Gat, Azar. A History of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Few books on military history provide the reader with a comprehensive perspective on military theory, war, strategy and the intellectual origins of each. As the historian and social critic M.E. Bradford observed “Ideas have consequences.” This statement proves to be prophetic in the realm of military history. Classic strategic thought and a general rejection of historicism has become more fashionable in recent years. Studies such as Williamson Murray’s The Making of Strategy and Michael Handel’s Master of War attempt to convey continuity between “classic” military theory and practice and modern war. Peter Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy provides a lineage of modern military thought from Machiavelli to the nuclear age, but the nature of the study does not provide conclusive evidentiary support to the theory that modern military thought originated in the writings of Machiavelli and progressed through the Enlightenment, Romantic Era, and machine age. Case studies work for portraying practical application of strategy, but intellectual history needs cohesiveness. Azar Gat provides the glue that bonds generations of military theory. As he states in the preface to the single volume work, “It offers a panoramic but clearly-focused view of the wider conceptions of war, strategy, and military theory which have dominated Europe and the West from the eighteenth century to our ‘post-modern’ era” (vii). His knowledge of the secondary material is unsurpassed and as the title suggests, the depth of his study fills the gaps between the military theory of the Enlightenment and the modern age.
Book I, entitled “From the Enlightenment to Clausewitz,” focuses on the contradictions between the two world views offered by the great military theorists of each age. Enlightenment theorists stressed a scientific explanation for war and believed war could be classified and pursued as a scientific exercise. Romantic Era reactionaries, best exemplified by Clausewitz, retorted that war could never be labeled as a science because the nature of war relied too much on individual character and what Clausewitz famously labeled “friction.” Gat contends these competing views of war have never been thoroughly dissected or analyzed because scholars have not understood the origins or backgrounds of the two theoretical developments.
Gat begins book one with a discussion of Machiavelli. Gat emphasizes that the idea that war could be systematically studied through historical inquiry originated in the Renaissance. Little in the way of combat had changed since the classical period, and when Machiavelli began writing on the nature of war, he argued that because human nature was “immutable,” warfare could in essence be studied in the same way as politics. Machiavelli’s interest in war, to be sure, originated in his quest for strong political leadership in Italy. A strong military, buttressed by what Machiavelli believed to be the backbone of the army, the infantry, provided Roman leaders with the support they needed to maintain control over unruly political subjects; therefore, Machiavelli determined that politics and the military should be welded into a quest for power. In response to Machiavelli’s claims, the classics were widely studied until the end of the eighteenth century when military theorists began to argue that contemporary models were the best way to ascertain true, effective military strategy. Classic military models were outdated and their reliance on the unscientific nature of war did not account for changing technology in combat.
The immediate rejection of classical models of warfare came from the Enlightenment. Gat credits seventeenth-century thinker Raimondo Montecuccoli with creating a general theory of war. Montecuccoli was highly influential in the eighteenth century because of his scientific approach to war. His Treatise on War reflected the warfare of the seventeenth century, and the topics he addressed, from the conduct of war to the minutia of marching and encamping, displayed his admiration for mathematical resolutions to complex military problems. As Gat states, by the eighteenth century, “It was Montecuccoli’s theoretical vision and conceptual framework that were widely adopted and admired” (26). The scientific outlook attracted Enlightenment thinkers because this view created a rational examination of war and the results of war. Rules and parameters of warfare were established and ultimately Enlightenment thinkers believed bloodshed could be avoided.
The theoretical military revolution of the eighteenth century began in France. Enlightenment thinkers maintained that the rules of war were subject to military genius and thus they were not completely formalized; however, Enlightenment thinkers were enchanted by scientific analysis of all aspects of war. Gat discusses the great French thinkers, from De Saxe to Guibert. He maintains that true Enlightenment thinkers, in customary fashion, wrote only to alleviate boredom or to amuse themselves. Topics such as siege warfare fascinated French thinkers such as Puysegur because of the tremendous potential for mathematical energy in perfecting the system. Possibly the most influential French military thinker of the Enlightenment period was Jacques Guibert. His influence can be traced to the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era, and ideas such as “mobility, rapidity, and boldness in the conduct of operations” had a profound impact on the conduct of the armies of the Revolution. His most important work, the Essai general de tactique, was the basis of Napoleon’s military training. Guibert’s model of deployment became the basis of military theory throughout Europe, particularly in Germany where the thinkers of the Aufklarung applied the theories of the French Enlightenment in “new and revolutionary directions” (55).
Like their French counterparts, the Aufklareres sought to create a general theory of war. German military thinkers, however, emphasized education rather than building systems. Most military historians point to Frederick the Great as the personification of the Enlightenment in Germany, but Gat believes his conduct of war would have appalled the French philosophes. In fact, the Aufklareres advocated a greater involvement for trained officers and an extension of the ranks. Frederick opposed these initiatives. German military theorists believed “that a broad education was also essential for developing the officer’s personality” (61). The Aufklareres advanced the idea that a professional military required academic instruction. To be sure, this idea was born out of the Enlightenment’s emphasis on education. Eventually, military education included the arts, literature, philosophy, and of course history. German theorists argued military theory alone did not ensure a great field commander. The Aufklareres reasoned he must be a man of his times and have a worldly perspective. The result of this process was the creation of dozens of military schools across central Europe.
Though the French and German theorists were important within their own borders, Henry Lloyd transcended the confines of his home country and revolutionized European military thought. Instead of focusing on the organization of armies, Lloyd turned his attention to the conduct of operations. His use of maps greatly enhanced his reputation as a sound field commander. This idea, of course, was not Lloyd’s alone. Puysegur contended that “a science of operations had to be based on the study of geography and geometry” (75). Lloyd’s introduction of the line of operations would revolutionize European military thought. Even his critics, such as Tempelhoff, accepted his theory of line of operations. As Gat describes, the idea of the line of operations was not the central theme of Lloyd’s military theory, and though revolutionary, it would take the writings of Adam Heinrich Dietrich von Bulow to transform it “into the centerpiece of a new science of operation” (80).
Bulow believed firearms produced a need for a new theory of warfare. His model was based on a regular need of supplies, the most important of which was ammunition. Bulow thought he had discovered the “mathematical secret of strategy.” Henceforth, there would be “no need for crude considerations and the hazardous trial of battle in order to plan and decide the fate of a campaign”(84). The art of war, in fact, was no longer an art but a science to be studied systematically. According to Bulow, those who were well versed in the science of war were ensured victory. His ideas were attacked almost immediately after the ink dried. By placing the decisive battle at the center of warfare, Napoleon smashed his theory of limited engagements. Secondly, Napoleon operated in enemy territory and lived on enemy resources. This struck at Bulow’s suggestion that supply lines were essential to the maintenance of large armies. Gat suggests that “Bulow refused to understand what the whole world had already learnt to accept—that tactics was about fighting and centered on the engagement” (92). The age of maneuver warfare, which Bulow helped create, was soon to be challenged by the Napoleonic wars.
Napoleon revolutionized the way European thinkers viewed warfare. His campaigns represented a watershed in European military theory. Napoleon’s prosecution of his imperial wars seemed to contrast the rational, scientific explanation of warfare during the Enlightenment. Thus, many thought the military ideas of the Enlightenment should be scrapped and replaced with a modern version of combat operational theory. The result would be the works of Clausewitz, but one man, Antoine Henri Jomini, attempted to synthesize the military theory of the Enlightenment with the new realities of Napoleonic warfare. His work was profoundly influential in the nineteenth century but declining by the twentieth. Jomini believed “he had revealed the principles of Napoleonic warfare” (133). This, of course, was self-aggrandizement, but as Gat notes his “greatest achievement was that he provided his contemporaries…with the clearest, most instructive framework…” of Napoleonic warfare (123). Napoleon himself was thought to have read Jomini and adapted his style to fit Jomini’s prescriptions for victory. Possibly the most interesting aspect of both Jomini and Napoleon was that neither man believed they were deviating from the conceptual framework of the Enlightenment. War had parameters. Only in the post-Enlightenment era did European thinkers begin to crush the scientific theories of warfare.
Gat places his analysis of the post-Enlightenment era in the context of a “new climate of ideas” (141). While Enlightenment thinkers would differ on ideas, they all attempted to find “a general theory of war” (141). “Within a few years,” however, “Clausewitz began to formulate the most comprehensive and sophisticated expression of new ideas in the field of military thought, thus laying the intellectual foundations for what was to be a new German military school” (142). Gat argues this new German school was an extension of the climate of ideas swirling around Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. Clausewitz and his followers, therefore, must be considered men of their times. Intellectual currents such as Romanticism and historicism influenced the new German school. Historicism in particular with its emphasis on a rejection of universal standards undermined the idea of parameters in warfare. In the process, the intellectual elite, those who had once been the primary advocates of Enlightenment doctrine, were now the individuals who became the harshest critics of perceived Enlightenment dogma.
Georg Heinrich von Berenhorst was at the center of the counter-Enlightenment attack. Berenhorst believed that “far from being automata, the troops could be inspired with a fierce fighting spirit, particularly when motivated by patriotic enthusiasm” (155). Thus moral factors were more important than rigid scientific analysis. “In fact, the real power of armies rests in the moral and physical force of the troops rather than in all the sciences of the officers” (156). To be sure, this position offered a sharp break from the Enlightenment when armies and campaigns were viewed as large chess matches and the general who could out maneuver the other would win the contest. Berenhorst changed the direction of military studies by suggesting blood and mettle could turn the tide of battle. Berenhorst, however, held an affinity for the Enlightenment, as did the man who would mentor Clausewitz, Gerhard Scharnhorst.
According to Gat, Scharnhorst was a man of the Enlightenment and a true Aufklarung. He believed in the importance of military knowledge and emphasized that “war was susceptible to intellectual study, theoretical and historical, based upon clear concepts and principles derived from experience” (165). Moreover, some elements of warfare could be subjected to mathematical or scientific analysis. Scharnhorst’s legacy, however, is not his intellectual corpus but that of his primary student, Karl von Clausewitz. Clausewtiz, therefore, can be seen as a product of the Enlightenment and the Auflarung movement, and an intellectual disciple of a man who rejected the extremes of the Enlightenment only to agree with the belief in a systematic study of war.
Clausewitz rejected the Enlightenment world-view, and as Gat illustrates, his “conception of military theory was rooted in Kant’s theory of art…” (177). Clausewitz distinguished between art and science, believing that science was the aim of “knowledge through conceptualization” while art was “the attainment of a certain aim through the creative ability of combining given means” (179). Art was assisted by knowledge and therefore war could be described as an art. Rules would give-way to “freely creating genius” (180). Clausewitz agreed with Berenhorst on the moral element of war and criticized those like Jomini who portrayed a lifeless picture of military history. “The important point is again that character and spirit are more essential than cognitive faculties; fundamentally, war is an activity more than an intellectual discipline” (183). Clausewitz believed war relied on the moral capabilities of the commanding generals. He demanded a theory of war that portrayed the complexities of warfare and argued that historical experience could be used as a guide but not as a method to “provide doctrines” (190). Clausewitz would therefore wrestle with how to create a comprehensive theory of war while tied to a pseudo-historicist view of the past.
He began his monumental study On War by posing the fundamental question counter-Enlightenment theorists rejected: can there be a universal theory of war? Clausewitz answered yes because a theory on war should “aim at the ‘lasting spirit of war’” (193). This could be determined by an examination of the universal elements of war through historical study. He formulated that the “true subject of theory” was the “conduct of operations” (197). As Gat eloquently states: “Above historical study and crude rules there exists a universal theory which reflects the lasting nature of war, transcends the diversity and transformations of past experience, and is both generally valid and instructive” (199). This was Clausewitz’s conception of a universal theory of war.
Gat argues Clausewitz created his theory of war through practical experience; his political and military outlook greatly impacted his analysis. Fighting, he maintained, was the essence of war; hence, the destruction of the enemy was the centerpiece of his military outlook. Closely tied to his military outlook were his political views which led him to contend that the state should have primary control over wartime strategy. All state activity should be directed at war making capabilities. “War is fought for the attainment of a political purpose, ‘the purpose of war”” (206). The best way to achieve victory was a frontal assault at the enemy’s center position or the decisive point. In essence, the nature of war dictates that the aim of battle should be the total destruction of the enemy’s ability to wage war. This may be achieved through political means, but ultimately, each side will pursue military escalation until war becomes inevitable. After the destruction of World War I, much of Clausewitz’s theory was discredited, and military thinkers began to search for a new model to deal with the harsh realities of war in the machine age. Even Clausewitz realized before his death that contrary to his previous writings, defense may actually have been stronger than offense and there were instances when limited warfare may be preferable to total war. The transition from Clausewitz to the modern age is the emphasis of Book II.
Book II, entitled “The Nineteenth Century,” traces the development of military theory from the Napoleonic era to World War I. Gat focuses on the major European powers, including the United States, in an attempt to ascertain the influence of Napoleonic warfare, the Prussian-German military school, and the major developments in naval military theory during this transitional period. Gat contends that “nothing fundamental seems to have changed in the way people in the Western world in the nineteenth century viewed war and military theory” (515). Gat reasons this was due to the historical climate of the nineteenth century. The French Revolution stimulated intellectual activity, particularly in relation to military theory, and thus, it would take time for the theories developed by the Revolution to be “rendered inadequate by new paradigmatic changes” (515). Military theorists would wrestle with the implications of total war during the nineteenth century, but it was not until after World War I that the idea of total war was again challenged intellectually. Naval theorists provided the impetus for new challenges to total war, and though the nineteenth century may have been devoid of profound changes in strategic theory, Gat nevertheless provides a vibrant description of the men and ideas what would simultaneously solidify both a Clausewitzian and Jominian approach to nineteenth-century warfare.
“It is important to realize that, in general, there was little difference in military outlook per se between Clausewitz and Jomini; both reflected the spirit and outlook of Napoleonic strategy” (270). To be sure, changes took place in the nineteenth century, particularly in the realm of technology, that would transform war, but the origins of nineteenth century military thought were traceable to Jomini and Clausewtiz. Gat begins his analysis of the nineteenth century with discussions of Great Britain and the United States. Both countries adopted the Enlightenment approach to military strategy, though by the end of the nineteenth century, Clausewitz’s influence in the Prussian-German military schools would change the direction of strategic thought in both countries.
The father of British military thought in the nineteenth century was Sir William Napier whose History of the War in the Peninsula had a dramatic effect on British military policy. Napier believed Jomini had uncovered the “true principles of the art of war” (275). His Enlightenment approach to warfare championed the genius of Napoleon and Wellington, for Napoleon “brought the art of war to the pinnacle of perfection, but crushing the tyranny of the magazines, concentrating his forces, moving them on interior lines and substituting battle for manoeuvre” (275). Napier was challenged by British theorists, such as John Mitchell, who emphasized a Prussian-German approach to warfare, but the most popular military text of the age, Edward Bruce Hamley’s The Operations of War was clearly influenced by Jomini, Archduke Charles and Napier. The Jominian thesis would be discredited by World War I, but Gat illustrates that the dominant military theories of the nineteenth century migrated across the channel and had a profound impact on the direction of British strategy.
Jominian theory would make a more extensive journey across the Atlantic where it would additionally influence the direction of United States military strategy. The American experiment was a direct result of the Enlightenment; hence, the founders, most notably Thomas Jefferson, carried the military ideas of the Enlightenment into the White House. The creation of the United States Military Academy and the professionalization of the officer corps in America was a direct result of the Enlightenment. Furthermore, by the 1860s, Jomini’s major texts had been carried to America and translated. Most of the military leadership of the Civil War read Jomini and implemented his strategic prescriptions. Gat uses these two case studies to illustrate the widening scope of military thought, but to be sure, Prussia and France dominated strategic theory in the nineteenth century.
French military strategy in the nineteenth century, formed in large part by Charles du Picq’s Battle Studies, eventually incorporated the idea of the “Cult of the Offensive.” Du Picq believed “fighting performance…was rooted in the most elementary instincts of man’s individual and group psychology” (297). The key to victory in du Picq’s estimation was a disciplined formation. Soldiers were less likely to flee in a disciplined formation because they were protected both physically and psychologically by their comrades. Though du Picq never advocated a strong offensive strategy, the French general staff who read his works before World War I generally accepted his ideas and fused them with their own opinions on offensive combat. Gat reasons that the “Cult of the Offensive” was more complex than a strict allegiance to the ideas of men like du Picq, but French military theorists had a dramatic impact on twentieth-century war planning. Other factors, however, such as the “discovery” of German military ideas and a return to Napoleonic concepts of warfare, a new military school that espoused the ideas of French military theorists, the re-introduction of French nationalism into the military through young, aggressive generals and finally a “quest for moral regeneration,” led to the disastrous French military policy of World War I (440). The French did not have a defensive plan because the offense could be supported and vindicated by superior “moral energy, action, and will power” (432).
Gat argues “only in Germany was the reaction against the Enlightenment so profound and all-encompassing as to influence military theory decisively and produce a new conception of its nature” (310). This was due in large part to the German wars of unification. Once Germany became the dominant power in Europe, the military and public mind were fused into a comprehensive world outlook. The changing nature of German economy and society produced the idea of “world power or decline.” To be sure, the dominant military figure of the nineteenth century was Helmuth von Moltke, Clausewitzian disciple and the driving force behind German expansion. Before the 1848 revolutions, many German leaders, Moltke included, tolerated liberals and even accepted some reformist ideas; however, the revolutions had a dramatic effect on Moltke’s psyche, for he believed they were “revolutionary” not “reformist.” Military planners and theorists crushed liberal “revolutionaries” and solidified the empire by “force of arms and state power” (325). Gat contends “Moltke’s world-view, crystallized after the creation of the empire into a hard core of convictions” was typical of a new comprehensive German Weltanschauung. German military planners became more interested in expanding German borders, including a war against France. Yet, Motlke and other military theorists generally supported defensive measures during the late nineteenth century.
Technology created a different war climate and brought new challenges for military theorists, and though the essence and spirit of warfare remained unchanged, modern warfare, Moltke believed, was gravitating toward total war. This new reality forced German leaders to accept the unification of the German government and war department and to pursue an expansive foreign policy as well. Other European powers, most notably France, would be forced to accept German hegemony at the point of a sword. Eventually, the concept of “world power or decline” filtered into the German military schools. German historians and theorists, such as Hans Delbruck, advanced the “Reich’s ethos in its progressive brand” (372). Eventually, Delbruck would criticize German planning as World War I dragged into a stalemate along the Western front, but for a time there was no better proponent of war than the master German historian. Germany soon discovered that modern technology had changed warfare, but not in the way Moltke had envisioned. Napoleonic warfare was not longer feasible with the invention of modern artillery and the machine gun; total annihilation of the enemy did not seem possible. War now favored the defense, or as Ivan Bloch critically assumed, “war has become militarily impossible to decide and therefore economically and socially suicidal” (378). Millions of deaths on the battlefield during World War I seemed to vindicate his claim.
Book II concludes with an analysis of naval strategy and the interrelationship between Marxism and Clausewitz. Gat argues “a striking similarity existed between naval and military ideas in the nineteenth century” because “the major figures of both military and naval warfare had been, and continued to be, grounded in, and determined by, a common set of technological, socio-political and economic conditions” (441). Imperialism was at the heart of modern naval strategy and stimulated considerable interest in the construction of large fleets. Gat discusses the influence of two great naval theorists in detail: Alfred T. Mahan and Julian Corbett. Mahan systematically highlighted the “historical role and significance of sea power” (450). Gat characterizes Mahan’s philosophy as similar to Moltke’s and demonstrates that Mahan’s naval theory rested on the idea that “war could create the conditions for future greatness, as the British and German cases demonstrated” (458). Mahan resisted technological advancements in naval combat—for example the introduction of the Dreadnaught class battleship—and seemed behind the curve in naval strategy by the early twentieth century. In fact, Gat contends naval strategists faced the same problems land strategists confronted during World War I. Destruction of the enemy’s fleet seemed impossible with increased range and firepower on the open sea. Julian Corbett emerged following the realities of World War I and formalized a new approach to naval strategy. Limited wars, he believed, were the norm in naval combat. He argued that the defense was stronger than the offense and suggested naval theorists look to “the strategic offensive combined with tactical defense” (488). Battles were therefore “the means of enabling you to do that which really brings wars to an end—that is to exert pressure on the citizens and their collective life” (489). Additionally, Corbett warned naval strategists of the dangers of concentration of forces. Keeping the enemy in the dark, he reasoned, was the most effective way of luring his forces into destruction. Corbett had critics, but as Gat correctly states “the advent of nuclear weapons closed the curtain on the nineteenth-century Napoleonic-Nelsonian conception of unlimited war” (493).
Gat’s final chapter of Book II examines the relationship between Marxism and Clausewitz. Most historians emphasize the drastic similarities in Clasuewitz’s and Marx’s view of state power and war as the continuation of policy. Gat contends, however, that historians overstate “the relationship of Engels and Marx to Clasuewitz” (494). As Gat unequivocally states, “neither had any special interest in, or appreciation of, Clausewitz’s work, and…Engels was not influenced by it to any considerable extent” (494). The link between the two, Gat suggests, was a lineage in a “common intellectual matrix” (495). The roots of their respective philosophies were found in German intellectual climate of the nineteenth century, namely historicism and left-wing Hagelianism. Yet, while the Prussian-German military school admired Clausewitz’s devotion to the state, Marxists believed his ideas were “naively idealist or downright chauvinist” (513). But Marxists appreciated Clausewitz’s “historicist notions, comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of war, and rejection of all systems,” and Gat believes the historical and intellectual ties between the two were the product of the same “currents of thought” (514).
Gat’s final book in the trilogy, entitled “Fascist and Liberal Visions of War,” assimilates the various factors that produced twentieth-century military thought. Central to Book III is mechanized warfare and the use of the containment doctrine as an alternative to total war. Gat argues that the containment doctrine was not a product of the Cold War but rather a result of the 1930s debate over appeasement or total war. Western powers resurrected the doctrine during the Cold War, but its genesis is found in the ideas of Basil Liddell Hart. Gat, however, does not stray from incorporating the intellectual origins of modern military thought into his discussion of the twentieth century. In fact, he attempts to show the progression and impact of military thought from the ancient period to the present and consistently refers to the earlier themes of Book I and Book II. Gat separates Book III into two parts. The first covers the rise of fascism as an intellectual doctrine and its impact on military thought; the second discusses liberal military theory and the impact British thinkers had on modern and post-modern military thought. As with his other two books, Book III is a thorough intellectual history dominated by a superb grasp of the secondary source material.
Gat argues a close affinity existed between the proponents of machine warfare and the radical visionaries of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s. Machine-age theorists “almost as a rule…drew heavily from the modernist notions and visions, celebration of the machine, and ideals of action, vigour, and speed prominent within proto-fascism” (521). Fascism was spawned by the industrial age, and more importantly by an admiration for progress and benefits of the machine age. Gat contends “machine war visionaries” were attracted to fascism because they were searching for a way “in which to anchor and…develop their own specialized vision” of the future (524). Much of fascist doctrine was grounded in the “neo-Romantic revolt” of the early twentieth century. Intellectuals such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells created a utopian vision for the triumph of machines and science. While most of the neo-Romantics were strongly socialist and pacifist, machine warfare advocates seized on their ideas and incorporated them into a vision for bloodless combat.
The founding father of machine warfare in the modern age was J.F.C. Fuller. Gat believes “his formal fascist phase was only the logical conclusion of a lifelong intellectual bent” (531). Fuller developed as an intellectual before composing his thoughts on future warfare. He was heavily influenced by positivism and the idea of progress and eventually “rediscovered the military thinkers of the Enlightenment” (543). Fuller blamed a lack of scientific understanding for the failures of pre-World War I military planning. His role as the brains behind the British Tank Corps led to a general policy of using tanks as a dominating offensive weapon. Tanks, he believed, “would protect the infantry advance, create and threaten exposed enemy flanks, and prevent the attack from losing momentum as it moved out of the range of artillery support” (546). Eventually, Fuller would advance the idea of limited troop deployment and mass mechanized armies. Fuller attached his ideas on machine warfare to a rejection of democracy. The modern “people” were led, in his opinion, by demagogues and swayed by ignorant words. Fascism was the expression of the “new scientific age” and should be adopted by those who believed in progress (556).
Though Fuller’s conception of machine warfare eventually would eclipse his contemporary theorists through the work of his friend Basil Liddell Hart, during the 1920s and 1930s Italy was the center of fascist propaganda, and more importantly proto-fascist avant-garde Italian culture. Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio personified the modernist, progress oriented fascist of the 1930s. He was infatuated with fast cars and fast airplanes. “D’Annuzio…believed that a new elite of technocrats and virile technological knights would replace the old elite at the head of a modernist society” (563). Poet Filippo Marinetti echoed d’Annunzio when he argued that “the future belonged to a new vigorous elite, composed of artists, inventors, and technicians, that would engage in creative struggle—and war” (565). This intellectual climate eventually produced the most powerful proponent of mechanized warfare in Italy, Giulio Douhet. Douhet believed that modern war, exemplified by the products of industrialism, increased human power thus making “the whole nation…a great factory of war” (576). His greatest fascination was with the airplane, and Douhet is considered the pioneer of air combat. As Gat states, “the aeroplane and flight were among the Fascists’ most potent symbols” (581). Fascist leaders such as Mussolini, Balbo, and Hitler would incorporate the air force into a comprehensive symbol of “Fascism’s image as an advanced, dynamic, and virile movement” (586). And though Germany initially lagged behind their southern neighbors in creating the modernist image of fascism, it would be Germany that would transform European combat with a strong industrial capacity and dedication to machine warfare.
Gat argues that Nazism was only once component of German fascism. The foundations for German fascism can be found in the writings of Ernst Junger. Junger believed that “The machine is more powerful than muscle,” and contended “the technological age will make armies not only mechanical but smaller, placing the emphasis on the most modern advancements of science and the most sophisticated and agile forms of organization” (602). Junger, however, would remain aloof from politics when the Nazi’s took power. Other machine warfare proponents, most notably the generals Hitler placed in power, carried the standard of machine warfare to its ultimate conclusion. They had studied and were marveled by American technological advancements and sought to emulate them in Germany. Conversely, Gat illustrates a paradox in Nazism. The Nazi party “cast its futurist utopia in a mythological agrarian and pastoral past” (618). Nazi party leaders hoped to capitalize on the interests of all Aryan Germans, particularly the traditional, middle class Germans who they believed were the backbone of German society. By co-opting this segment of society, the party could implement its designs on restructuring the German military. The Nazi’s admired fast cars and fast airplanes, as evidenced by the Autobahn and the Luftwaffe, but the Nazi party alone did not have enough political power to modernize the armed forces. “Yet Nazi political support and the orientation of right-wing radicals within the armed forces were a significant factor in directing German rearmament—particularly the emphasis on the Luftwaffe but also the development of the Panzer arm—towards modern means of war….” (621).
Gat concludes part one of Book III with a study in comparisons and contrasts. Chapter five discusses American progressivism and technological modernism. Gat primarily focuses on two American folk heroes of the 1930s: Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Both became proponents of American modernism and though only Lindbergh could be classified as a pseudo-fascist, the promotion of American modernism “resonated with fascist sentiments and ideas” (625). Fascism never took root in the United States, but Gat contends it had its American equivalents: “Mid-Western Populism, Progressivism and technological modernism” (631). While American thinkers may have been proto-fascist, Marxists, though proponents of a “modern” or “futuristic” doctrine, did not have the same zeal for machine age warfare. In chapter six, Gat argues this was due to the Marxist reliance on militias or popular armies instead of professional elites. Soviet strategy, moreover, emphasized the “deep battle.” This involved mass patriotic conscription and large citizen armies. As Gat states, “the authors of ‘deep battle’ advocated, not futuristic elite machine armies on the model of Fuller or Douhet, but modern machines cum the masses” (639).
Gat dedicates most of Part Two, Book III to an analysis of the life and military thought of Basil Liddell Hart. While Hart’s strategic thought has become the subject of scathing criticism, Gat contends “that Liddell Hart’s life-work…was far weightier than it is commonly considered today” (647). His influence on the evolving landscape of Western military thought was profound, and because Western liberal-democracy continues to dominate the world political landscape, Gat believes his ideas will still have resonance in the future. Furthermore, in contrast to his friend Fuller, Hart became a staunch liberal, and as a “typical representative of the ‘generation of 1914’….His intellectual development mirrored the development of that generation almost theme by theme” (656).
Mechanized warfare and limited liability were central to Hart’s strategic philosophy. These ideas were in part developed through his close association with Fuller, but Hart would take the credit for a systematic development of their primary components. Hart’s writing style made him accessible to the average reader; thus his more immediate success. Hart advanced the use of air power, “non-destructive gas,” and submarines to immobilize the enemy’s rear and crush his communication centers. Warfare, in essence, would be smaller, faster, and less costly. War could be won without destroying the enemy on the battlefield. In this regard, Gat connects Hart to Enlightenment military thinkers and their emphasis on limited, maneuver warfare.
Additionally, Gat believes Hart solidified the containment doctrine long before it was used during the Cold War. Initially, Hart believed a policy of containment should be used to keep the Germans bottled up in central Europe. This could be accomplished through a variety of means, the most important of which was “collective security.” When collective security failed, Hart urged the British and the French to use economic and diplomatic pressure to limit the fascists in Europe. Hart opposed appeasement of the Germans but could not countenance full scale British involvement on the continent. His doctrine of limited liability found favor in the British Parliament, and hence British military expenditures were directed almost entirely toward the air force and navy until the late 1930s. “The more he crystallized containment, limited liability, and deterrence into comprehensive security programme against Germany, the more extreme he became in advocating the superiority of defense, with which he cemented together the whole concept” (765). Of course, the fall of France discredited Hart, as did his opposition to Churchill, but Gat suggests if a united coalition stood against Germany in the 1930s, Hitler may have been stopped. His position seems to vindicate Hart; however, Gat concedes that such a coalition was improbable at best and Hart’s strategic theories would have only worked had all of the major Western powers, including the Soviet Union, been willing to maintain a strong two front defense if collective security did not work. Hart’s ideas did have resonance in the 1950s with the United States policy of containment. In fact, Hart’s views are similar to those espoused by George Kennan. But again, Gat concludes by summarizing Hart’s ideas despairingly:
These methods have had a mixed and often disappointing record from the 1930s onward. They are politically and strategically difficult to apply, often ineffective, and they bring their own sort of psychological strains for those who practice them. Still, given the nature of modern Western societies, of their foreign affairs, strategic requirements, and cultural sensibilities, this way of war-making appears to be their norm, as much as all-out war was for their predecessors (828).
A History of Military Thought, critically acclaimed by Military Review as “the best single author treatment of western operational military theory in the modern world,” can not be matched in depth or intellectual scope. Gat’s belief in a general continuity between Machiavelli and modern warfare is illustrated by his lengthy discussion of Hart in the concluding chapters of Book III. His inclusion of social and cultural history and its impact on military theory broadens and enriches his analysis. Serious students of military history can not avoid his conclusions or ignore his comprehensive approach to military theory. Gat’s work is nothing short of a solid, professional, and exceptional work of history.