Antoine-Henri Jomini - Works and Influence

Works and Influence

Jomini's military writings are frequently analyzed: he took a didactic, prescriptive approach, reflected in a detailed vocabulary of geometric terms such as bases, strategic lines, and key points. His operational prescription was fundamentally simple: put superior combat power at the decisive point. In the famous theoretical Chapter 25 of the Traité de grande tactique, he stressed the exclusive superiority of interior lines.

As one writer rather partial to Carl von Clausewitz – Jomini's great competitor in the field of military theory – put it:

Jomini was no fool, however. His intelligence, facile pen, and actual experience of war made his writings a great deal more credible and useful than so brief a description can imply. Once he left Napoleon's service, he maintained himself and his reputation primarily through prose. His writing style--unlike Clausewitz's--reflected his constant search for an audience. He dealt at length with a number of practical subjects (logistics, seapower) that Clausewitz had largely ignored. Elements of his discussion (his remarks on Great Britain and seapower, for instance, and his sycophantic treatment of Austria's Archduke Charles) are clearly aimed at protecting his political position or expanding his readership. And, one might add, at minimizing Clausewitz's, for he clearly perceived the Prussian writer as his chief competitor. For Jomini, Clausewitz's death thirty-eight years prior to his own came as a piece of rare good fortune.

Jomini took the view that the amount of force deployed should be kept to the minimum in order to lower casualties and that war was a science, not an art. Jomini stated in his book, "War in its ensemble is NOT a science, but an art. Strategy, particularly, may indeed be regulated by fixed laws resembling those of the positive sciences, but this is not true of war viewed as a whole. Among other things, combats may be mentioned as often being quite independent of scientific combinations, and they may become essentially dramatic, personal qualities and inspirations and a thousand other things frequently being the controlling elements. The passions which agitate the masses that are brought into collision, the warlike qualities of these masses, the energy and talent of their commanders, the spirit, more or less martial, of nations and epochs,—in a word, every thing that can be called the poetry and metaphysics of war,—will have a permanent influence on its results." . While in Russian service, Jomini tried hard to promote a more scientific approach at the general staff academy he helped to found.

Prior to the American Civil War, the translated writings of Jomini were the only works on military strategy that were taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His ideas, as taught by professor Dennis Hart Mahan permeated the Academy and shaped the basic military thinking of its graduates.

The regular army officers who became the general officers for both the Union and the Confederacy in the Civil war began by following Jominian principles. However, Keegan argues that the peculiarities of American geography, particularly in the west, forced them to move beyond his geometric conventions and find other strategic solutions to the problems which confronted them.

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