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Napoleon developed principles for industrial warfare and …

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‘The Utility of Force’ – New York Times

My life till I was about 5 years old was dominated by two wars, the Spanish Civil War and WW II.

Later on at age 70some, I decided to read about how those wars got started and how they were fought. I recently learned that a few key principles about fighting industrial warfare were worked out by Napoleon more than 200 years ago. They are well described in the First Chapter piece linked to above.

I also realize that there is a big difference between a principle and how it is put into action. In the end mass, industrial mass, will win as long as effective leadership is provided on the battle and home fronts. Napoleon understood and practiced that well until he over-committed the resources and means of communication he commanded. The same happened to Hitler.

The Allies, especially the French and the English, couldn’t apply those principles when WW II began and suffered many quick and humiliating defeats. Hitler was winning until Stalin worked out how to find the resources and shape his armed forces to break the back of the Nazi military juggernaut on the eastern warfront in several epic battles, including Leningrad, Stalingrad and Kursk.

Eventually American industrial and manpower resources as well as battlefield leadership finally came to grips with and defeated the more efficient Wehrmacht in Western Europe and the Japanese Empire in the Pacific.

In the end mass should win any contest of industrial war. Today the US has undertaken a war on terrorism in which the principles of industrial war don’t work any longer since this seems to be more of a war of shadows.

The Spanish Civil War did have some characteristics of a war of shadows until intervention by German and Italian forces turned the force of superior firepower against the under-armed and splintered Republican armed forces, which were refused support by the Allied democracies.

Those leaders, including Churchill at that time, were unwilling to confront the threat of military force deployed by the Axis powers and manifested greater anxiety about the USSR.

The day after I posted the above, I found this text in a review by Niall Ferguson, which seems to me the best description of the Iraq quagmire:

Still, “The Utility of Force” remains an impressive and absorbing work of military analysis. At his best, Smith is the Clausewitz of low-intensity conflict and peacekeeping operations. If, in the end, he does not quite solve the riddle of how to win the small wars of our time, he brilliantly lays bare the newfound limits of Western military power. The more Iraq looks like Bosnia on the Tigris — as a war amongst the people becomes another bloody war between peoples — the more prescient his book will seem.

Update 2008-10-20:

Ben Weider, founder and president of the International Napoleonic Society died at 85 years of age.

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  1. […] by BobG in Vancouver It’s about the proposition that Napoleon Bonaparte was the first to develop principles of industrial warfare. For the life of me I can’t figure out why that subject gets so many views of my […]


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