Chris Thompson’s recent explication on the origins of the Greek theoria was a delightful intellectual dance that unfortunately failed to make the point, indeed any point, regarding the use of “critical theory” applied to military operations and/or strategic theory in the context of General Aviv Kohavi’s Israeli Defense Force operations in the Nablus area in 2002.

The threats of the 21st century, or in Thompson’s words the “postmodern,” be they ethnic conflict as we see in Darfur, international criminal cabals, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, economic and trade competition, resource conflict (for oil, water, or food), disease vectors, failed states, famine, ecological degradation, or inter-state (or inter-tribe) warfare all necessitate the scientific formulation and an artful application of a “strategy” that is aligned with the interests of a given state. Clausewitz discovered, as he theorized on war in the 19th century, that there was an “interconnectedness and context” to it. Somehow that seems to link nicely to General Kohavi’s “inverse geometry.”

In 2000, as a student at the Army War College, I noted that Plato’s Athenian in the Laws said, “we are told, you know, that everything whatever comes, has come, or will come into existence is a product of either nature, or of art, or of chance.” In the context of my pursuits then, I was attempting to support the theory that “strategy” is imbued with elements of each of these aspects: the natural or scientific, the artful, and the fateful.

I also noted then that Roger Scruton described art as “the practice of ministering to aesthetic interest, by producing objects that are worthy of it,” but I offered also that strategy, or the strategic art, was perhaps more than art for art’s sake, but perhaps that it was the application of knowledge.

However, in applying knowledge to the art of strategy there are broader implications. Robert Kaplan, the renowned Atlantic Monthly journalist and author, has offered that literature (an art form in the sense of an aesthetic ideal vs. that of the skillful application of knowledge) has an immense and vastly underutilized place in the formulation of strategy. Kaplan suggests that the “separation of history from literature and of both from political science . . . creates policy makers ignorant of the very books that explain places like Haiti and Somalia” and, by extension of Kaplan’s logic, of Afghanistan and Iraq. In this instance, one would be critical of the strategists who don’t use an artful application of knowledge (art) in the creation of strategy — the opposite position, I think, from what Thompson offered.

If the point of Thompson’s essay was to condemn war, so be it. If the point was to condemn those who must wage war for being creative, intelligent, and culturally adept, I mightily disagree. Applying creativity and “critical theory” to combat often saves more lives than it takes, in my experience. Those who prosecute wars don’t create the circumstances under which they are prosecuted — political decisions create those circumstances. Fundamentally, art and critical theory have always been part and parcel of military theory and strategic policy formulation. Plato’s Laws inform on this as well: “statesman is especial, they say, is a thing which has a little in common with nature, but is mainly a business of art.”

David Knapp
Lieutenant colonel, US Army Reserve

  Topics: Letters , Armed Forces, Robert Kaplan, U.S. Armed Forces Activities,  More more >
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