Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers

Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers
Course Trailer
Why Strategy Matters
1: Why Strategy Matters

If war is a gamble, then strategy-the process by which political purpose is translated into military action-is key to success. This course opens with a survey of why strategy is important, and it looks at World War II's "Operation Torch" as a case study for how the military should be used as an instrument of policy....

33 min
Thucydides on Strategy
2: Thucydides on Strategy

Take a systematic look at what makes Thucydides perhaps history's first great strategist. In his analysis of the Peloponnesian War, he examines the political origins of the war, the Spartan and Athenian leadership, and the social and moral implications of war-all in an effort to prevent future generations from repeating Athens' mistakes....

32 min
Thucydides as a Possession for All Time
3: Thucydides as a Possession for All Time

Join the lively debate over the efficacy of the Sicilian Expedition-was it good for the Athenians to engage in a preventive war far from home? Then turn to the Melian Dialogue and the debate between realists and neoconservatives over the conduct of war, and consider how this debate still plays out in contemporary America....

32 min
Sun Tzu's The Art of War
4: Sun Tzu's The Art of War

War. Business school. Professional sports. Sun Tzu's writing is wildly popular in today's world. This lecture lays out the historical context for "Master Sun's Military Methods" and provides an overview of Sun Tzu's strategy for war: (1) Be efficient, (2) avoid protracted wars, and (3) value the commander's intellect and skill....

31 min
Sun Tzu through Time
5: Sun Tzu through Time

After charting Sun Tzu's historical importance throughout Chinese history, in feudal and modern Japan, and in the modern West, Dr. Wilson demonstrates Sun Tzu's strategy of deception in action by taking you inside Operation Fortitude, a critical component of the Allied invasion of Normandy....

33 min
Machiavelli's The Art of War
6: Machiavelli's The Art of War

Learn about Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance man who, in addition to his famous political treatise, The Prince, wrote his own The Art of War, in which he advocated a citizen-army modeled on that of the Roman Republic. This lecture takes you through Machiavelli's book of tactics, his recommendation for Florentine military rulers....

30 min
Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy
7: Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy

If Machiavelli's The Art of War is a book of tactics, his Discourses on Livy is a book of strategy. Discover Machiavelli's philosophy of circumstances, fortuna, and his recipe for military action, virtu. See what strategies he thinks a republican military should adopt-and what qualities to look for in a good commander....

32 min
The Napoleonic Revolution in War
8: The Napoleonic Revolution in War

Experience the battles of Jena and Auerstedt during the Napoleonic Wars. These two decisive victories fought on the same day against the Prussians demonstrate the radical transformation of warfare and gave rise to two important masters of war: Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz....

31 min
Baron Jomini as a Strategist
9: Baron Jomini as a Strategist

Delve into the life of Baron Antoine Henri Jomini, whose widely read strategic works defined Napoleonic warfare-using a concentrated force to win decisive victories-and whose tactics and operations are still used in today's modern military. You'll also weigh the validity of key criticisms of Jominian strategy....

30 min
Clausewitz's On War
10: Clausewitz's On War

This lecture introduces you to Carl von Clausewitz, who might be the most influential modern master of war. His key ideas-the paradoxical trinity, assessing the international context, striking the enemy's center of gravity, and the principle of continuity-make Clausewitz the "master's master" and provide the basis for modern military strategy....

31 min
Jomini and Clausewitz through the Ages
11: Jomini and Clausewitz through the Ages

Compare two modern masters: Jomini, whose ideas are best suited for the tactics and operations level, and Clausewitz, whose philosophy explains why you can win all the battles and still lose the war. Then dive into the question of how much and what kind of political oversight is needed in war....

30 min
From Sail to Steam-The Sea-Power Revolution
12: From Sail to Steam-The Sea-Power Revolution

Study the revolution of naval warfare that took place between Napoleon's era and the beginning of World War I. The Industrial Revolution, the growth of global markets, the demand for raw materials, and the transition from sail to steam transformed navies and set the stage for 20th-century warfare....

31 min
Alfred Thayer Mahan
13: Alfred Thayer Mahan

Meet the first of this course's naval masters of war. Impressed by the audacity of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, Mahan's grand naval strategy was that a concentrated fleet and a global network of naval bases were the keys to naval dominance, which, in turn, would lead to economic prosperity....

30 min
Sir Julian Corbett
14: Sir Julian Corbett

Building on lessons from Clausewitz and Mahan, Sir Julian Corbett offered a complete strategy that integrated land and sea operations. You'll study his text, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, and see how his principles played out in Wellington's Iberian campaign and in the Russo-Japanese War....

31 min
Mahan, Corbett, and the Pacific War
15: Mahan, Corbett, and the Pacific War

Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor? Discover Japan's reasoning and why it failed, and you'll see how the United States applied Mahan's and Corbett's strategies to defeat Japan, from Plan Dog to Midway to Guadalcanal to the end game in 1945....

31 min
Air Power in Theory and Practice
16: Air Power in Theory and Practice

The 20th century saw the rise of air power and the creation of independent air forces in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. Here you'll explore the history of air strategy, from General Giulio Douhet's theory of air power as the ultimate strategic weapon to the American "bomber mafia," and you'll see how these theories held up in action during World War II....

29 min
From Rolling Thunder to Instant Thunder
17: From Rolling Thunder to Instant Thunder

During the Vietnam War, the failure of coercive persuasion in Operation Rolling Thunder raised questions about air power theory, but the development of improved targeting, better technology, and stealth aircraft allowed for successful air strikes during the Gulf War's Operation Instant Thunder. You'll also examine the strategic impact of bombing campaigns in Yugoslavia and most recently in Libya....

31 min
Nuclear Strategy
18: Nuclear Strategy

Tackle the challenge of nuclear strategy where, paradoxically, preventing war depends on having massive capabilities for fighting a war. Professor Wilson explains the nuances of deterrence, retaliation, mutual assured destruction, arms limitation, and more. You'll meet three nuclear strategists who have influenced nuclear policy in the nuclear era....

31 min
Mao Tse-tung in Theory and Practice
19: Mao Tse-tung in Theory and Practice

Turn now to China and Mao's three phases of revolutionary war. The key to an insurgent uprising is to buy time with a strategic defense, to build legitimacy and cultivate friends abroad during a strategic stalemate, and to take over in a strategic counteroffensive. You'll see this theory in action as Mao's revolutionaries rose up against Chiang Kai-shek....

31 min
Classics of Counterinsurgency
20: Classics of Counterinsurgency

How do you fight a revolutionary uprising? The French theorists David Galula and Roger Trinquier offered strategic theories based on the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. This lecture shows how these theories from the 1960s apply in 21st-century Iraq and Afghanistan....

31 min
Just-War Theory
21: Just-War Theory

Is war ever morally justified? Consider the three categories of just-war doctrine-jus ad bellum (the just recourse to war), jus in bello (the just conduct of war), and just post bellum (the just conclusion to war)-and apply them to Operation Iraqi Freedom....

32 min
Terrorism as Strategy
22: Terrorism as Strategy

As frightening as it is, terrorism may be the most strategic form of war. In the post-9/11 era, scholars have devised ways to objectively discuss terrorism as a strategy. Here, Professor Wilson explains the five audiences of terrorist action and presents Michael Collins and the war for Irish independence as a case study....

31 min
Strategies of Counterterrorism
23: Strategies of Counterterrorism

Reflect on the challenges of a counterterrorism strategy and the spectrum of responses, from simply ignoring terrorists to taking full-blown military action against them....

30 min
From the Jaws of Defeat-Strategic Adaptation
24: From the Jaws of Defeat-Strategic Adaptation

Conclude with a look at how General Washington adapted his strategy after the Battle of New York. Take one last look at the relationship between civilians and the military and how that nexus can create the optimal strategy....

33 min
Andrew R. Wilson

Who are our masters of war? Paradoxically some of the great works of theory come not from the victors, but from the vanquished. The lessons of failure are often far more powerful, more enduring.


Harvard University


U.S. Naval War College

About Andrew R. Wilson

Dr. Andrew R. Wilson is Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. He received a B.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. An award-winning professor and an expert in both military history and strategic theory, Professor Wilson has lectured on Asian military history, the classics of strategic theory, Chinese military modernization, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, among other topics. Prior to joining the Naval War College, he taught Chinese history at Wellesley College and at Harvard University. Additionally, he has been invited to speak at numerous military colleges and universities in the United States. Professor Wilson is the author of numerous articles on Chinese military history, Chinese sea power, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. His books include Ambition and Identity: Chinese Merchant-Elites in Colonial Manila, 1885-1916; The Chinese in the Caribbean; China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force; and War, Virtual War and Society. He has lectured on strategic theory and international security in nearly two dozen countries and six continents, and he has contributed to the curriculum of military colleges all over the world. The views expressed in this course are those of the professor and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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