Antoine-Henri JominiThe Art of War

Antoine-Henri Jomini, The Art of War (translated by G.H. Mendell 1862, originally published in french in 1836, published by Arc Manor: Rockville, USA, 2007).

Background

Antoine-Henri Jomini was a Swiss citizen who served in the French and Russian armies during the Napoleonic wars. Capitalising on Napoleon’s success as a pragmatist and simultaneous failure as a theorist, Jomini’s literary contributions dominated the military-strategic consciousness of European armies and their conduct of war in the first half of the nineteenth century (Strachan, H. (2004) p.60; Shy, J. (1986) p.143). Indeed, so successful was Jomini in codifying Napoleon’s military approach that his early Traité des grandes operations militaires, written through 1804-11, prompted the Emperor to remark:

‘Here is a young chef de batillon, and of all men Swiss, who teaches us things which my professors never told me and which few Generals understand… This is giving away to the enemy my whole system of war!’ (Strachan, 2004, 60).

Jomini’s crowning achievement, however, came with his 1836 treatise Précis de l’art de la guerre – The Art of War. Written in the context of the military-strategic revolution of the eighteenth-century, which witnessed the idea of the Nation dramatically inflate both the political objectives and military means of European states, it stands as one of the seminal texts in its field (Strachan, H. (2004) p.60; Shy, J. (1986) p.143; Cocroft, H.E. (2007) p.3).

Summary

The Art of War opens by addressing the broader political considerations of war itself, seeing Jomini also recall his first-hand experience of France’s defeat in Spain to warn the reader of undertaking National War against a united people (Jomini, A.H. (2007) p.20). Subsequent chapters then see focus progressively narrowed through levels of military conduct such as Grand Tactics down to the deployment of artillery and military engineering in an ambitious attempt to give a comprehensive instruction in all areas of nineteenth-century warfare. Arguably the core principle advanced in this text, however, concerns the dispersal of the larger armies afforded to Revolutionary France into smaller and more manageable ‘interior lines’ (Jomini, A.H. (2007) p.79) which would be used to threaten an enemy’s lines of communication before being concentrated on their ‘decisive point’ (Strachan, H. (2007) p.64) – an approach to which General Normal Schwarzkopf’s prosecution of the 1990-91 Gulf War was later compared (Cocroft, H.E. (2007) p.3).  In spite of the context of his success, Jomini nonetheless lamented the wars of the Ancien Régime, commenting ‘If it be necessary to make a choice, I acknowledge that my prejudices are in favour of the good old times when the French and the English Guards courteously invited each other to fire first’ (Strachan, H. (2007) p.61).

Although Jomini’s simplistic definition of strategy as ‘the art of making war on the map’ has attracted criticism from contemporary military-strategic scholars, The Art of War remains a core text in the military academies of Europe and Switzerland (HKA (2011) p.14).

References

  • Antoine Henri de Jomini (2007) The Art of War (Arc Manor: Rockville, USA).
  • Höhere Kaderausbilding der Armee (2011) Klassiker des strategischen Denkens und der Kriegstheorie (Militärakademie an der ETH Züruch: Züruch, CH).
  • Horace E. Cocroft, Jr. (2007) Introduction, in Antoine Henri de Jomini, The Art of War (Arc Manor: Rockville, USA) pp.3-4.
  • Huch Strachan (1983) European Armies and the Conduct of War (Routeledge: London, UK).
  • John Shy (1986) Jomini, in Peter Paret ed. Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton University Press: Princeton, USA) pp.143-186.

Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: The Art of War

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