Between Aug. 7, 1942, and Feb. 9, 1943, U.S. forces sought to capture – and then defend – the Pacific island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese military. What started as an amphibious landing quickly turned into a series of massive air and naval battles. The campaign marked a major turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II.
It also revealed important lessons about the nature of warfare itself – ones that are particularly relevant when
planning for conflict in the 21st century.
Carl von Clausewitz is one of the most profound military thinkers of all time. His famous book On War is our bible and he is a god among military strategists. But we should stop teaching Clausewitz in the U.S. military.
Most will view this discussion as blasphemy. How dare I advocate that we stop teaching the divine inspirations of Clausewitz. Sean McFate provides a similar discussion in his new book The New Rules of War: "A hagiography exists around the man, and his book On War is enshrined in Western militaries as a bible. When I teach this text to senior officers at the war college, the room grows silent with reverence. His ideas constitute the DNA of Western strategic thought."
On War was published in 1832 and we continue to look to it for timeless principles of warfare, but why? As Ian T. Brown wrote in A New Conception of War, "We must move beyond the past."
The Many Faces of War is a well-researched, creative, historical, mythological and academic look at war, in the cold and often harsh light of trauma, damaged brains, mythology and a very broad sweep of literature. It cast a light on the shadows lurking in dark, hidden and often unspoken corners of our minds, souls, our faces and the timeless and historical territory of the battlefield.
The recent resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis reminds us that serving the nation at the strategic level is not an amoral activity, nor a place where realism pushes ethics off the stage or where Machiavelli is more useful than Aristotle. A lot has been written on the meaning of Secretary Mattis's resignation pointing out, correctly, that his was a principled resignation. But few say exactly what those principles are.
For me, a close reading of his resignation letter and understanding his reasoning can reveal how closely related are the strategic and the moral.
In November 1862, in the wake of the Union victory at Antietam, President Lincoln fired his general-in-chief General George B. McClellan, for failing to pursue Robert E. Lee’s defeated (and much smaller) Army of Northern Virginia. Fifty-seven years before, in 1805, the Emperor of Austria Francis II fired, and then imprisoned for two years, “the unfortunate General Mack” whose epic blunders at the Battle of Ulm precipitated the surrender of 25,000 Austrian troops to Napoleon.
To create an environment where this was feasible—where officers could use individual judgment and yet cooperatively further the overall objective — the Navy sought to strengthen the ability and effectiveness of officers but to do so within a standardized framework.