So there I was yesterday, relaxing after my near escape from the 'sawbones' (see preceding post), quietly reading Alistair Horne's excellent Napoleonic history How Far From Austerlitz and I came across this fella':
Handsome chap and looks as though he might be good fun on a night out! Alas, his main interest in life was, er, death! Military death, of course, nothing so common as murder. A soldier by profession but, unusually, a thinking soldier, in fact a military philosopher. Antoine-Henri Jomini was a direct contemporary, and competitor, of Karl von Clauswitz, the pre-eminent military philosopher of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
I must be honest and confess that whilst I have come across Jomini's name before I have never studied his works, perhaps because wrestling with dear old Karl's abstruse prose is enough to put you off military philosophy for life! Anyway, there he was in Alistair Horne's book, fighting for Bonaparte whilst simultaneously holding a commission in the Russian army - they did that sort of thing in those days and anyway, dammit, he was a Swiss by birth!
Later in the evening, despairing of having to sit through yet another episode of Midsomer Murders which the 'Memsahib' loves - the casualties in Midsomer must be nearly as high as the entire Napoleonic wars by now! - I came up here to cruise the net and came across an article with the intriguing title: Why Did America Lose The Vietnam War? written by Evan Reif - no, me neither! The answer, according to Mr. Reif is that the American military are deeply imbued with the philosophy of Antoine-Henri Jomini and have been since the days of the civil war. His philosophy is, and always has been, standard fare at West Point. In essence (Health Warning: beware brief, trite summaries!) his philosophy concentrated on the battlefield itself. Concentrate your efforts and forces in as much strength as possible on the battlefield where your superior manpower, firepower, training, (and later) technology will overwhelm your enemy and having won the battle the (political) rest will follow. Clausewitz took the opposite line by insisting that politics must always control the war machine not the other way round, to crudely paraphrase, 'war is the extension of politics by other means'. Alas for poor America, their 'Brass' were deeply imbued with Jomini's theories, particularly in Vietnam. As Mr. Reif puts it:
- By the time of Vietnam, the Pentagon's top brass were loudly declaring the death and irrelevance of Clausewitzian theory. Their belief was the superior army, man to man, with the superior tech and training would always be the victorious one, and all other factors were to be disregarded.
The man in charge of the Army until 72, William Westmoreland, was perhaps the most symbolic man possible of the contemporary Pentagon thinking. His focus was the battlefield. He thought simply maintaining a high kill/death ratio would surely bring victory. His handling of the political situation in Vietnam and at home flopped between non-existent and inept, yet he believed he was winning the war simply because his side killed more people. He cozied up to brutal dictators and then wondered why there was still an insurgency.
Am I alone in suspecting exactly the same sort of 'thinking' led the way in Afghanistan, not just amongst the American High Command but the British as well. Our 'Brass' never stopped whingeing about their lack of proper kit and blamed their defeat - and yes, it was a defeat! - on the politicians for not giving them the right sort of Landrovers! None of them (with one or two very honourable exceptions who were never allowed to reach high command) or their political masters, it seems to me, ever considered the political 'ocean' in which they were all drowning.
It does not auger well for possible future involvements in the Middle East and M. Jomini has much to answer for!