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On the shelf next to my computer desk, I have within my reach two “must-have” overview texts on military-strategic thought: the 3rd edition of Michael Handel’s Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought (Frank Cass, 2001); and an older, pre-1986 version of Peter Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Paret’s co-translated version of the “Bible” of strategy — Clausewitz’s On War — is also a key text for the strategist-in-training.
Looking over the latest offerings from Princeton University Press, I note that Peter Paret is at it once again. Paret, professor emeritus of European History at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, turned last year’s Lees Knowles Lectures at Cambridge into a full book: The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806. Looking at the Franco-Prussian conflict, Paret provides (from the available excerpt) a very readable outline of how the changing character — vs. nature — of war precipitated new theorizing by Clausewitz and Jomini. Reiterating one of Clausewitz’s main points, Paret relates the following in his opening salvo –
The components of war—mobilization of human resources, discipline, weapons, tactics, strategy, and much else, the issues they raise, and the problems they pose—are timeless. But the forms they take and the social context that does much to shape them are always changing. (page 1, emphasis added)
As we all consider the back-and-forth over General McChrystal’s 66-page Commander’s Initial Assessment (30 August 2009) regarding the need for ISAF to adopt a more explicitly COIN-oriented strategy in Afghanistan, let us keep clearly in mind Clausewitz’s (and Paret’s) cautionary words about the unchanging, timeless components of warfare and the need to adapt to war’s chameleon-like, ever-changing forms.