Steven L. Ossad

writer, historian, technology analyst, and Wall Street staff ride guy

Quick Links

Selected Works

Finalist, 2011 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award A hero who faced down Pancho Villa with only a pistol and turned the tide of battle during the Salerno Operation in late 1943, John Lucas discovered at Anzio that his comrades were more dangerous than his enemies.
Brevet Colonel, Commander of the 30th Indiana Volunteers, and recipient of the Medal of Honor - all by the age of 23 - Henry Lawton's career spanned four decades until he fell in battle "bringing democracy to a distant land."
Featured on the Center of Military History Civil War Website
The only American armored division commander to die in battle, Maurice Rose was the son and grandson of rabbis who rose from private to general to lead the premier American armored force to victory over the Nazi empire.
Winner, 2003 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award
Creator of the modern American Rangers, Darby led his men to great victories and a catastrophic defeat, but was always in the thick of the action.
Martin Blumenson spent his life writing the history of an institution he respected greatly and knew intimately, the United States Army. He inspired generations of his students and successors to the highest standard of excellence.
Soldier, historian, biographer, memoirist, "novelist", and companion of Socrates, at the end of his life Xenophon wrote a small book proposing reform of the Athenian cavalry. A discussion of specific suggestions, the Hipparchicus reflects decades of the author's experience as an army commander. The wily survivor of battles, court intrigues, assassinations and staggering betrayals offers subtle insights on leadership - as well as observations valuable to modern theorists and practioners of the "mounted service" that will always resonate.
The Battle of Kadesh, the greatest chariot clash in all recorded history - and the arche-type for maneuver warfare - pitted the war-hardened Hittites against a young, untested Pharaoh. The struggle that followed shaped the destinies of the two dominant empires of the early Iron Age. Recorded by Rameses as a great Egyptian victory, it is a case study of how a brilliant and well-executed public relations campaign can trump performance - and reality.
More than 3,500 years ago, Abraham, the leader of the Hebrews, led his battalion on a daring, long-distance, commando raid to rescue hostages. Hidden in a very brief passage of Genesis is the story of the first organized military action and victory of the Jewish people, a tale of courage, inspired leadership and battle far from their borders. It is as if God wrote the prequel to Operation THUNDERBALL, the Israel Defense Forces dramatic rescue of Jewish hostages at Entebbe, Uganda on July 4, 1976.
Does it make any sense to talk about a "philosophy of war?" What kinds of things would be discussed in such an academic sub-category? Whose works would make up the canon of study? On that point, why is it that Carl von Clausevitz's early 19th century book "On War" is virtually the only work generally accepted as a work of war philosophy? In a world where war is so common, why is there so little systematic examination of its "first principles?" These are only a few of the questions that spark this general inquiry.

The Philosophy of War: A General Inquiry

Die Tafelrunde (The Roundtable), Joseph Schneider, 1966 - Clausewitz Seated at Left

New Postings
Who are the Philosophers of War?
---On-Line Texts
---Research Sources
---Secondary Sources
Sun Tzu
Basic References
The Philosophy of War at the Service Academies
Just War Theory


This general exploration begins by asking some simple questions:

- - "What would be included in a traditionally structured university course called 'the philosophy of war'? Assuming it were treated as any other sub-category of a broader subject, e.g. the "philosophy of history", what would the course description look like?

- - Who are the philosophers of war and what authors and books would be included in the syllabus? What would the topics of the discussion outline look like?

- - Who are the current scholars doing serious work in the field? Who, for instance, should be invited as guest speakers to the weekly graduate "workshops? What kinds of papers and tests would be reasonable? What would the range of concerns, and questions encompass? What would course prerequisites be?

- - What are the definitions, first principles, and fundamental issues appropriate to a philosophy of war? What is the best methodology of inquiry? Is it a branch of something else? Can one even speak of war philosophically? How applicable are the contemporary discussions that explore the nature of violence, and are they sufficient to address war philosophically?

-- Do our military academies provide a creative forum for a professional discussion of these questions? What do they teach of the philosophy of war?

In a world where at any moment dozens of wars rage or simmer, these are not idle or simple questions, nor can they be be dismissed by uninformed, ideological, or knee-jerk responses. The stakes in war are too high to avoid the deepest possible examination of its nature - and that is, at its core, a philosophical examination.

New Postings


"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.""

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Free Press, 1979, p. 39

Substitute Clausewitz re Philosophy of War


Among the first questions considered in the discussion of a philosophy of war is who should be included on the list of philosophers. Most scholars, soldiers, and educated citizens agree that the 19th century soldier and theoretician Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) - whose On War is required reading worldwide - is at the top of the list. While thinkers like Prof. Echevarria argue for an idiosyncratic definition of the term "philosopher" - based on the early 19th century tendency to use that word and "scientist" interchangeably - he concedes that Clausewitz is generally regarded at the top of the list. Others prefer the term "theorist", but perhaps that is a distinction without any real meaning for purposes of this inquiry. Of course, it implies a question of definitions that begins with Plato's Apology of Socrates, which itself asks a similar question, "What is a philosopher?"

Also included would be the 6th century BC Chinese thinker Sun Tzu, whose classic The Art of War enjoys a somewhat comparable status to that accorded Clausewitz.

Many would add Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini (1779-1869) to the basic list. His works were among the very few 'theoretical' texts studied at West Point prior to the Civil War and his principles were employed by commanders on both sides. While Jomini's Summary of The Art of War is now considered dated, and of little direct value, it was one of the first attempts to apply "scientific" principles to military operations, using the campaigns of Napolean as the model.

Beyond these few names, however, there is little agreement as to who should even be considered a philosopher of war, and the choices are shaped by political or academic factors. West Point's list includes Plato, Kant, Marx, Mahan, Fuller, Liddell Hart, and Brodie, but not Mao.

Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini (1779-1869)


Philosophy 310, Ethics

You will meet the overall objective of Philosophy 310 if you demonstrate that you can reason competently about moral issues facing Air Force officers. More specificically, in order to meet course requirements, by the end of the course cadets will:

1. Understand the need for ethical reflection in the military
2. Demonstrate skills in critical reasoning such as clarification of terms, identification of underlying assumptions and the dialectical treatment of alternatives
3. Demonstrate skill in the reading, interpretation, and application of classics of moral philosophy
4. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of different accounts of moral character and of different approaches to ethical decision making, especially
a. Deontological Theory
b. Consequential Theory
c. Virtue Theory

5. Frame and resolve moral problems in the profession of arms concerning:
a. When is it morally justified to use military force?
b. What are the moral limitations on how military force is used?
c. What are the moral obligations of the military leader?
d. What kind of person, morally speaking, must the military leader be?

This course is a unique and important part of your education here at the Academy. More than in any other class, you will be required to think for yourself. And what you will be thinking about is the most important thing any of us can address: how we ought to live. Nothing is more vital to your education as a future Air Force officer.


HISTORY 385 War and Its Theorists

Along with great commanders in history, there have been men who theorized about the nature and conduct of war, the relationship between politics and strategy, and the impact of warfare upon society. The course examines the contributions of selected theorists (Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Jomini, Mahan, Fuller, Liddell Hart, Brodie, etc.). The student reads the theorists' major writings, analyzes their principal ideas, and studies their influence on military affairs. This will help the student reach his or her own conclusions about fundamental questions concerning the conduct and fundamental nature of war, such as the relative strength of offense vs. defense, or of material vs. morale factors.

EP 365 The Ethics of the Military Profession

The fundamental values and principles of the warrior ethos can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. These values provide the moral boundaries of the military profession and distinguish members of this profession from other individuals and groups who employ violence to achieve their ends. Cadets in this course will examine the moral principles that define the profession of arms, both in terms of when the use of force is permissible (or even obligatory) to achieve political objectives, and what, if any, limits ought to govern how that force is used.



Research Sources

Secondary Sources



Basic References

Just War Theory

If they exist at all, discussions about a possible "philosophy of war" are usually considered in the context of ethics, or modern political philosophy (the very notion of a 'philosophy of war' would be foreign to the ancients), or most commonly as part of the question - especially current these days - as to whether, and how, one might speak of a "just war".