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Fuller, The Foundations of the Science of War (XXI)

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Matt Domsalla

SAASS 600/11

Foundations of the Science of War Precis

The Foundations of the Science of War by J.F.C. Fuller strives to provide a foundation of the science of war.

Data: Fuller, J.C.F., The Foundations of the Science of War (London: Hutchinson, 1926)

Author: J.F.C. Fuller was a British Army officer, military historian, and strategist. He was an early theorist of armored warfare and categorized the principles of warfare. During WWI, he served as a staff officer with the Home Forces, with 7 Corps in France, and the Headquarters of the Machine-Gun Corps’ Heavy Branch, which later became the Tank Corps. He planned the 1917 tank attack at Cambrai.

Context: Fuller wrote Foundations of the Science of War in the years following World War I. He was distraught by the instructional techniques at the Staff College, where students were expected to learn parrot-fashion vast quantities of facts about certain campaigns, such as the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign. Fuller complained that he could have accurately estimated the weight of kipper Jackson had eaten for breakfast on the seventeenth Thursday of 1862. Fuller’s experience in the Great War convinced him that technology’s impact on war would revolutionize the art of war. In the 1930s, Fuller became impatient with what he considered democracy’s ability to adopt military reforms. He joined the British Fascist movement and was an honored guest at Hitler’s 50th birthday parade.



Central Proposition:

· Principles of war: direction, concentration, distribution, determination, surprise, endurance, mobility, offensive action, and security. (221)

· Law of economy of force. (202)

Other Major Propositions:

· “Knowledge is, in fact, based on the universal inference of a threefold order – this is my cogito ergo sum.” (48)

Space of Three Dimensions













· Three qualities or elements – stability (negative element), activity (positive element), and cooperation (relative element)
















· Internal Consistency and Comprehensiveness –defined, categorized, explain, connect, complete?

· External Validity –

Comparison and Synthesis:

Importance: His ideas on mechanized warfare were influential leading up to WWII, particularly with the Germans.

Personal Significance:


· “No politician would be considered sane if he told a chemist or an astronomer what to do, but he considers it his right to tell the soldier, sailor, and airman what to do, and even how to do it; and if his words are not based on a true understanding of war they are based on a false understanding, for there can be no middle course.” (16)

Chapter I – The Alchemy of War

· “This history of war is a great romance, but as yet no true science of war has been written.” (18)

· “Science… is nothing else that true knowledge in place of haphazard knowledge, logical thinking in place of chaotic thinking, and ultimately, truth itself in place of falsehood.” (19)

· “To deny a science of war and then to theorize on war as an art is pure military alchemy, a process of reasoning which for thousands of years has blinded the soldier of the realities of war, and will continue to blind him until he creates a science of war upon which to base his art.” (20)

· “Because of this very ignorance of a science of war, the art of war has remained chaotic and alchemical.” (22)

· “There are two main causes for this military shortsightedness [on the application of new technology]: the first is the worship of traditions, and the second is our incapacity to see world forces in their true relationship.” (30)

Chapter II – The Method of Science

· “Lack of science leads to chaos in art.” (32)

· “Science is coordinate knowledge, facts arranged according to their values.” (35)

· “If we can establish a scientific method of examining war, then frequently shall we be able to predict events – future events – from past events, and so extract the nature and requirements of the next war possibly years before it is fought.” (37)

· “Experience… includes three factors – observation, reflection, and their resultant, which is decision, the correctness of the sensation received being susceptible to proof by gaining contact with the cause of the sensation.” (39)

· “It is interest and curiosity which cause us to reflect, and if there is one word in the dictionary which is omnipotent it is the word WHY.” (39)

· “[The] brain is not a museum for the past or a lumber-room for the present: it is a laboratory for the future – a creative center in which new discoveries are made and progress is fashioned.” (39)

· “Foresight, or the power of arriving at values before actions take form, is the highest form of judgment. When this power is inborn it is called genius – a subconscious realization of true values.” (40)

· “The difficulty is that we are slaves of the past; like monkeys, we are obsessed by imitation, we are forever copying thoughts and actions without weighing their values or considering their results.” (41)

· “Imagination is the telescope of our minds.” (44)

· “A hypothesis is a theory which binds facts together, a theory not only derived from the facts themselves, but also from their possible and probably conclusions. It is here that imagination based on reason comes to our assistance.” (45)

Chapter III – The Threefold Order

· “In place of reading history we must study it – that is, we must think over the relationships between the items which go to build it up, and from observation and reflection arrive at a decision regarding them.” (51)

· “Man is a compound of soul, mind, and body.” (56)

Chapter IV – The Object of War

· “Three fundamental biological causes of war: security of life based on the instinct of pugnacity; maintenance of life based on the instinct of hunger; and continuity of race based on the instinct of sec. The first is the mainspring of the military cause of war; the second of the economic cause; and the third of the ethical cause.” (65)

· Three great groups of causes of war: race, education and religion = ethical causes; commerce, industry, and supply = economic; geography, communications, and fighting strength = military. (65)

· “These three great groups of causes produce their effect through political action, which by concocting a pretext, detonates the war.” (66)

· “Arbitration cannot settle international political questions of importance… Leagues of Nations are leagues of nonsense, as they cannot control the causes of war.” (67)

· “Though in wars of all types there is no belt which may not be hit below, nevertheless a wise fighter will think twice before hitting below a certain moral line, because the material advantage accruing may be cancelled out by the ethical loss resulting.” (71)

· “To fight cleanly is to be supported by what is righteous in the world’s opinion.” (72)

· “Policy is the relationship between will and surroundings expressed in words.” (74)

· “A military victory is not in itself equivalent to success in war.” (75)

· “A war, to be economical, must enforce acceptance of the policy under dispute with the least possible harm to commercial prosperity.” (76)

· “A military decision, to be economical, must attain more profitable results than the depreciation of capital due to its attainment.” (76)

Chapter V – The Instrument of War

· “Clausewitz considered that war was not merely a political act but the real political instrument. I have no quarrel with this assertion; nevertheless, I prefer to look upon war as the condition resulting from a more strenuous and concentrated application of force to the normal political instruments used in the maintenance of peace.” (77)

· “Artillery, infantry, and cavalry are not necessarily essential arms, because there is not such a thing as an essential arm… What is essential is fighting force which expresses in full the three elementary powers.” (83)

· “If, in war, control is essential, then the freer the will of the commander the more economical will be the expenditure of force.” (86)

· “Three requirement to control: information, decision, and communication, the third being the cooperative link between the first and second and the expenditure of fighting force.” (87)

Chapter VI – The Mental Sphere

· “If war were an exact science, reason in itself would be all but sufficient to arrive at correct judgments, but it is far from being exact, since it deals with the differences between living creatures in place of inanimate substances of quantities.” (94)

· “Will is the gravity of the mind, it is the motive force which attempts to accomplish reason by cause and effect.” (95)

· “Genius is one of those apparently inexplicable powers which differentiates the truly great man from the normal. It is not an instinct, for otherwise it would be common property.” (97)

· “The military genius is he who can produce original combinations out of the forces of war; he is the man who can take all these forces and so attune them to the conditions which confront him that he can produce startling and, frequently, incomprehensible results.” (97)

· “The first master of the art of war is experience, the second is reason, and the third, and greatest is genius.” (98)

· “I want a weapon of such a nature because I want to carry out tactics of such a nature, and not, Here is a new weapon; what are its tactics? Should be the guiding rule in change.” (101)

· “The correlation of the forces of war is the main duty of the grand strategist, and once these forces have been correlated and adjusted to the political object, the next step is to endow them with structure so that they can be operated. This is the duty of the grand tactician.” (106)

· “The decisive point is not the body of the hostile army, just as politically the decisive point is not the body of the hostile nation. Politically, the decisive point is the will of the hostile nation, and grand tactically it is the will of the enemy’s commander. To paralyze this will we must attack his plan, which expresses his will.” (109)

Chapter VII – The Moral Sphere of war

· “The great moral trinity is self-preservation, self-assertion, and self-sacrifice.” (116)

· “In war, fear must similarly be balanced, and we balance it by means of what we call morale, which draws its strength from the instinct of self-sacrifice, just as fear is derived from self-preservation, and courage from self-assertion.” (119)

· “By controlling fear, morale enables the will to execute the dictates of reason.” (120)

· “Whilst moral fear is largely overcome by courage based on reason, physical fear is overcome by courage based on physical means.” (121)

Chapter VIII – The Physical Sphere

· “Destruction of the enemy’s physical strength is the canon of the physical school of war; to the moral school, it is the destruction of the enemy’s will.” (143)

· “A purely defensive (secure) war means that the object is to return to the status quo before the war began; consequently that the war has lost its meaning, for to wage war and return to the status quo is but to squander human energy.” (151)

· “Strategy and tactics cannot be separated; not only are they linked together by administration, which maintains organization, but they are so closely related that unless they interfuse and combine, military art must suffer.” (155)

· “Where is the decisive blow to be struck? This is they keystone of every development.” (163)

· “Defensive power of modern weapons is so great that frontal attacks are no longer reasonable, unless they can be carried out by armored troops.” (167)

· “By strategy an enemy is outmaneuvered.” (170)

Chapter IX – The Conditions of War

· “The practical application of time is the utilization of space.” (180)

Chapter X – The Law of Economy of Force

· “War is not governed by chance, but by law, and the punishment for disobedience is waste. The rational distribution of force, this is our problem in war.” (201)

· If, in its entirety, we could grasp the law of causation, we could then so economize our force that, whatever force might be at our disposal, we should expend it at the highest profit.Consequently, if two opponents face each other, and each possesses an identical supply of force, the one who can make his force persist the longest must win, because, as Spencer says, " the desired end will be achieved with the smallest expenditure of force." Therefore, in place of talking of the law of causation, or of the law of persistence of force, as the fundamental law of war, I will call this law the law of economy of force, or the law of economic expenditure of force. The latter term expresses my idea more closely, but as the former appears to me to be more general and scientific, I shall normally make use of it.” (202)

· “In place of talking of the law of causation, or of the law of persistence of force, as the fundamental law of war, I will call this law the law of economy of force, or the law of economic expenditure of force.” (202)

Chapter XI – The Principles of War






















· Principles of war: direction, concentration, distribution, determination, surprise, endurance, mobility, offensive action, and security. (221)

· “Means must be scientifically fitted to ends according to conditions; the foundation of every plan is, therefore, common-sense action.” (227)

Chapter XII – The Principles of Control

· “A correlation of all these various lines of direction gives the general tactical direction of the plan, and any action which aims at changing this direction is one of a decisive nature.” (234)

· “Principles of war are not talismans, but abstract conceptions of general ideas.” (238)

Chapter XIII – The Principles of Pressure

· “The most potent form of concentration is, consequently, the strategic surprise.” (265)

· “He who possesses the superior weapon possesses the highest chance of victory.” (270)

· “If we examine history, we shall find it has played such an obscurely decisive part. We equip ourselves with new weapons, but we fail to discover their values or the relationship between their respective values. We invent tactics on suppositions, and then we organize our forces to fit traditions, barrack-rooms, parade grounds, and certain round sums of money. Worse still, if we succeed in one war we imagine that to copy our success is the panacea against future defeat.” (280)

· “The surest foundation of eventually being surprised is to suppose that the next war will be like the last war, and that consequently old means will accomplish new ends.” (282)

· “As our present theory of offensive action is based on the idea of destroying personnel, new means of war, so I am convinced, will force us to substitute a theory based on the idea of destroying command – not after the enemy’s personnel has been disorganized, but, when it is possible, before it has been attacked, so that it may be found in a state of disorganization when attacked.” (292)

Chapter XIV – The Principles of Resistance

· “’Of all the principles of war, the principle of distribution of force is the most difficult to apply, because of its close dependence on the ever-changing conditions of war. Economy… means… expending wisely.” (294)

· “It is by taking risks which are worth taking that, more often than not, the greatest economies are effected and the highest interest secured. In war, audacity is nearly always right, but gambling is nearly always wrong, and the worst form of gambling is gambling in small stakes; for by this process armies are bled white.” (297)

· “The defensive is not the stronger form of war, but merely a prelude to the accomplishment of the military object of war – the destruction of the enemy’s strength by means of offensive action augmented by defensive measures.” (319)

Chapter XV – The Application of the Science of War

· Military requirements of the first importance – powers and limitation of the instrument; powers and influences of conditions; how to expend force profitably. (325)

· “In the mental sphere we direct, concentrate, and distribute force in idea and base our actions on these ideas; this gives us the general outline of our plan. In the moral sphere we adjust this outline according to a more detailed examination of the elements of this sphere as influenced by the conditions of war, and the principles of direction, concentration, and distribution change into those od determination, surprise, and endurance. In the physical sphere we carry this adjustment of our plan to its conclusion by examining in detail the influence of condition on the physical element of this sphere. Determination now evolves into mobility, and surprise and endurance into offensive action and security.” (326)

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