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Best-Laid Plans

by Victor Davis Hanson

Strategy: A History, by Lawrence Freedman (Oxford, 768 pp., $34.95)

Strategy as we know it today is far more than the Greeks’ original and limited notion of strategika, the “things related to the art of generalship.” The latter meant nothing more than troop arrangement (taktika), siegecraft (poliorketika), artillery (belopoiika), and tricks (strategmata). No wonder that, from Onasander’s Strategikos (a first-century manual  on the duties of the general) to the Byzantine Maurice’s late-6th-century Strategika, such “strategic” reading is dull and slow-going.

After the Enlightenment, and particularly in the 19th century, strategy, while understood to have arisen from politics and war, expanded to the larger science of how rational thinking could achieve power and influence in a climate of resistance and uncertainty. By the late 20th century, if everyone had a strategy, from a professor wanting tenure to a Little League coach hoping to advance his son’s baseball future, the goal was still the same: to figure out how to acquire more of something, and then retain your winnings.

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