Jena demonstrated war’s adaptive character when Prussia’s outdated system and tactics were defeated by Napoleon’s. Scharnhorst concluded that understanding and innovation in warfare required critical thinking –– the kind of thinking that questions the status quo, identifies problems, and forms solutions. His answer was a liberal education, and he and his successors broadened the Army’s technical education with the inclusion of civilian liberal arts and sciences. Jena demonstrated that executing orders was not enough; officers had to use sound judgment and critical thinking in the preparation, planning, and execution of military operations. Scharnhorst firmly believed in the benefits of higher level education and experimented with specialized learning venues when he established the Military Society in Berlin in 1801. This society fostered a free-thinking exchange of ideas and sought to develop judgment and reasoning. Modern-day comparisons might be found in The Strategy Bridge’s “New Model Mentoring” or the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum.
What best explains the German General Staff’s decision to go to war in 1914? Was Alfred von Schlieffen’s war plan a self-fulfilling prophecy that pushed the Triple Entente to balance together against Germany? This article argues that the best, most recent scholarship concerning the impact of pre-war German military planning depicts a situation in which not one, but a multitude of of causal factors led Germany to go to war in 1914.
Military theory is a way of distilling the raw materials of history into a concentrated, potent form that educates the strategist and commander. In this way, theory can serve as a starting point for strategy. While sound military theory is a good starting point for strategy, however, context and execution matter. The positive impacts of theory upon strategy are often limited by the context in which theoretical principles are applied, and by the commander’s judgment and skill in applying them.
Operational and strategic level leaders cannot get caught in the rapid pace of tactics, but neither can they ignore the fact that decisions at the tactical level must proceed at the pace demanded by the situation. When operational and strategic leaders increase the pace of decision-making, it can lead to a chasing of the bright and shiny object mentality. Decisions in these orbits include a set of dialogues and tend to be iterative. Further, leaders at all levels must consider the complexity of decision making at each level above and below them.
Recently the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Strategic Studies Group used future decision games to investigate major contingencies possible in the next twenty-years. Similarly, a group of Marine, Army, and Air Force officers in the Marine Corps University, Advanced Studies Program are constructing a series of campaign-level decision games to hypothesize new manned-unmanned teaming concepts. In each case, small teams visualize future war and describe the military problems likely to confront Coalition and Joint forces engaged in multi-domain battle. These teams develop a mission, a concept of operations and articulate a theory of victory and the required capabilities, joint functions, and considerations to achieve it (such as doctrine, organizations, training, etc.). They learn and adapt short of the feedback of actual battle.