To Battle We Go: Fighting the Last War

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

It was the World War I era French Prime Minister, George Clemenceau, who complained that “generals always prepare to fight the last war, especially if they won it”. While his point is well taken, we shouldn’t be too hard on WWI generals, who struggled to adapt their organizations, strategies, and tactics to the incredible technological advances in weaponry brought about by the industrial revolution. These advances included long range artillery, fighter and bomber aircraft, poison gas, and the deadliest of all WWI weapons, the machine gun.

For thousands of years, up until just a couple of centuries ago, land warfare didn’t change much. Battles were conducted as they had been fought by Alexander the Great or the Roman Legions, or by Joshua and the Israelites for that matter. And certain aspects of war preparation have remained necessary and effective in all eras, including organizational traits like good communication and logistics and classic tactics like “getting there first with the most” and “outflanking” the enemy.

But fighting the traditional way had disastrous results during WWI, as Clemenceau lamented. Against the new weapons, neither side gained or could hold much ground, and both sides spent most of the war hunkering down in the trenches. The number of casualties exceeded anything ever known in the history of warfare, the two sides spending much blood and treasure while accomplishing little.

The Salvation Army has had great spiritual impact around the world over a long period of time using methods that it pioneered, like taking the church to the streets, and “soup, soap, and salvation,” and these are evergreens, effective in every era of spiritual warfare. But Satan, the master deceiver, has developed new weapons and tactics, if you will, that have changed the spiritual environment in which Salvationists are working. This means The Army will have to change some of its organization, strategies, and tactics as well, if it is to be effective in the current spiritual war instead of the last one.

For example, there was a time when we could assume that most non-believers we evangelized had been somewhat churched, probably believed there was a God, and had some respect for the Bible even if they didn’t live by its tenets. That time is long gone, so the days of quoting Scripture cold turkey to non-believers are gone as well. This isn’t to say that Scripture has lost any of its convicting power, but that we will have to do a good bit of preparatory “gardening” work to get non-believers to the point where they will consider the claims of the Bible.

At the strategic level, some Army programs that were well-supported and spiritually effective bulwarks of nearly every corps 50 years ago have largely disappeared or have been altered or combined into truncated forms. New programs, like Angel Tree and music and arts conservatories, have risen in their place, and new program ideas are popping up all the time.

But not every traditional program needs to go, so this pruning and renewing process is difficult and sometimes painful, as it was for the generals of WWI. But continue it must, or, like those generals, we will spend our blood and treasure fighting ineffectively and end up hunkered down in the trenches.