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Home » Thinkers » J. C. Wylie » Military Strategy: A general theory of power control by J. C. Wylie » Excerpt from J. C. Wylie’s Military Strategy: The Wylie terrorist

Excerpt from J. C. Wylie’s Military Strategy: The Wylie terrorist


From the postscript to Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie’s Military Strategy: A general theory of power control added in 1989, twenty years after the book was first published:

There is another aspect of strategy that has come more to the forefront that it was twenty years ago when this book was published. This is the problem of terrorism in all its forms—murder, kidnapping, violent and selective destruction, well-publicized threats, and all of it planned for clever and effective exploitation of modern mass communications in free societies. This latter, mass communications in free societies, is an indispensable element of terrorism. Closed societies, with control of mass communications, are not good targets…

Among the many books on the subject (and there literature on the matter has proliferated along with the fact), the best and most succinct exposition of terrorism that I have encountered is by Robert F. Delaney, in an independent study course designed to inform both police and industrial security  personnel. The following two paragraphs are condensed from it:

Who are these politically activated persons whose alienation is so complete that they desire to destroy their own (as well as other) societies?

They are largely from the middle and upper middle classes, often young (in their twenties), usually well educated, totally dedicated, opinionated, dangerous, well trained, and invariably well armed.

To add to Delaney’s profile, it is worth noting that most terrorists have a highly developed instinct for the jugular, a quality that separates the excellent from the run-of-the-mill strategists.

The best definition of the the aim of terrorism that have found also comes from that same study guide: “…the capture and control of the processes of social change.” Delaney goes on to note: “that not one military word is used in this definition [is]…significant because it establishes the distinction between a conventional military approach and the revolutionary approach of an insurgent enemy.”…

It is of interest to note, though, that the strategies of the terrorists do follow quite closely the general theory of strategy postulated in this book.

In their war against society, their aim is “some selected degree of control [of the processes of social change] for…[their] own purpose.” They seek to achieve this “by control of the pattern” of their war against society. And they do this by creating and manipulating a “center of gravity” (a person or an installation that will ensure public attention) which they have selected “to the advantage of the strategist and the disadvantage of the opponent“, the opponent being the organized society over which they want to exercise control.

Their pattern of operation is to control “the nature and the placement and the timing and the weight of the center of gravity” that they have chosen “toward [their] own ends“—the control of the processes of social change. They select their targets for the greatest impact on that society.

Viewed in this context, the murder of Lord Mountbatten and the often indiscriminate bombings in Belfast make a weird and repugnant sort of sense. So do the kidnappings in Beirut, the murder of Aldo Moro, the aborted piracy of the Achille Lauro, and the threats or the facts of bombing this or that public (and usually governmental) building.

Though I am sure none of them ever saw this small book, they do follow quite closely the theoretical model of strategy. And it is in part for this reason, to illustrate the validity of theory, that I have digressed to include terrorism in the postscript.

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