For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us."
Gen. James Mattis - 2013.
Gen. Mattis is right in that it's important to learn from the history of warfare. I do that whenever possible. For example, a decade ago, I wrote this essay on how Alexander the Great defeated the Scythians (a "nation" of horse archers that wouldn't fight by the rules) and how that insight could be adapted to Iraq.
However, unlike the General and many others with military backgrounds, I don't believe that warfare has stopped evolving or changing.
To me, this resistance to change is both depressing and exasperating. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the "nothing is new in warfare" statement from otherwise intelligent people. That statement is plainly wrong. It's a cop-out. A way to avoid adapting to new circumstances.
In fact, the history of warfare is the best argument against this wrong-headedness. It's a history that is full of innovation, crafty adaptations, and creative endeavor. This record of achievement is precisely why military history is worth reading.
However, I'll readily admit I'm in the minority on this.
Most people don't believe warfare is a serious area of study. This attitude is why the study of warfare isn't taken seriously in academia and why sociologists, political scientists, historians, economists, and area experts all claim ownership of it. It's why intelligence and foreign policy experts routinely discount the role of military theory in their analysis.
A major reason for this? The study of warfare is NOT seriously supported by the military. Even the places where study should occur -- the academies, the war colleges, and speciality offices (like the DoD's Office of Net Assessment) -- don't support a true study of warfare.
This dismal situation isn't limited to the US. It's epidemic in the developed world. It's gotten so bad that every military innovator is quickly turned into a pariah (Boyd, Lind, etc.) and the only refuge for new thinking are blogs like mine.
But in other places in the world, warfare is evolving.
It's changing and with every evolutionary adaptation the cost of our willful ignorance is going up.
PS: For many outside the military, the term: "military intellectual" is an oxymoron. Many believe that warfare is simple a prehistorical brutish contest. Nothing could be further from the truth.
PPS: If military theory hasn't changed, please oh please tell me when it stopped evolving. Give me the specific date when military history ended and repetition began.