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 Vom Kriege (On War) - Carl von Clausewitz

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PostSubject: Vom Kriege (On War) - Carl von Clausewitz   Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:58 am

Read the text here: http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/OnWar1873/TOC.htm (in english)
German Original Version here: http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/VomKriege1832/TOC.htm

Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian officer among those baffled by how the armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon had changed the nature of war through their ability to motivate the populace and thus unleash war on a greater scale than had previously been the case in Europe. Clausewitz was well educated and had a strong interest in art, science, and education, but he was a professional soldier who spent a considerable part of his life fighting against Napoleon. There is no doubt that the insights he gained from his experiences, combined with a solid grasp of European history, provided much of the raw material for the book. On War represents the compilation of his most cogent observations.
Clausewitz states that Napoleon's tactics were not revolutionary at all and that Napoleonic Warfare did not change anything greatly in military history. The technology of weaponry for the most part remained static, and new strategies weren't developed, but rather Napoleon refurbished old ones, mixing them into one grand strategy.
The book contains a wealth of historical examples used to illustrate its various concepts. Frederick II of Prussia (the Great) figures prominently for having made very efficient use of the limited forces at his disposal. Napoleon also is a central figure.
Among many strands of thought, three stand out as essential to Clausewitz's concept:
War must never be seen as a purpose to itself, but as a means of physically forcing one's will on an opponent ("War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means."[2]).
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."
The course of war will tend to favor the party employing more force and resources (a notion extended by Germany's leaders in World War One into "total war"—the pursuit of complete military victory regardless of the political consequences).
Some of the key ideas (not necessarily original to Clausewitz or even to his mentor Gerhard von Scharnhorst) discussed in On War include (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
the "fog of war"
"friction"
strategic and operational "centers of gravity"
the "culminating point of the offensive"
the "culminating point of victory"
Clausewitz used a dialectical method to construct his argument, leading to frequent modern misinterpretation.
The West's modern perception of war is based on the concepts Clausewitz put forth in On War, though these have been very diversely interpreted by various leaders, thinkers, armies, and peoples. Western military doctrine, organization, and norms are all based on Napoleonic premises, even to this day—though whether these premises are necessarily also "Clausewitzian" is debatable.
The "dualism" of Clausewitz's view of war (i.e., that wars can vary a great deal between the two "poles" he proposed, based on the political objectives of the opposing sides and the context) seems simple enough, but few commentators have proven willing to accept this crucial variability—they insist that Clausewitz "really" argued for one end of the scale or the other. On War has been seen by some prominent critics as the place where the concept of total war was made explicit and it has been blamed[note 1] for the level of destruction involved in the First and Second World Wars, whereas it seems rather that Clausewitz had merely foreseen the inevitable development that started with the huge, patriotically motivated armies of the Napoleonic wars. These resulted (though war's evolution has not yet ended) in the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with all the forces and capabilities of the state devoted to destroying forces and capabilities of the enemy state (thus "total war"). Conversely, Clausewitz has also been seen as "The preeminent military and political strategist of limited war in modern times." (Robert Osgood, 1979)
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