Review: Jim Storr's "The Human Face of War"

Jim Storr's book "The Human Face of War" of 2009 comes at a hefty price, but I got it cheaply (three bucks) for four weeks thanks to the German library interlending system.

It's a very intellectual book; much theory that's founded on empirical and experimental research. He offers a critique of anglophone and in particular British warfare theory and attempts to reinvent how to develop military theory based on concepts developed in sciences and philosophy.

He trashes many of the post-Cold War military fashions (OODA, EBO, RMA, Rule of Four, attrition vs. manoeuvre, large staffs), pointing out why they were poor ideas in the first place and not founded on the right paradigm and methodology for developing warfare theory.

His attempt at offering a better theoretical paradigm - one which explains instead of accepts seeming paradoxes - appears to be usable, but still incomplete. He focuses on the human aspect of warfare; dangerous, adversarial - driven by brains, not microchips..

His contribution to tactical theory is centred on the generation of surprise and the addition of shock to surprise. Surprise and shock are known to be extremely powerful variables for the decision of engagements, but most theoretical works nevertheless pay little attention to both. Even Jim Storr's writing on surprise and shock is not comprehensive (lacking in examples and practical details IMO, but still among the best in modern literature.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book were about not exactly well-known findings from studies and experiments, some of them running counter to conventional wisdom (such as that the attacker has a substantial advantage in house-to-house combat).

I disagree with some points from his book and he didn't really complete some of his arguments (such as the rather fragmentary critique of the Rule of Four), but I still rate it as one of the most impressive military books of the last decades. I can only recommend to read it, although the price surely motivates cheaper ways of acquiring it than buying a new copy.

Sven Ortmann


  1. I tried looking up the Rule of Four but couldn't find anything. Can you please explain it?

  2. Rule of Four is about having four manoeuvre subordinates instead of the usual three in a formation or unit (four platoons in company, four companies in battalion, four battalions in brigade).

  3. Re: "such as that the attacker has a substantial advantage in house-to-house combat".


    I'm assuming that he's had no military experience?

  4. Quite the contrary. 25 years career as UK Army officer, experience in Falklands and NI, UK army doctrine author. A military heavyweight.

    "Furthermore, in 1987 OA demonstrated that the defender is at a systematic disadvantage in close country (be it woods or built-up areas). It seems that, amongst other things, in close country the defender is generally unable to mass the fire of his weapons, due to very short ranges available in relation to unit frontages. Given their relative protection, if only from view, the attackers can mass forces more safely than is normal. They can therefore isolate and attack small bodies of enemy relatively easily. The overall effect was described as 'counterintuitive'. (...) Attacking infantry generally have an advantage of 3.57:1 in terms of attackers' to defender's casualties in FIBUA. (...)
    That OA was reported to the army, and published in Army Training News. It was factual, numerical and high-quality evidence based on historical analysis and extensive field trials."

    He has Rowland and Lynam as references. The mentioned report is Rowland, D. "The Effect of Combat Degradation on the Urban Battlefield" Journal of Operational Research Society, 42.7 1991, pp. 543-553

  5. the proliferation of explosives and timely indirect fires has rather altered the balance between attacker and defender, think what an ac-130 gunship would do to a first world war trench line.
    Urban combat between two uniformed armies would be mobile ambush and counter ambush. if your position is indentified, it would be destroyed with artilery not stormed by assault infantry


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