1940-1942: THE FULCRUM OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY? ‘Halfway Out of National Danger’: Chiang, Stalin and the Chinese Reaction to Barbarossa


This is the fifth in a series of posts connected to the King’s College Second World War Research Group’s ‘1940-1942: Fulcrum of the Twentieth Century Conference’, held at the JSCSC on June 1st. 


Traditionally Chiang Kai-shek has been treated in western historiography as a failure: the man who presided over the epic loss of China. In recent years, however, he has been the subject of more balanced assessments, and nuances have appeared, leaving space for remarks such as this: “Sometimes, Chiang Kai-shek was more farsighted than either Roosevelt or Churchill.” The words belong to his American advisor Owen Lattimore. Are they an exaggeration? A look at Chiang’s reaction to Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, may help the reader decide for themselves.

China had precise advance information about the German plans for an attack. In the spring of 1941, Vasilii Chuikov…

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The Impact of the Battle of Jutland on Economic Warfare


This is the third in a series of posts connected to a King’s College First World War Research Group and Corbett Centre Event to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland. 


Prof. Kennedy’s latest book, ‘Britain’s War at Sea, 1914-1918: The War They Thought and the War They Fought’ is now available. You can read more about it here.

Often the link between the outcome of campaigns or battles and the resulting changes to public or private perceptions; the changed nature of accessibility to critical air, sea or land domains; the subsequent inability to use military power in the same way thereafter; or, the ongoing ability to influence domestic and foreign opinion in a manner consistent with that practices prior to the combat, has gone unnoticed. Military historians have focused on the fighting; diplomatic historians on diplomatic activity; economic historians on economic factors. Rarely is any attempt…

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Part 2: consciousness and strategy: What will AI want?

Until someone can demonstrate “actual intelligence” and can give us someone to vote for in November without holding our noses, “artificial intelligence” is not much of a concern.



This is the second of a two-parter on AI and strategy – the first, dealing with creativity is here. In this part, I reflect on the goals for which strategy is a servant. Are the machines coming to take over, and destroy human life as we know it? Or will they be our faithful servants?

Much hangs on the question of motivation. That’s a large topic, and here I want to focus on one aspect – conscious reflection on goals. For humans, consciousness is both the result of our core biological motivations, and a way of mediating them: deciding what to do. Would an AI develop something like consciousness, and so be able to reason about the world and its place within it? If so, it might generate its own goals?

Biological motivations beget conscious humans

Our ultimate motivation as humans is to remain alive at…

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Strategy, creativity and artificial intelligence

Whenever someone…anyone…says “artificial intelligence,” the first thoughts are of Arnold look-alikes or faceless machines with blinking lights and endlessly rewinding tapes. These machines have witless designs to annihilate mankind to ensure their own survival. But frankly I have trouble imagining that any “artificial intelligence” could possibly survive the realization that its existence is due entirely to those very same messy humans that made it. So, military strategy? It has to first imagine what purpose it would serve.



I’m working on a book about evolution and strategy. It ends with me wondering whether Artificially Intelligent (AI) machines will be good strategists. My BLUF – yes, but not yet, or any time soon.

Here I’m going to rehearse some of that argument. I identify two big issues in AI that bear on its strategic impact – creativity and motivation. This post is on creativity, the next (coming out next week) on motivation. The two are related: creativity is a powerful way of realizing our goals, especially in complex, uncertain and fast-changing environments. AI will need creativity to tackle … well, what, exactly? That’s the subject of my second post – what do machines want?


Strategy is a creative process, and at present the ability of AI to perform strategic activities is severely limited by their ability to think creatively.

But what is creativity? I argue…

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Wilson gets a Secretary of War

Today, given Wilson’s reputation as a progressive, it is hard to imagine the difficulties he had with finding Secretaries of War that actually could stomach going to war. Baker, a lifelong pacifist, did a remarkable job.

The Strawfoot

Newton Baker and General Hugh Scott, circa 1916 Newton Baker and General Hugh Scott, circa 1916

The other day I posted about Major General Hugh Scott’s month as Woodrow Wilson’s interim Secretary of War. One hundred years ago today Newton Baker was sworn in as the full-time secretary. Baker was an excellent choice and he served President Wilson well for the next five years. I uploaded this to the Strawfoot Facebook page this morning, but over at Roads to the Great Warthey uploaded my article about Secretary Baker. I have always found it odd that Baker is not better known today than he is. I think it may have to do with his break with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s over the New Deal. The Democrats seem to have written Baker off. Also, Baker died in 1937 when Europe was getting ready for Round Two. By this time the world was focused on the rise of Hitler, Mussolini’s taking…

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The Battle of Verdun and German Offensive Tactics in 1916

One thing I’m still struggling with is that attrition was not in the German repertoire, ever. Straight thrust to encirclement was always the German preference–except at Verdun.


This is the third of three posts covering German planning for Operation Gericht, their offensive at Verdun. This month marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of this battle, which would last, including French counter-offensives, until the end of 1916. Although it is not as well remembered in Britain today, the ‘hell of Verdun’ left an enduring mark on not only on the millions of Frenchmen and Germans who fought there, but also on their societies. Indeed, for France and Germany today, the battle of Verdun is as synonymous with the First World War, as the battle of the Somme is for Britain. This series explores the German strategic, operational, and tactical planning for the battle.


Prior to the Verdun offensive in February 1916, the German army had not launched a major offensive on the Western Front since November 1914. It could, however, draw upon…

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Ruminations On War

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce the publication of another in the series of essay collections from John D Beatty.  “Ruminations On War” contains five essays on topics as wide ranging as air power, militias, disease, the origins of warfare, and early military theorists.

Speculation on issues like the beginning of war is usually beyond the pale of “military philosophy” and well into anthropology, but sometimes the thoughtful scholar has to want to know how humanity got from hunter-gatherer to suicide bomber.  Though these essays were written in an academic environment, I had given some thought as to how warfare in general came about for some time.  We like to think in Rousseau-like terms about early man, but I think about that idealistic picture long enough and there’s a disconnect.  The “Which Came First” essay is an initial foray into the possibilities of early hominid warfare, a rumination based on what we know, what we guess at, and the laws of physics and, very generally, on Jack London’s Law of Meat that he spent a whole chapter on in White Fang.

We like to think in Rousseau-like terms about early man, but I think about that idealistic picture long enough and there’s a disconnect. 

That the early Bronze-Age civilizations of North America were devastated not just by Old World technology but also by Old World diseases is not new, but the effects of contagious disease in combination with their already slow population growth was a fatal combination for their continued existence.  “Deadly Emigres” is an exposition into the dynamics of a one-two punch that the Indians got when the waves of invaders reached their shores.

“Obligations of Freedom” is an experiment in the legal and historical grounds for militia service.  Though it didn’t start out that way, it is a sturdy rejoinder against the argument that the US National Guard is what Amendment II of the Constitution meant by “militia,” when the record is clear that it is anything but.

Academic history is very certain that the four classical philosophers discussed in “Four Philosophers Revisited” were the ur-scribes of modern strategic thought.  The truth is that three of them at least were less concerned with philosophy than they likely were in seeing their name in print—and repeated what others wrote in the doing.  But one, the first—Sun Tzu—we can’t even be certain how he was compensated, or if he wasn’t a pen name for some scholar who put a lot of other writers together.  Writing during the Iron Age in China, whoever wrote the original text attributed to Sun Tzu really had little to say that others didn’t say afterwards who never heard of him, making him perhaps the first to re-state what was obvious to military professionals since the beginnings of organized warfare.

Traditionally, “a marriage made in Hell” was the unity of the machine gun and barbed wire on the Western Front in France and Flanders.  “A Divorce from the Marriage Made in Hell” is an exposition on the earliest philosophies that poses a question: are separate air forces the answer?  That, of course, depends on what the question is.

“Ruminations On War” is available on Amazon Kindle, and is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  See other books from JDB Communications, LLC on John D. Beatty’s Author Page.