Rated 5 out of 5 by RoyT Excellent Eye-Opener!
This is an eye-opening course in a new area of study for me. Professor Wilson has succeeded in his mission to ensure that I “…will never again be able to watch the nightly news or read the daily paper without thinking about Thucydides, or Machiavelli, or Mao” (Course Guidebook, Page 3). The course merits a wider viewership than the usual military buffs and specialists, as it contributes to making one a much more well-informed citizen on a matter of critical importance. Professor Wilson is an excellent guide: his lectures are well-crafted and delivered in a clear and easily understandable manner, and are supplemented by a great number of useful visuals.
I particularly enjoyed seeing otherwise familiar figures in a new light, specifically Thucydides (building on Kenneth Harl’s excellent TC course, the Peloponnesian War) and Machiavelli. It was also good to finally go beyond name recognition for such other ‘masters of war’ as Sun Tzu, Jomini, Clausewitz, Mahan, and Corbett, with Professor Wilson expertly explaining the thought and impact of each on strategic thinking about war. As well as detailing the expected political and military background (including pertinent tactical and operational details), he provides just right amount of historical details and social, technological, economic, and cultural context to enhance one’s understanding. This really made the course more interesting and compelling for me.
Professor Wilson makes the case that strategic thinking must be grounded in the complexities of context, that “Strategic analysis involves objectively weighing the risks and rewards of different courses of action—thinking through the chains of cause and effect in each action before making a move. The best way to develop skills in strategic analysis is to study the classics of strategic theory and test their utility across a range of historical cases” (Page 4). He does this in an admirable fashion, not only in top-notch explanations and justifications for the enduring influence of the ‘masters’ (for instance, Al Qaeda finds useful material in the 4th century B.C. Sun Tzu and the early 19th century Carl von Clausewitz, as well as Mao Tse-tung), but also in testing each of these ‘masters’ in historical case studies. In doing so, Professor Wilson demonstrates their strengths and limitations, and in the process provides excellent treatments of incredibly numerous wars and other conflicts, right up to the present day challenges posed by the possibility of nuclear war and, increasingly, the actuality of terror.
Clausewitz, as Professor Wilson reveals in a “confession” at the end of lecture 10, provides the framework for the course, being “the masters’ master”. Most notable are the now familiar injunctions in his ‘On War’ (1832), that war is “…a continuation of political competition between states by military means” (Course Guidebook, page 70) requiring military subordination to political leadership. According to Professor Wilson, ‘On War’ is, in effect, “…the first and fullest exposition of strategic theory.” He even goes so far as to use Clausewitz’s framework/principles in analyzing earlier masters of strategic thinking. This perspective, combined with Professor Wilson’s richly detailed context for so many really interesting historical cases, makes this one of the outstanding TC courses for me.
I am looking forward to a second viewing and dipping in here and there as a refresher on specific themes and wars/conflicts.
February 3, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by 6Actual Good Course, Disappointed by the PC
I am a retired military officer and none of the concepts of strategy, nor the masters of war were new to me. However, Dr. Wilson does a very good job of presenting the salient concepts of grand strategy and its evolution.
Somewhat disappointing was the political correctness laced through his lectures. For example, he mentions Grant, Sherman and Halleck but makes no mention of their antagonists, the Confederate Generals the majority of whom were also trained by the military academies in the same concepts. Why bring up Grant, if you are not going to contrast with Lee in the operational conduct of the USA's most bloody conflict.
I guess we have to excuse Dr. Wilson as he was merely following the methods of today's armed forces instructional institutions. You are not allowed to discuss the Confederates or their leaders as any more than the opposing force. He just should have left the entire Civil War era out. Very sad and certainly not what I expected nor have experienced with the Great Courses. Still, I would recommend this course to others.
May 18, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by perulover great course for all
Besides the fact that the author is my cousin, the course is a great explanation of why we go to war. it helps to understand why war should not be easily entered into and why we need both civil and military people involved both in the political decisions and the military strategies to accomplish the political end desired.. I especially enjoyed the just war theory and the focus on exhausting all political options before considering going to war. I am a believer in non violence except in very rare occasions. I highly recommend the course to all even those like myself who believe in non violence and peaceful settlements to conflict whenever possible.
thank you cousin Andrew for a most informative course,. You are a great teacher!!
March 13, 2015
Rated 3 out of 5 by Apostate Im on the fence
It's clear that the instructor is familiar with military history, he's articulate, and the presented material is well rounded. Im not sure Id agree with all of his conclusions.
The biggest issue I had with this course is the lecture delivery. The sentences were long and complex such that as he spoke there were pauses between the cue cards. This made it difficult to tell if he was pausing to finishing an idea or just waiting for the next cue card to come up so he could continue the sentence. As a result I found myself spending more time trying to piece together his sentences so that at the end of viewing the lecture I wasn't completely clear about what it was he was saying. Along with this there were times were he was trying to emphasize a point by facial/voice gesturing that made me think he was getting angry. I know he wasn't, but that was his gesturing pattern.
Im not sure Id recommend this course, while not a bad course I was expecting more, especially after viewing the course Decisive Battles. I agree with one reviewer that suggested reading Sunnzi (sp) and the Art of War, it would probably provide more about Strategic Thinking.
March 12, 2015