The Meaning of Strategy: Part I: The Origin Story (November 2017)
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At the heart of the historical study of strategy is a tension between the consideration of strategy as practice, which is bound up with the history of human conflict, and strategy as theory. The theorists can draw on all the practice, but their task is complicated by the fact that many practitioners did not describe themselves as strategists or, if they did, the term meant something different from how it is now understood.2 The word “strategy” first came into use in discussions of military affairs in Europe during the 1770s,3 but it was not until the 20th century that it acquired the broad meanings now attributed to it and that now tend to be applied retrospectively to past practitioners. Prior to World War I, the term had a specifically military character. Only later did it become concerned with the relationship between military means and political ends. Eventually the term became so detached from its military origins to be applied to all fields of human endeavor from sports to business,4 which is why it has now become necessary to talk of “military strategy” as a subcategory of this much broader field.