Julian Corbett (1854-1922) has long been hidden in the shadow of Clausewitz and by the baneful glare of modern think tanks. Renowned as a naval thinker, Corbett was far more—and ever adept at pointing out how absolute theories collapse when faced with reality.
Of particular pertinence to the current befuddlement of U.S. policy toward the Islamic State and the general disorder of the Middle East is his study of the prelude to and first year of the Seven Years War. First, Corbett highlights the indecisiveness and nervousness of the Newcastle government, which led to a doomed attempt to calibrate a naval policy toward France that was not too cold, not too hot, but just right. The result was delayed and muddled orders to the fleet.
Second, Corbett notes the cost of those vague orders. Trained to believe that nothing was as important as closing with the enemy, commanding officers on remote stations precipitated actions whose diplomatic costs outweighed the strategic advantages. Others, such as the unfortunate Admiral Byng, interpreted their ill-conceived orders as justifying caution to a fault. The consequence of an indecisive government and an uncomprehending maritime service was a year of failures for Great Britain, the naval superpower of the day.
Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks