Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy

By Holmes, James R. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy


Holmes, James R., Naval War College Review


Martel, William C. Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. 446pp. $36.95

William Martel, formerly of the Naval War College and now of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, accomplishes his chief goal of starting a discussion of a worthy, intensely policy-relevant topic. He demonstrates that a consensus definition of the term "victory" remains out of grasp, despite centuries of learned commentary on military affairs. Martel casts his book as a preliminary investigation of the nature of victory. This "pre-theoretical" inquiry, he declares, is the best that can be achieved, given the nature of war-a violent clash of wills pervaded by uncertainty and strong passions. Given these realities, no socialscience theory can tell political and military officials how they can arrange matters to assure victory.

After surveying the works of classical and modern strategic theorists, Martel constructs a framework for analyzing past wars and informing future deliberations on when and how to use force to achieve policy objectives. Victory, says Martel, can be classified by: its level, designated (in descending order) grand strategic, political-military, or tactical; how, and how much, the war alters the prewar status quo; how fully the victorious society mobilizes itself for war; and the manner and scope of postwar obligations incurred by the victor. The author next uses this framework to classify several U.S. military actions, ranging from the 1986 Libya raid to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

Evaluating victory is an ambiguous undertaking, even using this analytical approach. The Libya raid yielded only a "quasi-political-military victory," inducing a change of political behavior on Moammar Gadhafi's part.

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