Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Course No. 9422
Professor Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
U.S. Naval War College
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Course No. 9422
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Take a look at what makes Thucydides history's first great strategist.
  • numbers Explore the historical context for Sun Tzu's The Art of War and see how it's been used through the centuries.
  • numbers Study the revolution of naval warfare between Napoleon's era and the advent of World War I.
  • numbers Tackle the challenge of nuclear strategy - where preventing a war depends on having the weapons to fight in one.

Course Overview

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
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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

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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 208-page printed course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 208-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Andrew R. Wilson

About Your Professor

Andrew R. Wilson, Ph.D.
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,...
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Reviews

Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 98.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and thought-provoking course Fantastic course...very informative and thought provoking. Watching parts of it for the third time. Best sections are on Thucydides (2 & 3), Clausewitz vs Jomini (8-11), and the Naval revolution (12-15).
Date published: 2020-05-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It's Not Me, Babe This course was bought as a streaming gift for a youngster in my family. When I hear how much she enjoys it I will perhaps post another review.
Date published: 2020-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from manageable episodes roughly half an hour Very informative but tough going at times -- lots of technical terms and content. Well organized. Could be improved if 1) when you "resumed" it took you back to where you left off, and 2) there was an early, clear delineation (definition with good examples) of policy/strategy/operations/tactics - - -these terms may be easier if one has served in the military but harder if you have not
Date published: 2020-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Master of the Masters This is a history survey course that delivers precisely what I expected. First of all, Dr. Wilson is an articulate speaker who speaks with the kind of passion I expect from someone who is well-versed in the subject matter. He is clear and precise in making his points. Generally, I didn't hear him habitually using filler comments to pad his lectures; the only exception to this observation that I noted was in the discussion of Jomini. Early in the lecture on Jomini, Wilson made a few apologist remarks qualifying the man's theories before he entered into a general review of Jomini's ideas on strategy. The course was well organized and lectures were delivered in a practiced fashion. Ideas were built upon and developed in a logical manner; it was apparent that time limitations required some judicious selection of each master of war's body of work, but I felt that justice was given to each without undue distortion. While Wilson usually affected a neutral academic tone, he does make judgement calls and clearly defines his opinions and owns them without ambivalence. The works of the two Frenchmen in the latter lectures on terrorism were completely new to me. They were an inspired surprise. I raced through these lectures fairly fast because both the content and the speaker were so compelling. I've already discovered myself returning to these lectures because they are so engaging that I'm drawn back to review these ideas. Well worth the time and money.
Date published: 2020-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from CGCS and AWC prep I bought this (5 years ago) purely for entertainment but it was an amazing introduction and relatively in-depth look at the strategists, context, and their philosophic approaches. Incredibly easy to follow compared to reading the books, i.e. on war, alone. Since then, I’ve jumped deeply into each of the strategist and context and I’m very glad I used this as the first step.
Date published: 2020-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essenes of the Masters Exceptional overview of master strategic thinkers throughout the ages drawing out core elements of their theories while identifying continuities of thought.
Date published: 2020-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought I already knew something about this! This class took a topic which I thought I knew pretty well (military history and strategy) and introduced me to a knew level of insight. In particular, while I knew there were writers such as Clausewitz, Sunzi, and so forth, I never realized the actual tangible impact they had on doctrine and the actual outcomes of the major conflicts. I took this as a "fun" course, because it is outside of the field in which I work, but I ended up with a reading list for further study that will probably take me months to get through!
Date published: 2020-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging and Informative This is the second course by Andrew Wilson I have purchased, which indicates that I like him as a teacher. He is obviously an expert on his subject, clear, and interesting. This course covers a vast amount of material since it discusses strategies and tactics of warfare over more than two millennia. I imagine that students doing this study over a full semester would have a mountain of outside reading to do, as well as more time to digest the material. It's a little overwhelming, but I enjoyed it. The subject of war itself leaves me with mixed feelings. On the intellectual side, it is a quite stimulating and interesting workout. There is an enjoyment to learning about military strategy, just as there could be studying strategies of chess or football. But then, there is the human side. How many millions of human lives have been lost in the history of wars? Some, to be sure, were necessary and noble causes, such as defeating Nazi Germany. How many wars, on the other hand, were waged pursuing ambiguous or ignoble causes? Millions of lives cut short. Contemplating that seriously tempers the enjoyment of learning these things. In the end, we live in an imperfect world. Human evil exists and must be opposed. While I would not choose such a life course, I am deeply grateful for those who do in the cause of liberty and justice. As John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “I must study politics and war so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography and natural history ... in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, and music... " This is an excellent course if the subject interests you.
Date published: 2018-10-27
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