Strategy and Tactics

The near elimination of military history from college catalogs (often in exchange for social history) is one of the reason our public conversation about war is so limited.  Besides the market among older men for WWII or ancient battles, there’s one counter-trend  — the vast number of popular computer games in which the player reenacts historical battles.  For the rest of us, here’s some help from Augean Stables:

Many people do not properly understand the difference between the two, and it is a crucial difference.

There are four levels of warfighting- Policy, Strategy, Operations, and Tactics. Strategy is the marriage between the political ends and the military means. Tactics, to give a boiled-down definition, is what is done when in combative contact with the enemy- the manuevers, attacks, timing, etc. To elucidate with an historical example – In WWII, the policy was the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. One of the strategies to achieve that policy was to knock out the German industrial capacity through aerial bombing runs. There were many operations, or organized collections of missions, meant to ensure that the bombing strategy was successful. The tactics involved in the operations include the decision to bomb at night, non-evasive flying to increase the accuracy of the bombing, and dogfighting manuevers by the fighter escorts.

The first commenter notes a broader term:

As I am sure Richard knows, above Strategy in Operational Analysis, there is Doctrine. This has to be developed well in advance of any operation and informs everything, particularly Rules of Engagement. The capture of the British sailors by the Iranians highlighted and the subsequent ludicrous publicity highlighted how badly British commanders and politicians understood the importance of doctrine. In contradistinction, a remark by Admiral Cunningham at the Battle of Crete illustrated how well he understood: “It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition.”

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