"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.)?
A hard call when so many colleagues and authors have influenced my thinking, but probably the greatest was Don Vandergriff’s Path to Victory. That book opened my eyes to the complexity of the military profession. Moreover, it came at just the right time. I read it as I was about ready to go to graduate school, and so Don started me down the intellectual path that has defined so much of my life.
2 — What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?
On War best explains strategy but I will offer a book that best illustrates the Clausewitzian trinity—Keith Lowe’s Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. Lowe’s overview of the continent demonstrates that even after the major policy objective of defeating the Axis was complete on VE Day, violence and competition roiled on for years afterward. Some of this was because rational calculation continued and new policy objectives came to the fore for the big players and many smaller local conflicts continued because they were not sated. But there was also an incredible amount of unleashed enmity and hatred—some new and created by the war, some older and merely uncovered by it—that continued to feed conflict. As these aftershocks fed by both rational and irrational forces played out, there was plenty of chance and contingency in the course of events. War is truly a chameleon, always changing its form and escaping human control to become its own beast. This is a sobering thought as we contemplate the future of Syria, where there is a particularly deep well of hatred that will likely irrigate conflict for many years regardless of any political settlements.
3 — What do you want your legacy to be?
A few weeks ago, a friend looked over a draft review and was confused by my observation that the book “muddied the waters” of the subject. “Up until that point,” he said, “I thought you liked the book.” Sometimes I forget not everyone regards ambiguity and complexity the same way that I do. Neat labels, tidy dates, simple explanations, and reductionist models or analogies are a barrier to academic understanding and at times fatal in the practice of strategy. I would hope that both my historical and professional work helps remind people that the world—particularly the troublesome parts that consume the energies of strategists—is more complex. In short, I hope I muddy the waters a bit.
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J. P. Clark is an active duty army officer and the author of Preparing for War: The Emergence of the Modern U.S. Army, 1815-1917. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild and a featured contributor for The Strategy Bridge. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.