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from Naval War College Review

Leonhard, Robert R. The Principles of War for the Information Age. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1998. 287pp. $29.95

Robert R. Leonhard is an active-duty Army officer who is clearly well versed in Army doctrine. His previous works include Fighting by Minutes and Art of Maneuver. His third book, The Principles of War for the Information Age, is a thought-piece that is occasionally entertaining and thought provoking but sometimes tedious. Leonhard explains that “the purpose of this book is to examine each of the principles of war and to comment on their validity and utility.” He accomplishes his objective, though the reader may find it slow going in some places. Although Leonhard’s lively writing style relieves some of the tedium, at the same time it can be distracting.

Leonhard uses historical vignettes to illustrate the nine principles of war. They are well written and generally quite interesting. Although no glaring errors present themselves, one cannot really be sure, because there are no footnotes or other pointers for the reader to follow up in order to check for accuracy.

Leonhard states that the nine principles of war (mass, objective, unity of command, simplicity, offensive, maneuver, surprise, economy of force, and security) have been misused and that this misuse has warped them. He takes each apart in turn and comments on them, accepting some, rejecting some, and modifying others. He then presents a list of seven principles that he has developed (knowledge and ignorance, dislocation and confrontation, distribution and concentration, opportunity and reaction, activity and security, option acceleration and objective, and command and anarchy). High marks must be given for originality, but the book simply gets bogged down with the details of nine principles versus seven principles.

However, it brings to light many important points. For example, Leonhard frankly describes the technological “generation gap” in the armed forces. But rather than expand his thought, he simply concludes, “In a sense, we have to keep things simple so we leaders can participate”—perhaps leaving the reader to wonder, “So what?”

Harsh words must be said about the bibliography. Twenty references are listed, but only some have complete bibliographic information. Other entries consist only of the title and author, with no publisher. Leonhard provides a short description for most of the works cited; they include such unsubstantiated comments as, “Although the student of war must admire Foch’s circumspection and intellectual bent, his book on the principles of war borders on the incoherent.” About another work he writes, “After two complete readings, I can understand about two-thirds of the book.” Since Leonhard cites only twenty references, one would think he would have selected those that were useful. I found his comments about my friend and mentor, the late Colonel Trevor Dupuy, completely uncalled for. If in fact Colonel Dupuy’s theoretical work was “useless” and a “superb instruction in how not to interpret historical data,” why cite it?

Leonhard does have important things to say. He is on target when he questions the impact of technology on future warfare, and he brings a valuable operational Army perspective to the contemplation of future warfare. However, poor organization makes this work unnecessarily hard to read and masks some of its excellent points. Unfortunately, the great deal of original thinking in this book is devalued by its faults. This book is simply too ambitious. There is too much ground to cover in under three hundred pages. It would have been better if the author had completed his thoughts at each point before moving on.

Lieutenant Colonel
U.S. Army