"tactical" vs "strategic"

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 2 04:25:13 UTC 2012

Below is an excerpt from a 1920 military textbook on this topic.

Title: Tactical Principles and Decisions
Prepared by: The School of the Line: The General Service Schools (U.S.)
Location: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Year: 1920
Volume: 2

[Begin excerpt]
Retreats are strategic or tactical. A strategic retreat is one made
for causes other than local ones; for example: withdrawing troops for
use in other localities; to avoid battle, with a view to fighting
under more advantageous conditions later. A tactical retreat is one
required by local circumstances and may be either voluntary or
involuntary. An involuntary retreat is one forced on the battlefield,
and is usually made under unfavorable conditions. A voluntary retreat
is one made before the enemy has compelled it.
[End excerpt]

According to the reporter the Syrian rebel spokesman stated that:
"they were running low on weapons and the humanitarian conditions were
unbearable". Thus, one might argue that the retreat was "required by
local circumstances" and by the definition above it qualified as a
tactical retreat.

Alternatively, one might argue that the over-arching goal of the
rebels is to fight again under "more advantageous conditions later".
Hence the retreat was strategic.

Alternatively, one might argue these terms are hopelessly ill-defined.
Alternatively, one might argue that the book does not reflect current

On Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 10:45 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at wilton.net> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "tactical" vs "strategic"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> You're all assuming that war correspondents have some kind of military
> qualification. When I was in Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War, I ran into
> "Dr. Gridlock," the Washington Post's traffic reporter, whom they had sent
> over there. That was twenty years ago. With all the newsroom cuts since
> then, I'm sure the situation is far worse nowadays.
> Actually, it sounds like the rebel PR guys said "tactical" because it sounds
> minor and relatively insignificant. In other words, they're spinning a bad
> situation. The AP reporter places it in quotes and makes it clear who is
> characterizing it, so it's not really his fault--although he does lead the
> piece with this bit of propagandistic spin; it should really be buried far
> down in the piece, if included at all.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
> Benjamin Barrett
> Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 8:59 PM
> Subject: Re: "tactical" vs "strategic"
> On Mar 1, 2012, at 5:49 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>> On Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 8:30 PM, James A. Landau
>> <JJJRLandau at netscape.com> <JJJRLandau at netscape.com> wrote:
>>> I still think anyone who can't distinguish between "tactical" and
> "strategic" has no business being a war correspondent.
>> I agree. Even if Arabic fails to distinguish the two - not likely;
>> this isn't a trivial, gnome-sane distinction that a martial people
>> wouldn't bother to make; but, youneverknow - anyone writing in English
>> ought to distinguish them, regardless.
> These two and" stratagem" all give me trouble. I certainly would expect a
> war correspondent to get them right, but not everybody.
> Benjamin Barrett
> Seattle, WA
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