I'm looking to find writings on military thought. Not in the sense of tactics or history of war, but in the sense of being in or running a military force in the abstract. Ideally, possible topics would include questions of organization, discipline, military ethics, and so on. In theory, this could also work with something that looked at a particular military institution and examined military life through that, similarly to Absolutely American about West point. Any recommendations?

  • I am sorry that I had to downvote. For what reason, would you require some military books only for Absolutely American?? From philosophical stand point of view?? I think too and upvoted for Sun Tzu, partly philosophical, and according here j.people.com.cn/94475/8071509.html, it says, there more than 10 translated versions of The Art Of War, and it says, it is being used in variety of areas, from literature to politics to even marketing. It says The Art Of War is translated and read in more than 30 countries. – Kentaro May 9 '15 at 16:15
  • Sorry, I guess I wasn't as clear as I wanted to be. I've actually read The Art of War, and to me it's a both too specific and too vague, since it reads like a simple list of rules that he felt were the way to go to war, without any explanation, nor any examples. Absolutely American was an example of one particular type of book that would work, a book that is about being in the army and what that's like, just through the lense of a specific institution. – ewkochin May 9 '15 at 22:14
  • I think the very difficult point about the Art Of War, is based on the technique of the translation. If you can read Chinese ( the very first language to read it ) or Japanese or Korean ( the probable second options ), the impression or nuance is veeeeeeeeeeerrrrrryyyy different. Even though I quoted English translation below, I have to say, the nuance seems to me a bit different. Btw, for that reason I reset my downvote. – Kentaro May 10 '15 at 5:20
  • I am sorry I was not able to upvote. So let me add +1 to the "star". Thank you. – Kentaro May 10 '15 at 5:22

The most famous philosophical work on military matters is Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Although thousands of years old, it outlines general principles still applicable today, and although largely about tactics, it also is centrally concerned with "running a military force in the abstract."

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  • Ha, I was actually considering using The Art of War as an example of what I wasn't quite looking for... – ewkochin May 8 '15 at 0:31
  • +1 Chapter 8, 12 : There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction. (2) cowardice, which leads to capture. (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults. (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame. (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble. Very suggestive and also (semi)-philosophical to me. – Kentaro May 9 '15 at 16:34

The classical reference for ground warfare in the European style has been the texts of Clausewitz (q.v. http://www.clausewitz.com/) for a few generations. He made logical sense of most of Napoleon's actions for the next generation, and since Napoleon was too busy running things to try to explain himself, he is taken as the summary of the military thinking of the European Classical period running from Alexander the Great to Revolutionary France.

Thereafter, the speed of technological change made everyone back off to a higher level of abstraction. His theory of internal lines does not make metaphorical sense in a modern theater where the lines of combat are not as obvious (e.g. aircraft, tactical explosives, guerilla skirmish, etc.). But his thinking is thorough and precise, and in certain ways, it does extend to modern life.

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For the psychological/philosophical side of military thought, D. Grossman's book On Killing could be relevant - while it covers a rather narrower topic compared to the whole military life as such, it is probably the main distinction between the mentality of military and other high risk occupations and organizations.

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