The Weekly Winston: On Strategic Objectives

The Hungarian-born historian John Lukacs has always written with great perception on Churchill, in at least four worthy books including The Last European War, The Duel, Five Days in May, and Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian.  In one of these books—I can’t lay my hands on the passage—he observes that much of Churchill’s difficulties with his colleagues in Cabinet derived from his American half, which was less patient and congenial to the slow and clubby ways of deliberating in British politics.  I think there’s something to this.

In any case, there is this wonderful passage from Lukacs in Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian: “He did not have the kind of intellect that has a natural appeal to the Overseers of Harvard University and to deans of women’s colleges in New England.” Just so.

This week’s helping of Winston comes from Chapter 13 of The Gathering Storm (volume 1 of WSC’s World War II memoirs), showing a glimpse of his regard for things American:

Advantage is gained in war and also in foreign policy and other things by selecting from many attractive or unpleasant alternatives the dominating point.  American military thought had coined the expression “Over-all Strategic Objective.”  When our officers first heard this, they laughed: but later on its wisdom became apparent and accepted.  Evidently this should be the rule, and other great business be set in subordinate relationship to it.  Failure to adhere to this simple principle produces confusion and futility of action and nearly always makes things much worse later on.

Personally I had no difficulty conforming to this rule long before I heard it proclaimed.


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