“On War”

“… the “general message” of the book was that “the conduct of war could not be reduced to universal principles [and is] dominated by political decisions and moral forces.”[11][12] These basic conclusions are essential to Clausewitz’s theory:

  • War must never be seen as having any purpose in itself but should be seen as a political instrument: “War is not merely a political act, but a real political instrument, a continuation of the political process, an application by other means.”[13]
  • The military objectives in war that support one’s political objectives fall into two broad types: “war to achieve limited aims” and war to “disarm” the enemy: “to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent.”
  • All else being equal, the course of war will tend to favor the party with the stronger emotional and political motivations, especially the defender.[1]

Some of the key ideas (not necessarily original to Clausewitz or even to his mentor, Gerhard von Scharnhorst) discussed in On War include[14] (in no particular order of importance):

  • the dialectical approach to military analysis
  • the methods of “critical analysis”
  • the uses and abuses of historical studies
  • the nature of the balance-of-power mechanism
  • the relationship between political objectives and military objectives in war
  • the asymmetrical relationship between attack and defense
  • the nature of “military genius”
  • the “fascinating trinity” (Wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit) of war
  • philosophical distinctions between “absolute or ideal war,” and “real war”
  • in “real war,” the distinctive poles of a) limited war and b) war to “render the enemy helpless”
  • “war” belongs fundamentally to the social realm, rather than the realms of art or science
  • “strategy” belongs primarily to the realm of art
  • “tactics” belongs primarily to the realm of science
  • the essential unpredictability of war
  • simplicity: Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate[15]…The strength of any strategy lies in its simplicity.[16]
  • the “fog of war
  • “friction”
  • strategic and operational “centres of gravity
  • the “culminating point of the offensive”
  • the “culminating point of victory”

Clausewitz used a dialectical method to construct his argument, which led to frequent modern misinterpretation because he explores various often-opposed ideas before he came to conclusions.”

Comment: This is the underlying bedrock of the study of war as a human phenomenon. It is written in heavy Kraut, even in translation, but its study is a science and art in itself. pl

On War – Wikipedia

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7 Responses to “On War”

  1. cobo says:

    War is about shaping the future to your ends, everything else is intellectual backfill.

  2. TTG says:

    There’s no denying that “On War” is central to the study of war. I still found it very hard going and I never managed to read it cover to cover. I covered it all eventually. When I first started reading about the study of war on my own, I went with Sun Tzu and Mao. I found them to be much easier to digest than Clausewitz. Still, Clausewitz permeated my formal education.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Sun tzu? Chop Suey Clausewitz. Do you think I found “On War” to be easy?

      • TTG says:

        I don’t think anyone found “On War” to be easy. I always referred to Sun Tzu as the Cliff Notes version of Clausewitz. Actually, I found Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings” to be informative. A lot of that has to do with my lifelong fascination with edged weapons.

  3. jim ticehurst says:

    High German is a Wonderful Language ..I cant Read a Word..But Love Listening to
    SWMBO..Speak It..and Exlain how the Combination of Meanings Form the
    Words..I only Speak latt Deutch..

    Pat..When’s There Going to Be Another Open Thread..?? I Want to Talk about
    Clam Chowder and Fish and Chips….

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