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Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Professor Andrew R. Wilson Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College

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Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Professor Andrew R. Wilson Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College
Course No.  9422
Course No.  9422
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

What can Thucydides teach us about the war in Iraq in 2003? What is the key to adaptation during an ongoing conflict? How do you balance the tension between political and military objectives? Why are insurgency and terrorism such powerful military tactics, and how do you combat them?

As these questions show, military strategy matters. Civilizations with the greatest strategists—often coupled with the greatest resources—have had a powerful edge over competing civilizations. From Napoleon’s revolutionary campaigns to the way insurgency, terrorism, and nuclear weaponry have defined the nature of warfare in the 21st century, the results of military strategy have changed the course of history.

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What can Thucydides teach us about the war in Iraq in 2003? What is the key to adaptation during an ongoing conflict? How do you balance the tension between political and military objectives? Why are insurgency and terrorism such powerful military tactics, and how do you combat them?

As these questions show, military strategy matters. Civilizations with the greatest strategists—often coupled with the greatest resources—have had a powerful edge over competing civilizations. From Napoleon’s revolutionary campaigns to the way insurgency, terrorism, and nuclear weaponry have defined the nature of warfare in the 21st century, the results of military strategy have changed the course of history.

Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers gives you an inside look at both the content and historical context of the world’s greatest war strategists. Taught by Professor Andrew R. Wilson, who serves on the faculty of the elite U.S. Naval War College, these 24 lectures will change the way you read newspaper headlines by instilling in you a new appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of strategy—and how nations and military leaders have adapted to the dynamic realm of fog, friction, and chance.

  • See how George Washington adapted his strategy after losing New York during the American Revolution.
  • Learn why FDR went against the advice of Chief of Staff George Marshall and embarked on a campaign in north Africa in the summer of 1942.
  • Trace the United States’ Pacific strategy, from War Plan Dog to Guadalcanal to the island-hopping campaign.
  • Apply Clausewitz’s “culminating point of victory” to the Persian Gulf War.
  • Consider the strategy behind recent U. N. airstrikes in Libya.

The great masters of war have been writing about strategy for thousands of years, and understanding their works can help a nation achieve military and political success. You’ll come away from this course with new insight that will allow you to take an informed, active interest in political and military debates—which ultimately will determine the course of our nation.

Explore Strategy from Ancient Greece to the 21st Century

Warfare has changed, yet the classics of strategic thought endure. From the triremes and hoplites of ancient Greece to the Special Forces in 21st-century Afghanistan, strategy is the process by which political objectives are translated into military action—using the means at a nation’s disposal to compel an enemy to bend to its political will.

The best way to hone your strategic analysis is to study the classics of strategic theory and to test these theories across a range of historical and contemporary cases. Masters of War offers a concise and rigorous survey of history’s greatest students of war, placing each theorist within his unique historical and strategic context:

  • Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War
  • Sun Tzu’s famous The Art of War
  • Machiavelli’s strategy for a republic with a citizen-army
  • Jomini, Clausewitz, and the Napoleonic revolution in warfare
  • The development of naval strategy and the rise of airpower
  • Mao Tse-tung, David Galula, and Roger Trinquier’s reflections on insurgency and counterinsurgency—and their influence on the U. S. Army’s Field Manual 3-24
  • Just-war theory, from Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue to Operation Iraqi Freedom
  • Nuclear war, terrorism, and other strategic challenges for the 21st century

Throughout Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, you’ll explore the social and moral dimensions of war and statesmanship; you’ll probe unresolved questions about limited nuclear war, the possibility of a just war, and the efficacy of our counterterrorist tactics; and you’ll come away with the confidence to participate in strategic debates—not only about present conflicts, but those in the future.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Why Strategy Matters
    If war is a gamble, then strategy—the process by which political purpose is translated into military action—is key to success. This course opens with a survey of why strategy is important, and it looks at World War II’s “Operation Torch” as a case study for how the military should be used as an instrument of policy. x
  • 2
    Thucydides on Strategy
    Take a systematic look at what makes Thucydides perhaps history’s first great strategist. In his analysis of the Peloponnesian War, he examines the political origins of the war, the Spartan and Athenian leadership, and the social and moral implications of war—all in an effort to prevent future generations from repeating Athens’ mistakes. x
  • 3
    Thucydides as a Possession for All Time
    Join the lively debate over the efficacy of the Sicilian Expedition—was it good for the Athenians to engage in a preventive war far from home? Then turn to the Melian Dialogue and the debate between realists and neoconservatives over the conduct of war, and consider how this debate still plays out in contemporary America. x
  • 4
    Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
    War. Business school. Professional sports. Sun Tzu’s writing is wildly popular in today’s world. This lecture lays out the historical context for “Master Sun’s Military Methods” and provides an overview of Sun Tzu’s strategy for war: (1) Be efficient, (2) avoid protracted wars, and (3) value the commander’s intellect and skill. x
  • 5
    Sun Tzu through Time
    After charting Sun Tzu’s historical importance throughout Chinese history, in feudal and modern Japan, and in the modern West, Dr. Wilson demonstrates Sun Tzu’s strategy of deception in action by taking you inside Operation Fortitude, a critical component of the Allied invasion of Normandy. x
  • 6
    Machiavelli’s The Art of War
    Learn about Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance man who, in addition to his famous political treatise, The Prince, wrote his own The Art of War, in which he advocated a citizen-army modeled on that of the Roman Republic. This lecture takes you through Machiavelli’s book of tactics, his recommendation for Florentine military rulers. x
  • 7
    Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy
    If Machiavelli’s The Art of War is a book of tactics, his Discourses on Livy is a book of strategy. Discover Machiavelli’s philosophy of circumstances, fortuna, and his recipe for military action, virtu. See what strategies he thinks a republican military should adopt—and what qualities to look for in a good commander. x
  • 8
    The Napoleonic Revolution in War
    Experience the battles of Jena and Auerstedt during the Napoleonic Wars. These two decisive victories fought on the same day against the Prussians demonstrate the radical transformation of warfare and gave rise to two important masters of war: Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz. x
  • 9
    Baron Jomini as a Strategist
    Delve into the life of Baron Antoine Henri Jomini, whose widely read strategic works defined Napoleonic warfare—using a concentrated force to win decisive victories—and whose tactics and operations are still used in today’s modern military. You’ll also weigh the validity of key criticisms of Jominian strategy. x
  • 10
    Clausewitz’s On War
    This lecture introduces you to Carl von Clausewitz, who might be the most influential modern master of war. His key ideas—the paradoxical trinity, assessing the international context, striking the enemy’s center of gravity, and the principle of continuity—make Clausewitz the “master’s master” and provide the basis for modern military strategy. x
  • 11
    Jomini and Clausewitz through the Ages
    Compare two modern masters: Jomini, whose ideas are best suited for the tactics and operations level, and Clausewitz, whose philosophy explains why you can win all the battles and still lose the war. Then dive into the question of how much and what kind of political oversight is needed in war. x
  • 12
    From Sail to Steam—The Sea-Power Revolution
    Study the revolution of naval warfare that took place between Napoleon’s era and the beginning of World War I. The Industrial Revolution, the growth of global markets, the demand for raw materials, and the transition from sail to steam transformed navies and set the stage for 20th-century warfare. x
  • 13
    Alfred Thayer Mahan
    Meet the first of this course’s naval masters of war. Impressed by the audacity of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, Mahan’s grand naval strategy was that a concentrated fleet and a global network of naval bases were the keys to naval dominance, which, in turn, would lead to economic prosperity. x
  • 14
    Sir Julian Corbett
    Building on lessons from Clausewitz and Mahan, Sir Julian Corbett offered a complete strategy that integrated land and sea operations. You’ll study his text, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, and see how his principles played out in Wellington’s Iberian campaign and in the Russo-Japanese War. x
  • 15
    Mahan, Corbett, and the Pacific War
    Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor? Discover Japan’s reasoning and why it failed, and you’ll see how the United States applied Mahan’s and Corbett’s strategies to defeat Japan, from Plan Dog to Midway to Guadalcanal to the end game in 1945. x
  • 16
    Air Power in Theory and Practice
    The 20th century saw the rise of air power and the creation of independent air forces in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. Here you’ll explore the history of air strategy, from General Giulio Douhet’s theory of air power as the ultimate strategic weapon to the American “bomber mafia,” and you’ll see how these theories held up in action during World War II. x
  • 17
    From Rolling Thunder to Instant Thunder
    During the Vietnam War, the failure of coercive persuasion in Operation Rolling Thunder raised questions about air power theory, but the development of improved targeting, better technology, and stealth aircraft allowed for successful air strikes during the Gulf War’s Operation Instant Thunder. You’ll also examine the strategic impact of bombing campaigns in Yugoslavia and most recently in Libya. x
  • 18
    Nuclear Strategy
    Tackle the challenge of nuclear strategy where, paradoxically, preventing war depends on having massive capabilities for fighting a war. Professor Wilson explains the nuances of deterrence, retaliation, mutual assured destruction, arms limitation, and more. You’ll meet three nuclear strategists who have influenced nuclear policy in the nuclear era. x
  • 19
    Mao Tse-tung in Theory and Practice
    Turn now to China and Mao’s three phases of revolutionary war. The key to an insurgent uprising is to buy time with a strategic defense, to build legitimacy and cultivate friends abroad during a strategic stalemate, and to take over in a strategic counteroffensive. You’ll see this theory in action as Mao’s revolutionaries rose up against Chiang Kai-shek. x
  • 20
    Classics of Counterinsurgency
    How do you fight a revolutionary uprising? The French theorists David Galula and Roger Trinquier offered strategic theories based on the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. This lecture shows how these theories from the 1960s apply in 21st-century Iraq and Afghanistan. x
  • 21
    Just-War Theory
    Is war ever morally justified? Consider the three categories of just-war doctrine—jus ad bellum (the just recourse to war), jus in bello (the just conduct of war), and just post bellum (the just conclusion to war)—and apply them to Operation Iraqi Freedom. x
  • 22
    Terrorism as Strategy
    As frightening as it is, terrorism may be the most strategic form of war. In the post–9/11 era, scholars have devised ways to objectively discuss terrorism as a strategy. Here, Professor Wilson explains the five audiences of terrorist action and presents Michael Collins and the war for Irish independence as a case study. x
  • 23
    Strategies of Counterterrorism
    Reflect on the challenges of a counterterrorism strategy and the spectrum of responses, from simply ignoring terrorists to taking full-blown military action against them. x
  • 24
    From the Jaws of Defeat—Strategic Adaptation
    Conclude with a look at how General Washington adapted his strategy after the Battle of New York. Take one last look at the relationship between civilians and the military and how that nexus can create the optimal strategy. x

Lecture Titles

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Andrew R. Wilson
Ph.D. Andrew R. Wilson
U.S. Naval War College
Dr. Andrew R. Wilson is Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. He received a B.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. An award-winning professor and an expert in both military history and strategic theory, Professor Wilson has lectured on Asian military history, the classics of strategic theory, Chinese military modernization, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, among other topics. Prior to joining the Naval War College, he taught Chinese history at Wellesley College and at Harvard University. Additionally, he has been invited to speak at numerous military colleges and universities in the United States. Professor Wilson is the author of numerous articles on Chinese military history, Chinese sea power, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. His books include Ambition and Identity: Chinese Merchant-Elites in Colonial Manila, 1885-1916; The Chinese in the Caribbean; China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force; and War, Virtual War and Society. He has lectured on strategic theory and international security in nearly two dozen countries and six continents, and he has contributed to the curriculum of military colleges all over the world. The views expressed in this course are those of the professor and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
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Reviews

Rated 4.4 out of 5 by 55 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent Eye-Opener! DVD 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 5 out of 5 by Eye opener Very well written and well presented course. Dr. Wilson delivers a very thorough, yet easy to grasp, analysis of the history of war strategy, with an outline of the most influential strategic thinkers in history, and their schools of thought. He explains how the strategic theories evolved in response to the new advancement in war machine technologies, and in response to the different political and social changes that happened through the course of human history. I specifically liked the way he used the different strategic theories when analyzing the recent military conflicts. It was a kind of case study, and it helped me to better understand the course, and to appreciate the role of strategy in war, and in life in general. All the lectures were excellent and engaging. To name only few: the ones on the Napoleonic wars, and on Mao Tse-Tung theory of revolutionary war, were exceptionally brilliant. But the crown of the whole course were the lectures on Terrorism, it was really an eye opener. I rarely came across anything that enlightened me the way these two lectures did. It will change the way you analyze what is happening around you. Highly recommended. December 15, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great Overview of the Strategic Thinkers/concepts Ok, let me be upfront and state that due to my profession, my interest was both personal and professional and as a result my review may be colored by those facts. Having said that though, I think this course was extremely well done and well thought out in its coverage of strategic thinkers and concepts. The professor is very knowledgeable on all of the areas (which is good to see since he is an instructor at the Naval War College...) and I believe makes what could be difficult concepts much easier to understand by linking the ideas with historical events. As an instructor, he is a good speaker, interesting to listen to and important if you have the audio only version, has a good voice to listen to - doesn't drone for example. To the person not familiar with strategic thinking but considering this course, I think that it is given at an appropriate level that any person with an interest can understand the concepts and as importantly, learn enough that you can form your own opinions about the strategic concepts. You do NOT need to be a military or security professional to enjoy this course. I purchased the audio download version and found it very sufficient to understanding the course material. I never found myself wishing I had purchased the video version. December 6, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Much more than just war strategy Parts of this lecture went over my head. Parts of it are so specific to exact moments in time that I'm dubious as to their use in any field. But other parts of this course have caused me to think about the nature of conflict, about why it happens and what it causes, and those parts are going to influence the way I think for the rest of my life. That is the highest praise I think i can impart on an educator. September 25, 2014
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