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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2014
The author is Professor of the History of War at Oxford University. A brilliant historian following in the footsteps of Michael Eliot Howard and many other previous illustrious holders of the chair. Strachan has written a number of excellent books on strategy and war. He is a regular lecturer at Defence Colleges around the world.

Today, strategy has come to mean many different things from those of say 100 years ago when it referred to the relationship between tactics and strategy. Today it is more pragmatic and less theoretical. It is essentially the bridge between policy and the battlefield. It is about applying means to ends. It is at the interface of operational capabilities and political objectives. Strachan likens it to the 'glue which binds each to the other and gives both sense'. Above all,strategy has to be founded on a crystal clear 'recognition of the nature of war itself'.

This book is one of the most stimulating books on war and strategy ever written. It is full of insights destroying myths along the way. His comments on Clausewitz are illuminating even for those who are very familiar with his work.
The book is not for the general reader since it requires a detailed knowledge of the key writers on war, i.e. Jomini, Machiavelli, Sun Tsu, Mao, Clausewitz, Corbett, and others. In addition, one needs to be very familiar with warfare in depth since at least the 18th century in order to follow and appreciate the author's analysis.

The chapter on Clausewitz is a gem. In it he focuses on the relevance of 'On War' today and on how Clausewitz has been misunderstood in book after book written about him. One of Strachan's major themes echoes that of Clausewitz in 'On War', namely, strategy cannot be decided upon until you know the true nature of the war you are fighting. Strategy has to rest on a deep understanding of war and war's nature because it will and does shape policy. He points out, and he is not the only one to do this,that Bush and Blair lacked a strategy over Iraq because neither 'understood the nature of war'. Strachan also points out that the famous 'surge' in Iraq was not strategy. General Petraeus agreed and called for a political solution.

The author is one of the very few writers on war who have argued that too much emphasis has been placed on 'war is a continuation of policy by other means'. War is the product of reciprocal exchanges between diverging policies. Strachan reminds us that wars frequently 'shape policies' and the latter frequently alter during a war. For example, the outcome of the Second World War was quite different from that envisaged at the outset. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are even better examples. Iraq was said by Blair to be essential to save us from WMD, then it was to parachute democracy into Iraq, then to defeat al-Qaida, and finally to stop civil war.

In his book Clausewitz shows how policy stands outside war, and can often be independent of it and at odds with it. Strachan therefore emphasises the importance of Bk V111 because it emphasises the reciprocal nature of the relationship between policy and war. He writes that although war should be used as an instrument of policy in reality :'this is a statement about its causation more than its conduct, and about intent more than practice'. As he points out, once war occurs and policies conflict reciprocity 'generates its own dynamic, feeding on hatred, on chance and on the play of military probabilities'. If only our politicians and military would take this to heart. The key point is that wartime policy has to reflect the nature of the war being fought. This was ignored in Iraq and in Afghanistan, hence the failure of both ventures. Far too often strategy is used as a synonym for policy. With regards to Iraq and Afghanistan our policies were based on ignorance of regional, cultural and military realities and capabilities.

The author emphasises that war is no longer, as it was in the 19th century, the sole province of Generals. From 1945 strategy and policy became conflated in the public's minds; this was acceptable during the Cold War and a strategy of deterrence but not now.

Since the end of the Cold War there has been a tendency in the west to ignore the element of chance, friction and luck in war, things which Clausewitz emphasised. Easy convential military victories in Iraq and elsewhere spawned yet another 'revolution in military affairs' (RMA) that placed an emphasis on advanced technology and military superiority. The Powell and Weinberger doctrines exemplified this. They failed badly in Iraq once the actual fighting ended.

Strachan castigates the military for failing to understand what strategy meant after the invasion of Iraq, a failure that meant they could not see what had really altered in war. Strategy had, he says, become confused with policy. 'On War' made clear that wars must'vary with the nature of their motives and of the situations which give rise to them'. This has been ignored all too often.

Terrorism, he reminds us was not invented on 9/11, although Blair and Bush would have you believe it was. Terrorism is a means not an objective. To call for a 'global war on terror', now referred to as the 'long war', was simply daft or as Strachan says 'strategically illiterate'. It never set out a means to achieve a political objective; it was simply a declared means to end fighting. Furthermore,it was vague about space and time, two vital ingredients of strategy. US and UK planners failed to define 'long war',and even more importantly the nature and character of the enemy. Was the enemy a person such as Hussein or bin Laden, an entire ethnic and religious group or any country that disliked the west?

The constant use today of the term 'asymmetric warfare' is pure jargon and is not new.Any intelligent adversary will chose tactics and strategy that suit him not the enemy. Each side will seek to exploit the others perceived weaknesses. That Gordon Brown said on television when PM that we could win in Afghanistan 'if only the enemy would stand and fight' indicates a depth of ignorance about warfare that is alarming.

The author writes:'Historical illiteracy is a besetting sin of western governments'. Hence, the invasion of countries that has often led to a situation far worse than the one that preceded invasion. When, for example, did humanitarian intervention lessen suffering?
Strachan argues that the 'big change in war has been the overt readiness of the west to use it as an instrument of policy' before the nature of the war has been discerned. Conventional wars based on big battles are no longer the norm yet the Armed Services continue to argue their corner as if they are and will be.

The author reminds us that Clausewitz opened his superb book by defining war as 'an act of force to compel an enemy to do our will'. This, not the much quoted war as a political instrument, is the key to understanding what Clausewitz was saying. he pleads, therefore, for 'On War' to be read with far greater care.

Professor Strachan's superb book calls for the study of strategy to return to its historical roots, and to divorce itself from much of today's focus on political science, law and economics. Strategy, as Michael Howard said many years and books ago, must be studied in context. History is after all as Marc Bloch said 'the science of change'.We need, as he said, to study how and why yesterday differed from the day before in order to reach conclusions which will permit us to foresee how tomorrow will differ from yesterday.

In a final chapter Strachan reminds us that 'security is relative, not absolute'.

A magnificent, lucid and thought-provoking book that will repay study. It should be required reading for all interested in the greatest of human failings, namely WAR.
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on 30 November 2016
very good
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on 25 February 2014
I am still immersed in this work, but it is not one that can be hurried. I suspect that I will only get to a fuller understanding of his thrust after a second or third reading.The semantics of language and their relevance to the ongoing direction of war in the 21st century as employed by the major powers is a theme that cuts through the book like writing through a stick of rock. Strachan looks at the ongoing relevance of Clausewitz, and at how the term strategy has been used and misused, leading to problems in the ongoing conflicts that have plagued our century. An argument is posited that politicians have muddied the waters somewhat, with the military colluding in this by failing to adequately defend their corner. To make successful war, there has to be a clear strategy in place - something that Germans never had in place in the second world war, and something that the Americans are currently struggling with (the "War on terror", aka "the long war"). Strachan argues that short wars tend to be successful, while protracted conflicts favour the defenders.
So, you are pondering whether to buy this book. It is weighty and thought provoking, based around a series of lectures delivered by Strachan. The weightiness is also physical - it is pleasingly printed on good quality heavy paper, and equally pleasingly I have yet to spot a typo! It is a book with key observations onto the modern world, and as such inevitably feeds into current events. As somebody deeply interested in history I would heartily endorse this book. It is undoubtedly an impressive piece of work on an important area of human activity. It makes you think, and that in itself is a good thing.
So why the 4 star review, and not the full five? Maybe I am marking it unduly harshly, but it is perhaps overly dense, requiring frequent re-reading of passages before moving on. It does feel an important, even seminal work for all that, and the ideas probably deserve a wider readership than it will probably reach. I for one am glad that I have bought it.
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on 4 May 2014
I enjoyed this , it was engaging and thoughtful. Modern strategy it seems has been misused mis understood and simply not taught at staff colleges correctly. This book should be on officers reading lists...
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on 26 January 2014
A timely review of the contemporary use military power at a time when there are no longer defined front lines. The author considers the roles of politicians and the High Command in the light of current operations in the Middle East. H e gives much food for thought and one would hope that his work is studied carefully by both wings go government thus avoiding a repetition of the shambles of the last ten years.
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on 10 October 2015
No problems
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on 14 November 2016
great experience. fast and easy
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on 29 July 2016
Nice books, good service
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VINE VOICEon 14 February 2014
Whoosh ! This is a high-powered, painstakingly researched, and precisely pitched tour-de-force about the sweep of war – going back certainly since the time of Clausewitz and right up until today. It’s by no means an easy read and I found that it demanded infinite levels of concentration in order to follow and understand the intricate threads, which it weaves. Though I am in no doubt about the prowess and expertise of the author, ultimately it was more difficulty than delight, and at its end I could not say that I understood more than when I started.
The danger is that, though I accept that war is a complex and multi-faceted enterprise – something that this book demonstrates unfailingly – I suspect most people, like me, have a varied, but ultimately quite simple, assessment to make of war. I believe, unlike politicians from all political parties, that Joe Public can understand and discern far more than they are given credit for. So, what would be our tests for war, for instance.

That it’s a ‘just’ war.
That it has clear and readily demonstrable points for entry and exit with clearly defined objectives.
That the leaders who call for war do so with a popular rather than a personal mandate and are worthy of the sacrifice that they call for from the magnificent military machines they deploy and of course the brave and worthy young men and women who may be killed or maimed.
That the civilians in the invaded country can look forward to a better or more stable existence - post-war.
That the invading troops are supported and show at all times that they are never so exposed as to demonstrate a shameful level of conduct which may damage the entire force to which they belong and the people who sent them.
That political leaders are honest.
That home nations can look forward to peaceful and more secure times as a result of their actions …
For me the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts fail just about all these tests and the sight of George Bush which his grandstanding on the aircraft carrier – with magnificent printed banner ( I wonder that he must have brought this with him ! ) is hard to view.

The Suez crisis, many would accept, was not our finest hour. Political leaders, who called for this, paid the final price when the Americans, probably correctly, pulled the plug on our escapades. It’s such a shame that Tony Blair did not have the moral courage to do the same rather than deviously following George Bush, in what was to many a misguided and ill-founded campaign that cost us dear in every sense. Even our special relationship was soon forgotten when PM Cameron was not given leave to launch into Syria - how glad we all are now that he wasn’t – and UK criticised by the Americans as they lauded their new best buddies, the French.
My only moment of delight was the press conference when President Bush found himself dodging shoes thrown at him. I was just sorry that Tony wasn’t standing next to him and of course that they didn’t hit him!
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on 28 June 2014
I have read this book and found some of the points raise very thought provoking relative to contemporary circumstances but all in all I read it all before!
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