The Science of War: Back to First Principles

By Brian Holden Reid | Go to book overview

4

LIDDELL HART AND THE INDIRECT APPROACH TO STRATEGY

Brigadier A.S.H. Irwin OBE


INTRODUCTION

Liddell Hart's Strategy of the Indirect Approach was not, as he was the first to acknowledge, original. It had been a major factor in, if not the sole cause of, the successful waging of battles, campaigns and wars long before Liddell Hart had proposed its virtues. Indeed the first examples of its employment that he cited occurred during the Græco-Persian Wars that began in 490 BC. Why then did his published work on the subject 1 attract the admiring attention that it did? At least part of the explanation was that his readership was as infected as he himself was with a deep sense of horror at the appalling slaughter that had been such a notable feature of the battles on the Western Front. Indeed it was this horror that provided the most powerful spur to Liddell Hart's search for an alternative to a war of attrition with all its inevitable blood letting. 2 The Indirect Approach seemed alluringly to offer precisely that alternative and it was seized upon with enthusiasm.

So it was with emotion that the theory was developed and emotion with which it was received. This chapter seeks to explain briefly what was being said, while testing its validity as a theory. The application of the theory and its implications for the British Army on the modern battlefield will then be examined. The chapter will conclude that in its conception and its purest form of expression, the Strategy of the Indirect Approach was indeed the pursuit of a veritable will o' the wisp. 3 But nevertheless it has an important role to play in

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