Strategic theory and the history of war
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This essay surveys the development of strategic theory from its emergence in the seventeenth century through the era of the world wars. Although the focus is on ideas, some account is taken of changing historical circumstances against which strategic thought has unfolded. The goal of theory in any field is to improve our understanding of reality, and our ability to act effectively. In the case of strategic theory, the interaction between thought and action is especially intense, because war is such an unforgiving enterprise, and because, until recently, serious thinking about how war should be conducted has been confined for the most part to those responsible for waging it. Because the advent of nuclear weapons, the work of theory in the military field was almost exclusively the concern of practitioners. Most have proceeded by way of historical inference, scrutinizing recent (and occasionally remote) experience in search of an underlying logic capable of explaining events. The result is a body of work displaying substantial intellectual continuity, despite much intervening technological and social change; but one whose basic outlook would eventually be called into question by the advent of nuclear weapons on the one hand, and by the rising prominence of guerilla insurgency, terrorism and other forms of irregular warfare on the other.
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