The Art and Science of War


The debate on war as an art or science is as old as warfare itself. As warfare became inexorably intertwined with politics and a matter of life-or-death for a monarch or state, military minds grappled with how best to conduct warfare. Carl von Clausewitz tried to differentiate between the art and science of war by drawing a distinction between calculating how a battle or campaign should turn out based simply on the “science” of how many divisions, men or guns each army has and introducing the elements of “chance” and “will” into combat. These elements are used by Clausewitz to explain a great many contingencies in how war is played out, and they remain relevant today, even though they are often forgotten by generals and politicians.

First, each side in a war is attempting to win, and is likely at any time to exert their will to wage war, i.e., the total resources and effort available to them. Therefore, war is not a one-sided affair where one side simply acts and the other reacts, but a constantly swirling theater of thrust and counter-thrust where the actions on one front can affect another.

Second, no matter how much each side tries to determine what their opponent is doing or plans to do, there are often information gaps where a field commander must use their intuition or as Clausewitz calls it “military genius” to make a best guess of what the enemy might do and react accordingly. In addition, once a battle begins, a commander often cannot maintain control over their forces and combat often takes on a life of its own. This is what Clausewitz refers to as “friction.”

The ability to overcome uncertainty, friction, a lack of information, or whatever the vernacular, is the “art of war.” Unfortunately, even an understanding of this art and the ability to operate successfully within the confusing setting of the battlefield does not allow an army or commander to avoid the need to master the science of war. The science of war can be something as mundane as properly employing new weapons technology, creating the logistical capability to maintain a modern army in the field or the ability of a general to move his forces via accepted doctrine and tactics into an advantages position on the battlefield. On a modern battlefield, the science of war has an even more dramatic impact as modern battlefield commanders attempt to organize infantry, armor, artillery, attack helicopters, air support, unmanned aerial vehicles, and even information technology into a coherent plan. When commanders can combine the science and art of war they are successful, when one side is lacking, an army often faces defeat.

Why is this important? I find it amazing that we are not hearing enough about what is going on in Afghanistan. It is quickly becoming a forgotten war, part of what I fear is a concerted strategy by the Obama Administration to lay the ground work for something less than victory. The disconcerting part is that Afghanistan is no longer really
the prize here, PAKISTAN is....the U.S. and all of Western civilization can not allow Pakistan to fall under anything resembling Taliban or Islamic fundamentalist control. More on that topic later...