Teaching Strategy: Challenge and Response

  • Published

Teaching Strategy: Challenge and Response edited by Gabriel Marcella. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2010, 354 pp.

Teaching Strategy: Challenge and Response is itself a response to the debate about the teaching of strategy, addressing the topic from different angles, especially as it applies to professional military education. The book contains 11 chapters by authors well qualified to write about teaching strategy. In the introduction, Robert H. Dorff notes that the collection of essays continues discourse of the past five years about how to improve education in strategy at military academic institutions. He also points out that the war in Iraq, in which execution left something to be desired, reflected some shortcomings in strategy. Dorff concludes by mentioning the existence of several signs of an inability to create good strategy but does not pursue the origins of this problem.

Although the book is a product of the defense establishment, the contributors do not hesitate to air out their concerns about weaknesses in strategy education and discuss how the general population and academia misunderstand strategy. Thus, this collection would appeal not only to members of both the armed forces and the professional education system but also to politicians and the general public. Several chapters offer commentary on strategic thinking that would interest anyone involved in national security or military matters: Robert Kennedy, “The Elements of Strategic Thinking: A Practical Guide”; Thomaz Guedes da Costa, “The Teaching of Strategy: Lykke’s Balance, Schelling’s Exploitation, and a Community of Practice in Strategic Thinking”; Volker Franke, “Making Sense of Chaos: Teaching Strategy Using Case Studies”; and Christopher R. Paparone, “Beyond Ends-Based Rationality: A Quad-Conceptual View of Strategic Reasoning for Professional Military Education.” These contributions distinguish themselves by turning their full attention to the subject at hand rather than dwelling on tangential matters such as internal issues in the professional military education system, as do some of the other contributions. All of the essays, however, raise our understanding of strategy by defining it and exemplifying how it plays a role in different political, military, and geopolitical settings. Several authors address the inability of the modern state to formulate, explain, and execute strategy.

Bradford A. Lee’s chapter, “Teaching Strategy: A Scenic View from Newport” (pp. 105–48), an examination of several interesting balancing acts, deserves special mention. Lee questions whether the teaching of classical strategy, such as that associated with the Peloponnesian War and the Athenian expedition to Sicily, allows today’s officers to apply this ancient wisdom to modern warfare. Do officers need more exposure to what Germans call Bildung, the intellectual self-cultivation of civic values and the riches of our civilization? Does this intellectual enhancement make battlefield commanders better able to save American lives, protect freedom, and end a conflict? Or is this classical education and theorizing strategy just mind noise? Like other contributors, Lee seems slightly pessimistic about the political ability to formulate a clear and concise strategy to win a war or a conflict. In the absence of a national grand strategy, how can we expect service leaders to produce a successful military strategy? Lee also discusses practical questions such as ways of attracting and retaining suitable faculty members.

In chapter eight, “The Teaching of Strategy,” mentioned above, Thomaz Guedes da Costa writes about the strategist as a synthesizer instead of an analyst, a planner, and a manager. His discussion of exploiting the situation (pp. 219–22), an especially important contribution to the volume, draws on the work of B. H. Liddell Hart, Edward Luttwak, and Thomas Schelling by pointing out the value of utilizing strategic thinking as a tool set and providing guidance to exploit an opportunity as a means of ensuring the best possible outcome.

The contributors to Teaching Strategy not only have much to say about strategy to the Air Force community or anyone interested in the topic, but also identify a wealth of excellent sources for future reference in the endnotes to their essays. In short, the book is well worth reading.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Richardson, Texas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."