Walter Emil Kaegi, Jr.
Some Thoughts on Byzantine Military Strategy
© Hellenic College Press, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1983
In the pre-nuclear age, and in particular before the nineteenth century, military strategists, historians, and presumably many diplomats devoted less interest to the accidental outbreak of war than to the role of accident and random factors affecting the course of a war in progress. Although those earlier strategists expressed confidence in the utility of studying the history of wars and military science -- because they believed that such studies could assist one in achieving military success despite adverse quantitative odds -- they always remained cautious about the unexpected turns that violent conflict could take, especially at moments of large-scale intensive combat.
They accepted the use of military force, but they repeatedly warned against excessive confidence in one's ability to predict, to control, or to direct the course of a war once full-scale hostilities had commenced; they stressed the imponderables in war. They assumed that, of course, decision makers should try to know the military and political situation as fully and as accurately as possible but they should also realize that the unknown is a given in war and that somehow one should try to allow for it (without knowing its specific features or dimensions in the particular instance), or at least expect that it would be present, in any attempt to make estimates or to develop any plan of operations.
It would be erroneous to assume that, in the centuries that preceded the twentieth, there was an absence of awareness, within the leaderships of the sophisticated powers, of the risks of war. In fact, if one examines the record of warfare in some of those centuries, it is evident that there was little inclination to engage in what some modern scholars have called 'glorious' war. Throughout many earlier centuries there usually was a preference to exercise caution in carrying out military operations, and one of the specific reasons invoked by some of those contemporaries was the fear of the unknown, the random, the accidental, or other uncertainties of fortune in battle.
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