THE ART OF WAR IN THE WESTERN WORLD

By Archer Jones

University of Illinois Press. 740 pp. $34.95

"The Art of War in the Western World" is a massive labor of love, written by an eminent and venerable historian and teacher. Archer Jones offers not just traditional military history but provides a treatise on strategic, tactical and logistic contributions to victory (and the opposite), using the historical record to document his ideas. The book is well researched, clearly written and unique in its breadth and format.

The author's judgments, moreover, are virtually always sound.

No other similar work so thoroughly and objectively highlights the strategic, tactical and logistic continuities and changes that have animated war from the time of the ancient Greeks to the Yom Kippur War. No other work steps through the past 25 centuries with more impartiality. Here is J.F.C. Fuller's breadth without his racism and anti-Semitism. Here is Basil H. Liddell Hart's appreciation of historical continuities without that British pundit's tendentiousness.

Jones avoids flogging the reader with an all-purpose, all-winning (and all-false) answer to all military problems -- such as the strategy of the indirect approach. And better than either Fuller or Liddell Hart, Jones has woven the importance of logistics completely into his narrative. For him, logistics is one of the essential elements in the art of war, the other two being strategy and tactics. Jones avoids politics and economics, not because they are unimportant, but because they are amply covered in other studies.

He highlights technology when it has had a decisive effect on his three key elements. The stirrup changed cavalry tactics and soon thereafter infantry tactics, altering eventually campaign strategy and logistics. The cannon changed land warfare little by comparison to the change it wrought in naval warfare, which it completely revolutionized. The machine gun changed infantry tactics forever. The airplane changed land and naval warfare significantly. Jones demonstrates his understanding of air power with an especially thoughtful dissection of the German failure in the Battle of Britain. He contributes a shrewd analysis of the excessive costs (beyond the resources spent, the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command alone lost 55,000 men) and exceptionally tardy assistance to the Allied cause made by the massive strategic bombing campaign in Europe during World War II.

Jones pays due attention to the effect of the great captains on the art of war, providing excellent essays on the influence of such men as Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Frederick and Napoleon. He demonstrates repeatedly that the great commanders win with the least cost, always using sufficient strength for the attack of weaker forces whose defeat will lead to a strategic result.

So who should read this book? Obviously anyone in the armed services will find it of compelling interest. One hopes especially that members of Congress, who appropriate the enormous amounts of money for the training and equipment of the armed forces, will find time to read it. It is they who have the responsibility for the difficult decisions to buy new weapons systems or reshape military organizations. Jones' book will provide them with a sturdy foundation on which to build an understanding of the realities that surround national defense. There has not been such a comprehensive and useful book in generations.

The reviewer, a retired Air Force officer, has written several works on military history, including "The Air Force Integrates, 1945-1964."