Qiao Liang, Wang Xiangsui and officer-writers in general

About 15 years ago two Chinese colonels authored a book which in its translated form was called "Unrestricted Warfare" and created a huge echo with its theories and assumptions about how to face a superpower in a conflict with dissimilar, unusual means.

So 15 years later; what happened to them?

Qiao Liang made it merely to Major General (I think that's only one rank higher) and Wang Xiangsui is a retired colonel and professor. The Chinese military did apparently not push these thinkers' career, even though they were no doubt better thinkers than many of the present generals in the PRC.*

This reminds me of how many retired colonels have become prolific writers/thinkers in the U.S. (Hackworth, Vandergriff, Boyd, MacGregor and as navy equivalent, Hughes).

Compare this to the German military authors from the Interwar Years; Rommel, von Leeb, Guderian and others had relatively fast-track careers during the 30's even before they had the opportunity to prove their senior officer skills in wartime**.

The only notable author among German post-WW2 generation officers quipped that despite criticism his writing did at least not keep him from being promoted to LtGen (and he wrote very disparagingly about the army structure and was far right wing even during a the left wing government of the 70's).


*: The book isn't necessarily a revelation, but when it comes to judging the authors, they ought to be compared with their domestic peers. Suffice to say, the best period for Chinese military art literature ended more than 2,000 years ago after a couple classics were produced. Some works of the mentioned American authors baffled me with their mediocrity and lack of original thought as well. Their skill was more often in tailoring stuff for the U.S. audience that was already known if not normal elsewhere at the time.
**: They also benefited from a quick army expansion, though.


  1. SO wrote: "Compare this to the German military authors from the Interwar Years; Rommel, von Leeb, Guderian and others had relatively fast-track careers during the 30's even before they had the opportunity to prove their senior officer skills in wartime**."


    I think a much better description is that these guys had a lot of time during the Reichswehr era 1921-1934, when the actual writing was done and they faced a very low (predictable) promotion rate.

    The "problem" in larger armies with decent peace time oppotunities is that officers have to invest some of their resources to fight peer officers, writing is often considered too intellectual and gives a small ROI. :-)


    1. It looks like von Leeb wrote his book in order to "fight" peer officers in the offence (mobile) vs. defence (trenches) school struggles of the Reichswehr.
      Guderian wrote his book and articles in order to "fight" peer officers so the (already dominant) offence school of thought would turn toward motorisation and mechanization.
      Rommel's book was avidly described as "Look how great a general I would be!" book.

      The point is that there was no ROI issue. The authors were not running against career glass ceiling at colonel or MG rank.

  2. I do not dispute that they tried to fight peers intelectually or want to promote themselves, however, all this was done in years when the promotion rate was very, very low in the Reichswehr.

    You only write interesting stuff -and very likely piss off peers and superiors- when you are in a safe poition, safe also means here no chance of promotion with immediate retirement :-), or when you are already sidelined or already fired/retired. Writing is the most efficient way to make enemies in a organization that is in most parts not very intellectual. :-)

    My point is, with much higher rate of promotion after 1934, the officers had IMHO other alternatives that gave indeed better ROI.

    Therefore, I only expect really good stuff in times with low promotion rate, ideally, after a war against good enemies.


    1. "Achtung Panzer" and "Infanterie greift an" appeared as late as 1937, "Die Abwehr" appeared in 1938, but the Reichswehr ceased to exist in 1935. These books were written during the 2nd stage of (quicker) rearmament, not during calm times.

      You can also pick plenty fights out of conviction and/or when you've got the necessary protection by superiors. The relatively young officers around colonel/MG rank who wrote books were often champions for a cause, and protected by agreeing superiors.
      Compare McMaster, who made it to MG probably in part because so many people were outraged that he might end up as ret.Col., too. His support went as high up as the U.S.Senate IIRC.

    2. Sorry, "Achtung Panzer" was the public version of Guderians earlier work. The theoretical work to the developement and the application of combined arms approach to tank warfare took place before 1935.

      In August 1935, the ground-breaking Lehrübung, practical application of the concept, was performed in Munster.

      In case of Rommel, do you think his book in 1937 has dramatically improved his situation? He was already head of an officer school - a prestigious position and was due to the re-armament on track with his promotions.


    3. We were discussing publications, not genesis, though.
      These books were very public - more public than the professional journals and more noticed by foreign powers. "Achtung Panzer" was in regard to career risk the equivalent of "Breaking the Phalanx", "Irregular Warfare" et cetera.
      It also signalled an escalation; a mobilization of civilian forces for the cause.

  3. I would suggest that once you reach the exalted halls of Generalship, "the Establishment" wants to be sure that you're on board with preserving the military bureaucracy. It's probably not in their best interests to upset the bandwagon. They can take new members - they always want to grow or sustain themselves - but they generally don't want to self destruct.

    A similar divide exists between Majors and Lieutenant Colonels in the US Army. Their Command and Staff College has made many of their students' theses available online, and I've found them to be - mostly - good, although generally conventional military history papers. Sometimes some good analysis. But they're not trying to do what you're doing with your work, SO, so it's all acceptable stuff. Most of these guys go on to get their colonelcy.
    And then there's guys like Terence Zuber. Who do not get their colonelcy - and spout utter fucking nonsense like Zuber did in his "Zuber Thesis."

    The C&S College wants conventional, academic work, well executed. Those who deliver seem to get promoted, those who don't - or strike out on a creative though bollocky path as Zuber did - don't. Generalship I suspect consists of more "ride the rails" and organizational politics, and with the Chinese example, I imagine what they wrote didn't mesh with the preset plan for how the Chinese intended to gain regional dominance. So why advance these thinkers? Their work, if required, is on record. I would suggest this is similar to the Soviet example, except no Soviet thinkers after the team that got purged 36-39 had any truly creative or major inputs to military theory.

    1. "(...)no Soviet thinkers after [...] 36-39 had any truly creative or major inputs to military theory."

      Not quite.
      The famous OODA cycle was preceeded by Soviet work. I mentioned this before:

      Their novel mechanised paratrooper forces must have come from some origins on paper.

      Their OMGs (basically Panzerkorps) must have been based on written considerations about how to fuse Blitzkrieg elements into nuke age deep attack.

      The red navy also had a publishing 'carrier mafia' of young admirals who actually won out (see Kusnetzov carrier) and kept getting promoted afterwards.

  4. My terms were too broad.

    OODA loop is a good shout, I haven't read the works you cite so I don't know if it's prefigured by Deep Battle thinking or not. It may well be: there's a lot of thinking regarding simultaneous actions, coterminal actions and so on in Deep Battle.

    Mechanized airborne elements were all Tukhachevskiy.

    OMGs are a simple extension of Deep Battle following the 1960s adjustment to nuclear realities (single echelonment). This is adaptive, not novel thought.

    I didn't address the VMF, and you're quite right.

  5. To be fair, in the Chinese system if he is a "Major General", he can be up to deputy commander of a military region. A divisional commander is a Senior Colonel more often than Major General. Even a Colonel can be a brigade commander.

    It might not be very glamorous, but in peacetime, it may be better to keep your best thinkers somewhere a bit from the top. You want them in a more or less respectable position of course, but you want to keep them in the staff thinking, not trying to administer a unit's regular training.