Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Roads Classic: The Lasting Wisdom of Captain Liddell Hart

Basil H. Liddell Hart (1895–1970) was an English soldier, news correspondent, author, historian, and military strategist. Wounded and gassed in the Great War, he afterward became a prolific commentator on all things military, building on his own experience and observation. An early advocate of mechanized warfare and air power, he ironically was probably more influential in Germany during the interwar years. Something of an eccentric in his private life, much of his work still holds up, such as his one-volume history of 1914–1918, The Real War.

Below are ten quotes from his body of work that seem to me to have as much relevance today as they might have had in 1918 or 1939.

Liddell Hart During His Military Service
1.  It should be the aim of grand strategy to discover and pierce the Achilles' heel of the opposing government’s power to make war. 

2.  The aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve this. In other words, dislocation is the aim of strategy.

3.  In the history of war [moral issues] form the more constant factors, changing only in degree, whereas the physical factors are different in almost every war and every military situation.

4.  It is folly to imagine that the aggressive types, whether individuals or nations, can be bought off… since the payment of danegeld stimulates a demand for more danegeld. But they can be curbed. Their very belief in force makes them more susceptible to the deterrent effect of a formidable opposing force.

5.  The most consistently successful commanders, when faced by an enemy in a position that was strong naturally or materially, have hardly ever tackled it in a direct way. And when, under pressure of circumstances, they have risked a direct attack, the result has commonly been to blot their record with a failure

6.  For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.

7.  It is thus more potent, as well as more economical, to disarm the enemy than to attempt his destruction by hard fighting…A strategist should think in terms of paralyzing, not of killing.

8.  As has happened so often in history, victory had bred a complacency and fostered an orthodoxy which led to defeat in the next war.
(Strategy, 1954; discussing the French Army between the World Wars)

9.  Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life…To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy’s power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met.

10. The downfall of civilized states tends to come not from the direct assaults of foes, but from internal decay combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war.

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