studying how to fight the last war

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 22 17:21:40 UTC 2012

Offhand I can't show anything before 1929, but the charge was often
leveled, _post facto_, at British and French strategy in France and Belgium
in 1914 -18.


On Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 12:18 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <
adsgarsonotoole at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      studying how to fight the last war
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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
> posed:
> [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
> paper)
> 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]
> Garson
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