If you recall, Lynn’s case was that there is a discourse of war that goes along with the reality of war, and that the two interact with each other. Changes in the reality of war, such as the massed death meted out at the start of the First World War impacted on the discourse. From being heroic in 1914, warfare became much grimmer and, by the early 1930’s, say, an English University Union could vote that it would not fight for its country.
That change in discourse, arguably, interacted at least with the political process of going to war. The British policy of appeasement was motivated, in part, by the desire of the political elite to avoid another Great War. This is not unusual in history. For example, it is arguable that James II fled London and England in 1688 to avoid another English Civil War, which had seen so much destruction and, of course, the execution of his father.
So the discourse of war, the expectations of war which the political and military classes have, and the reality of war, interact. Lynn tries to get a handle on these discourses by looking at the war literature of the periods he chooses for case studies. It is here, it seems, that his thesis becomes a little unstuck. The claim, for example, that it is only with Napoleon that the idea of a decisive battle emerged, was shown not to be the case. Previous generals could and did seek decisive battles; the true innovation of the Napoleonic era was, probably, simply the size of the battles in terms of combatants.
So the problem that Lynn’s thesis seems to run into is that which in fact he predicts in the introduction to his book. In detail, his thesis fails, at least insofar as it is focussed on decisive battles. However, he does do a valuable service, I think, for us as wargamers, in that he draws our attention towards the discourse of warfare in the different periods he covers. It is this aspect that I would like to try to focus upon.
One consequence of the discussions around Lynn’s book was that my attention was drawn to du Picq’s book ‘Battle Studies’, in that, as opposed to Lynn, du Picq emphasises the continuities of warfare. By this I mean that, to some extent (and du Picq brackets out ‘modern warfare’ by which he presumably means that of the mid-nineteenth century), the over-riding issue is the morale and moral fibre of the troops. Now, it is possible that this should be read against the background of nineteenth century society, where, for example, it was said that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, and that one was expected to “play up and play the game”, even when walking wounded. But it is also possible that du Picq has something important to say about warfare generally, and to us as historical wargamers in particular.
So, the idea I have for the next few weeks is to try to read some of the more important texts of warfare that I can find, and to try to draw out from them interesting and useful things for us as wargamers. I am trying to find texts which are available free on the internet, in the hope that I will not have to do this alone, but some of you will be able to read along and participate. Indeed, if you let me know (via the comments), you can write blog articles about them as well, and I will post them.
One of the potential issues with doing this, of course, is that I am not an expert on all of the eras covered, or indeed, any of them. So I will need some help, particularly for anything after the end of the seventeenth century.
So, which texts?
Obviously, I have not created an exhaustive list, and I am conscious of having missed some, either because I forgot at the time, or have not found a free copy of item. At present, the list is:
The Art of War Sun Tzu
De Re Militari Vegetius
The Art of War Machiavelli
Concerning Battle Montecuccoli
Reveries on the Art of War de Saxe
Military Instructions Frederick of Prussia
The Art of War Jomini
Battle Studies du Picq
On War Clausewitz
All of these, except Montecuccoli, are freely available in PDF of Kindle (or other) format. Montecuccoli appears in the list because I happen to have a copy of his work.
The ordering is a bit interesting, as well. I am actually going to start with Vegetius, because he had huge influence over the medieval military mind. I suppose that it could be argued that I should start with Su Tzu, but I am a westerner, living in the west and wargaming western subjects. So far as I am aware, Sun Tzu was not translated into a western language before the late eighteenth century, and so had little influence on western military thinking before then.
Now, the above list seems to me to be a little daunting, so I am not promising that this idea will be done quickly, or indeed that it will ever be finished. However, I do think that it might be interesting, and even getting started might shine some light on our discourses as wargaming.
As I said above, I do need some help, not just encouragement, in reading the texts listed above. Also, I need some help in identifying the gaps in the above list. I am conscious, for example, that Arrian is not there. If you do know of texts missing, especially of freely available texts online, the do please let me know, and I will add them to the list.
And so to the first of the texts – De Re Militari, and the late Roman Empire.