The conduct of war rarely receives appropriately rigorous intellectual scrutiny, because the practitioners who know the subject best tend not to be scholars, and scholars tend to find the subject distasteful or unworthy of attention. A few still toil in the vineyards, however, and an excellent sampling of their labors can be found in this symposium on Stephen Biddle's recent book, Military Power. Biddle offers the provocative thesis that victory in twentieth-century wars resulted from mastery of what he calls "the modern system" of force employment -- a series of measures that allow one to avoid the brunt of the enemy's firepower while maximizing the impact of one's own. Combat outcomes, in other words, rely on what kinds of tactics armies use, not on factors such as numbers of troops or technological superiority. Such debates may seem arcane, but the practical stakes are quite high, because if Biddle is right, the concept of a contemporary "revolution in military affairs" (which lies behind the Pentagon's attempts to transform the U.S. armed forces) is being dramatically oversold. The symposium features critiques of Biddle's argument by leading figures in the field -- attacking it variously as tautological, banal, unsupported, and limited in scope -- together with a spirited response from the author that gives up little ground. However one scores the fight, it offers an outstanding tutorial on both the issues involved and how to approach them.
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