Making predictions about the future is an impossible task, in particular when the focus is on technologies at their beginning. History is riddled with false prophecies, be they either exaggerations or understatements: from predictions that a technology will end war once and for all—like the telegraph or nuclear weapons—to such understatements as Watson’s famous prediction that there was a global market for only five computers. It is tough to judge whether changes are ground-breaking, or only appear so from the close proximity of a contemporary. At the same time, people throughout history have ignored fundamental changes happening before their eyes, as changes took time to unfold or initially only concerned a limited area.
As early as 1599, Shakespeare’s turn of phrase for Anthony in his play Julius Caesar tacitly acknowledged a 200-year-old human acceptance of autonomous war machines. As modern-day ethicists agonize over the autonomy’s ascendance, they ignore 2,600 years of wartime employment of autonomous, self-replicating killing machines that are by popular opinion still our best friend.
While it took centuries to move from Da Vinci’s vision to the Wright Brothers’ reality, the flash to bang on drones and beyond is rapidly shrinking. Whether we are still on the cusp or already tumbling down the rabbit hole, such technology will continue to combine in wonderful and terrible ways. We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed putting it together. More importantly, we hope it forces us to think about the future of warfare in new and uncomfortable ways.
Suicide Bombing has been the subject of scholarly works and studies in multiple campaigns. For the U.S. military, suicide tactics have been an integral part of the threat environment for well over a decade. Familiarity with the concept generates a bit of complacency, but this is a false familiarity obscuring the reality that suicide bombing has changed in the last decade.
Maritime hybrid warfare has the potential to become a major issue across all the levels of warfare. Its methods are numerous, but will likely involve autonomous systems, drones, Q-boats, little blue sailors, cyber-attacks, and propaganda. Ultimately, these methods will be hard to combat, but their effects can be reduced.
Multi-Domain Battle has many flaws, but its most fatal is that as presently envisioned it risks being an underachiever. The United States, if it is to re-exert its global position, needs a military strategic concept that is more than just an iterative update of Air/Land Battle. It needs one that is great, if not revolutionary. Those designing Multi-Domain Battle are right in seeking a land force able to contest and win the fight in and across all domains, and which takes advantage of technological advances in connectivity, visibility, and lethality. This is a good start, but only if it nests Multi-Domain Battle within a military and national strategy.
This volume accomplishes precisely what its author intended by providing those with sufficient intellectual curiosity a means of seeking deeper understanding of Islam and forming their own opinion of the Qur’an. This mission is both inspirational and aspirational. The gap we must close in modern society to achieve lasting international stability is vast. It is an intellectual divide that is multi-dimensional, layered, nuanced, complex, and sometimes maddening. Howk’s refreshed interpretation of the Qur’an is a noteworthy step in bridging this divide through respect and acceptance.
Over the past 100 years economics has been transformed from a prime motivator for war, through the imperialist ideals of national prestige and territorial expansion, to a tool best used as a means to try and avoid war. Additionally through the establishment of the rules based global order that emerged after the Second World War the economic motivation for war has not only been diminished but has effectively been rendered illegal and immoral. While economic considerations may be enshrined in the architecture of the current global order and serve to provide a means for modern nations to collectively pursue peace through mutual prosperity (as demonstrated by the EU), economic considerations do nothing to deter an irrational actor motivated by non-material means.
While Iron Dome’s past success makes it a tempting solution to future challenges, a careful look at the system’s success to date should engender caution. The system has performed well against an adversary with a limited arsenal of rockets, targeting relatively sparsely inhabited areas. However, even there, it has produced unexpected negative political consequences, feeding international perception of Israel as disproportionately aggressive and attenuating strategic ends to be less decisive. In future conflicts, even this mixed outcome may not be achieved.
Thomas Aquinas devotes a small section of his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica, to the question of whether military command is a form of moral prudence, concluding it is. Military command may resemble art, and it requires fortitude, but the exercise of command calls for prudence, which is unique among the Aristotelian virtues as cataloged by Aquinas in that it is both moral and intellectual. For the soldier, moral prudence involves a balancing act of ends and means, a golden mean of victory and its cost.
The conception of military command, indeed of all situations in war that call for the exercise of judgment, as a form of moral prudence has the potential to enrich the moral dimensions of the military profession. This must begin with education. In this article, I will discuss some examples from military history and literature that might be used as bases for discussion of moral prudence. Neither history, literature, nor personal experience offer formulas or answers to questions concerning moral prudence and its relationship to military command and leadership, but they can raise questions and promote productive discussion of these vital and interesting topics.
Some of the most famous prudential officers in history were Caesar and Charlemagne (military commanders who also built and maintained diverse empires), Washington, Wellington, and George C. Marshall. Being human, they were all also imperfect. In some cases their prudence may have deserted them, but their careers were marked by a sustained moral-military prudence with respect to their roles as officers, commanders, and as national leaders. Perhaps the key aspect of moral prudence that comes through in these examples is a careful weighing of the costs of war against the attainment of worthwhile (or less worthy) aims.
Historical Examples: Caesar to Marshall
Caesar’s ambition may have outrun his prudence in the end, but he was also a victim of the endemic political violence of late-Republican Rome. Before his death, in his conquest of Gaul, he had husbanded a relatively small force, remote from its base in Rome, winning battles while limiting bloodshed, weighing force and clemency, sustaining support from Rome and winning over the Gauls so their country became a bulwark of the Roman Empire for over four centuries. He may be said to have demonstrated moral prudence both as a commander and an administrator. He avoided the search for personal glory that overtook some Roman commanders, would not commit untrained troops, or outrun his supplies. He once delivered an Aristotelian-style lecture on military ethics to the centurions of a legion. He gave positions of responsibility to local chieftains, treating them as allies rather than subjects. In both military and civic roles, he may be said to have adopted existing Roman practices and raised them to the highest level to that point, laying the groundwork for the western empire.
Charlemagne did not ensure the survival of his empire after his lifetime, although in this he too was perhaps defeated by his times. While he lived, the Frankish Empire was a rare example and source of stability in a period of rickety, warring fiefdoms. Charlemagne may have best exhibited prudence in providing balanced economic, logistical, and recruitment systems that were both sufficient and sustainable, and in his overall military goal of European unification, not just raiding or conquest, which were typical of the period in which he lived. Charlemagne’s organized approach to economics and to warfare depended on an educational system he helped to develop that created literate and learned servants of empire. In this area, and in others, Charlemagne set the example, demonstrating his own love of books and learning, having books read to him at meals and encouraging the translation of books by clerics. Even when an old campaigner, Charlemagne did not lose feelings of sadness over losses in war, which he nevertheless kept in balance through self-discipline. In The Song of Roland, Charlemagne is depicted as swooning when he learns of the deaths of Roland and the rest of the rear guard at Roncesvalles, but on the following morning he rises early to marshal his pan-European force against the Moorish enemy.
Washington and Wellington both displayed a distaste for the excesses of war in their own ways, and both retired to civil careers, Washington as President and Wellington as Prime Minister, that reflected the Platonic and prudential benefits of the harsh schools in which they were trained, not expecting too much, but holding fast on principle. Washington as a military commander demonstrated prudence in the offensive. After a series of disastrous defensive battles in New York, he realized his army could not yet stand up to British firepower and bayonets, so he sought offensive engagements, as at Princeton and Trenton, in which he could create advantages of surprise and numbers. Despite an innately authoritarian and aggressive personality and approach to command, he showed balance, learning to listen to advice and resisting the temptation to over-reach after victories, training and husbanding his army until it was the equal of the British.
Wellington was proverbial for the concern he showed for his men, both in matters of supply and on the battlefield, developing tactics, like the use of skirmishers and the two-rank firing line, that limited exposure to fire and casualties. He showed enormous forbearance in dealing with often untrustworthy allies, as on the Peninsula. Willing to overlook failures in others, his own personal and professional honor were scrupulous. He once said of an act of dubious diplomacy that he would rather sacrifice every frontier in India than his country’s reputation for good faith.
George C. Marshall followed a similar course, and he stands out in the minds of many as an exemplar of military prudence. As a young staff officer, Marshall saw the devastation in Europe during World War I, and he never after forgot or allowed others to forget the human cost and far-reaching consequences of military operations. By the time of his tenure as U.S. Army Chief of Staff (1939-1945), General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold observed of Marshall that he demonstrated “more mature judgment (and), could see further into the future” than the others in attendance. As early as 1943, Marshall was considering the problems of post-war European recovery, his ideas later taking shape in what became known as the Marshall Plan. Marshall was as imbued as any military officer with the desire for victory, but he learned to balance this with a respect for the processes of government and a sense of what the world would look like once victory was attained. There were times, as in the extension of the enlistments of pre-war draftees, when clever shortcuts were available to attain the desired result. Marshall rarely if ever stooped to these, because he saw the long-term consequences that such methods often entailed: the surrender of trust and the unfairness towards those already carrying the heaviest burdens.
Military prudence is not limited to senior commanders or officers of high rank. The junior officer’s need for prudence may be even more pronounced, since her closeness to the action and to those doing the fighting can make shortcuts and expediency seem very reasonable. The leader of a patrol who takes fire from a village may be tempted to employ a disproportionate amount of fire in response. The adviser or counterpart to a commander of indigenous forces may be drawn to tolerate illegal and immoral methods that appear to be the local norm, methods that may even be effective, at least in the short-term.
Challenges of this kind may have a clear right answer, but others will have a more open-ended, equivocal quality calling for frequent reconsideration and refinement, for prudent judgment. An officer engaged in operations in which the possible costs in lives seem out of proportion to real gains may ask how much risk or effort they require. An illustration might be found in the episode titled “The Last Patrol” of the fact-based Band of Brothers book and series. In “The Last Patrol,” an officer, the superlative Dick Winters, is ordered to repeat a patrol that on the previous night ended with a soldier killed for the dubious reward of two German enlisted prisoners. To run the same patrol that late in the war strikes him as hazardous beyond reason. He tells his soldiers to stay behind the wire but report the patrol as completed. His deception goes undetected, and it may be that only his enormous prestige, a standing based on his superb combat leadership, prevents the subterfuge from emerging or being used against him. Faced with the threat of exposure or blackmail, he might have been faced with a whole series of moral dilemmas that had no good answers. Prudence is a necessity but not a guarantee against uncertain or bad outcomes.
History: Learning Prudence by Negative Example
Unfortunately, history also offers a rich source of examples of imprudent command, but the study of these failures can be as rich and rewarding as the study of success. Sometimes officers who were skilled tacticians and adept leaders at that level lacked the prudence to weigh gains and losses. All unjust wars have arguably been imprudent, in that they failed to weigh costs and consequences, and even some some just wars have been fought by commanders who failed in moral prudence. Robert E. Lee was clearly imprudent at Gettysburg, at least on the final day when he ordered Pickett’s charge, and he might also be accused of moral imprudence for leading his men in the unjust cause of the Confederacy. Erwin Rommel skillfully but recklessly pursued aggressive war in the mismatched service of what should have been a defensive strategy in North Africa, since, at least in the judgment of historian Douglas Porch, German interests in the region called for “stalemate, not victory.” The charge of imprudence for leading others in an unjust war could even more forcefully be made against him than against Lee. The charge of imprudence may also be made against Mark Clark in his command of U.S. forces in Italy. Although intelligent and a brilliant organizer and planner, Clark’s repetitious and unimaginative tactics in the face of heavy casualties, his unwillingness to listen to subordinates, and his tendency to shift blame when things went badly are all signs of imprudence, of a cognitive failure linked to ethical shortcomings.
Learning from Literature
Since Aristotle, literature has been recognized as a means of providing moral instruction, an approach to literature and to ethics that has undergone a considerable revival in recent decades. Imaginative literature is also used to teach leadership and command, as illustrated by the many fiction titles in the reading lists regularly published by the military services. Literature contains vivid examples both of officers who exhibit and who seem to lack moral prudence. The latter may possess intellectual virtues but lack the melding of the intellectual and the moral that may add up to military prudence. Tolstoy’s Napoleon, General Cummings in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948), and General Lemming in The Lionheads (1972) by Josiah Bunting are often capable and even brilliant, but undone and unmasked by their lack of military prudence, which ought to temper and add heart to the officer and warfighter. Cummings’ ambition and arrogance combine to ensure he is missing for the battle he hoped would make his reputation. Lemming is a capable tactician who refuses to oppose the Army hierarchy over what he knows to be the dubious use of riverine craft in the jungle, a misuse of equipment which costs lives. Lemming also believes his mock-ingenuous pretense of concern for his soldiers is a convincing leadership performance, but he is dismissed profanely at the end of the novel by a representative soldier.
The officer who surrenders prudence as a way to prepare for battle will not fight well. As the veteran Enobarbus says of Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, “When valor preys on reason, It eats the sword it fights with” (III, 13, 240-1). In the film Twelve O’Clock High, doubts about the efficacy of strategic bombing contribute to low morale among the air crews of a heavy bombing group. The commander tries to address these, but he is never fully successful, limiting himself to arbitrary and artificial measurements of success. In the end, his greatest challenge may be to convince himself that the destruction and sacrifice are justified. He fails at this, and after the death of a loyal subordinate acting in his orders, he lapses into debility and speechlessness. He steels himself to dubious battle, suppressing his own doubts along with those of others, but his brittle valor finally comes apart.
Harry K. Brown wrote in his classic novel A Walk in the Sun, that “war, without virtue in itself, breeds virtue.” War can be a place where prudence is learned, but the instilling of prudence cannot be left to chance or deferred to the actual clash of arms. It must be part of military culture and education, of reading and discussion. The foregoing examples are meant to merely suggest how to go about this. Moral prudence is more than mere caution; it sees clearly the unavoidable hazards of war. Along with warfighting skills and the will to win, the self-regulation of moral prudence should be part of the equipment of everyone who aspires to command, or to advise the commander.
Reed Bonadonna is a former infantry officer and field historian in the U.S. Marine Corps. He has a doctorate in English from Boston University and was the Director of Ethics and Character Development at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. His book, Soldiers and Civilization: How the Profession of Arms Thought and Fought the Modern World into Existence, was published by the Naval Institute Press in May, 2017. He is at work on another book with the working title, How to Think Like an Officer: A Guide for Officers and Others.
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Header Image: "Temptation of St. Thomas" by Diego Velázquez (Wikimedia)
 Kahn, Arthur D. The Education of Julius Caesar: A Biography, A Reconstruction (New York: Schocken, 1986) 228, 233.
 Heer, Friedrich, Charlemagne and His World (New York: MacMillan, 1975), 151, 154.
 Barbero, Alessandro, Charlemagne: Father of a Continent. Translated by Allan Cameron (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 123.
 Fischer, David Hackett, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 341.
 Glover, Michael, Wellington as Military Commander. 1968 (London: Penguin, 2001), 234.
 Cray, Ed, General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman (New York: Norton, 1990), 423.
 Ibid, 428.
 Douglas Porch, The Path to Victory: The Mediterranean Theater in World War II (Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky and Konecky, 2004), p. 198.
 Ibid, p. 490.
 Harry Brown, A Walk in the Sun (New York, 1944), 34.
What do the ideas of narrative as doctrine, Stoicism, defeat, chivalry, and fighting for pay tell us about the development of military professionalism in the West? In his new volume, Soldiers and Civilization: How the Profession of Arms Thought and Fought the Modern World into Existence, Reed Robert Bonadonna addresses the role these and other developments in military history played in the development of military professionalism. His book is a fascinating and deep journey through military and intellectual history, which seeks to bring a historical and literary focus to a topic that tends to be dominated by social scientists such as Samuel Huntington or by ethicists rooted in the military practice such as Anthony Hartle. This volume appears unique in its focus and brings an important voice to the debate over the sources and nature of military professionalism in the West.
It remains to be seen whether or not the current administration’s approach to China will bring further progress in terms of limiting cyber attacks. Ultimately, extending the terms of the 2015 agreement to explicitly ban attacks, to encourage co-operation in hardening financial institutions against them, and perhaps even mandate bi-lateral responses should they occur, would be in the mutual interest of both the U.S. and China.
The ultimate question begged by these musings is to consider what effect more than fifty years of trying to implement business management models into the American military has had? Are we more efficient and monetarily lean than ever before? It doesn’t seem so. We have the world’s most expensive military, with the costliest equipment and highest operating margins. It is difficult to draw a direct causal argument, despite the apparent correlation in time, and beyond the scope of this article to do so. The argument is simply that military effectiveness is a matter that ought not to be judged by monetary value (profit or cost-savings efficiency) of the services performed, and it is thus not appropriate for business management models. More bluntly, whenever a public organization (as opposed to a private one) is so conceived the result will be unavoidably perverse.
The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation HUSKY, was the first combined amphibious invasion of Axis territory involving both British and U.S. forces. Poor planning and a weak operational command structure resulted in mediocre command and control of the air, land, and sea components throughout the operation. If measured by current U.S. joint doctrine, the integration of joint functions by the Allies during the Sicily Campaign was below par, leading to missed opportunities and increased costs. While Operation HUSKY still resulted in the Allied conquest of Sicily, the failures of the Allies in command and control and joint function integration during the campaign would result in greater combat losses than necessary and diminished returns during the Sicily invasion, as well as substandard operations on the Italian peninsula. The failures of integration during the HUSKY campaign illustrate why mission command and joint operations are critical components of current U.S. defense doctrine.
The security challenges America faces in the twenty-first century are so geographically dispersed and so politically complex they can only be solved in partnership with American allies. Reveron believes that over the past two decades U.S. commanders quietly came to recognize this reality and transformed the military from a force of confrontation to one of cooperation.
Even if universal in human activities, uncertainty is often absent from weapons procurement studies. Despite pioneering works of Scherer and Peck that recognize uncertainty as a main characteristic of weapons acquisitions, academic works that follow often do not investigate this feature in depth. Indeed, weapons procurement studies generally do not consider uncertainty as a crucial factor in explaining why weapon programs fail completely or encounter costs overrun, delays, and deficiencies in delivered capabilities. Explanations range very often from technologically overly ambitious military service’s technological over-ambitions to the deficient procurement strategies of their respective bureaucracy’s deficient procurement strategy. In this paper, we will go further in explaining why some programs fail to produce new weapon systems with in terms of costs, delays and capabilities. As the majority of academic works about weapons acquisition consider the U.S. case, we will bring some change by focusing on the French military establishment.
Thucydides, who authored the definitive account of the Peloponnesian War, started writing as soon as the conflict began, “...believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.” His account has also proved valuable for evaluating ensuing conflicts through to the present day. As Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote, the Peloponnesian War showed that “strategic problems remain the same, though affected by tactical difficulties peculiar to each age.” The Athenian invasion of Sicily and the American experience in Iraq were not identical, but no two wars ever are. Instead, we must look at the overarching effects the military campaigns had on political objectives.
War in the modern world is changing. Since the end of the Cold War inter-state war has declined globally, whilst even civil wars have become a relative rarity. But war is not becoming an obsolete element of human interaction. Governments and militaries around the world are simply changing the way that their strategic objectives are secured. This is the era of indirect war by proxy.
Doctrine, in its modern form, consists of series of written manuals that, together, are representative of a military’s institutional belief system. For all that I have learned about doctrine over the past decade, the most important thing is that whatever the pros and cons of doctrine itself may be, the belief system underlying it and the broader context in which the doctrine exists are much more difficult to perceive, study and understand; yet both are also much more important. No study of doctrine can be complete without taking these factors into account.