. Eisenhower, to Matthew Ridgway, to Hamilton Howze, to Donn Starry, and to Frederick Franks—supplemented their formal learning through active reading, study, and reflection. In 1901, the father of the Army War College, Secretary of War Elihu Root, commented on “the great importance of a thorough and broad education for military officers,” due to the “rapid advance of military science; changes of tactics required by the changes in weapons; our own experience in the difficulty of working out problems of transportation, supply, and hygiene; the wide range of responsibilities which we have seen devolving upon officers charged with the civil government of occupied territory; the delicate relations which constantly arise between military and civil authority.” Thus, Root wrote, there was a “manifest necessity that the soldier, above all others, should be familiar with history.”
Such historical and professional perspective (and debate) allows leaders to understand the character of a particular conflict, informs grounded projections of how armed conflict in general is likely to evolve, and helps leaders understand the complex interactions between military, political, and social factors that influence the situation in war. Because leaders cannot turn back time once war occurs; they must develop an understanding of war and warfare before they enter the field of battle. As nineteenth century Prussian philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz, observed, the study of war and warfare “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.” Clausewitz continued, that leaders should use their knowledge of war and warfare to “to analyze the constituent elements of war, to distinguish precisely what at first sight seems fused, to explain in full the properties of the means employed and to show their probable effects, to define clearly the nature of the ends in view, and to illuminate all phases of warfare in a thorough critical inquiry.”
The enduring complexities and uncertainties of war demand that military professionals must make a special effort to develop our expertise and understanding through study, discussion and debate. For example, many of the recent difficulties we have encountered in strategic decision-making, operational planning, and force development have stemmed, at least in part, from the neglect of the neglect of historical perspective and the enduring nature of war or critical continuities in war and warfare. If we neglect the nature of war, we neglect what Clausewitz identified as “the first of all strategic questions,” regarding war as “something autonomous” rather than “an instrument of policy,” misunderstanding “the kind of war on which we are embarking,” and trying to turn war into “something that is alien to its nature.”
Military professionals, through their study of war and warfare in width, depth, and context as well as through discussion and debate in a variety of forums can help underscore important continuities that must be a part of our thinking about war and warfare:
First, war is political. As von Clausewitz observed, “war should never be thought of as something autonomous but always as an instrument of policy.” In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, defense thinking was hijacked by a fantastical theory that considered military operations as ends in and of themselves rather than just one of several instruments of power that must be aligned to achieve sustainable strategic goals. Advocates of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) predicted that advances in surveillance, communications and information technologies, along with precision strike weapons, would overwhelm any opponent. When we look at the complications we experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is apparent at how wrong such thinking was. In fact, professionals must be skeptical of ideas and concepts that divorce war from its political nature. And skepticism is particularly appropriate concerning theories that promise fast, cheap, and efficient victories through the application of advanced military technologies.
Second, war is human. People fight today for the same fundamental reasons that the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2500 years ago: fear, honor, and interest. The orthodoxy of defense transformation, however, dehumanized the nature of war. In Iraq and Afghanistan, gaining an appreciation of the fears, interests, and sense of honor among their internal communities was critical to move those communities toward political accommodations. In fact, the cultural, social, economic, religious, and historical considerations that comprise the human dimension of war must inform wartime planning as well as our preparation for future armed conflict.
Third, war is an uncertain contest of wills. War’s political and human nature place armed conflict squarely in the realm of uncertainty. The dominant assumption of the RMA, however, was that that knowledge would be the key to victory in future war. Near-perfect intelligence would enable precise military operations within a realm of certainty. In Afghanistan and Iraq, planning based on linear projections did not account for enemy adaptations or the evolution of those conflicts in ways that were difficult to predict at the outset. In fact, war remains fundamentally uncertain due to factors that lie outside the reach of information and surveillance technologies. Moreover, war’s uncertainly and non-linearity are results of war’s political and human dimensions as well as the continuous interaction with determined, adaptive enemies. In addition, all wars are contests of wills that unleash unpredictable psychological dynamics.
As military professionals, we share a moral and professional obligation to seek criticism and refine our thinking—in an entrepreneurial spirit—through rigorous debate. Engaging in forums and conferences such as the DEF is critical to developing our best military thinking. Intellectual participation helps military professionals develop the expertise that is a pillar of our profession. Debates and discussions help junior leaders develop an appreciation for leadership at the operational, joint, and strategic levels so they can place the actions of small units in context of war aims as well as develop their ability to provide analysis and advice to senior military and civilian leaders on matters of policy and strategy. As General Albert C. Wedemeyer noted while a student at the German staff college between the World Wars of the twentieth century, “An indomitable will and broad military knowledge, combined with a strong character, are attributes of the successful leader. He must have a clear conception of tactical principles and their application. Only by continual study of military history and of the conduct of war with careful attention to current developments can the officer acquire the above stated attributes of leadership.”
 Elihu Root, General Correspondence to the United States Congress, 1901 (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress), Washington D.C., 2011, available at http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/address.html
Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, 1989. pg. 141
 Ibid., 88-89.
 GEN Albert C. Wedemeyer Wedemeyer on War and Peace, Edited by Keith E. Eiler, Hoover Press, 1987, 5.