B.H. Liddell Hart echoes through time

Since I’m always yammering on about military history and military strategy (of which I am a novice-thinker truthfully), here’s my short take on some great places to start reading on war.  I am enamored at the crystal-clear wisdom on strategy and tactics found in Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”  the ancient Chinese classic on war.  It’s widely available online and in print and while it’s a little book, the ideas in it are enormously important and resonate through the ages, providing the best foundation in studying war that I have ever come across.  Western armies love their Clausewitz, but Sun Tzu won my heart on military strategy long, long ago.  (available free here and here).  I have several versions of “The Art of War”, but my favorite is a version translated by Samuel B. Griffith, an American WWII general, who studied Chinese and translated  Sun Tzu and Mao’s, “On Guerrilla Warfare”.  B.H. Liddell Hart, the renowned British historian and expert on military history and military strategy,  wrote the foreword for General Griffith’s Sun Tzu book and he stated that he found more wisdom on the fundamentals of military strategy and tactics in Sun Tzu than he had covered in more than 20 other books.  Hart stated that Sun Tzu was “the best short introduction to the study of warfare, and no less valuable for constant reference in extending study of the subject.”

I downloaded B.H. Liddell Hart’s short book, “Why We Don’t Learn From History” to my kindle ($1.99 for the kindle version here) recently and am about 2/3s of the way through it.  Here’s a quote that encapsulates the type of wisdom you’ll find within this slim volume:

“Civilization is built on the practice of keeping promises.  It may not sound a high attainment, but if trust in its observance be shaken the whole structure cracks and sinks.  Any constructive effort and all human relations – personal, political, and commercial – depend on being able to depend on promises.”

Coming from my Pop’s, “if you give your word, you keep it”, upbringing, it’s obvious why I greatly admire B.H. Liddell Hart’s writings:-)


Filed under Foreign Policy, History, Military

7 responses to “B.H. Liddell Hart echoes through time

  1. Your site has been recommended to me and from a very brief glance – I am pressed for time today and tomorrow – it has been bookmarked for future reference.

    As for Clausewitz, the main problem is pinning down *exactly* what he means. Translated from the original early 19th century German and written in the sinuous and/or ponderous prose of the German philosophers of his day, it is hard going. He seems to contradict himself, or, cover all his bases along the lines of: ‘if a then b, but if b then a’! It is not surprising to me that even a brilliant general like von Schlieffen misunderstood him.

  2. Able

    He made me come too! 😉

    Some of the ‘difficulties’ with Clausewitz are made clearer here:


    In particular the points ‘Clausewitz didn’t actually write On War’ and ‘On War is but the first three of ten volumes of his collected, unsorted and incomplete notes’ clarifies, in addition to the language DD pointed out, some of the lack of … Er clarity(?) in the work.

    Also, the point regarding ‘mechanical metaphors’ is pertinent too, I think.

    DDs reference to von Schlieffen is, I think, a normal assumption regarding the von Schlieffen Plan. I’d question that assumption though, along the lines voiced here:


    The Liddell Hart quote made me think of Fukuyama (a general description) here:


    Both America and Britain are/were high trust societies (depending on interpretation The US more so) but it’s interesting how much else can rely on that basic fact – national economics, military capability, etc. So Pops wasn’t just thinking of you and your interpersonal dealings, he was reiterating what made our cultures/countries great – smart man!

    • Thanks for the info – I’m reading through these links. Did you know that Clausewitz’ wife actually edited his notes after he died and compiled, his “On War”? Without her dogged determination, the world wouldn’t even know who Clausewitz is….. it’s true, lol Her editing might account for some of the confusion.

      • Able

        Quite, she published more of his works after his death, not just On War, there’s quite a collection. There isn’t that much known about Countess Marie. She was a von Brühl – a noble family at the court of Saxony (nobles and diplomats for generations, supposedly originally from Thuringia).

        I (Ahem) dated a Colonels daughter in the distant past. A Colonel of a ‘noble’ lineage. If Marie was anything like her? Well, let’s just say ‘blood will tell’. She’d probably, given his experience and upbringing, have done a better job (death does cramp a writers style). I often laugh at the portrayal of the ‘shrinking violet, pale, wan’ noble ladies (In my experience they, like their men, tend towards large, robust and intemperate – although considerably more attractive and less likely to belch, scratch personal bits of their anatomies and smoke cigars [in public at least] than the men). With genes like that, and constant exposure to warriors and warfare, personally I’d run rather than annoy one of them (remember, castles usually have swords available handily on most walls).

        I wonder how much/whether the ‘note organising’ included a bit of her own ‘interpretation’?

  3. Able

    You might like to (re)read the preface to the first edition that Marie wrote to get ‘the gist’ of how much ‘interpretation’ and presentation she undertook.


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