Help support TMP

"Is war a science or an art?" Topic

224 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the English Civil War Message Board

Back to the Modern Discussion (1946 to 2007) Message Board

Back to the WWII Discussion Message Board

Back to the Ancients Discussion Message Board

Back to the Napoleonic Discussion Message Board

5,453 hits since 17 Mar 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 

forwardmarchstudios17 Mar 2017 6:16 p.m. PST

In your opinion.

Personal logo War Artisan Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 6:17 p.m. PST


forwardmarchstudios17 Mar 2017 6:20 p.m. PST

I would have also put that in the title but character limit…. :(

Sobieski Inactive Member17 Mar 2017 6:23 p.m. PST

Art is action, science is knowledge. Therefore art, of course.

Glengarry517 Mar 2017 6:25 p.m. PST

Both, but I prefer my wargaming to be an art!

wrgmr117 Mar 2017 6:25 p.m. PST

Logistics is science and art, this from 25 years as a logistics manager.
Battle is both science and art, this from 42 years of studying history and war gaming.

Skeptic17 Mar 2017 6:33 p.m. PST

Both, but the preponderance of either depended on the era.

Blutarski17 Mar 2017 6:37 p.m. PST

War is an art form whose prosecutions relies in part upon the application of certain scientific principles.


Doug MSC Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 6:48 p.m. PST

Art. Look at all those pretty uniforms!

smolders17 Mar 2017 6:55 p.m. PST

…and " the endless poetry!"

Personal logo Bashytubits Supporting Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 6:58 p.m. PST

Coming from a medical background I would say it is like Pharmacology. Science is involved but mastery requires some artistry as well.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 7:08 p.m. PST

Perhaps neither. Napoleon once said he would rather have a lucky general than a good one.

TNE230017 Mar 2017 7:10 p.m. PST

Military Science
Operational Art

28mm Fanatik17 Mar 2017 7:21 p.m. PST

Art obviously. Otherwise well executed plans would always survive first contact with the enemy.

Rich Bliss17 Mar 2017 7:24 p.m. PST

Both. Much like engineering

Ottoathome Inactive Member17 Mar 2017 7:28 p.m. PST

War is brutal happenstance, coincidence, chance, and luck. Those have nothing to do with either science or art.

"Consider while there is still time the inscrutable nature of War, and how, when prolonged, it becomes a matter of mere chance."

The Athenian Ambassadors to the Spartan Ephors at the beginning of the Peloponnesian Wars.

"No plan survives contact with the main body of the enemy more than 15 minutes." "Strategy is a system of expedients."

Von Moltke the Elder.

"When the bullets fly, the plans goes in the sh**er."

My father, a staff officer in World War One.

Charlie 12 Inactive Member17 Mar 2017 7:32 p.m. PST

Both, to a varying degree (depending on the situation and circumstance).

FABET0117 Mar 2017 8:13 p.m. PST

It's a craft. It's about finding the balance between the science and the art.

Pythagoras17 Mar 2017 8:20 p.m. PST

it is neither. It is a failure of humanity.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 8:32 p.m. PST

Science and Art have always had a collaborative relationship. Military men who spoke of the science and art of war were speaking of science: the development of principles, methods and technologies and the Art, their application.

Science has always influenced art. The study of light and its components led artists to pointalism. Einstein's revelations about the malleability of time and space led Picasso and Dali to paint fractured space in abstract art and melting clocks.

You can't separate art and science without impoverishing both.

"Medicine and surgery are as much an art as they are a science."
--Dr. Charles Barnard, after performing the first heart transplant in 1967

"Genetic Research is an exact science, but it's also an art."
--Dr. Francis Crick, of Watson and Crick, the discoverers of the double helix structure of DNA.

Plans may go in the sh**er when bullets fly, but the science, military technologies, methods and principles are what soldiers employ to get them out of the sh**er… doing it while beating the enemy is the art.

daler240D Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Mar 2017 8:58 p.m. PST

if it was a science it could be simulated effectively.

Edwulf17 Mar 2017 9:36 p.m. PST

Both I suppose. Art implies skill and talent. Science implies training and knowledge.

But maybe it's neither. It's war. A bloody horrible mess of luck, blood and money. Some art and science can restrict the chaos maybe.

Wolfhag17 Mar 2017 10:21 p.m. PST

Having served in the infantry up to a squad leader I'd say it is an art. You have your training and toolbox of actions and tactics. However, the decision of how and when to apply and use them is somewhat like an artist determining the type of canvas, paint and brush to use. There is no formula, it's free form and gut instinct. Sometimes it's that 6th sense and luck that prevail. Getting inside your opponents OODA is an art, not a science. It is initiative, knowledge and confidence in your troops. There is no cell phone app for it in the middle of combat.

You are also limited by the talent and training of your troopies. Asking them to accomplish a mission they are not trained for or capable of is poor leadershiip. That's an art.

However, logistics and artillery (especially for the soviets) is is a science because formulas can determine within a margin of error the results. There is less friction and fog of war than in a meeting engagement with limited intelligence between two infantry units.


HairiYetie17 Mar 2017 10:27 p.m. PST

War is both a science and an art. It depends on the approach which a participant takes. If the person takes it on intuitively it is an art, and this predominantly manifests itself at the sharp end. If the person studies the elements of war, postulates mechanisms and proves outcomes, then it becomes a science. This approach lends itself predominantly to the operational end.

Coyotepunc and Hatshepsuut17 Mar 2017 10:35 p.m. PST

War is politics by other means.

So, is politics art or science?

Wolfhag17 Mar 2017 10:36 p.m. PST

Politics is Psy Op and BS designed to influence Useful Idiots. Creative writing so I guess it's both.


Rod I Robertson Inactive Member17 Mar 2017 10:53 p.m. PST

War involves the application of amoral science to the goal of immoral killing on a grand scale. War is a pathology and thus the only arts in this regard are diplomacy and compromise (the art of avoidance of war) by any and all means possible. Once war begins, art, science, ethics, honour, humanity, law, justice and morality go out the door and are cast on the midden heap while desperate, rabid and unrestrained savages struggle to survive and kill with whatever technology is at hand. War is bestial and ugly in the extreme and we must never forget that nor fail to drive that truth home to new and naive generations.

"Lest we forget"
Rod Robertson.

langobard Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 1:57 a.m. PST

It's art if I'm winning and science if I'm losing.

Lion in the Stars18 Mar 2017 2:53 a.m. PST

Both, but more art than science, because results are not readily repeatable.

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 3:09 a.m. PST

Neither. Weapons are often developed via science but war has only superficial relationships to science.

I'm unconvinced of any connection to art.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 3:50 a.m. PST

"Consider while there is still time the inscrutable nature of War, and how, when prolonged, it becomes a matter of mere chance."

The Athenian Ambassadors to the Spartan Ephors at the beginning of the Peloponnesian Wars.

I always preferred the Spartan response to Philip of Macedon: ""If I win this war, you will be slaves forever."


That, for me, is the perfect illustration of how war is more art than science. With his numbers and reputation, Philip should have been a shoo-in; the Spartans reminded him that, in war, nothing is certain.

Top 10 responses by Spartans: link

(He got the context of the last one wrong, though – as both "god" and "satan" point out!)

Blutarski18 Mar 2017 5:51 a.m. PST

I beg to disagree, Rod. War is not a pathology. To suggest so is to imply that war is a disease somehow foreign to human nature. The recorded history of global mankind rather convincingly demonstrates that war is inherent in the human condition.

I would also argue that human art is by no means absent in a state of war. Man is both a thinking (scientific) and feeling (artful) creature in all his endeavors, including warfare. It is for example a difficult thing indeed to read Sun Tzu and not see the huge influence of human artfulness in the prosecution of war to inspire one's soldiers, or to dissuade or mislead or confuse or discourage or terrorize one's enemies … or to choose mercy over extermination.

Strictly my opinion, of course.


Personal logo Striker Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 5:55 a.m. PST


14Bore18 Mar 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

Depends on whos the commander, a scientist or a artist.

uglyfatbloke18 Mar 2017 7:35 a.m. PST

SCience or ART? If you can see it on TV surely it's SCART?

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 7:50 a.m. PST

Neither. It is war.

Timmo uk18 Mar 2017 9:00 a.m. PST

Where's the art in killing and maiming people?

Mike Target18 Mar 2017 9:01 a.m. PST

I think you'll find its a bit more complicated than that.

There is no such thing as a science, instead there are a variety of disciplines to which the scientific method or toolkit can be applied.

War is one such discipline. However complexity kicks in- the more complex the discipline, and anything involving humans as intimatly as warfare is going to be astonishingly complicated, the more difficult it is to even work out what the paramters and variables are, let alone measure them.

Theoretically at least, you could apply the methodology to its study and practice, all the variables and so on are measuable, but in practice it is far to difficult to actually work out the sums- even if you could identify all the variables to start with the calculations involved would be so far beyond the reach of the entire computing power of the entire planet, and probably the universe, as to make any attempt at it rather pointless.

Most socio-economic or political models, and the study of the human brain itself, suffer the same issues. And this makes applying the scientific method tricky…

So you have to fudge it. Bring in a rule of thumb, wing it, or guesstimate.

And therein lies the art.

donlowry18 Mar 2017 9:05 a.m. PST

What Mike said.

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 9:48 a.m. PST

I think we need to define and agree on the definition of art.

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 10:12 a.m. PST

Its a science to old men talking about it beforehand and an art to old men talking about it after the fact.

Legion 418 Mar 2017 10:58 a.m. PST

We were taught it is both an art & a science. And in the larger view it is, IMO …

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2017 1:11 p.m. PST

Well I suppose the question presents one preferential response of the other? When I think about art I think about creativity, often beauty, imagination and expression and often genius. Science can be ruthless, calculating (animal testing for example) and of course science is responsible for everything from gas to flamethrowers to nuclear war. So science for me within that choice.

Isn't the question focused on generalship and command though? The brutality required of the soldier in the field is different from and co-ordinating director of the wider conflict.

Mike Target18 Mar 2017 2:31 p.m. PST

Definition of Art- I think the word talent might have been a better choice. Its closer in this context to Intuition than Creativity. Its Knowing when to launch your divisions to attack, without perhaps knowing how you knew that was the moment the attack was best launched…

Dont forget though that art (as in paintings, sculptures and things in a gallery) doesn't have to be beautiful or nice. It could be Nazi propaganda for example…

laretenue18 Mar 2017 2:54 p.m. PST

War itself is neither Art nor Science, and to characterise it as either sounds to my ears dangerously romantic. When you think of what war entails, stronger language might be in order. But the pursuit of war, however you choose to describe it, requires the vast application of both, and more trivially, wargaming follows on behind this. Of course warfare has fuelled both science and maybe art too as much as any other and more beneficial human activity.

laretenue18 Mar 2017 3:03 p.m. PST

As regards the definitions, I'm instinctively guided by the Latin roots of the words:

Science = knowledge, and by extension the pursuit, refinement and application of that understanding; i.e. hard facts and the development of their use.

Art = manner or fashion, in its old-fashioned sense; thus the representation and creative interpretation of reality. How you do or present stuff.

Anyone disagree?

Legion 418 Mar 2017 4:24 p.m. PST

Isn't the question focused on generalship and command though? The brutality required of the soldier in the field is different from and co-ordinating director of the wider conflict.
I think that is what is meant by the art and science of warfare. At lower levels say from Bn on down. We would call it field craft and tactics.

Like an L-Shaped Ambush. Not really too artistic and the science is how the weapons are employed. As well as war fighting skills. Soldiering is a discipline, craft, etc. like any other human endeavor, etc. It just revolves around effectively and efficiently killing/state sanctioned murder of other humans.

And because of that going to war should not be taken lightly.

The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected. Sun Tzu

Legion 418 Mar 2017 4:36 p.m. PST

and to characterise it as either sounds to my ears dangerously romantic.
No … nothing really romantic, from what I can tell. If nothing else history teaches us that.

Today I think generally not to many see war as romantic. It may not have been that way in the not so distant past. But I'd think after WWI and WWII, that sort of thinking was only by a very tiny minority. And yet, for a variety of reasons some of the 1st World's populations volunteers to serve. May be 1% or less.

Wolfhag18 Mar 2017 8:57 p.m. PST

Military science says do not attack unless you have 3+:1 odds.

The "art" would be to deceive the enemy into thinking you are larger than you are. Then launch a mulit-prong surprise night attack and deceive the enemy using his own communications to order a general withdraw. The enemy commanders then succumb to the unknown and fog of war and pull back after barely being engaged.

Everyone goes through the same officer, boot camp and leadership training. It's the "art" of the application of the science, tactics and audacity that separates the average from the best and winners from the losers. Anyone can go "by the book". Very few know how to interpret it for each occasion or when to throw the book away.


basileus66 Inactive Member19 Mar 2017 1:39 a.m. PST

I would say it is a craft, rather than art, that uses scientific advances in technologies to achieve operational, tactical or strategical goals, depending on the level of decision being considered.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5