Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Historical Mind and Military Strategy

The Historical Mind and Military Strategy


As important as the study of history for military strategists is the acquisition of the historical mind—that is, a way of thinking that uses history as a mode of inquiry. From practical cases to inspiration, history can help with U.S. military decision-making. The historical mind will detect differences as much as similarities between cases, avoiding false analogies, and look for the key questions to be asking. It will look for continuity but also for more important discontinuities; it will look for linkages between data points, but not be too quick to attribute causation. It is a well-traveled mind that appreciates the variability of people and places, conditions and problems; it avoids over-reliance on “lessons learned.” For that reason, the historical education of civilian and military strategists is more, not less, important in an age of rapid change.

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