#Monday Musings: Simon Anglim

"Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.

1. Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?

My father and grandfathers instilled me with an interest in military history before I was ten years old, but in terms of my professional and intellectual development, there are four main influences. First is the man who supervised my PhD for seven years, Professor Martin Alexander, formerly of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.  A highly distinguished military historian (with a co-authored chapter in Makers of Modern Strategy, no less) and a globally respected expert on modern French military history, it was Martin who got me through this long, drawn-out process with his constant encouragement and concrete, sensible advice. He also taught me what was required of a respectable researcher and author in this field. Above all, he persuaded me that my work was worth publishing. Secondly, I would name my senior colleague at King’s War Studies, Professor Christopher Dandeker, and not just because he came to the rescue at a bad time for me professionally. A world-class military sociologist who advised governments on matters such as the professionalization of their armed forces, Christopher is also a gifted teacher who has turned me into a better teacher and thinker just by my observing him. Third is another colleague from King’s, the late Dr. David Fisher. Formerly with the Cabinet Office (where he served in a senior capacity in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003), David had to deal personally with many of the ethical questions of war and peace he made the subject of the PhD he took after retiring from the Civil Service and in his subsequent research. David has always dealt with the ethics of war in terms of practice, rather than theory, his main concern being that they should work on the battlefield and in the Cabinet room as well as in the lecture hall. I learned much about teaching from him, too, but perhaps more importantly, I learned that there is far more to strategy than the simplistic application of theoretical models that had been the core philosophy at my previous university at Reading, and that a sound ethical base and a fundamentally truthful narrative are essentials in modern strategy, not just afterthoughts or nice things to have. Finally, there is Colonel David Benest. A former Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and veteran of the Falklands War, numerous operational tours of Northern Ireland, and lately an advisor on counterinsurgency to the British Ambassador in Afghanistan, David taught me a great deal about how armies work in reality—particularly under fire—and the psychological aspects of command and leadership. He is another who has encouraged me to publish.

2. What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?

No one book does this perfectly—even Clausewitz is writing about war, not strategy.  However, there are three which are broadly relevant to today. Sun Tzu’s Art of War sees war as a last resort and battle as a last resort within war, principally because it can ruin the winner almost as much as the loser, a telling point for Western powers post Iraq and Afghanistan. His alternatives include subversion and covert operations, so this work is not only important to someone with my particular research interests, but also to any modern strategic practitioner, given the current emphasis on proxy warfare waged by local allies. Small Wars by Major General Charles Callwell not only contains a wealth of practical advice for today’s insurgencies but makes the telling point—often forgotten by academic ‘strategists’ and bloggers—that strategic aims are constrained by what armed forces can achieve in the theatres concerned, and that, by implication, hinges on logistics. Moreover, the tactical approach has to be tailored to the terrain and not only to the way the enemy fights, but to the way he thinks. This is not some ‘magic bullet’ or ‘key to victory,’ but something which must be done constantly and organically as he adapts. Finally, there is a vast unpublished source, the personal papers of Major General Orde Wingate, divided between the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives, and the Liddell Hart Archive in London.  We now seem to be passing through a period where the deployment of small numbers of special forces augmented by airpower to support local proxies has become the favoured means of military intervention, and special forces have become the favoured tool for counterterrorist operations. Wingate not only had practical experience of planning and commanding both kinds of operation in the 1930s and 40s, but put pen to paper on them extensively, providing draft doctrines and organisations for them which would still bear reading today.

3. What do you want your legacy to be?

On one level, my students are my legacy, and I have had a number who have gone on to very good jobs after my teaching—jobs where they can make a real difference. Right now Dr. Danny Steed of the Cabinet Office, Lt. Ben Blackledge of the Royal Navy, Aiysha al Toubi of the Oman Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and James Figueroa who runs a successful international consultancy all come to mind, but there are many, many others. On another level, I would like my legacy to be that wars are fought  more intelligently than they have been over the past decade, and there is some hope of that.

Dr. Simon Anglim is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.  He is the author of numerous articles on military history and operations and has recently crossed over into the blogging world.  He has published in Small Wars & Insurgencies, Contemporary Security Policy, Intelligence and National Security, The Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, Infinity Journal, and The Journal of Military Operations.  His most recent work is Orde Wingate: Unconventional Warrior, and he has embarked on a volume on the 1950s ‘Djebel War’ in Oman.

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