Book Review

Book cover image

B.H. Liddell Hart
Meridian, 1991 (reprint of 1954 ed.), 426 pages


T his book is an influential discussion of military strategy, first written during the interwar period of the 1930s and updated in 1954 to include changes in strategy brought about by nuclear weapons. Capt. Hart defines strategy as "how to get to the battlefield" and tactics as "what to do when you get there", and formulates his idea, widely employed by the Germans in WWII, of "strategic dislocation", i.e., bypassing the enemy's strongest point and attacking from the rear, or in other words, taking the "line of least expectation". Surprise is attained by demoralizing the enemy so that they believe there is no exit: "Psychological dislocation fundamentally springs from [the enemy's] sense of being trapped." This is achieved with a multi-pronged attack: "A plan, like a tree, must have branches," Hart says, "if it is to bear fruit."

Hart contrasts this principle with the theory of absolute warfare codified by Clausewitz, which is embodied in grand but misunderstood statements like "Only great and general battles can produce great results", "Blood is the price of victory", and "We have only one means in war -- the battle". Hart employs his own strategy of the indirect attack against Clausewitz's ideas, saying that because of his premature death by cholera in 1830, Clausewitz never had the time to finish the planned redactions to his great work that would have added needed elements such as economy of force and the importance of maneuver and misdirection.

In the last chapter, Hart expresses his misgivings about guerrilla warfare, which plants seeds of violence in the population that create disorder decades after the war is over. Even in this age of information warfare, Hart's book is still relevant, and while much narrower in outlook than brilliant works such as Sun Tzu's Art of War, it compensates by giving detailed examples throughout military history, concentrating principally on Napoleon and Hitler, demonstrating the superiority of the sudden and indirect attack as a strategy of warfare.

April 21, 2002 Back