Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

‘Theory of victory’: The more I think about it, the more I like this phrase

There is a kernel of wisdom in the phrase “theory of victory.”

Churchill_V_sign_HU_55521
Churchill_V_sign_HU_55521

Like “strategy” and “plan,” the word “theory” tends to fall apart when it is hit by the realities of war. So I am naturally suspicious of it.

Yet there is a kernel of wisdom in the phrase “theory of victory.” I think it is a better way to talk to “narrative” (another word I have grown to distrust). Having a “theory of victory” is essential in war. Churchill knew this. From December 1941 on, he was able to say that with the Americans in, we will win the war. That was the simple essence of a theory of victory.

(After I wrote this, I noticed in a footnote in an article by General William Rapp in the new issue of Parameters that the phrase comes from my friend Eliot Cohen. I had forgotten that.)

Like “strategy” and “plan,” the word “theory” tends to fall apart when it is hit by the realities of war. So I am naturally suspicious of it.

Yet there is a kernel of wisdom in the phrase “theory of victory.” I think it is a better way to talk to “narrative” (another word I have grown to distrust). Having a “theory of victory” is essential in war. Churchill knew this. From December 1941 on, he was able to say that with the Americans in, we will win the war. That was the simple essence of a theory of victory.

(After I wrote this, I noticed in a footnote in an article by General William Rapp in the new issue of Parameters that the phrase comes from my friend Eliot Cohen. I had forgotten that.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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