studying how to fight the last war

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 22 16:18:37 UTC 2012

Charlie's post about the quote: "army, like a serpent, goes upon its
belly" was fascinating. Here is comment about another saying with a
military theme. On the Wombats mailing list the following question was

[Begin excerpt]
I'm wondering whether there is a single originator for the line:
"Generals are always preparing to fight the last war."
[End excerpt]

Charlie et al have a relevant entry in the magnificent Dictionary of
Modern Proverbs:

Cite: 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles
Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro Page 94, Yale
University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

[Begin excerpt]
Generals (Soldiers, etc.) always fight (prepare to fight, are
condemned to fight) the last war.
1934 Edward P. Warner, "Present Conditions under the N.R.A. [National
Recovery Act]," American Marketing Journal 1: 12: "There is a saying
that is rather common among the critics of the military profession
that 'soldiers are always preparing to fight the last war.' Business
must not incur the rebuke that it is devoting itself to preparing to
sell goods under the conditions of the last economic cycle."
[End excerpt]

Here is a precursor in 1929:

Cite: 1929 January-February, The Military Engineer, Volume 21, Number
115, Some Notes on the World War by J. L. Schley [Lieutenant Colonel,
Corps of Engineers], Start Page 55, Quote Page 55, Column 1, Society
of American Military Engineers, Alexandria, Virginia. (Verified on
Short link

[Begin excerpt]
It has been said critically that there is a tendency in many armies to
spend the peace time studying how to fight the last war.
[End excerpt]


The American Dialect Society -

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