Help me find software or books for a military strategy education.
November 13, 2006 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to do some interactive military strategy and tactics exploration similar to the exposition Liddell Hart or Clausewitz did. Software would be preferred, but of course i'd love to hear book recommendations. Can you help?

I'm looking for some software as a first choice, and some very good printed-in-color books with great maps as a second, for exploration of tactics and strategy from as far back as I can get. I've had a very hard time finding good historical atlas software (i'm on a Mac if it makes any difference), and while i've looked briefly at encyclopedias I doubt that anything along that vein will cover the topic in enough depth to be worthwhile. I suppose ideally, i'd like to be able to explore maps of these battles as they advanced. Any suggestions on textbooks, software, historical atlases, etc that will cover military-strategic topics in this kind of detail?
posted by arimathea to Education (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recomend wargames rather than a static map program or book. Both computer and pen-and-paper wargames can be useful here, depending on what you want and what campaigns you are interested in.

Obviously its fun to play the games out, but you can also use the maps and historical orders of battle to get an idea of how the campaign played out. More popular games have the sort of online communities that can provide turn by turn breakdowns of how a historical campaign played out in the terms of the game.

Some specific recomendations:
Napoleon -- Napoleon's campaign in Belgium that lead to Waterloo. This is a campaign that Clausewitz participated in.

Empires in Arms -- A larger view of the Napoleonic wars. This is a terribly massive game, requiring 7 players and a heck of a lot of time. But it gets at war as a continuation of policy by other means, with a detailed diplomatic as well as military model.

Combat Mission -- An excellent tactical game of WWII, from the batallion commander's perspective. This is a much smaller scale game than the other two, and a computer game at that. The community produces a fair number of historical scenarios avalible for download.

As for books don't miss John Keegan. His books, being fairly recent, generally have excellent maps. _Six Armies in Normandy_ and _The Second World War_ are particularly good with the maps thing.

If you can point to specific campaigns that you are interested I may be able to offer more recomendations.

posted by Maastrictian at 11:52 AM on November 13, 2006

I am not a professional in this field, but it is an interest of mine and I will give your question a shot.

First, the question is a little vague: are you primarily interested in strategy or tactics? (If you truly want to understand military campaigns, you should also be interested in the often decisive impact of logistics on both, though this is somewhat less glamorous, and makes for less scintillating reading.) Also, broadly speaking, what historical period interests you? Or are you more interested in extracting general principles that can be applied across all eras?

I suppose ideally, i'd like to be able to explore maps of these battles as they advanced.

Second, a caveat: battle maps are doubly illusory. First, in their abstraction they give the impression that they are depicting clean, precise movements of discrete units, and this of course is rarely the case. Second, and more importantly, they give the impression that they are depicting what actually happened, when in fact they are highly conjectural. This is so even for relatively modern events at the tactical level, and for older periods even at a basic strategic level. Even when there are reliable records of who moved where, and when, the rationales for doing so often remain highly debatable (even when there are eyewitness accounts).

Okay, that aside, you might be interested in the Line of Fire battle animations from the History Channel. Also, this is an excellent compendium of military history links - you might want to look at the "Theory" and "Map Resources" sections. There is even a Military History Podcast.

For maps specifically, there are the USMC Academy atlases (online, but contextless, here), the military maps at the Library of Congress, and this wiki.

Honestly, though, if you are looking for a substantial level of detail and analysis, particularly about the tactics employed in individual battles, your best bet is probably dead tree resources - either magazines like Military History, or scholarly journals in the field. These will present a muddier picture, but a truer one.

Finally, books. For a supposedly anti-Clausewitzian picture, try John Keegan. I also highly recommend the work of Victor Davis Hanson, though he focuses primarily on ancient warfare. Barry Strauss is also quite well regarded as an ancient military historian.

On preview: wargames are good, and might really be what you're looking for, though of course they vary in the degree to which they accurately depict the relevant variables. And they leave you to draw your own lessons.
posted by Urban Hermit at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2006

I remember reading a translation of Thucydides which was full of maps depicting the various places battles occurred as well as speculation about how the battles went.

I can neither remember the title nor track it down on amazon, sorry, but you might find it in a university library, like I did.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:53 PM on November 13, 2006

1000 Baited Hooks probably means this version of Thucydides, and it is indeed excellent. If you want more specific recommendations like this, just let me know.

On further reflection, the books that best marry a discussion of general themes/principles with detailed breakdowns of key individual battles are probably Victor Hanson's Carnage and Culture (or Why the West Has Won), and A History of Warfare by Bernard Montgomery. Both have their critics, but they are good starting points.
posted by Urban Hermit at 3:12 PM on November 13, 2006

That's exactly what I mean. Thanks.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:49 PM on November 13, 2006

I agree with the Victor Hanson suggestion. Carnage and Culture is a great read; a narrative describing several significant battles throughout history. John Keegan's books about World Wars I and II give excellent description of timelines, battles, soldiering life, et cetera. Good reads all around.
posted by colemanm at 8:16 PM on November 14, 2006

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