The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H110 On Strategy

neral Helmut Von Molke, Chief of the German General Staff, 1914


“I answered His Majesty that this was impossible. The deployment of an army a million strong was not a thing to be improvised, it was the product of a whole year’s hard work and once planned could not be changed. If His Majesty were to insist on directing the whole army to the east, he would not have an army prepared for the attack but a barren heap of armed men disorganized and without supplies.”

The Kaiser: “Your uncle would have given me a different answer.”


Given the below definitions from our current doctrine, and the conversation described above, what did Von Molke not understand about strategy? Also, do you think there is a danger of U.S. national and miltiary leadership making a similar mistake? Why or why not?



strategy — A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives. (JP 3-0)

National Security Strategy — A document approved by the President of the United States for developing, applying, and coordinating the instruments of national power to achieve objectives that contribute to national security. Also called NSS. See also National Military Strategy; strategy; theater strategy. (JP 3-0)

national defense strategy — A document approved by the Secretary of Defense for applying the Armed Forces of the United States in coordination with Department of Defense agencies and other instruments of national power to achieve national security strategy objectives. Also called NDS. (JP 3-0)

National Military Strategy — A document approved by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for distributing and applying military power to attain national security strategy and national defense strategy objectives. Also called NMS. See also National Security Strategy; strategy; theater strategy. (JP 3-0)

theater strategy — An overarching construct outlining a combatant commander’s vision for integrating and synchronizing military activities and operations with the other instruments of national power in order to achieve national strategic objectives. See also
National Military Strategy; National Security Strategy; strategy. (JP 3-0)


strategy – (DOD) The art and science of developing and employing instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national and/or multinational objectives. See FM 3-0. (FM 1-02).

military strategy – (DOD) The art and science of employing the armed forces of a nation to secure the objectives of national policy by the application of force or the threat of force. See also strategy. See FM 3-0. (FM 1-02).


November 2, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Given Von Moltke the Younger’s discussion with Kaiser Wilhelm, the General misunderstood the necessary relationship between ends, means, and ways. Rather than allowing the appropriate leadership to devise a strategy for the conflict, Von Moltke started with the military means and arbitrarily assigned an operational way to employ these means. The General failed to comprehend the implications of his actions and also failed to serve his leadership in providing options and analysis to course of action development. In order to appropriately devise strategic intent and action, Von Moltke should have clarified his commander’s guidance and strategic ends by integrating policy. With these strategic ends in place as offered by higher leadership, Von Moltke could then connect the military means to the strategic ends through appropriate ways. The lacking analysis of European centers of gravity and the triggers for conflict’s genesis directly led to the calamities of World War I.

    While I do not feel the danger inherent to Von Moltke and Kaiser Wilhelm’s actions directly troubles the corollary American system, all military and civilian leaders must ensure due diligence is conducted any time foreign policy misaligns with ways and means. This misalignment characterizes risk to the nation and possibly to the global political and economic status quo. Military leadership must attend to strategic ends and provide honest running estimates and data analysis. This analysis and generation of military means must not intrude upon manipulation of strategic ends. Conversely, civilian leaders must prudentially forge strategy and clearly communicate strategic ends to the military for execution where military means are appropriate.

    Military leaders must recognize the flawed approach to generalship embodied by Von Moltke the Younger. Learning from these ends ensures the democratic institutions inherent to the American system remain inviolate and our foreign strategy is galvanized instead of compromised.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, 19A | November 3, 2015

  2. Von Moltke the younger failed to understand what Von Moltke the Elder understood, that military strategy has to be a system of options because only the beginning of and operation can actually be planned. Von Moltke the younger failed to comprehend that there must be options outside of what had been planned behind closed doors with a lot of man hours. He also failed to see the interconnectedness of military actions, he could not see that his decisions on one front would directly affect the outcome on another. I do think we could be in danger of making this same mistake in today’s operational environment especially if we do not fully understand the interconnectedness of our actions throughout the globe.

    Comment by Laura Pangallo, 19A | November 4, 2015

  3. Von Moltke the Younger did not understand what we now called commander’s intent within strategy. Von Moltke the younger saw the strategy employed as a final order and once the order was given, that the plan could not be diverted from. Whereas the Elder would have saw all aspects and the consequences of the actions of implementing the strategy. From an ends, ways, means perspective; Von Moltke the Younger, only saw the ways and means of a plan and did not take the necessary initiative to understand the ends. Von Moltke should have gathered understanding of the ends and the commander’s intent to know exactly what Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to do.

    As the military advisor to the Kaiser, Von Moltke should have had dialogue with the Kaiser before employing the million man force to the western front. Had he gained understanding there may have been a different outcome. Von Moltke would have understood that the Kaiser’s intent wasn’t to go to war but to be a deterring force.

    I do not think the American system would fall to the same follies. The generals of our military have a better understanding of the ends, ways and means. However, the problem may come from politicians not understanding consequentialism for their actions and it is incumbent upon out senior leadership to advise civilian politicians on potential consequences for military action. Once the civilian leadership understand what using military force entails then it is up to them to make the decisions.

    Comment by James Stall, 19A | November 11, 2015

  4. This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. The approach to the problem was fundamentally incorrect. Instead of having the “ends” determine the “means”, Von Moltke the Younger had the “means” determine the “ends”. A correct approach would have been to ask “what do we need to do? (ends)” instead of “what can we do? (means)”.

    While strategy 101 clearly indicates that this should not be the way to do business, there is always a risk that a similar mistake might occur because the incorrect approach is the more expedient approach. However, there are several mitigating mechanisms in the US Army planning process that can prevent such a mistake from occurring. This includes a clear articulation of commander’s intent, which comprises the purpose and end state. This keeps the focus on the common objective (ends), instead of the available “means”.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | November 13, 2015

  5. Clearly Von Moltke the younger was more concerned with executing the strategy than ensuring it would accomplish the objective. Planning takes hard work and a huge investment on the part of all involved; however, planners must ensure they do not get emotionally invested in the plan. Operational environments evolve rapidly and everyone involved must be malleable to ensure mission accomplishment.

    There is no question, we have a similar situation with our current administration with respect to the ISIS threat. ISIS has grown by more than 4,000% according to retired Four Star General Jack Keene. Additionally, the terror group has carried out numerous attacks across the world to include the recent attacks that brought down a civilian airplane and killed more than 120 innocent people in France. Despite these obvious signals, our military administration refuses to make changes to the strategy against this terror group.

    I understand the importance of being patient and giving things a chance, but I also believe when a strategy is obviously failing, it must accompany an appropriate change. Refusing to acknowledge the ISIS threat will undoubtedly result in numerous more innocent lives being lost.

    Comment by John McAlister | November 19, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: