This most important book covered the evolution of strategic
thinking from Machiavelli to the nuclear age,
of Modern Strategy-FROM MACHIAVELLI TO THE NUCLEAR AGE,” it explores the facets of wisdom,
temperament and courage that create great leaders and enduring
“On Grand Strategy” begins with the Persian king Xerxes ’
invasion of Greece in 480 B.C., an invasion that went
spectacularly wrong. Xerxes suffered from an inability to
connect the ends he desired—control of Greece and ultimately
all of Europe—with the resources available. Xerxes was
not the last warrior-king to suffer from that particular
Napoleon underestimated Russian winter and the will of
Russian peasant even before he met defeat at Waterloo. Hitler
had troops invade Russia in summer uniforms expecting quick
victory but another cruel winter took its toll.
These leaders were like Isaiah Berlin figures. They were
hedgehogs over-focused on a doctrine or an objective and
failed to adapt to meet the current situation. Gaddis respected
foxes more. They hold fast to objectives and adjust
their tactics to difficulties—geography, weather,
time, public support.
Desires often overwhelm available means requiring a
strategy set priorities, build alliances and conserve resources.
Mr. Gaddis presents an array of leaders who mastered this
strategy method. Queen Elizabeth I understood
British geography strength and
her sea power would keep her safe. Abraham Lincoln
adjusted his thinking on slavery from wanting to block its growth
to arming free blacks to emancipation of slaves held in
belligerent territory. Franklin
on the greater strategic threat Germany rather than Japan who
had struck first. They all choose historically successful
strategic principles that Mr. Gaddis feels will work in the
Not a perfect book, On Grand Strategy
short-changes Eastern tradition
and doesn’t effectively analyze how the nuclear
revolution affects military strategy. He shows many leaders
with few strategy skills led their countries poorly.
Success is not guaranteed. It require wisdom, historical sense,
and the ability to “respects time, space, and scale.”
Mr. Nagl is the headmaster of The Haverford School. A retired
Army officer, he saw combat in both Iraq wars and is the author
of “Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and
Gaddis analyzes the processes and complexities involved in devising grand
strategies: “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations
with necessarily limited capabilities.” Strategic leaders need
to be flexible, creative, and observant. Political theorist and
philosopher Isaiah Berlin popularized this memorable line from an
ancient Greek poet: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog
knows one big thing.”
Both Tolstoy and Carl von Clausewitz, respect theory and practice
“without enslaving themselves to either.” Abstraction and
specificity “reinforce each other, but
never in predetermined proportions.”
That big thing—an obsessive idea or abstract ideal— is likely to prevent innovation. “Assuming stability is
one of the ways ruins get made,” “Resilience accommodates the
Elizabeth I defied traditional
expectations by “... tolerating (within limits) religious
differences...” Rather than impose a grand design, she
responded deftly to her changing world.
Napoleon failed because of limited
“peripheral vision” blinding him of “landscapes, logistics,
climates..." troop morale and enemy strategy.”
Abraham Lincoln was astoundingly intuitive, managed
polarities: they didn’t manage him.” FDR
had a Second Class Mind and a First Class Temperament according
to O. W. Holmes.
How great leaders make good and terrible military decisions
a less favorable review by
Gordon M. Goldstein is an adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations and the author of “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge
Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.”
Strategy Success requires temperament.
uncontrollable ambitions, no fear
Artabanus could not control his fears.
With no balance they made a poor team.
Pericles Percales went from intolerance to repression
in a single speech,
and then Athens soon followed.
Octavian Cesar rose by teaching himself self-control,
fell by forgetting it.
Princes as Pivots that changed Western History.
Machiavelli served pivotal monarchs
Philip II micro managed a vast empire that pivoted down.
Elizabeth I balanced the needs of Parliament, her colonies,
align end to means and began the replacement empire.
Ambition Must Be Balances with Capabilities
Napoleon confused aspirations with capabilities,
failed to align end to means, lost a war and went to prison.
Lincoln align end to means, balances politics and military,
won a war and saved his country.
Wilson the builder failed to align
means to ends
and maintained justice but lost a League.
FDR aligned ends to means, gave up justice and won a war.