Pervasive in academia, the perfection of specialization is the enemy of wisdom – by narrowing our curiosity, we limit our learning. Which is why I was thrilled to have received a new old book (1950), by B.H. Liddell Hart, Defence of the West: Some Riddles of War and Peace. Hart took on whale-sized topics, grouped in broad categories, including “riddles of the immediate past” like: “Was Russia Close to Defeat?,” “Was the 1940 Collapse Inevitable?,” and “Was Normandy a Certainty?” – in addition to several “riddles of the immediate future” like: “What Would Another War be Like?,” “Could We Survive Another War?,” and “Is Neutrality Possible in Modern Warfare?” This book was refreshingly refreshing in that it was genuinely fun to encounter a thinker that deliberately chose to engage with the biggest stuff – both the time-bound issues of the day and the timeless issues of all the days.

This book highlights for me the value of simple, direct questions (as the Israeli Defense Force General Aharon Farkash has said: “The question is the answer.”). A provocative corollary to the art of the question is the simple, direct prompt, designed to stimulate thought on a similar set of big issues. And so in the spirit of Hart’s contribution, I offer this list of 51 provocative, important strategic debates worth having.

  1. The military’s purpose is to kill people and break things (a statement from which I dissent).
  2. There will never be another need for a mass airborne drop.
  3. Pushbutton, standoff warfare is cowardly.
  4. Drone pilots deserve medals.
  5. Europe’s security is more important than Asia’s.
  6. COIN is dead.
  7. Tank warfare is dead.
  8. War in the Pacific is inevitable.
  9. Alliances are more trouble than they’re worth.
  10. The Middle East is a hopeless mess.
  11. America has nothing to learn from its Allies.
  12. The Army should adopt a SOF-approach.
  13. Lieutenants must have a strategic sense.
  14. Airpower will have a smaller role in future warfare.
  15. America will lose the next battle fought in a megacity.
  16. Gunboat diplomacy will have little relative value in future conflicts.
  17. Another world war is simply impossible.
  18. Winning wars is still possible.
  19. There are legal orders an officer has a duty not to follow.
  20. Drones harmfully reduce human control of warfare.
  21. A morally bad person can make a fine military officer.
  22. Afghanistan was worth it.
  23. Iraq was worth it.
  24. ISIS is not a terrorist organization.
  25. Nothing is worth the use of a nuclear weapon.
  26. Sometimes, America must go it alone in war.
  27. Military torture is sometimes justified.
  28. The ends always justify the means in war.
  29. Politicians should never interfere with military operations.
  30. The Marine Corps should be folded into the Army.
  31. The AF should be folded into the Army.
  32. Decapitation strikes can be strategically successful.
  33. The cyber Pearl Harbor will happen in the next five years.
  34. In brutal civil wars, we ought to give war a chance more often.
  35. American intervention is mandatory in genuine cases of genocide.
  36. War is more complex today than at any point in history.
  37. A fair national military draft would be good for American security.
  38. Douglas MacArthur is a role model Army officers should follow.
  39. The WWII era truly comprises America’s greatest generation.
  40. America has nothing to fear from international terrorism.
  41. Military officers must be prepared to lie, cheat, steal, and tolerate those that do – for national security.
  42. An operation which results in the successful capture of five high value targets is worth the life of one innocent child.
  43. In the future, the US might be allied with the Russians and Chinese.
  44. In the future, the US might become enemies to the British and Australians.
  45. Another war on the Korean Peninsula is unwinnable.
  46. America’s role is to keep the world from chaos by supporting democratization.
  47. Vladimir Putin is the greatest threat to European security since Hitler or Stalin.
  48. America’s light footprint in Africa is a mistake.
  49. Female combatant commanders will outperform their male counterparts.
  50. The US military would perform better if it was half its current size and budget.
  51. The Third Offset will fail because it is a technological solution to a strategic problem.

ML Cavanaugh is a US Army Strategist, a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and has served in assignments from Iraq to the Pentagon, and Korea to New Zealand. A Contributor at War on the Rocks, he looks forward to connecting via Twitter @MLCavanaughThis essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.


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