Strategy, Operations, and Tactics Strike Back

By Major Nick Brunetti-Lihach

The title of this blog post may more accurately describe the chapters in the book. While large portions deal directly with the various strategic approaches in the films (and novels/television series), many pages are devoted to tactics and battlefield engagements. Regardless, Strategy Strikes Back (SSB) was an enjoyable read, with a little bit for everyone. Although some chapters included micro-detail of the Star Wars universe, such as an analysis and critique of the Gungan “military” of Naboo.

In Part I, perhaps the best chapter is the first, Jim Golby’s The Jedi and the Senate. It is a fascinating take on the Jedi’s culpability in the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. The author’s clever description of the Jedi’s hubris and aloofness offers a sober lesson for seasoned veterans who might suffer from overconfidence or complacency. Senior civilian policy makers and military strategists may find some parallels ring true, or even darkly echo reality. But one hopes not. Daniel D. Maurer’s chapter Civil-Military Relationships in Star Wars offers similar cautionary tales worth reflection. Other chapters consider more narrow views, such as the military utility of General Grievous and his vulture droids – less directly applicable to strategy.

Part 2 Preparation for War considers many choices the Rebels and Empire made to man, train and equip. Mick Ryan’s How Not to Build an Army describes the “Imperial death spiral” following losses of warships and troops, eventually replenishing the ranks from its academies. This observation is reminiscent of the Imperial Japanese pilot losses in World War II, one factor in the steep decline of its aviation force.

BJ Armstrog’s The Right Fleet presents a cogent analysis of the Empire’s choice of large space craft to fight and win decisive battles in space. He then points out the Empire’s limited ability to project power ashore (aplanet?), which requires a “different set of forces and operational concepts.” His words obviously call to mind the writings of Mahan and Corbett, which are quite applicable to Star Wars in many ways, as an eerily similar debate regarding naval assets continues today in 2019.

In Part 3 Waging War, Andrew Liptak’s The Battle of Hoth initially comes off as an operational/tactical example. After all, many military professionals would critique the Empire’s frontal assault on the Rebel’s fortified defensive position. Here Clausewitzian chance also plays a role when Luke goes missing, and the search and rescue team tips off Imperial sensors. However, Liptak also calls into question the Empire’s decision to engage the Rebels on Hoth with limited intelligence and inadequate forces. An alternate approach would have been sea (space) denial, or blockade.

In Part 4 Assessment of War, Chapter 22 is highly effective. Within the pages of Darth Vader’s Failed Counterinsurgency Strategy, the reader cannot help but find the many parallels to The Vietnam War, and the policy and strategy debates between civilian and military leaders described in books such as Halberstam’s Best and Brightest, McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty, or Sorley’s A Better War.

Chapter 23 is yet another interesting – and entertaining – critique of the Jedi. John Spencer reminds the reader that a high-end capability such as a Jedi may still only be effective at the tactical level. In other words, a decorated veteran is not necessarily a suitable galactic strategist – or even general.

Finally, there are two historical comparisons that probably should have made it into the book. The first is Napoleon’s over-stretched empire and army, which broke its back upon an unsuccessful invasion of Russia. The parallel being the over-stretched Empire across the galaxy policing Rebels and smugglers with virtually no political, ethnic or religious ties. The second is the military rule/governance of Hindenburg and Ludendorff during World War I, who also exerted near-total control over the German government and economy. Palpatine and Vader ruled by fiat, viewing everything through a military lens. Much as Ludendorff (Vader) was tactically brilliant, the strategic and operational approach lacked sophistication.

In summary, this book is worth reading for military professionals who are at least moderately familiar with the Star Wars canon. While not directly applicable to the average Marine, it is thought-provoking, and often introduces the reader to many big names and ideas in the world of strategy, if not operations, tactics, acquisition, and policy.