[by Lynn C. Rees, under the inspiration of Adam Elkus]
Strategy is not a rigorous field of study. Even given how any field of study is quickly revealed to be vomit of selective half-truths, wishful thinking, political compromises, poorly sourced anecdotes, random trivia, maternal homilies, typographical errors, outright lies, innocent omissions, and clerical tidying if picked at too closely, strategy is burning hot radioactive waste.
It’s main focus of inquiry is what undermines it. Most study strategy in search of what Aleksandr Suvorov titled his own inquiry: The Science of Victory. Most want to go one step beyond Suvorov: they want the book that has never been written (though many aspired to write it): The Checklist of Victory. This motive is understandable. As the Swun Dz stated 2,500 years ago:
Warfare is a great matter to a nation;
it is the ground of death and of life;
it is the way of survival and of destruction, and must be examined.
Unluckily, this urgency has condemned strategy to anachronism. Pre-empirical literature invariably flew straight from what is to what should be without apology or even the awareness that there was something to apologize for. Many fields of inquiry since have reached a way station where, even if perfunctorily, its adherents perform the correct liturgical motions to acknowledge what is before they leap to what should be. Strategy is not one of them. It has never developed that clear wall of separation between description and prescription that many other disciplines reached.
Behavior that ever capricious contemporary norms label as strategic is a constant of observed human experience. Yet much dissection of this behavior is a dangerously thin veneer over Potter Stewart‘s “I know it when I see it“. Adopting Stewart’s ever evolving sensibility is a fatal laziness. It dooms the study of strategy to an endless clash between proponents of an evergreen living strategy who appeal to novelty and originalists who appeal to the authority or tradition of their favorite textual hair splitter. Both sides end shoot blanks past each other since they’re often not even arguing their case before the same venue since they can’t agree on what the battlefield is. Hitting ’em where they ain’t is a time-honored tactical rule of thumb but it doesn’t make for a healthy field of study.
A rigorous field of strategy should at least be able to describe two aspects of strategy:
- traits that that uniformly classify a specific something as strategic and a specific something else as not
- the state of the traits so classified at any particular point in space and time
It could then contemplate a further leap:
- describing and classifying traits of a strategic participant’s desired strategic state at any given point in time
Perhaps then the study of strategy would have the luxury of pontificating on strategic prescriptions. However, strategy as a field is far away from accurately prescribing what strategy should be since it’s almost equally far away from accurately describing what strategy is.