This Is Military Wisdom?

There’s a new book on the market, New Principles of War: Enduring Truths with Timeless Examples. Its author is a retired analyst of military operations. Given his quantitative training and accomplishments as an analyst, one would expect more than pap. In fact, the jacket blurbs would lead the prospective reader to expect deep, compelling, and novel insights into the conduct of war; for example:

“This is a fascinating book most useful for the practitioner and student of war, with many ideas also applicable to other competitive activities such as business. Marvin Pokrant gives us multiple historical vignettes that illustrate the good and the bad of principles of war from around the world and make a compelling case for significant revisions. Highly recommended!”—Col. John A. Warden III, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), and president of Venturist, Inc.

“Marvin Pokrant has masterfully distilled historical and international writings about the conduct of war and uses many historical examples to develop his new principles of war. I believe they form an important resource for study by both the professional military and our national security leadership.”—Adm. Henry H. Mauz Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.)

“The principles of war: prescription for battlefield success or dangerous mental straitjacket? Marvin Pokrant’s seminal exploration of the fundamentals of warfare that have been taught around the globe for generations is sure to engage and provoke. And in these dangerous times we need to rigorously challenge our preconceptions. This book does just that.”—Sean M. Maloney, PhD, professor of history at the Royal Military College

“All active-duty military officers should read this book. It would be perfect as a text at military war colleges. People dealing with strategic studies and national security will find this book valuable due to its suggestions of new principles to guide American military efforts. Readers of military history will find this work interesting because of the numerous historical examples.”—Phil E. DePoy, PhD, former president of the Center for Naval Analyses and founding director of the Wayne E. Meyer Institute for Systems Engineering, Naval Postgraduate School

“Marvin Pokrant’s New Principles of War is an excellent examination of the development of the principles of war throughout history and how they have differed over time and among countries. . . . If you are a student of military thought, this work is a must-read and will be a welcome addition to your library.”—Michael A. Palmer, PhD, author of Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century

I was therefore expecting something more than banalities. But that, in the end, is what the book delivered. Here are some key passages from the book’s concluding chapter:

Because objectives guide all military operations, commanders should put a lot of thought into selecting and prioritizing them.

Commanders should seek battle under conditions of the greatest possible relative advantage.

Commanders should seek to keep enemies so busy meeting threats that they have no time for their own schemes.

Commanders should take active measures to assure [that] everyone understands the overall purpose of an operation. They should demand [that] subordinates cooperate with each other to attain unity of effort.

Surprise can gain the initiative and a relative advantage, but the strongest effect of surprise is often its moral effect on the enemy. [As if the “moral effect” were always negative. But remember the Maine, and remember Pearl Harbor.]

The goal of deception should be to cause the enemy to act in a specific manner that you can exploit.

All forces should have good situational awareness of the location of friendly forces. [Awareness of the location of enemy forces is helpful, too.]

To defeat your enemy, you must learn as much as you can about your enemy.

The environment is often a decisive factor.

With my corrections, these are useful points to keep in mind when thinking about how to conduct a military operations. But why did it take the author some 300 pages (in the paperback version) to arrive at them. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the classic of this genre, is rated at 96 pages in the hardcover edition. It would be much shorter than that without the front and back matter, the illustrations, the large typeface, the wide margins, and the ample line spacing (leading, in printer’s parlance).

New Principles of War is much ado about the obvious.