Book One: On the Nature of War: Text

This is a draft of Book One. I am still working on the flow ot it. I am also working on the associated images, and will post them in the coming days/weeks. I will likely be editing to the very end, and I am, of course, happy to hear in the comments or via email if there are any quibbles with the text, things cut that you think shouldn’t have been, things misinterpreted, etc. Thanks, as always, for reading, and for the feedback.

Guten Morgen, Class! For our first lesson, we will talk about what war is, why we go to war, what we get from war, what some of its primary characteristics are, and a little of what it takes to be successful in war.

War is the use of force – Yes, Otter?

-What’s ‘force’ mean?

Violence, threat of violence, physical advance on territory, etc. – use of force to make the enemy do our will, to make him do what we want him to do. The aim is to disarm the enemy, to – Yes, Otter?

-What’s ‘disarm’ mean?

It is to make it so he cannot strike back at us. In war, you place your effort against the enemy’s resistance – Yes, Otter?

-What’s ‘resistance’ mean?

His resistance is both the men and resources he has – please save your questions! – and how much he wants to resist. War does not just happen out of nowhere, and it does not happen on a perfect chessboard. Your resources will nearly always be spread out, trees and mountains and rivers in your way. Even if you want to, you will not likely be able to use all of your resources at once….Yes, Otter?

-What are ‘resources?’

Your resources are made up of your fighting forces – your men – and the country, the land and the people and things on it. In war, the result is never final. Things can always change. And things are different in theory than they are in reality. Yes, Otter?

-What’s ‘theory’ mean?

Ideas. When you are thinking about it, imagining it, as opposed to doing it. If you think that every time you strike your enemy, they would strike back a little stronger, and that would keep happening until you were striking as hard and with as much as you possibly could, then the logical thing to do would be to just hit as hard as you can the first time, and put an end to it quickly. But in real life, it’s not that simple. You have physical restrictions, in where your forces are, in what the land is like – mountains or rivers or forests might be in your way.

Chance also plays a crucial role. Things happen that you don’t expect. The weather changes. An ally switches sides, or decides to stay neutral. With the best planning in the world, you will still always be at the mercy of chance. It is unavoidable in war. You are always gambling to some degree.

You also have limits based on what the point of the war is. Your government decides this, your King or President or Congress or Parliament. This political goal will determine what your military goal is, and how much effort it is worth. You must never forget this part, because war is just a continuation of policy. Yes, Otter?

-What’s ‘policy’ mean?

Policy is what your government believes, its goals and ideas. Sometimes it can get what it wants by negotiation, discussion, trade. Sometimes it can’t, and then it might decide to go to war to get it. War can have an effect on policy, but policy is always the key influence.

There is one more idea I think will help you understand what war is, before we move on to other factors: there are three main elements that work together in different ratios: 1) emotion, or passion – the feelings of violence or enmity, which belong to the people; 2) the realm of chance and probability, which belongs to the commander and his forces, and where there is room for creativity; and 3) the subordination of all to policy, which belongs to the government and which allows the actions of war to be ruled by reason. Different parts of this trinity will be stronger at different times, but you cannot understand – or even discuss – war without understanding the roles that all three play.

Your political aims will be different in different wars. In theory, your military aim is to destroy the enemy’s fighting forces, to make it so they cannot fight back, to occupy his country, and to break his will so he is forced to make a peace with you on your terms. The size and importance of your political aim will determine how much effort you put in, and how far you will go to achieve that aim. In reality, there can be lesser outcomes. You may not always be aiming for your enemy’s total destruction. You might be trying to scare him, or make him doubt, or interrupt an alliance. You may make victory seem so improbable to him that he gives in, for example, or present much too high a cost. Boar?

-What do you mean when you say ‘too high a cost?’

Excellent question, Boar. Cost does not only mean money. You make a war cost the enemy by invading, and destroying his territory, by making him – his people – suffer, by wearing him down. The minimum aim in war is pure self-defense, when you are looking for nothing save to withstand an enemy’s attack. In this case, you want very much to wear the enemy down, to make him expend his efforts and resources for little or no gain, until he is tired, spent, loses the will to attack.

Defense is stronger than offense in war. We will discuss this idea more later, so remember that. Remember also that defense is not purely passive. Even if your sole aim is defensive, you take any opportunity you have to inflict damage on your enemy.

The only effective force in war is combat. Yes, Badger?

-Combat means fighting, right?

Essentially, yes, combat means the use of your fighting forces in engagements with the enemy. However, it is not effective only in action. Just the threat of combat can be effective in the right circumstances. You choose to enter combat because you believe you will win. If combat is not met, it is because it is assumed which side will win.

While you may not always meet your enemy in combat, and even if you do you may not seek to destroy him, that is always the highest goal, destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is the standard against which other aims of war are measured.


I want to talk to you a little about what makes a great commander. True military genius is very, very rare. For someone to be a great commander, he must –


Yes, Quail?


Yes, Quail?


He or she – is that better?

-Yes, sir.

He or she must be brave in the face of danger.

He – or she – must be smart, very smart, with a mind that can see through the fog, through confusion, right to the truth.

She must make quick decisions.

He must be determined.

He must be able to accept responsibility.

She must be able to deal with the unexpected.

He must be able to inspire his men, even when things get hard.

She must stay cool under immense pressure.

He must have confidence in himself. He must do all the thinking and planning he can, but once he is in war, he must have conviction.


Yes, Otter.

-What’s ‘conviction’ mean?

Belief. Strong belief. He must make a decision, and stick with it, but not be too stubborn to hear others’ ideas.

She must also have imagination. Do you know what that is?

-It’s for make-believe.

Yes, Fox. It’s what helps you to see pictures of things in your mind. A commander must have imagination. She must be able to see the whole theater of war, the armies, the land with rivers and mountains and forests. She must be able to take all the little bits of information and create a map in her mind.

The commander must also be a statesman. In order to bring a war to an end, he must know what its purpose is, why his country decided to fight it. So, he must understand policy.

A person who has all of this is very rare indeed.


Some of you probably think danger sounds exciting, but imagine this – go ahead, Class, close your eyes, really picture this: you are walking closer to the battlefield, you can hear the sounds of guns and cannons growing louder. As you get closer, bullets are hitting near you. Cannonballs scream through the air. Where they land, earth and men and trees fly out in all directions. Your bravest friends are scared. Bullets are falling around you like rain. The sounds of guns all around you. One of your friends is hit. People are hurt and bleeding, and metal flies around almost too fast to see. People are dying.

Er…there, there, Bear. Buck up.

Very few people could stay calm, seeing this for the first time – Badger, you can open your eyes now – You will grow used to it, so that you barely notice most of it, but danger does not mean only heroism and glory.

War is physically demanding. It will make you more tired than you’ve ever been. When people are tired, their minds fall under a cloud, and they have a hard time keeping up their efforts.

People also have a hard time keeping up their efforts when things are going very well, because they get complacent – overly satisfied with what they have achieved, Otter. A commander has to work very hard, too, and he gets very tired, too, but he must continue, and he must be strong enough to help all of his men continue, even if they are struggling with feelings of despair or of self-satisfaction.

A good commander will hear no complaining about how hard things are when his army is losing. This is the same as whining, and whining is unacceptable!


Intelligence is what you know about the enemy and about his country, however you might learn it.

A commander gets many, many reports, and a lot of them will say different things, more will be false – wrong – and most will be uncertain – you will not know whether they are right or not.

A commander must be confident enough to rely on his own judgment of what is most likely to be true, and confident enough to ignore many of the reports he gets.


When you have never been to war, it might look easy. The decisions might seem simple.

When you have been to war, you will know that a lot of little things will go wrong, or will be different from how you planned them, or how you thought they would be. You will be tired, you will be in danger, and your luck will change all the time. You must know friction to overcome it, to – yes, Otter? What is it?

-Sir, what does ‘friction’ mean?

It is when two things come together and make something stick, instead of flow smoothly. Like when you use the brakes on your bicycle, or there is a stone inside your shoe. Yes?

-Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.

Remember this word. This word is important. Right. So…Yes! you must know friction to overcome it, and to plan for it.

The only thing that can ease this friction is combat experience. Habit makes your body stronger, your heart braver, and your mind cooler. Habit gives you the thing that is most precious in all the noise and chaos and fury of war. Does anyone have any idea what that is? Anyone? You have been listening to me describe the characteristics of war, and of those who must command war. What quality do you think habit could lend to soldier and commander alike to help counter the workings of chance and entropy? Otter?

-What does ‘entropy’ mean?

…Chaos. The tendency of order to become disorder. Yes? Boar?


What was that?

-Calm. That’s the thing you need.

Well done, Boar. Yes, habit helps you to remain calm, to not be swayed by the noise, or put off by the chaos, or paralyzed by the danger, or played for a fool by chance.

Training is no replacement for real experience, but it can certainly help, and training which introduces friction and physical exertions and challenges and the play of chance can be of great value once you see combat.

I have introduced you to some of the basic principles and elements of war. In future lessons, we will go into the details of strategy in much greater depth, and I will expect more of you with each passing lesson. Class dismissed.

2 thoughts on “Book One: On the Nature of War: Text

  1. You rock. I seriously cannot wait to put my kids to bed with this book. Don’t forget we have to do the phonetic alphabet picture book after this.

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