The View from Olympus: The Marine Corps Gazette Gets the Evolution of Maneuver Warfare Right.

The September issue of the Marine Corps Gazette includes an article for which there has been a long-standing need, namely an accurate recounting of the history of maneuver warfare’s evolution into official Marine Corps doctrine.  Written under the pen name Marinus as part of an ongoing series, the Maneuverist Papers, it does what none of the books on the subject have managed, namely provide a non-partisan account that identifies all the streams that fed into the maneuver warfare river.

Of these streams, which the article calls threads, there were five: intense dissatisfaction among Marine Corps officers over our performance in Vietnam and our final loss of that war (something that seems to have vanished with more recent defeats); interest in mechanized operations because that is what a conflict in Europe with the Soviet Union seemed to require; the model offered by the Prussian/German Army, for which I was the main spokesman; renewed interest in classical military literature, especially Clausewitz and Sun Tzu; and the theoretical work of Col. John Boyd, USAF.  My only quibble with the account is its failure to mention that I began the maneuver warfare debate with a critique of forthcoming Army doctrine that I wrote in 1976 and was published in Military Review in 1977.  Like it or not, I was first.

I appreciate the fact that the article gives credit to someone who played a highly important role in the process but is often overlooked, namely Col. John Greenwood USMC, the editor of the Marine Corps Gazette at that time.  Col. Greenwood did not always agree with what the maneuverists were writing, but he published their material anyway, because he understood the function of a professional journal.  The Gazette was the main forum through which I reached Marines; Col. Greenwood later told me that over a twenty-year period, I wrote more articles for the Gazette than any other single author.  Without the Gazette and its editor the maneuver warfare movement in the Corps simply would not have happened.

I highly recommend that all who have not read this latest Maneuverist Paper do so.  But my purpose here is to pick up where it leaves off.  Its last sentence reads, “Three decades after maneuver warfare became doctrine, we believe the Marine Corps is overdue to have a conversation about its views on the nature and conduct of warfare going forward.”  I agree.  In fact, that conversation has been going on for some time, but a lack of interest from senior levels has pushed it into something of a backwater.

The conversation is about Fourth Generation war, war with opponents who are not states.  We just lost such a war, the war in Afghanistan.  We have also given a big boost to Fourth Generation war throughout the Middle East by destroying the states in that region, including Iraq, Syria, and Libya, helpfully clearing the way for Fourth Generation entities to move in.  We have demonstrated no ability to win Fourth Generation wars.

But, as was the case with the maneuver warfare movement, individual Marines, mostly junior officers, have been thinking, studying, and writing in order to fill the vacuum.  For a few years, thanks to an initiative by then-colonel Ron Bailey, I co-led a seminar at Expeditionary Warfare School devoted to Fourth Generation war.  Just as was true in the earlier movement, it was quasi-clandestine (the seminar couldn’t be named for 4GW), the students received no course credit and the fact that I (briefly) had an office at EWS upset the brass.  But that seminar paralleled earlier maneuver warfare seminars by writing draft field manuals on 4GW.  Were General Gray still Marine Corps Commandant, those FMs would have come out as official Marine Corps publications.  Sadly, he was not, though some of us would like to bring him back.  Fortunately, as head of the Central Powers Military Mission to the Marine Corps, I was in a position to approach the relevant authorities in Vienna and Pola, with the result that they were published by the K.u.K. Marinekorps.  They are available in English in the “resources” section of

But unofficial efforts did not stop there.  The Marine officer who co-led the later seminars with me, Lt. Col. Greg Thiele USMC, and I drew on what we learned from those Marine captains to write the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook.  It is available from Castalia House Press and on Amazon.  It is intended to serve as a starting point for the Corps as it moves to become the nation’s go-to force for 4GW, much as my Maneuver Warfare Handbook, published 1985, helped kickstart the Marine Corps adoption of maneuver warfare.  (With regard to which, I am currently writing a new, improved Maneuver Warfare Handbook, not to replace the current book, but to talk about some things we’ve learned since it was written.)

So let me offer a challenge to the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Gazette: let’s do with Fourth Generation War what the Corps did thirty years ago with maneuver warfares and develop it intellectually, experiment with it in the field, have another giant food-fight over it in the pages of the Gazette and finally make it doctrine for, again, America’s force of choice for this kind of war.

The Corps can move into 4GW while the Army remains stuck in 2GW.  The Marine Corps only survives by having an expertise the country needs that no other service can offer.  4GW is where war is going, whether it justifies F-35s or not.  Those of us who led the maneuver warfare fight – Mike Wyly, G.I. Wilson, Bill Woods, General Gray, John Schmitt, sadly not John Boyd – are still alive and we have one more campaign left in us.  Are HQMC and the Gazette up for it, or will us old guys have to hit this beach alone?

I want to close on a personal note.  “The Evolution of Maneuver Warfare Theory” writes that, in comparison to the Army’s top-down doctrine development process (which has left the Army stuck fast in the Second Generation),

The Marine Corps process more resembled the cafeteria food fight scene in Animal House, with Lind in the Bluto role

Animal House was inspired by one of the fraternities at Dartmouth College when I was a student there (1965-69).  I was known to occasionally have a drink and smoke a pipe at their bar, the picture of which in the film was not inaccurate.  So closes another circle in my life.

Two Political Dilemmas and One Solution

As we look toward the 2024 Presidential election, we see each political party faces a dilemma.  On the Republican side, if former President Donald Trump runs again, his personal negatives are so high that, according to recent polls, President Joe Biden would still beat him.  For a Republican victory, it is essential that he not be the candidate.  I say that as someone who voted for Mr. Trump both in the 2016 Ohio primary and in the general election that year and in 2020, contributed to his campaign and met with him in March, 2016 in Cleveland to give him a copy of Paul Weyrich’s and my last co-authored book, The Next Conservatism.  That meeting was not at my request but that of some of his campaign staff who saw the potential the book offered for a new and widely attractive conservative agenda.  

The dilemma here is that it is likely Mr. Trump will run again because he seeks vindication for his Presidency.  That is understandable, even laudable, because he was a successful President who gave us a booming economy, no new wars and Operation Warpspeed, without which we probably would not yet have Covid vaccines.  If he runs again, he will win the Republican nomination because he retains tremendous support among the Republican base – again, for some good reasons.

I think this dilemma has a solution: a Republican ticket of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and, for Vice President, Eric Trump, President Trump’s son.  DeSantis has been a true conservative, one willing to challenge cultural Marxism (most Republicans won’t), defy federal mandates and back effective local law enforcement.  He has also been a successful governor, and Presidential candidates should generally be governors rather than U.S. Senators or Representatives.  Why?  Because governors actually have to make things work while Senators and Congressmen need only give speeches.

By putting Eric Trump on the ticket as the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, President Trump can get the vindication he seeks without having to run himself.  Why not Donald Trump, Jr.?  Because voters may get confused between two Donald Trumps.  Putting Eric on the ticket will bring millions of voters who voted for his father.  And if the Democrats try to run not against Eric but against former President Trump, all he will need to say is, “How many people are carbon copies of their father?”  A DeSantis/Eric Trump ticket will be the Dems worst nightmare.

Well, second-worst.  Their worst is the dilemma they face, for which I do not see a solution.  It is clear that President Biden is on his last leg physically and mentally.  I say that with sadness.  I remember him from when I was U.S. Senate staff.  Indeed, I once worked with him to get an amendment through the Senate Budget Committee.  He was intelligent, considerate, and a pleasure to us lowly staffers, which was not true of all Senators.  But running him again in 2024 would be like bringing out all the dead and mummified Incas, still dressed in their finery, for state occasions in the Incan Empire.  It is simply not possible.

That leaves the Democrats facing President Biden’s poison pill, Vice President Harris. She was a failure as a candidate in 2020 for the Democratic nomination and she will be a failure again if she heads the Democratic ticket.  But how can the Democrats deny the nomination to a black woman without enraging a large portion of their base?  The only way forward I see for them is to nominate a different black woman.  But someone like Stacy Adams would alienate not only whites but Asians and Hispanics as well.  Michelle Obama?  That would probably be their best shot, but I don’t think she wants to put her family through another Presidential campaign, or, for that matter, another Presidency.

If the Republicans solve their dilemma with a DeSantis/Eric Trump ticket while the Democrats remain trapped in their own, the 2024 election outcome is not difficult to forecast.  All it requires is for Republicans to be smarter than Democrats.   Ulp.


On the surface, the cultural Marxists’ war on normal pronouns is simply silly, the vaporings of unhinged women.  Even those unhinged women know that in the real world, men are “he,” women are “she,” things are “it,” and “they” is plural.  We all learned this by third grade.

So what is all the pronoun nonsense about?  As foolish as it seems, it has a serious purpose: it acts as a political barometer.  The cultural Marxists can and do gauge their power by the absurdity of what they command.  The more absurd the demand, the greater their power if we obey.

Obviously, from a conservative point of view, it is important that we not obey.  Yet many are tugging the forelock, bowing to requirements we call each nutcase whatever pronoun he/she/it wants, even if it sounds and reads like Esperanto spelled backwards.

Why are we yielding to such absurdity?  Part of the answer is that, at least in some institutions, we are forced to do so.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported a case where a child in elementary school was threatened with a federal felony charge for calling some girl by a pronoun other than the one she specified.  Sunlight killed that bacterium, but many like it go undisclosed.  In places such as university campuses where cultural Marxism rules (and our tax money goes to sustaining their rule), any student who uses the “wrong” pronoun, which is to say the grammatically correct pronoun, faces school discipline.  The same is true in “woke” workplaces.

This sort of enforcement points to 1984, where the mandated language was “Newspeak” and anyone who spoke normal English was sent to a labor camp or shot.  Do not doubt that the cultural Marxists want the same power here.  At the moment, all they can do is fire or expel the employee or student who defies their rules.  But they seek a totalitarian state like those the classical, economic Marxists created in the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, etc.  Here, if cultural Marxism wins, a “wrong” pronoun will send you to the basement of the Lubyanka.

But there is more to it than threats and brute force.  The members of the Frankfurt School, the institution that created cultural Marxism, crossed Marx with Freud.  From psychology they took the weapon of psychological conditioning: working on people’s minds through “Critical Theory” and endless propaganda to the point where anyone who defies their rules thinks he has done something wrong, something terrible.  He looks in the mirror and sees “another Hitler.”

The pronoun game is a tool the cultural Marxists can use to further condition normal people and gauge the success of their conditioning.  If Ma and Pa Kettle use the standard pronouns, they have scorn heaped upon them, are called “thisists” and “thatists,” told how ignorant they are and ordered to grovel in the dirt and “apologize” to whatever creatures in the left’s zoo they have “offended.”  If they yield and use absurd pronouns, cultural Marxists can claim another victory and cook up yet more ridiculous demands.  

As is generally the case with cultural Marxism and other ideologies, the way to fight back is to defy their rules.  If you get expelled for using normal, standard English pronouns, sue.  There are conservative organizations that will take your case pro bono.  And make sure you demand trial by jury.  Most people on juries speak standard English.  In states governed by Republicans, pass free speech laws that outlaw requiring anything but standard English for employment or attendance at a state college or university (and defund any academic department at such schools that require non-standard pronouns).  There is one, only one case where I could accept a newly-created pronoun.  For women who are so bizarre, so ditzy, so plain old butt-ugly that calling them “she” is an insult to all ladies, I will consent to a new pronoun that combines the feminine with the neuter: “she-it.”  Wear it with pride, former gals, wear it with pride.

Repeating a Blunder

In my latest book, Reforging Excalibur, I argue that the threat of state disintegration and spreading Fourth Generation war is so great that only an alliance of all states can ensure the state system will survive the 21st century.  Further, I suggest that an alliance of all states must begin with a new Triple Alliance of the three Great Powers, the U.S., Russia, and China.  Only then can all other states be led to combine their efforts, because only then will other states not be pushed or pulled into one or another blocks built around contending Great powers.  I am saying that Great Power competition is obsolete, a mutual error on the grand strategic level that will lead to the destruction of all three of the current Great Powers.

The Blob, the Washington foreign policy establishment, will dismiss such a notion as piffle.  How could all three Great Powers possibly make such an error?  My reply is that three of the five Great Powers in the pre-1914 world made just such an error, and in the process all three were destroyed.

In the world of 1890 to 1914, all Great Powers were European countries, and by general consensus there were just five: Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Great Britain.  Three, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, were conservative, Christian monarchies.  France was a republic and the leader of Europe’s left.  Britain was a monarchy but all real power was in the hands of Parliament, not the monarch.

All five Great Powers shared a grand strategic orientation in which the threats they perceived came almost entirely from other Great Powers.  In 1890, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary were loosely allied despite Austro-Russian rivalry; Bismarck’s Reinsurance Treaty allowed Germany to ally with Russia without openly betraying Austria.  Britain saw her threats as coming either from France or Russia; she was friendly with though not allied to Germany or Austria.  By 1914, these alignments had shifted.  Britain, France, and Russia were allied against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Unfortunately, this whole grand strategic orientation was an error, especially on the part of the three conservative monarchies.  The real threat they faced was democracy coupled with secularism and, often, socialism.  This new and growing threat meant more than the loss or gain of a province here or there or perhaps some colonies, with a resulting effect or prestige.  Democracy, secularism and socialism promised to wipe Christian, conservative monarchy from the board and all three ruling houses, Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs, and Romanoffs, from future history.  As we now know but they could not foresee, that is what happened, with the result a grand strategic shift of the whole political spectrum sharply to the left.

What I am saying in Reforging Excalibur is that all three of today’s Great Powers are repeating the blunder three of the five Great Powers made then, the blunder of operating within an obsolete grand strategic framework.  This is the largest and therefore the most damaging error a country’s foreign office can make.  Then, it damaged, perhaps fatally, Western, Christian civilization.  Now, it may fatally damage the state system itself, leading to global anarchy.  Just as the three conservative Great Powers of 1914 needed to be allied then, in a new Holy Alliance or Dreikaiserbund, so all three Great Powers need to be allied now in defense of the state system against the non-state forces which drive Fourth Generation war.

The Blob cannot think in these terms, because any departure from its institutionalized groupthink endangers the career of anyone suggesting there is a problem.  The same seems to be true in Moscow and Beijing.  All I can do is point to the price earlier foreign policy establishments in the Wilhelmstrasse, the Ballhausplatz and on the Nevsky Prospekt paid for making the same mistake.  Some mistakes are so vast and have such baleful consequences that the phrase, “Heads will roll,” becomes more than a metaphor.

The View from Olympus: My New Book

Finally, my new book is out (Arktos, London).  Written mostly in 2020 and co-authored by “John Ewald,” a nom de plume for someone vulnerable to DOD retaliation, Reforging Excalibur: Creating a Sustainable and Relevant Defense for 21st-Century America has two goals.  The first is re-structuring our grand strategy and armed forces for a world of Fourth Generation war, where the enemy is not other Great Powers but non-state forces such as al Qaeda, ISIS and drug cartels.  The second is getting ready for the inevitable debt crisis, financial crisis and hyper-inflation, which will drastically reduce the amount we can spend for defense.  When those titanic economic forces hit, we will be lucky if we can spend $100 billion (in today’s dollars) for defense, not the trillion we spend now.

The 90% reduction in our defense budget will not be voluntary; Reforging Excalibur does not advocate it, because there is no need for advocacy.  We will have no choice.  Rather, my new book shows how it can be done while preserving our ability to defend ourselves effectively.  “Defend” means just that: keeping Americans safe in their homes and beds, not attempting to dictate to the rest of the world.  We would still play an important role in the world, but it would be in the context of a new and very different national grand strategy.  Our new grand strategy would have as its goal the preservation of the international state system in the face of spreading state collapse, itself both a consequence and a cause of Fourth Generation war.  Our National Defense Strategy, which currently calls for preparing for war with Russia and China, would instead seek an alliance with both countries and then through that new Triple Alliance an alliance of all states in defense of the state system.

Objections will immediately be raised that we are now in a proxy war with Russia and Ukraine.  That is true, but why are we careful to keep it a proxy war rather than engaging U.S. and Russian armed forces directly?  Because Russia is a nuclear power – as is China.  Nuclear powers do not fight conventional wars with each other because the risk of escalation to nuclear war is too great.  Is Kiev worth Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago?  No, and even the hucksters saying we must spend trillions preparing for such wars know it.  The current National Defense Strategy is a fraud.

Other lessons from the Russian-Ukrainian war also point away from classic state vs. state conflict.  Russia, still thinking in those terms, launched a World War II style attack on Ukraine.  And how has that worked out for them?  Their initial attempt at a Blitzkrieg-type campaign failed.  It failed because a Russian army is not a Prussian army.  Russia has now fallen back on a typical Russian approach, relying on mass artillery followed by very expensive assaults by poorly trained infantry.  Ukraine seems to have learned something of maneuver warfare, i.e. the German style of war, and is practicing it rather well.  Is there perhaps some historic memory of German-Ukrainian ties in both World Wars?

Russia also found itself in a people’s war, not just a war between two armies.  From Napoleon in Spain onward, where that happens the invader faces a hard and lengthy slog to victory, or more often defeat.  People’s war is not per se Fourth Generation war.  It is not 4GW in Ukraine (despite some writers’ mis-definition of 4GW as just guerilla warfare) because it is still being fought in a state vs. state framework.  Where Fourth Generation war may rear a very dangerous threat is if Russia and the Russian state collapses.  That is not impossible, and it is why French President Macron among others is correctly warning against humiliating Russia.  A failure of the Russian state would give the forces of 4GW by far the greatest victory they have won to date, one we would find difficult to contain.

All this puts my new book well outside anything being considered within the Washington establishment.  So does one other point it makes forcefully: if you want your armed forces to lose,there is no more effective way to set them up than by filling them with women.  The cultural Marxists will howl, as will our senior military “leaders” who prostrate themselves before Feminism, but facts are facts.  When we see something that has been true for all of human history in almost every corner of the world, in this case that the fighting is done by men, there is probably a good reason for it.  Stuffing women into every nook and cranny of our military is, to borrow Roger Kimball’s apt phrase, an “experiment against reality.”  It will not end well.

Anyway, the establishment will hate this book.  I can give it no higher recommendation for your own reading.

Everyone will Hate this Column.

Throughout the Western world, everybody is rooting for plucky Ukraine.  It is the classic story of David and Goliath, and who ever rooted for Goliath?  Russia had no reason to invade Ukraine.  Ukraine does not qualify for membership in NATO, nor can it do so as long as it has a border dispute with Russia, which it always will.  The brutality of the Russian army has made the good vs. evil nature of the war even more apparent.  Ordinary people here in Cleveland are flying Ukraine flags, contributing to funds set up to help Ukrainian refugees and welcoming more Ukrainians to a city that already has a lot of them.  And it should; Ukrainians are exactly the kind of people America needs more of.  We should take as many as want to come.

But. . .

Foreign policy should never be based on emotions, however understandable the emotions may be.  By their nature, foreign relations are amoral.  That’s what Machiavelli is all about.  If they are to attain the objective they desire, they must be calculated purely on the basis of interests.  America’s interests in the Russian-Ukrainian war dictate that Russia not be defeated too badly.

At the outset, a Russian defeat seemed impossible.  But the Russian army has performed so badly that its outright defeat now appears likely.  Outright defeat means not only that Russia fails to take and hold all of Ukraine, but that she loses everything she held before the invasion began, including all of the Donbas and Crimea.  Again, let me say what everyone will hate: such a defeat for Russia is not in America’s interest.

The reasons are two.  First, President Putin cannot survive Russia’s outright defeat.  So what?, some might say.  The sooner he is gone the better.  I agree.  But with his neck on the line and no conventional options left, the pressure on him makes the nuclear option seem ever more unavoidable.  It is not in our interest that this or any war go nuclear, because even if the first use is of tactical nuclear weapons in a place far from our shores, the potential of strategic nuclear war, with American cities going up in fireballs, is all too great.  As I’ve said before, the number one interest we have in this war is preventing nuclear warheads from landing on American soil.  All other interests are trivial in comparison.

The second reason we should not want Russia to lose too badly is that such a dramatic defeat could lead to a breakup of the Russian state.  This war, its casualties and the economic damage it has brought on Russia are heavy burdens for the state to bear.  In the 1990s, under President Yeltsin, Russia was close to a break-up.  President Putin’s great achievement, and the reason he has been popular with most Russians, is that he strengthened the state.  His wild, uncharacteristic gamble on war with Ukraine has undone that achievement.  In a world of spreading state weakness and the rise of Fourth Generation war, an outright Russian defeat could mean not only the desirable fall of the Putin regime but a dissolution of the Russian state itself, creating a vast, stateless region with thousands of nuclear warheads and strategic delivery systems floating around it.

This is not some alarmist fantasy.  Ukraine sees the possibility and welcomes it.  The May 21-22 Wall Street Journal interviewed the chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, who said,

Putin is in an absolute dead end.  He cannot stop the war and he cannot win it. . .  If they finally realize that the czar is not as great and mighty as he pretends to be, it’s a step towards the destruction of the statehood of today’s Russia.

So, what should the U.S. do?  First, we should make it clear to Ukraine that we will support her effort to defend herself but not a strategic offensive aimed at re-taking the Donbas statelets and Crimea.  If Ukraine were to try anyway, we, the U.S. and NATO, should close her borders with the West.  Second, we need to offer Russia a peace where she gets something.  That something might include recognition of the areas of the Donbas she held before the invasion and Crimea as legitimately Russian and the lifting of all sanctions.  Third, we must move quickly on this, before events outrun it, possibly to the point where a complete Russian defeat will be inevitable unless she goes nuclear.

In wars where a state has limited interests but runs large risks, which describes America’s situation with reference to the war in Ukraine, her most important interest is to end it.  That is where Washington’s efforts should now be focused.

Playing with Nuclear War — and Some Advice for My Friends in Sweden

The Blob, the Washington foreign policy establishment, is playing with nuclear war.  So what if Russia goes nuclear in Ukraine?  We will just pile on even more sanctions, make Russia more of an outcast, and tell her she must grovel in the dirt to be readmitted to the concert of powers.  Some are going further: the lead op ed in the April 28 Wall Street Journal, by former deputy undersecretary of the Navy Seth Cropsey, was titled, “The U.S. Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.”

No, it can’t.  A single nuclear weapon detonated on one American city would do this country more damage than it has suffered in all its wars to date.  No foreign policy goal can justify such a price.  No threat to our “credibility,” no diplomatic humiliation, no “abandonment of our allies” can outweigh the consequences of a single American city getting nuked.  Not only would we suffer tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans killed by the blast, and far more doomed to radiation sickness, we would have a collapsed financial system and economy, a completely discredited government and quite possibly a revolution or devolution as people withdrew their allegiance to a state that had brought catastrophe upon them.

What is the danger of this happening?  Unfortunately, it’s fairly high.  The course of events leading to it is already taking place in Ukraine.  Russia and her armed forces have been humiliated by the failure of their initial campaign in Ukraine.  They have regrouped and are trying again, with more limited goals.  As of writing this (May 1), the outcome of the second Russian offensive is unclear, but it seems to be making slow progress at best.  If it fails, the initiative is likely to pass to Ukraine as the shift will be a natural event after a defense succeeds.  But in part, it will also be because of U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine.  At some point, the shift may permit Ukraine to go on the offensive.

What does Russia do then?  What does President Putin do to save his neck?  Near the top of the list will be escalating by using tactical nuclear weapons.  Where does the escalation stop?

A wise U.S. and NATO foreign policy establishment would now be building a golden bridge over which Russia can retreat rather than going nuclear.  Asking itself the question, “What would Bismark do?”, it would call a conference in, say, Vienna.  A deal could look something like this:

Ukraine sells the portions of Luhansk and Donetsk that had already declared their independence to Russia, along with a narrow land corridor connecting them to Crimea (which remains Russian).  The price is high enough to make a substantial contribution to re-building Ukraine.

Ukraine agrees not to join NATO unless Russia also joins.  That would leave open the door to the alliance Christendom needs, one running from the U.S. Pacific coast to the Russian Pacific coast, oriented south.

Russia agrees to Ukraine joining the EU.

Russia cedes East Prussia (the “Kaliningrad Oblast”) to Ukraine, giving Ukraine a Baltic as well as a Black Sea outlet for her grain exports.  Russia also funds building a new, high capacity railway, not running through Belarus, connecting Ukraine with the East Prussian port of Konigsberg.

What does Ukraine think of all this?  It doesn’t matter.  In true Bismarkian style, the great powers make the deal and inform the smaller powers what they are going to do.  Otherwise, no deal is possible in cases such as this.

And in Vienna, let the ball commence. A word to my good friends in Sweden.  Sweden is considering joining NATO.  Don’t do it.  The reason Sweden still has Stockholm’s Old City, the wonderful 18th century dockyard at Karlskrona and much else is that it has not gone to war since 1815.  As Swedes know, Sweden did almost join Germany in both World Wars.  Had it done so, Stockholm would have no Gamle Stan, and Karlskrona would have been shelled or bombed flat.  After their abysmal performance in Ukraine, neither Sweden nor Finland nor anyone else has much reason to fear Russia’s conventional armed forces.  And even a mad Putin is not likely to nuke Stockholm or Helsinki in a neutral Sweden or Finland.  Neutrality has benefitted Sweden greatly for more than two centuries.  Don’t kill the chicken that has laid so many golden eggs.

Maneuver Warfare in Ukraine

Has maneuver warfare turned up in the conflict in Ukraine?  Yes, and it has done so in ways that are instructive.

The original Russian campaign plan was classic maneuver warfare at the operational level.  Stavka has focused on operational art since before World War II, indeed in some ways back into the Czarist period.  But as I said in a previous column, the Russian army in Ukraine fell into a trap of its own making: its units could not deliver on the tactical level what the campaign plan required on the operational level.  This is not unique to the Russians.  In the First Persian Gulf War, the U.S. Army’s Seventh Corps could not move fast enough tactically to attain its operational objective, the encirclement of Iraq’s Republican Guard.  In World War I, my favorite German general, Max Hoffman, said of the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff, Conrad von Hotzendorf, that his plans were operationally brilliant but his army could not execute them.  That raises the question of whether a plan for an army that cannot do it is a good plan.  I tend to think not.

On the Ukrainian side, the April 14 Wall Street Journal, in an article by Daniel Michaels titled “NATO Training Retooled Ukraine Army,” reported that:

NATO countries also helped Ukrainian military leaders adopt an approach called mission common, where higher ups set combat goals and devolve decision-making far down the chain of command, even to individual soldiers.

This is Auftragstaktik, one of the central components of maneuver warfare.  I wonder just who in NATO the Ukrainians got it from?  The U.S. Army is an unlikely source, since, though it may talk about Auftragstaktik, it does not do it.  The translation as “mission command” suggests the British army was a source, since that is the term they use.  The Bundeswehr is also a possibility, although I don’t think it was involved in training in Ukraine.

A more intriguing possibility is that Ukrainians have some ancestral memory of Auftragstaktik.  Ukraine first received its independence from Germany in World War I, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fought for Germany in World War II.  All is not forgotten.  Some years ago, when speaking to the Balitic Defense College, I said, “Don’t model yourselves on the U.S. Army of today.  Model yourselves on the Wehrmacht.”  many of the students responded by saying, “sure.  My grandfather fought in the Wehrmacht.”  As disorienting as it may be to Americans, in much of central and eastern Europe, the Germans were the good guys since they were fighting the bad guys, the Bolsheviks.  As the Russian mother of a friend of mine, who was in Riga when the Red Army arrived in 1940, said to me, “When the Germans came in 1941, it was liberation.”

As the Russians gear up for a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, maneuver warfare also has something to say to the Ukrainian high command: do not let your army get encircled.

From what I read in the newspapers, Ukraine has stationed most of its best units in the country’s east.  Russian operational art dictates that the Russian goal must be to encircle those forces.  From the Ukrainian perspective, the desire to defend every inch of ground is understandable.  But it can also easily be fatal.  If Ukraine must choose between giving up ground or having its mobile forces encircled, maneuver warfare theory says to pull those forces back, even if that means the Russians take Donetsk and Luhansk.  Ground can always be re-taken, but Ukraine’s ability to reconstitute mobile forces is small.  If they are lost because of the blunder of adopting a cordon defense, they are lost for good.  At that point, Ukraine will have no capability of launching a counter-offensive and the war will be decided.  (Maneuver warfare theory also points out that a counter-offensive is often more powerful than an offensive, because in the former the enemy will have few or no reserves.  That’s what happened to the French in 1940.)

If Ukraine were to adopt a defense based on an operational level counter-attack, it could also make use of an ability it has demonstrated, namely to hold on to urban areas come hell or high water.  Mariupol is only one example.  By holding the cities and larger towns in areas where it hopes to counter-attack, it not only ties down large Russian forces, it also blocks the Russians from using the railways to resupply, because the tracks run through those urban areas.  A defense based only on holding fortresses can do nothing but delay defeat, but a defense that combines holding fortresses with a strong mobile reserve can be powerful.

More lessons for maneuver warfare and many other things will undoubtedly flow from the war in Ukraine.  Let’s hope one of them is not that nuclear war must be avoided at all cost.

The Ghost of 1914

World War I ended with a global pandemic.  Has the next world war begun with one?  I pray not, but no historian can look upon the war in Ukraine and not see the ghost of 1914 rising wraithlike from it – a ghost which, I fear, bears a striking resemblance to Conrad.  When was Przemsyl last in the news?

When we think back to World War I, to its origins, its course and its consequences, the parallels are frightening.  The first is that, in 1914, no one expected war or wanted war – at least a general European war.  Kaiser Wilhelm II certainly did not.  On the contrary: as soon as he realized, too late, where events were leading, he made desperate efforts to head them off.  He ordered a cable sent to Vienna telling Austria to take Belgrade and then stop, but the German Foreign Office did not send it.  Tsar Nicholas only approved the order for mobilization with great reluctance; his war and Foreign Ministers acted before he could change his mind.  The Kaiser even halted his army on the Belgian frontier when the British Foreign Secretary hinted Britain might stay out – but then Grey pushed the British cabinet in.

Are events today again running away from those who seek de-escalation?  Russia expected a quick victory (like everyone in 1914), but now finds herself bogged down in a stalemate with no clear exit.  As wars go on, they tend to spread.  The West is upping the ante in the help it is extending to Ukraine.  At what point does Russia start hitting Western weapons shipments while they are still on NATO’s soil?  How long can China remain on the fence when Russia is her principal ally?  If Russia uses chemical weapons in urban combat, does the U.S. wrongly declare them “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and thereby open the nuclear Pandora’s box?  There are a lot of ways for this conflict to get bigger, fast.

The parallels do not end with the merely military.  In 1914, the world had a global economy.  Only in the last decade did the value of global trade reach 1914 levels, as a percentage of the global economy.  But even before Russia invaded Ukraine, America’s use of economic sanctions as weapons was swiftly undermining Globalism, as did the Coronapanic and its effects on global supply chains.  Now, every country is striving to “re-shore” whatever it can, in a security-driven race towards autarky.

World War I ended with the destruction of three great, Christian, conservative empires, the Russian, the German, and the Austro-Hungarian, with ongoing consequences for Christendom.  What states may fail as a result of the war in Ukraine and its potential expansion?  Then, the old empires reformed as republics.  But now, we live in a time when the state is in decline and non-state entities are rising.  Fourth Generation War theory says that a defeated Russia might break up still further, as the Soviet Union did, to become a vast stateless region with lots of nukes and delivery systems floating around.

What then, Russophobes, which is to say the Blob, the neocons, and the neo-libs?  You destroyed states such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya and have not been able to put them back together.  What is your plan for a stateless region running from the Polish border to the Pacific Ocean?

The political establishments in Washington and the EU would be wise to remember that World War I brought a wholesale collapse of establishments.  The monarchies in Russia, Austria, and Germany were swept away, replaced in the first by Bolshevism and the latter two by socialism.  Shortly after the war, in 1922, the Italian political establishment was replaced by Fascism, and in 1933 in Germany by National Socialism.  Do the cultural Marxist elites that now rule in Washington and most European capitals think they are likely to survive a cataclysm they created? (I promise them their replacements will come from the right, not the left.)

If those establishments want to survive, they need now to bend every effort to de-escalate the war in Ukraine, to build a golden bridge Russia can withdraw over without humiliation, one where the Kremlin can claim some sort of victory (i.e., Ukraine will never join NATO and Crimea is recognized as Russian) and all Western sanctions are quickly removed.  The U.S., the E.U., and Russia then join to rebuild Ukraine.

In 1914, the post-1815 European order sleepwalked itself into a world war that swept it from the board.  In 2022, the post-1945 world order is on the verge of doing the same.

Is the Defense Now Dominant?

As of this writing (March 19), the Russian invasion of Ukraine is stuck in the mud.  That is bad news for Russia, because time favors Ukraine.  As Western military aid pours in and Ukraine mobilizes all its resources, the correlation of forces shifts in Ukraine’s favor.  With the typical Russian logistical collapse, it is hard to see how it can regain the initiative.  This is a problem with Blitzkrieg-type offenses: if they fail, the next move is not obvious.

Russia’s failure to date raises a broader question: is the defense now dominant? If it is, that would come as no surprise to Clausewitz: he argued that the defense is inherently stronger than the offense.  Were not that the case, we would routinely see the weaker side in a conflict take the offensive.

What we’ve seen so far in Ukraine makes it tempting to think the defense is now generally stronger.  The ability of Ukrainian forces armed with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to stop Russia’s armored offensive appears to suggest that is the case.  Broadly, the packaging of firepower in smaller containers has historically helped the defenders.  In World War I, where the defense was dominant, developments such as land mines, barbed wire, and machine guns enabled individual soldiers or small groups to lay down firepower or create fortifications that previously would have required much larger units.  In 1914, a German infantry regiment was armed almost exclusively with rifles.  By 1918, it had many machine guns, trench mortars, and hand grenades, plus a few artillery pieces (Sturmartillerie).  This pushing down of firepower to lower levels made the 1918 regiment far more powerful than its 1914 counterpart.

A hypothetical situation allows us to see the same phenomenon: what if at Stalingrad Germany and its allies had Panzerfausts in large numbers?  Would the Soviet armored forces that created the encirclement still have been able to break through the Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian units holding the flanks?

But there is another side to this coin.  Before we jump to the conclusion that the defense is now dominant, we need to factor out the elements that are unique to the current situation in Ukraine.  First, Russia committed the common mistake of underestimating its opponent.  That in turn led to Russia attacking with second and third-class units that mirrored Russian units throughout history: conscripts with low morale, poor training, and, again, logistics that quickly collapsed.  In the 1970s, I visited Professor John Erickson, who wrote the definitive history of the Soviet Army in World War II, at his university office in Scotland.  One of the things he said to me was, “Do you want to understand the Russian army today?  Ask yourself what it was like under Czar Nicholas I.”

My information is that Russia has four first-class divisions, manned by well trained, long service volunteers and given Russia’s best equipment.  It held these in reserve until it’s offensive failed.  Now it has committed two of them, but, again, once an armored offensive has failed, it is challenging to get it moving, especially with weak logistics.  All those failed Russian units still have to be fed, fueled, and given ammunition, plus the new units.  In addition, March means the Rasputitsa, the dissolution, where the roads all turn into bottomless mud holes.  Russian logistics are heavily rail-based, but the Ukrainians still hold cities near the Russian-Ukrainian border through which the rail lines pass.  As a German military historian, I have to say this is deja vu all over again, in all the same places, but with the boot now on the other foot.

Yet another factor particular to the situation, but certainly not historically unique, is that the Russians’ operational plan demanded more of the tactical units than they could deliver.  This was to some extent true of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan in 1914, although she was actually winning on the Marne until the fatal order to withdraw was given (over Kaiser Whilhelm’s objections).  Max Hoffman wrote in his memoirs of the Austrian chief of staff, Conrad, that his plans were brilliant but his army could not execute them.  But is a plan good if the army it is written for can’t do it?  This was a dilemma for the Soviet Army throughout the Cold War, and it seems like it still is.

These factors particular to the situation make me hesitant to declare that the defense has once again established its dominance over the offense.  During and after the 1973 war in the Middle East, the vulnerability of Israeli tanks to Egyptian Sagger anti-tank missiles, supplied by the USSR, led many experts to declare the days of the Blitzkrieg were over.  But Sharon’s classic operational maneuver, crossing the Suez Canal and taking Egyptians from the rear, showed it still had a great deal of life in it, despite some Egyptian victories at the tactical level.

A higher level trumps a lower.  At the tactical level, the Ukrainian defense has defeated the initial Russian operational plan.  But that plan was defective, in that the units ordered to execute it could not.  As to whether the defense can now prevail over a good operational plan for an army that can execute it, I think the jury is still out.