Echevarria and Strachan represent the classical tradition in strategic thought. Both have closely studied Clausewitz and display an outstanding grasp of military history. Both write lucidly and sharply criticize sloppy thinking. Both are intrigued by the relationship between national policy and military strategy. Both are wary of cultural explanations for a nation’s conduct of war. Finally, both challenge the view that their respective countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, have unique “ways of war” that shape their responses to conflict.
Echevarria’s book questions whether U.S. military practice has ever followed a single “big idea,” arguing that the concept of a specifically American strategic culture is an “elusive fiction.” It offers concise examinations of every instance in which the United States has used military force since 1775, including lesser-known episodes such as the intervention in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China. Echevarria provides valuable synopses of the most important campaigns and explains what they reveal about developments in military practice, demonstrating the variety of ways in which U.S. leaders have adapted their approaches to military force to fit the circumstances. He concludes that although an American way of war probably does not exist, there is an American “way of battle,” built on the assumption that tactical victories will be sufficient to achieve strategic success.
The Direction of War explores how strategy serves as a guide to action. Strachan uses Clausewitz’s theories as a starting point and relies on them to challenge contemporary British military practice. He buttresses his analysis with his close knowledge of the debates over the United Kingdom’s use of force in recent international conflicts. Strachan laments the damage done to the concept of strategy as it has been torn away from its classical roots and muddled with policy. He raises important questions about civil-military relations and the interaction between professional advice and practical politics. Although he criticizes generals and politicians alike, Strachan’s sympathies usually lie with military leaders. Strachan offers much good sense; at times, however, he appears to expect more of strategy than it could ever possibly deliver.