The other day a friend sent along a 1932 War College paper by Maj. G.S. Patton Jr. on the likely characteristics of the next war. He actually got that next war wrong, predicting that small professional forces would prevail over mass armies. Or, as he puts it, "there is a reasonable probability that the next war will be characterized by the use of smaller and better trained armies."
Even so, seeing the history of warfare through his eyes is interesting, in part because they illuminate his approach to World War II, as when he writes, "Mobility and enthusiasm are a powerful combination."
Here are some of his other observations -- or, rather, assertions:
--"Distant wars and hard campaigning need quality rather than quantity." This made me think of Iraq and Afghanistan.
--His summary of the American Civil War: "Up until the Summer of 1863 a regular force on either side would have had decisive results. After that date both sides were professional in everything but discipline."
--"The sole useful purpose of depth is to replace losses in the front line, not to push it on."
--He disagrees with Clausewitz on the tactical importance of surprise. Patton says that "Surprise is one of the prime requisites to victory. Broadly speaking, surprise may be utilized in respect to: TIME, PLACE and METHOD."
Now, anyone wanna argue with Patton about warfare?
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.