Theory and War’s Friction

31 03 2016


In reading Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, I came across a passage from the official British military history of the allied operation at Salerno, Italy, in 1943 [emphasis mine]:

In the land of theory…there is none of war’s friction. The troops are, as in fact they were not, perfect Tactical Men, uncannily skillful, impervious to fear, bewilderment, boredom, hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Commanders know what in fact they did not know…Lorries never collide, there is always a by-pass at the mined road-block, and the bridges are always wider than the flood. Shells fall always where they should fall.

It seems to me, when analyzing a commander’s performance, or divining his intent based on subsequent events, too many American Civil War writers live too much in the land of theory.



6 responses

31 03 2016
Ted Savas

Atkinson’s trilogy is simply outstanding. I am halfway through his third volume.

There is no doubt about the truth of the quoted material, or what you note, Harry. Just thinking about the vagaries of communication and the idea that visibility was (in nearly every case) from ground-level, and how any commander accomplished anything positive is difficult to understand.

Liked by 1 person

31 03 2016
Dale Fishel

Well said! I’ve always marveled at the fact that ANY Civil War general could succeed on a battlefield with the state of communications available (should I say UNavailable?) at the time. I imagine many days when a line soldier laid his head down wondering if he’d been on the winning or losing side.

Liked by 1 person

31 03 2016
Jens C. Falster

Well put.

Liked by 1 person

31 03 2016
Philip hadad

Very true this leads to myths missrepresentations.

Liked by 1 person

31 03 2016
Susan McDowell Cole

You mean the Generals won only the battles God intended them to win? Harry, I did not know you were such a philosopher.

Liked by 1 person

26 06 2018
Water and War’s Friction | Bull Runnings

[…] lip service to practical difficulties. I’m reminded of a passage I’ve quoted before (here, precisely), concerning theory and “the friction of war.” This is from the official […]


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