“Generals usually fight the last war.”


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Sounds like a conundrum. The first quote is often attributed to Winston Churchill. However, it has been repeated so many times, it’s hard to know who really said it. It is true and accurate, just the same. The second quote is from George Santayana. It has also been rephrased and repeated many times over the years. It is also just as true and just as relevant.

It’s not only generals who fight the last war. Entire armies, countries, and politicians fight the last war, too. It becomes institutional, at that point. This has happened for thousands of years. It also does make sense, of course. Hindsight is always 20/20. Everyone should always learn from the past and implement those learnings accordingly. Past lessons should always be applied to the process of getting better.

The challenge, then, becomes doing two things simultaneously: Learning from the last war, and, at the same time, preparing for future conflict.

Fortress Schoenenbourg Maginot Line
The entrance to Fortress Schoenenbourg along the Maginot Line, constructed to defend the road between Wissembourg and Hagenau. (Wikimedia Commons)


The Maginot Line

After World War I, France wanted to remember the past and apply the lessons learned to future conflicts, specifically, against Germany. So it constructed the Maginot Line to prevent a conflict similar to World War I.