All you need to know about military strategy can be gleaned from children's books. Not just classics, like Dr. Seuss's Swiftian Butter Battle Book, with its keen insight into the dynamics of arms races, or J.R.R. Tolkien's saga of conflict-ridden Middle Earth, but also in books for young readers written by leading novelists and historians. The heyday of elegant writing about big issues for young people by these sorts of authors ran from the 1950s to the 1970s, and the key works are well worth remembering.
Here's a sampling of great "youth books" that explore strategic themes:
When it comes to recognizing that small, courageous, well-led forces can overcome far greater powers, look no further than Mary Renault's Lion in the Gateway. Like her great novels set in ancient times -- The Last of the Wine, The Mask of Apollo, and Fire From Heaven among them -- Lion recreates an era, in this instance the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, in telling detail. It also explores a major strand of strategic thought concerned with assessing the extent to which a qualitative advantage -- in this conflict, heavy Spartan infantry on land and maneuverable Athenian ships in close waters -- can offset a numerical disadvantage. Along the way, Renault also makes clear that the "rise of the West" was utterly at stake in this epic struggle.
As to the defense of the West from invasion -- the ultimate challenge upon which Rome finally foundered -- there is no better illustration of the mastery of small, mobile armored forces than the story of whoever it was who spearheaded the defense of Britain in the 5th century C.E. The last of the Roman legions withdrew in 410, but an Arthur/Artorius -- the legend is disputed, but somebody -- emerged at the head of the hard-hitting knights who defended threatened communities from barbarian assault. Christopher Hibbert, among the most prolific, respected historians of the past century -- whose chosen topics range from the 15th century Battle of Agincourt to the World War II fight at Arnhem -- chronicles in his The Search for King Arthur the remarkable string of victories, and the ultimate failure, too, of this still-mysterious great captain.
A long dark age followed the fall of Rome and the overrunning of Britain, but this was also an amazing time of military innovation, especially in the realm of defensive strategies. The Byzantines were great masters of defense, their empire surviving Rome by a thousand years -- time enough to hold back the tide of Muslim conquest that threatened to engulf Europe. It was the Byzantines who perfected field and fixed fortifications, adopted the Arthurian concept of heavy mobile forces, and maintained naval mastery of much of the Mediterranean. Their way of war, as well as others' practices during this period, can be best viewed in Charles Oman's The Art of War in the Middle Ages. While not a "children's book," it was written when the author was still an undergraduate at Oxford in the 1880s. Close enough. Oman returned to the subject later in a more detailed study, and also went on to write a multi-volume history of the Napoleonic-era Peninsular War. But in its youthful simplicity and crisp brevity, Oman's Art of War remains one of the most useful strategic studies ever written.
After the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, and to a great age of oceanic exploration and discovery, a protracted struggle for control ensued in the northern half of the New World. The southern portion was shared by Spain and Portugal, but in the north conflict was the norm, sparked by increasingly bitter Anglo-French antagonism, including French use of Native Americans for terror raids on English settlements. The long struggle featured much of what we call "irregular warfare" today, with rangers emerging to protect against raiders -- and sometimes to retaliate against them. These elite forces also helped to transform the whole British Army fighting in the North American wilderness, a key contribution to victory over the French. The century-long conflict is outstandingly covered in the American Heritage Junior Library's The French and Indian Wars, a book whose depth of insight owes largely to the contributions of Lawrence Henry Gipson, the great scholar of this period.