Author & Context

J.C. Wylie is a career sea officer who develops his theories and propositions through years of experience and personal observation. He was influenced by his appreciation of cultural differences, his combat experience in WWII, and his time at the Naval War College. He was also awarded the Silver Star.


Wylie sees the need for greater emphasis on strategy and thinking about strategy. The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that it is possible to study warfare and be both fundamental and practical about it.


  • Strategy: A plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.
    • “Strategy has no moral quality of its own. It is inherently neither good nor evil; it is always normative or concerned with values.” (p 15)
    • Wylie states that strategy cannot be a science in the sense of physical sciences however:
    • Strategy can be an intellectual discipline of the highest order
    • The strategist should prepare himself to manage ideas with precision and clarity and imagination so that his manipulation of physical realities may rise above mediocrity
  • Principles of War:Wylie does not believe in giving credence to these principles
    • He considers them a substitution of slogan for thought; intellectual formlessness
  • Sequential and Cumulative Strategies:
    • Sequential - series of visible, discrete steps, each dependent on the one that preceded it
    • Cumulative – the less perceptible minute accumulation of little items piling one on top of another until at some unknown point the mass of the accumulated actions may be large enough to be critical
    • Note: These concepts are not incompatible nor are they mutually exclusive; they are, however, interdependent in their strategic results
  • Theory: an idea designed to account for actuality or to account for what the theorist thinks will come to pass as actuality
  • Types of theories: Maritime, Air, Continental, Mao; each has limits and is therefore not a general theory
    • Wylie identifies the seven great military theorists as Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Mahan, Corbett, Douhet, Liddell Hart, and Mao. (p 10)
  • There is no recognized general theory of strategy. If there was, it would have to be:
    • Applicable to any conflict situation, any time, any place
    • Applicable under any restrictions or limitations
    • Not too vague as to be formless and unusable as a basis for intellectual discipline

Applications to Strategy

  • Strategy should be a subject of study used to form an intellectual framework
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