A Guide to Strategy

In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender’s hold by upsetting his balance.—B. H. Liddell Hart

B. H. Liddell Hart’s Strategy is one of the few historical studies that really I looked forward to reading at the end of each day in my armchair. It’s important to note that it is not straight history. If you are looking for a thorough survey of wars and battles you’ll be disappointed. Perhaps you have to be a “theory geek” like me to enjoy this sort of thing. But theory is only dull when it’s bad. Strategy evinces clear thinking and clear writing.

Liddell Hart’s hypothesis is that in warfare one should choose the path of least resistance while striving for the most decisive results. He contrasts this “indirect approach” to hitting an objective head-on, which typically results in heavy losses and minimal impact. Contrary to the Clausewitzian model, Liddell Hart insists that it is not necessary to physically destroy an enemy in order to defeat him. A perfect example of the wrong approach is the trench stalemate on the Western Front in World War I. Yet maneuverability is not, in itself, the aim. Ludendorff’s famous 1918 offensives as well as Hitler’s sweeping invasion of Russia in 1941 are examples of tactical indirectness that nevertheless failed to obtain any clear objective and later bogged down into a futile direct assault on the enemy. Indirectness can be achieved not just through troop dispositions and movement. In fact, a geographically direct attack can achieve indirectness through surprise and psychological agility.

Because Liddell Hart is concerned with illustrations of his theory he covers some epochs very rapidly. A potential drawback is that he presumes familiarity with the conflicts under discussion. Nevertheless, in most instances he writes with zest and helps us to understand the course of warfare throughout the centuries. While the superficial technical aspects of conflict have changed, the fundamentals have not.

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