#Monday Musings: Andy Priest

"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.)?

The greatest impact has come through the written works of several authors. Foremost would is Philip Bobbitt (The Shield of Achilles & Terror and Consent) and his brilliant work on building the bridge between law and strategy. His work defines not just the methods by which wars are fought but the reason and moral authority behind the wars we have waged, are waging, and will wage in the coming century.

Also, Carolyn Nordstrom (Shadows of War, A Different Kind of War Story, & others) has spent decades researching the anthropology of war and terror in our time. In the age of information overload, Nordstrom delivers highly researched, detailed, and vivid imagery on the human condition of violence and warfare. Her work reminds us that behind all the wargames, theories, and statistics, there is a human experience and story of our humanity to be told and to be heard.

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

I wanted to offer more than the obligatory listing of Clausewitz or another military genius. So if given the option of a single book, I would suggest Union Pacific: Volume I, 1862-1893 by Maury Klein. (Volumes II & III are worth a read too!) This epic work covers a fascinating period of American history and the efforts to build the transcontinental railroad. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but it is a well written and profoundly hermeneutical work. 

As Eliot Cohen has said:

"Strategy is the art of choice that binds means with objectives. It is the highest level of thinking about war, and it involves priorities (we will devote resources here, even if that means starving operations there), sequencing (we will do this first, then that) and a theory of victory (we will succeed for the following reasons).”

The construction of the transcontinental railroad is a story of strategy where concept meets the cold reality of operations. Strategy is more than a plan or document. A successful strategy must be successful in real world environments where the strategist is forced to confront hard decisions, personnel conflicts, and superiors who may not always make the best choices. The story of the “Pacific Road” demonstrates the realities a strategist must face and the obstacles one must adapt to and overcome. Works of strategy focus on making the right decisions, while this book shows the reader the importance of continuing on even in the immediate face of failure or error.

The construction of the transcontinental railroad and the evolution of the railroad provide a refreshing topic for the strategist to look at these decisions without the influence and prejudice of politics. 

3. What do you want your legacy to be?

The tricky thing about a legacy is you don’t get to choose it, but you do get to choose how you will make a difference today. Unlike many of the contributors to this journal, my life is not one of importance; rather it is an ordinary one, and I am grateful for the opportunity to know many of the extraordinary people who contribute regularly to this site and others like it. 

If I have a legacy, I suppose it would be to achieve the writer’s purpose that Faulkner described in his famous Banquet speech. I wish to be remembered as someone who helped to make the world a little less fearful, who was there for others when needed, whose beliefs were just, whose actions were good, and whose debauchery was constrained just enough for it to be said I was a good person. Most of all, I want to be known for bringing hope when it was needed most, that I was on the side of those in fear wherever they were, and that my life was honest to my principles of holding the protection of life and the freedom of conscience as our purpose and duty.

In a world where so many seek to deny and weaken our unity through humanity, and where pessimism and ridicule are so easily used for that purpose, I would like to be known as someone who reminded us of that all we will have is one another. I hope that I live a life that brings more people together, even if for a moment, than it pushed apart.

Andy Priest writes about topics involving interdisciplinary studies of history, criminology, anthropology, and political science.

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