From the syllabus:

Description: This course analyzes the ideas of a number of military theorists and historians who have significantly influenced thought about the art and science of war. It assesses the major writings of Thucydides, Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Jomini, Moltke, Liddell Hart, Fuller, Tukhachevskii, Mahan, Corbett, Boyd, and Wylie.


To survey a body of classical and modern military thought that will expand the student's frame of reference concerning the nature of war, its inherent complexity, and relationships among its various components. To provide the student a set of conceptual tools for the comparative, critical, and creative analysis of competing military theories. Objectives:

To develop a logical framework for understanding the nature of war. To evaluate the relationships among the various components of war, with particular emphasis on those among policy, strategy, and operational art. To examine the theories of naval and maritime warfare. Scope:

This course builds on the student's previous instruction in military history, doctrine, and theory at the intermediate professional military education level. The course's major theme is ideas about significant issues in the art and science of war. To this end, it examines major military theorists, drawing primarily, though not exclusively, upon western military thought of the 19th and 20th centuries. As implied in the title, the course is intended to be foundational rather than comprehensive. It purposely excludes theories of air, space, and cyber power; coercion and deterrence; irregular warfare; and contemporary strategic thought; which are covered in SAASS Courses 627, 628, 632, 643, 644, 665, 667, and 670.


The course's philosophy is based on the premise that sound thought on war is best obtained through the clash of various ideas and the subjection of these ideas to critical inquiry and analysis. Its methodology is to expose students to the best available thought in the English language on the nature of war; to encourage students to evaluate the validity of these ideas in light of their own learning and experience; to use the graduate seminar as the arena in which they are able to articulate their ideas and profit from the perspectives of fellow students and a qualified professor; and to refine their thoughts further by confronting a critical issue in a written argument. This philosophy emulates that of Aleksandr A. Svechin, who said the purpose of his comprehensive work on strategy written in 1927 was to "broaden the reader's view as much as possible rather than to train him to think in any particular direction. This book does not advocate some kind of strategic heaven." Neither does this course. Its ultimate product is a provisional, personal theory of war, expressed in a series of questions and/or hypotheses, which students will then test and refine using the evidence and analytical methods to which they are exposed in the remainder of the SAASS curriculum and, indeed, the remainder of their service to the Republic. It is important here to remember that the study of military theory is not an end in itself; rather, it is one of many means to the end of broadly informed, critical, and creative thought that will help SAASS graduates become strategists who will efficaciously provide for the common defense in their remaining years of service. This philosophy was nicely exemplified in the following words of a SAASS I graduate, penned in response to the School's five-year survey:

Anecdotally, I must add that my most enjoyable experience was the all too brief military theory classes at National War College, where the majority of the discussion was an ongoing debate/discussion of Clausewitz, et al., between myself and a SAMS [School of Advanced Military Studies] graduate. It brought me back to the heady days of SAAS[S] where one needed to come prepared for intellectual combat or stay at home.

Both the intellectual combat of examining the validity and utility of competing military theories in the seminar room and the dialectic process of relating concepts to evidence and evidence to concepts have significant transfer value to the mental processes of conceiving, developing, and implementing effective strategies.

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