The Art of War Precis
In The Art of War, Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini attempts to elucidate the enduring and invariable principles of war. Jomini studied the Severn Years’ War along with the campaigns of the French Revolution to discern these principles. For Jomini, voila la science de la guerre en peu de monts, le systeme de l’Empereur Napoleon presente un application constant de ces principles invariables. (The system of the Emperor Napoleon presented a consistent application of the principles invariable.) Jomini prescribes maneuvering the mass of an army so as to threaten the “decisive points” in a theater of war and thenr to hurl all available forces against a fraction of the enemy force defending those points. Jomini also stressed the importance of lignes d’operations (lines of operations) – where an army fights, for what objective, and in what force relative to the total available military power of the state.
Data: Antoine-Henri, Baron de Jomini. The Art of War, Translated by Capt G.H Mendell and Lt W.P. Craighill (New York: Dover, 2007)
Author: Jomini was Swiss, born in 1779, witnessed the French Revolution, and participated in the new regime following the Swiss Revolution of 1798. He initially trained as a banker but then devoted his life to warfare and studying warfare. He served as the secretary to the Swiss minister of war. He served with the commander of the French Sixth Corps, General Ney, who subsidized the publication of Jomini’s first book.
Jomini was a veteran of many campaigns, remarkably well placed to observe a decade of intense warfare across the face of Europe.
Jomini served as a military advisor to the Russian Alexander I and then Nicholas I.
Context: General Henry Lloyd provided the intellectual foundation for Jomini’s theories. Lloyd wrote an analysis of the German campaigns of the Seven Years’ War in which he offered a systematic discussion of warfare and its underlying principles. (Lloyd’s work prompted Tempelhof’s rebuttal.) Jomini drew on the campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars to correct the imperfect efforts of Lloyd and Tempelhof to discern and apply the principles correctly.
For Jomini, the true nature of French victory lay in strategic maneuver.
The greatness of Napoleon lay not in exploiting the energies of the Revolution for military ends, but in discerning and applying the scientific truths of warfare.
In essence, Jomini fused two of the great cultural currents of the early nineteenth century: a boundless romantic sensibility and an obsession with the power of science, reduced to formulaic statements and prescriptive injunctions.
Scope: Jomini provides immutable, scientific principles for the conduct of war.
Evidence: Jomini supports his work based on historical analysis and his personal experience.
Central Proposition: Analysts can make the study of warfare “scientific,” yielding a “strategy” with prescriptive techniques for military analysis and planning.
Strategy is the key to warfare. All strategy is controlled by invariable scientific principles; and these principles prescribe offensive action to mass forces against weaker enemy forces at some decisive point if strategy is to lead to victory.
Voila la science de la guerre en pue de mots. Le systeme de l’Empereur Napoleon presente une application constant de ces principles invariables. – Here is the science of war in a few words. The system of the Emperor Napoleon presented consistent application of these principles invariable.
“There is one great principle underlying all the operations of war… It is embraced in the following maxims: (1) To throw by strategic movements the mass of an army, successively, upon the decisive points of a theater of war, and also upon the communications of the enemy as much as possible without compromising one’s own. (2) To maneuver to engage fractions of the hostile army with the bulk of one’s own forces. (3) On the battlefield, to throw the mass of the forces upon the decisive point, or upon that portion of the hostile line which it is of the first importance to overthrow. (4) To so arrange that these masses shall not only be thrown upon the decisive point, but that they shall engage at the proper times and with energy.” (63)
Other Major Propositions: Genius would defeat the military pedant. However, the principles themselves, whose truth is demonstrated by all military experience, could not be ignored without peril and, when followed, had “almost invariably” brought victory.
Maneuver the mass of an army to threaten the “decisive points” in a theater of war and then hurl all available forces against a fraction of the enemy force defending those points.
In Jomini, Soldiers found just what they wanted regarding political relationship: good arguments against strict subordination to political authority. HE argues a government should choose its ablest military commander, then leave him free to wage war according to scientific principles. Governments should not neglect their armed forces, but they must not meddle in matters that only educated and experienced officers understand.
Lines of operation – where an armed force fights, for what objective and in what force relative to the total available military power of the state: (1) natural lines (rivers, mountains, deserts, distances, fortifications, political boundaries, etc) and (2) strategic choice (range of choice allowed by the environment, where to fight, to what purpose).
Most commanders make bad strategic choices because they are misled by “common sense.” Attempting to defend territory or a weaker army, they let the enemy decide where, when and how to attack.
The difficulty of making and implementing strategic choices, however simple and limited they may appear in retrospect, is confirmed in war after war, down to the present. And the core of the difficulty is in correctly weighing risks, benefits, and probabilities, and in reaching some conclusion firm enough to be carried out. Must credit Jomini for giving the problem of strategic decision making the attention its history and consequences deserve.
· Internal Consistency and Comprehensiveness –defined, categorized, explain, connect, complete?
o Failed to test the null hypothesis – cases in which military experience did not conform to prediction based on his principles
o Assumed military units of equivalent size were essentially equal. Differences were at the top, in the capacity of commanders and the quality of their strategic decisions. Failed to recognize asymmetry of interests (popular wars)
o Neither the political realm nor the military technique with which wars are fought is susceptible to the kind of scientific analysis he brought to strategy and strategic decision making.
o Vagueness about where the principles of war do and do not apply.
· External Validity –
Comparison and Synthesis: Clausewitz approached war as a complex totality, seeing it in what may be called tragic terms, always threatening to escape human control, while Jomini saw war largely in personal, heroic terms, controlled by the masterful commander.
The enormous difference between the two theories lay in Clausewitz’s insistence that war was extremely complex in reality (however simple ideally); that theory could only illuminate this complexity, identifying and clarifying relationships (but not to prescribe action); and that warfare was intrinsically political and must be approach as such (and was not an autonomous activity occurring within more or less fixed political boundaries).
Importance: Jomini strongly influenced Alfred Thayer Mahan, who attempted to do for sea power what Jomini had done for land warfare.
Simplifying, reducing, prescribing – these had become the inescapable dominant qualities of Western military thought at the turn of the century. These qualities combined to extol the Napoleonic model of massing, attacking, and quickly winning decisive victories.
In WWI, military commanders on all sides defended their apparent ineptitude with simple strategic maxims drawn from Jomini, whose reputation began a steep decline from which it has never recovered. Modern weapons, the total mobilization of economies and societies, and attritional warfare with its revolutionary consequences seemed to make nonsense of his preoccupation with lines of operations and little diagrams of strategic maneuvers.
Liddell Hart blamed the WWI obsession on the great battle on Clausewitz, not Jomini. He urged mobility, audacity, and skill.
Jomini also influenced early air power theorists such as Douhet – airplanes should be massed against the decisive point.
Post WWI, Jomini’s influence is seen primarily in the criticism of contemporary strategic thought. Strategists in the nuclear age employ abstract methods like model building and systems analysis that reduce war to an operational exercise, transforming it thereby into an unrealistic but extremely dangerous game.
Definition of the Art of War
· “The art of war, as generally considered, consists of five purely military branches, -viz: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering, and Tactics. [A sixth category is Diplomacy in its relation to War.]” (11)
The Relation of Diplomacy to War
· “A government goes to war to reclaim certain rights or to defend them; to protect and maintain the great interests of the state, as commerce, manufactures, or agriculture; to uphold neighboring states whose existence is necessary either for the safety of the government or the balance of power; to fulfill the obligations of offensive and defensive alliances’ to propagate political or religious theories, to crush them out, or to defend them; to increase the influence an power of the state by acquisitions of territory; to defend the threatened independence of the state; to avenge insulted honor; or from a mania for conquest.” (12)
· “War is always to be conducted according to the great principles of the art; but great discretion must be exercised in that nature of the operations to be undertaken, which should depend upon the circumstances of the case.” (13)
· “If the principles of strategy are always the same, it is different with the political part of war, which is modified by the tone of communities, by localities, and by the characters of men at the head of states and armies.” (15)
· “Wars of conquest, unhappily, are often prosperous… However, there are natural limits in these wars, which cannot be passed without incurring great disaster.” (20)
· “IT might be said that [Napoleon] was sent into this world to teach generals and statesmen what they should avoid. His victories teach what may be accomplished by activity, boldness, and skill; his disasters, what might have been avoided by prudence.” (20)
· “The dogma sometimes is not only a pretext, but is a powerful ally; for it excites the ardor of the people, and also creates a party.” (22)
· “In national wars the country should be occupied and subjugated, the fortified places besieged and reduced, and the armies destroyed; whereas in wars of opinion it is of less importance to subjugate the country; here great efforts should be made to gain the end speedily, without delaying for details, care being constantly taken to avoid any acts which might alarm the nation for its independence or the integrity of its territory.” (24)
· “Religious wars are above all the most deplorable.” (31)
· “Military policy may be said to embrace all the combinations of any projected war, except those relating to the diplomatic art and strategy.” (34)
· “The superiority of armament may increase the chances of success in war: it does not, of itself, gain battles, but it is a great element of success.” (42)
· “The most essential qualities for a general will always be as follow: - First a high moral courage, capable of great resolutions; Secondly, A physical courage which take no account of danger.” (50)
· Strategy embraces the following points – selection of the theater of war, determination of the decisive point, selection and establishment of the fixed base, selection of the objective point, strategic fronts, choice of lines of operations, best strategic line, bases of operations, marches of armies, relation between positions of depots and marches of army, fortresses, entrenched camps, and diversion. (61 – 62)
· “Strategy is the art of making war upon the map, and comprehends the whole theater of operations. Grand Tactics is the art of posting troops upon the battlefield according to the accidents of the ground, of bringing them into action, and the art of fighting upon the ground, in contradistinction to planning upon a map.” (62)
· “There is one great principle underlying all the operations of war… It is embraced in the following maxims: (1) To throw by strategic movements the mass of an army, successively, upon the decisive points of a theater of war, and also upon the communications of the enemy as much as possible without compromising one’s own. (2) To maneuver to engage fractions of the hostile army with the bulk of one’s own forces. (3) On the battlefield, to throw the mass of the forces upon the decisive point, or upon that portion of the hostile line which it is of the first importance to overthrow. (4) To so arrange that these masses shall not only be thrown upon the decisive point, but that they shall engage at the proper times and with energy.” (63)
· “For a single operation, which we have called the taking the initiative, the offensive is almost always advantageous, particularly in strategy.” (65)
· “Lines are strategic either from their geographical position or from their relation to temporary maneuvers.” (77)
· “If the art of war consists in bringing into action upon the decisive point of the theater of operations the greatest possible force, the choice of the line of operations, being the primary means of attaining this end, may be regarded as the fundamental idea in a good plan of a campaign.” (104)
· “What I propose is, to act offensively upon the most important point with the greater part of the forces, but upon the secondary points to remain on the defensive, in strong positions or behind a rive, until the decisive blow is struck, and the operation ended by the total defeat of an essential part of the army.” (113)
· “In the most important operations in war, strategy fixed the direction of movements, and that we depend upon tactics for their execution.” (159)
· “Battles are the actual conflicts of armies contending about great questions of national policy and of strategy… Grand tactics is the art of making good combinations preliminary to battles, as well as during their progress.” (162)
· “War in its ensemble is not science, but an art. Strategy, particularly, may indeed be regulated by fixed laws resembling those of the positive sciences but this is not true of war viewed as a whole.” (293)
· “Strategy is the art of brining the greatest part of the forces of an army upon the important point of the theater of war or the zone of operations.” (294)