Sunday, October 10, 2021

Antulio J. Echevarria II's "War's Logic"

Antulio J. Echevarria II is Professor at the US Army War College and former Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies. He is the author of Military Strategy: A Very Short Introduction (2017); Reconsidering the American Way of War (2014); Clausewitz and Contemporary War (2007); Imagining Future War (2007); and After Clausewitz (2001).

Echevarria applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, War's Logic: Strategic Thought and the American Way of War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of War’s Logic contains a brief discussion of some of the ideas of American nuclear strategist, Herman Kahn. At the heart of the discussion is Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War which appeared in 1960, less than a year before the Bay of Pigs fiasco and two years before the Cuban missile crisis. Of note, this page covers Kahn’s three types of “doomsday” machines, devices designed to destroy the planet if certain international rules or expectations were violated. The three devices were: the Doomsday Machine, the Doomsday-in-a-Hurry Machine, and the Homicide-Pact Machine. While the idea of a doomsday machine was widely criticized at the time, Kahn used it to highlight the illogic of some of the concepts underpinning nuclear strategy, such as countervalue and counterforce targeting, as well as some of the military hardware being purchased by, or being considered for purchase by, the US defense department. Weapons that appeared too destructive, he feared, would provoke a war rather than deter it. However, the doomsday metaphor backfired for Kahn, as many of his readers understood him to be saying, however horrible, a nuclear holocaust was better than allowing America’s enemies to win.

Unfortunately, page 99 only partially captures the thinking of one of the twelve theorists (Mahan, Mitchell, Brodie, Osgood, Schelling, Kahn, Henry Eccles, J.C. Wylie, Harry Summers, Boyd, Lind, and Warden III) analyzed in War’s Logic and, thus, is not a true reflection of the book. Nor does page 99 get at the book’s core theme, namely, teasing out the underlying assumptions each theorist held about the nature of war itself.

War’s Logic describes four different paradigms of war’s nature—traditional, modern, political, and materialist—which shaped how some of America’s leading strategic thinkers thought about war. Kahn’s assumptions fell within the political paradigm of war, though he was more optimistic than some of his RAND colleagues about how easily policy could control war and keep it from escalating. War’s Logic does not assess which paradigm(s) were more accurate with respect to what war, at root, is. Rather, it seeks to explain how powerful paradigms themselves can be in terms of shaping our strategic thinking and our notions concerning the utility of war. Three of the four paradigms—modern, political, and materialist—are still alive and well today, shaping the American way of war.
Learn more about War's Logic at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue