Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy

By Bartholomees, J. Boone, Jr. | Parameters, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy


Bartholomees, J. Boone, Jr., Parameters


Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy. By William C. Martel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 418 pages. $35.00.

To a soldier or historian Victory in War is a book of theory. As a good political scientist, its author, William Martel, an Associate Professor at Tufts University's Fletcher School, calls it pretheory, since it is not definitive but only establishes a framework for future analysis. He is, of course, technically correct, but to the layman this book passes the duck test--if it quacks like a duck, it is a duck. By claiming a pretheory Martel is perhaps too humble about his accomplishment. He has taken a great stab at an underdeveloped portion of the theory of war--what victory is and how one achieves it. In the process he has written an important book. Professor Martel is correct, however, that this is just the starting point for a theory of victory. The thesis is that soldiers and statesmen have thought and written for millennia about theories of war; however, they have done so without the benefit of a complementary theory of victory. Unless one understands theoretically what winning is and how one achieves it, all the effort expended on the details of how to win a war or how to conduct campaigns is at best incomplete. This is an important thought leading to the quest for a fundamental framework that establishes precise language and organizing principles--or a typology--so we can understand what winning is and how it is attained.

Martel organized Victory in War in three general blocks. The first, a review of historic thought on victory, is perhaps the weakest. Although his span of historical theorists is impressive, and there is certainly nothing wrong with his interpretation, getting theories of victory from authors who were writing about a different subject is at best a tortuous exercise. It added little to the development of his thought.

The second block is the actual theory (or pretheory) and the meat of the book. Martel addresses victory using four scales. First is the "level of victory." He sees victory ranging from tactical through political-military to grand strategic. This sounds like tactical, operational, and strategic, but Martel is actually talking more about the size and impact of the victory than the level of war. His use of tactical would include the military tactical and operational levels of war since they comprise results both of single and multiple battles. Martel's political-military level, which looks like it might equate to operational, is really strategic in that he means the nation achieved some or all of its political objectives. The grand strategic level of victory does not relate to grand strategy--the national integration of all the resources available to a state to achieve its ends. …

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