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Scientific Optimism: Jomini and the U.S.


The U.S. Army presents itself as a Clausewitzian organization. Officers in

the Army fondly quote the Prussian theorist and, at the strategic level, his
dictums dominate; political control of the military, war as an extension of
policy, his trinity, etc. Consideration of Clausewitz’s friction and fog of
war has translated into the doctrine of auftragstaktik and maintenance of
initiative at the lowest possible levels of command. At the tactical and
operational levels, however, the U.S. Army remains more firmly rooted in
the ideals of Antoine-Henri Jomini. Jomini’s scientific approach to
understanding and succeeding at war lies at the heart of Army doctrinal
operations. The American Army, in its collective description of war and its
methods of planning operations in war, follows more closely the Swiss
theorist than the Prussian. The U.S. Army, particularly at the tactical and
operational levels, espouses the collective genius of good staff work and
the military decision-making process (MDMP) rather than the singular
genius of military command embraced by Clausewitz. This reliance upon
military science and method over the application of genius firmly defines
the U.S. Army, tactically and operationally, as a Jominian institution.

The definitive feature of Jomini’s theories of war rests with the scientific
nature of their application. Though Jomini goes to great lengths to
discourage those who would critique his maxims as simple reduction of the
drama of war to mathematical calculations,1 there is a strong element of
truth to his critics. For Jomini, war is a winnable endeavor; winnable if
one follows his few simple truths. The U.S. Army, in its doctrinal attempt
to encode Jomini, developed its well-known Principles of War. Jomini’s
influence readily shines in these principles (Dr. Thomas Huber describes
the Principles of War as “Jomini writ short”2). The Army’s application of
them at all levels of operations suggests that, as an institution, it agrees
with Jomini. War can be mastered by adherence to maxims that can guide
the commander to victory on the battlefield.

Several of the Principles of War link directly from Jomini’s Fundamental

Principle. The U.S. Army maintains a reliance on mass, offensive,
maneuver and economy of force, all of which are primarily elements of
Jomini’s first four divisions of the Fundamental Principle.3 Offense, in
particular, deserves attention as a U.S. Army doctrinal mainstay that stands
as a direct link to Jomini. The Swiss theoretician as strongly advocates
gaining and maintaining the initiative through offensive operations as does
the cornerstone Army doctrinal manual, FM 3-0.4 Both consider the
offense as the decisive form of war and both consider defensive operations
only acceptable as a step toward the offense.5 The parallels between U.S.
Army doctrine and Jomini continue in his advocation of the “offensive-
defensive”, analogous to the Army’s mobile defense. Certainly,
Clausewitz was also an advocate of offensive strategy, but not to the same
refinement as Jomini.6 Clausewitz relied more on maximum exertion7 of
forces while Jomini required the more familiar focus of strength at the
decisive point.8

American reliance on decisive points and the scientific application of

military theory to provide the commander with solutions to problems in
war are further suggest the Jominian character of the U.S. Army. In
schools of tactics, U.S. Army officers repeatedly study the use of the
military decision-making process (MDMP) as the predominant tool for
deriving solutions for operations in war. If the Principles of War are
Jomini writ short, then the MDMP is Jomini in full glory. Through a
scientific, step-by-step calculus, the MDMP promises to assist planners in
finding a suitable solution to any military problem that they may face. Its
systemic approach to problem solving relies on simple rules governing the
movement of forces, the synchronization of their effects, and the discerned
application of maximum power at decisive points on the battlefield. The
clarity and optimism of the MDMP relies on Jominian hopes that war can
be controlled and that the studious theoretician can master the application
of violence. The lucidity and precision of the MDMP trumps Clausewitz’s
friction and fog and offers the Army officer the ability to maintain
command of the chaos of war. Its calculations are cold. It discerns areas
of terrain as impassable when degrees of slope, space between trees, and
the very diameter of the trees reach specific numbers. The MDMP
continues the Jominian thread in its calculations of probable victory when
opposing units clash by assigning numbers of relative strength and
matching friendly units against enemy units of similar size, much the same
as Jomini’s determination that one battalion is interchangeable with

The reliance of the U.S. Army upon the promises of the MDMP represents
its hope that properly trained commanders and staff officers can control the
complexities and the violence of warfare. The MDMP represents the
egalitarianism of the U.S. Army as it allows the planning and execution of
military operations without the need for singular military genius in the
mind of the commander. All who come to the staff can participate and
provide valuable contributions to the success of a mission through the use
of the MDMP. Certainly, the commander plays an important role in the
process, but his role in the U.S. Army is more diffused than Clausewitz
would require of the military genius capable of cutting through the fog of
war. The theories and calculations of MDMP are more agreeable to Jomini
as he states in his introduction to Summary of the Art of War:

Natural genius will doubtless know how, by happy inspirations, to apply

principles as well as the best studied theory could do it; but a simple
theory, disengaged from all pedantry, ascending to causes without giving
absolute systems, based in a word upon a few fundamental maxims, will
often supply genius, and will even serve to extend its development by
augmenting its confidence in its own inspirations.10

Protecting against the absence of Jomini’s “natural genius,” the U.S. Army
has a developed an intricate, encompassing, and ubiquitous method of
deriving appropriate solutions to military puzzles. The Army follows
Jomini’s prescription and, through the MDMP, the Principles of War, and
the Tenets of Army Operations, has provides the framework for
commanders and their staffs that has become a fundamental system of
Army tactical and operational planning, limiting the need for natural
military genius.

Further evidence of the U.S. Army’s Jominian character lies in its espousal
of Lines of Operation. FM 3-0 devotes large sections of Chapters 5 and 6 to
this major Jominian concept.11 The U.S. Army has developed the concept
further to include both temporal and spatial lines, but the idea of solution of
a military problem through the application of logical threads of continuity
remains Jominian at its core. Jomini’s original concept suggested purely
contiguous lines of operation focusing on the advantages of interior versus
exterior lines of operation, and the U.S. Army continues to show a desire to
maintain that orientation. Doctrinal planners have expressed the need to
find solutions to operations that demand mastery of non-contiguous and
non-linear battlefields,12 but most instructors of tactics seem to rely more
readily on the previous methods of describing the battlefield framework.

The extreme opposite of the linear battle, guerilla wars of a national

character, shake Jominian ideals to their very core. He recommends
avoiding them all together.13 Since Vietnam, the U.S. Army has
demonstrated a similar reluctance to these types of operations. Recent
operations in Afghanistan demonstrate the Army’s desire to conform to a
linear, contiguous battle space concept. The beginning of the Afghan
campaign suggested that the U.S. Army would attempt to use non-
conventional means to force surrender of the Taliban. While Special
Operations Forces were used extensively and Ranger task forces conducted
airborne raids of a non-contiguous nature, defeat of the enemy came
through coordination of the Northern Alliance in primarily linear
operations on a contiguous battlefield. The U.S. Army has demonstrated a
desire to move away from Jomini’s lines of operation but, at the heart of its
doctrine, it still embraces the Swiss theoretician’s ideals.

A final and perhaps most telling indicator that the U.S. Army is a Jominian
institution lies in the Army’s optimistic approach to combat operations.
The Army, especially in its recent history, holds full expectations of
winning its battles. Doomsayers continue to predict extended operations,
massive casualties, or expansion of operations beyond control of the
players, but rarely has the Army entered into an operation without the
sincere belief that it would dominate and succeed. Jomini would be proud
of this sanguine approach to war. He allowed for a prescription for a
winnable war of limited nature. Under the control of skilled commander
and a trained staff, Jomini considered war scientifically manageable.
Clausewitz however warned against the dangers of the inherent
uncontrollability of war.14 In the U.S. Army’s confidence of tactical and
operational dominance of current and future battlefields, it falls firmly in
the Jominian camp at the expense of Clausewitz’s fears.

The U.S. Army’s doctrinal application of the theories of war at the tactical
and operational levels shows that, at its core, it is a Jominian institution. Its
scientific approach to the complexity and confusion of war eschews the
fears of Clausewitz for the promises of his Swiss counterpart. The Army’s
universal application of the Principles of War demonstrates its Jominian
heritage; its reliance on the Military Decision Making Process exhibits its
faith in the idea that the need for military genius can be mitigated by strong
staff work using cold, calculative science. Currently, the Army’s struggle
with lines of operation and non-contiguous operations as a potential future
of war displays more clearly a desire to maintain its ties to Jominian
theoretical concepts. While leaders of the Army and self-proclaimed
civilian experts of military thought prefer to quote Clausewitz when
describing current and future operations, it is to the comfort and optimism
of Jomini that the U.S. Army continually returns.


1. Antoine-Henri Jomini, Introductory Material to Summary of the Art of

War; reprinted in U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, C600
Term I Syllabus/Book of Readings, (Fort Leavenworth: USACGSC, July
2001), pp. 267-268.

2. Huber, Thomas M., “Introduction to Lesson 8,” U.S. Army Command

and General Staff College, C600 Term I Syllabus/Book of Readings, (Fort
Leavenworth: USACGSC, July 2001), p. 264.

3. Jomini, p. 284.

4. U.S. Department of the Army Field Manual 3-0, Operations,

(Washington, DC, 14 June 2001), p. 7-2.

5. FM 3-0, p. 8-1 and Jomini, p. 286.

6. Paret, Peter, “Clausewitz,” Makers of Modern Strategy: From

Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Ed. Peter Paret, (Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1986), p. 205.

7. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Ed. and Trans. by Michael Howard and
Peter Paret, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), p.

8. Jomini, p. 284.

9. Shy, John, “Jomini,” Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to

the Nuclear Age, Ed. Peter Paret, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1986), p. 173.

10. Jomini, pp. 267-268.

11. Shy, p. 169.

12. FM 3-0, pp. 6-14 to 6-17.

13. Shy, p. 171.

14. Ibid, p. 158.

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