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General Carl Von Clausewitz
On War

Squashed down to read in about 60 minutes
"War is the continuation of politics by other means"

Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 1853264822


Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz was born in Burg, in the Kingdom of Prussia, from a modest family with aristocratic pretensions. When, aged just thirteen, he followed his father into the army, power in Europe consisted of a few dozen princes engaged in permanent fight for supremacy, waged with a remarkable lack of energy. War between them meant posturing, soldiers were bought, and victory as often went to those with the cheekiest display as to those with the real fighting power. But, just as the French Revolution came to change ways of thinking, it changed war too.

Napoleon Bonaparte could stride across Europe dethroning kings and occupying states to spread the revolution of the masses, and he could ask of his army extraordinary loyalty through extraordinary hardships, because they knew they were fighting for a cause, not just for cash. This was a new idea, the idea of nation against nation for the sake of ideas above land - and this is the warfare of which Clausewitz is the great explainer.

Just as Machiavelli 'spilled the beans' on how States really work, General Clausewitz did so for soldiery - pointing out how war, the mere continuation of politics, is not the precisely drilled ballet of popular myth, but a fog-bound mire where no one fully knows what is going on. This work became a standard textbook for the military leaders of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and must therefore take some of the blame, thanks to Clausewitz's absolute disinterest in death or distress, for the the twenty million fallen of the 1914-1918 war and what Winston Churchill called "that mechanical scattering of death which the polite nations of the earth have brought to such monstrous perfection".


Clausewitz' great work was, in part, compiled from mere notes left on his death. Not surprisingly therefore, it has a reputation for being fearsomely disjointed and ill-written. The translation by British Army Colonel James John Graham (1808-83) in 1873, is generally accepted as highly accurate, if appallingly long-winded. This squashed version, based on the 1908 re-editing by Colonel F.N. Maude, reduces 107,000 words to less than one-tenth- largely by omitting Clausewitz's many detailed historical descriptions.


General Carl Von Clausewitz, 1830
On War

"War is the continuation of politics by other means"

(This book is from the notes of my inexpressibly missed husband- Marie Von Clausewitz.)

War is merely a wrestling match on an extensive scale, an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will. Restrictions, almost imperceptible, termed usages of International Law, accompany it without impairing its power. There is no method of disarming an enemy without great bloodshed- errors from benevolence are the worst. War is never an isolated act, it does not consist of a single instantaneous blow, and the result in War is never final. There is a principle of polarity in war, it is a game both objectively and subjectively. War is always a serious means for a serious object. War is a mere continuation of politics by other means- not merely a political act, but a real political instrument. War is chameleon-like, because it forever changes its colour, but it is always a wonderful trinity, of: the original violence of its elements, hatred and animosity, fruits of blind instinct; the play of probabilities and chance, which make it a free activity of the soul; the subordinate nature of a political instrument. The first of these three concerns more the people, the second, more the General and his Army; the third, more the Government. But the passions which break forth in War must already have a latent existence in the nation. The God of War may surprise the General; he ought always to keep his eye on the enemy, in order that he may not have to defend himself with a dress rapier if the enemy takes up a sharp sword. Of all the noble feelings which fill the human heart in the exciting tumult of battle, none are so powerful and constant as the soul's thirst for honour and renown. It is, at all times, only conjecture or guesses at truth which we have to act upon. Everyone is inclined to magnify the bad in some measure, so the Chief must stand like a rock, for everything is very simple in War, but the simplest thing is difficult. All action must be planned in a mere twilight, which, like fog or moonshine, gives things exaggerated dimensions. Thus it is a sheer impossibility to construct a theory of War; observations, not doctrine, must suffice. War is part of the intercourse of the human race, and so belongs not to the Arts and Sciences, but to social life. State policy is the womb in which War is developed. War is no free activity of the will, exerted upon inanimate matter like the mechanical Arts, but against a living and reacting force.

The Squashed Philosophers Edition of...

On War
General Carl Von Clausewitz
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011



    IT will naturally excite surprise that a preface by a female hand should accompany the present work. This work occupied the last twelve years of the life of my inexpressibly beloved husband, who has unfortunately been torn too soon from myself and his country. But it was not his intention that it should be published during his life, though I cannot consider myself as the real editress of the papers he left, a work far above my capacity.
    May the dear little Prince now entrusted to my care by the Royal couple, some day read this book and be animated by it to deeds like those of his glorious ancestors.

    Written at the Marble Palace, Potsdam, 30th June, 1832.
   Born Countess Brühl,
    Oberhofmeisterinn to H.R.H. the Princess William.


JUST as many plants only bear fruit when they do not shoot too high, so in the practical arts the theoretical leaves and flowers must not be made to sprout too far, but kept near to experience, which is their proper soil.

It is, perhaps, not impossible to write a systematic theory of War full of spirit and substance, but ours, hitherto, have been very much the reverse. This author has preferred to give in small ingots of fine metal his impressions and convictions, the result of many years' reflection on War, and of much personal experience. Thus the seemingly weakly bound-together chapters of this book have arisen, but it is hoped they will not be found wanting in logical connection.



1. Introduction: We propose to consider first the single elements of our subject, then each branch or part.
2. Definition: We shall have no abstruse definitions. War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale, an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will, violence armed with inventions of Art and Science in order to contend against violence. Self-imposed restrictions, almost imperceptible and hardly worth mentioning, termed usages of International Law, accompany it without essentially impairing its power.
3. War is utmost use of force: Philanthropists may imagine there is a skilful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without great bloodshed. However plausible this may appear, it is an error. In War, errors from benevolence are the worst. It is to no purpose, even against one's own interest, to turn away from the real nature of the affair because its horror excites repugnance. To introduce into the philosophy of War a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.
Two motives lead men to War: instinctive hostility and hostile intention. Savage peoples are ruled by passion, civilized peoples by the mind. But even the most civilized peoples can be fired with passionate hatred for each other. This is a reciprocal action.
4. The aim is to disarm the enemy: As long as the enemy is not defeated, he may defeat me; then I shall be no longer my own master. This is the second reciprocal action.
5. Utmost exertion of powers: If we desire to defeat the enemy, we must proportion our efforts to his powers of resistance. This is expressed by the sum of available means and the strength of the will. But the adversary does the same. This is the third case of reciprocal action.
6. Modification in the reality: The human will does not derive its impulse from logical subtleties.
7. War is never an isolated act.
8. War does not consist of a single instantaneous blow.
9. The result in war is never absolute. The conquered State often sees in it only a passing evil, which may be repaired by politics.
10. The probabilities of real life replace any absolute conceptions.
11. The political object: It is quite possible for such a state of feeling to exist between two States that a very trifling political motive for War may produce a perfect explosion.
12. Suspension in the action of war: The slow person does not protract a thing because he wishes to spend more time about it, but because by his nature he requires more time. This time, therefore, depends on subjective causes.
13. There is only one cause which can suspend the action, and this only possible on one side. If two parties have armed themselves for strife, then a feeling of animosity must have moved them to it; this feeling can only be brought to a standstill by either side by one single motive alone, which is, that he waits for a more favourable moment for action.
14. Thus an action will continue towards a climax.
15. Here, a principle of polarity appears.
16. Attack and defence differ in kind and are of unequal force.
17. The effect of polarity is often destroyed by the superiority of the defence over the attack, and thus the suspension of action in war is explained.
18 A second ground consists in the imperfect knowledge of circumstances. Each Commander can only fully know his own position; that of his opponent can only be known to him by uncertain reports.
19. Frequent periods of inaction in war make it a calculation of probabilities.
20. There is no human affair so constantly and generally in connection with chance as War.
21. War is a game both objectively and subjectively. From the outset there is a play of possibilities, probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads the coarse and fine threads of its web, and makes War of all human activities most like a gambling game.
22. How this accords with the human mind. The Art of War has to deal with living and with moral forces, the consequence of which is that it can never attain the absolute and positive clarity of logic or mathematics.
23. War is always a serious means for a serious object. But War is no pastime; no mere passion for venturing and winning. The War of a community- of whole civilised Nations- always starts from a political motive. It is a political act. Politcs is interwoven with the whole action of War, and must exercise a continuous influence upon it.
24. War is a mere continuation of politics by other means. War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument.
25. Diversity of wars. The greater and the more powerful the motives of a War, the more it affects the whole existence of a people.
26. They may all be regarded as political acts.
27. Influence of this view on the right understanding of military history, and on the foundations of theory. The first, the grandest, and most decisive act of judgment of the Statesman and General is rightly to understand the kind of War on which they are embarking.
28. Result for theory. War is not only chameleon-like, because it forever changes its colour, but it is always a wonderful trinity, of:
  • The original violence of its elements, hatred and animosity, fruits of blind instinct;
  • The play of probabilities and chance, which make it a free activity of the soul;
  • The subordinate nature of a political instrument.

  • The first of these three concerns more the people, the second, more the General and his Army; the third, more the Government. But the passions which break forth in War must already have a latent existence in the nation.


    The object of War is as variable as its political objects. But, aside from the political object, War in every case depends on overthrowing the enemy, that is, disarming the military power, the country, and the will of the enemy. As long as the will of the enemy is not subdued, or the people into submission; the War may break out afresh.

    But this object of War in the abstract, this complete disarming of the enemy, is rarely attained in practice. Two considerations practically limit the contest. The first is the improbability, the second is the excessive price, of success.

    War does not, therefore, always require to be fought until one party is overthrown. Further, the original political views may change very much because they are determined by events. Enterprises which are likely to break up the enemy's alliances or raise political powers in our favour, &c. may provide a shorter way towards our object than the routing of the enemy's forces.

    Frederick the Great was never strong enough to overthrow the Austrian monarchy. But his skilful husbanding of his resources showed the powers allied against him, through a seven years' struggle, that the expenditure of strength far exceeded what they had anticipated, so that they made peace. There are many ways to one's object in War; and the complete subjugation of the enemy is not essential in every case.

    To properly assess these roads, we must bear in mind the diversity of political objects which may cause a War- and measure the distance between a death struggle for political existence and a War which a forced or tottering alliance makes as a matter of disagreeable duty. Between the two, innumerable gradations occur.

    Fighting must be at the foundation of every activity in War, yet the object can often be gained by merely making a resolve to fight, and a whole campaign carried on without actual combat playing any notable part. As to the destruction of the enemy's armed force, then the moral is implied as well as the physical.

    But the enemy acts on the same principle as us; and should he choose the way of a great decision by arms, our means must be changed to correspond with his. We must be aware that the bloody solution of the crisis, the effort for the destruction of the enemy's force, is the firstborn son of War. If when political objects are unimportant, motives weak, the excitement of forces small, a cautious commander tries, without great crises and bloody solutions, to twist himself skilfully into a peace, we have no right to fault him. Still we must require him to remember that the God of War may surprise him; that he ought always to keep his eye on the enemy, in order that he may not have to defend himself with a dress rapier if the enemy takes up a sharp sword.


    Every special calling in life requires peculiar qualifications. Where these are of a high order, and manifest themselves by extraordinary achievements, the mind to which they belong is termed genius.

    If every combatant required to be endowed with military genius, then our armies would be very weak; for it implies a peculiar bent of the intelligent powers. War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior. Courage is of two kinds: physical courage, or courage in presence of danger; and moral courage, or courage before responsibility. War is the province of physical exertion and suffering, so strength of body and mind is required. War is the province of chance. We assign to resolution the office of removing the torments of doubt, and the dangers of delay.

    There are persons who possess the keenest perception for difficult problems, who are not fearful of responsibility, and yet in cases of difficulty cannot come to a resolution. Their courage and their sagacity operate independently of each other. Many men who have shown the greatest resolution in an inferior rank, and have lost it in a higher position. The kindred quality, presence of mind, is nothing but a great conquest over the unexpected.

    As War moves in the elements of danger, physical effort, uncertainty, and chance, it is easy to conceive that a great force of mind is requisite to be able to make way amongst such opposing elements, a force which we find termed by military writers as energy, firmness, staunchness, strength of mind and character.

    As long as his men full of good courage fight with zeal and spirit, it is seldom necessary for the Chief to show great energy of purpose. But as soon as difficulties arise then things no longer move on like a well-oiled machine, the machine itself begins to offer resistance, and the Commander must have a great force of will.

    Of all the noble feelings which fill the human heart in the exciting tumult of battle, none are so powerful and constant as the soul's thirst for honour and renown. No doubt in War the abuse of these proud aspirations must bring about shocking outrages, but their origin is certainly to be counted amongst the noblest feelings of human nature. Other feelings, such as love of country, fanaticism or revenge may rouse the great masses, but they do not give the Leader a desire to will more than others. Is a Commander destitute of the love of honour even conceivable?

    Now in War, in the harrowing sight of danger and the twilight which surrounds everything, a change of opinion is more conceivable and more pardonable. It is, at all times, only conjecture or guesses at truth which we have to act upon. This is why differences of opinion are nowhere so great as in War. It is here that force of charcter is needed. Which leads us to a spurious variety of it - obstinacy, or resistance against our better judgment.

    We now come to the connection between War and ground. If we think of agriculture, building, mining, or forestry, they are all confined within limited spaces which may be explored. But the Commander in War must commit himself to a space which his eye cannot survey. The mental gift known by the term of Orisinn, or sense of locality, is the power of quickly forming a correct geometrical idea of any land. The Chief of an Army must make himself familiar with the geography; no doubt maps, books, memoirs, and the assistance of his Staff, are a great help; but it if he has a talent for forming an picture quickly and distinctly, it makes his action easier and firmer, and less dependent on others.

    One is accustomed to regard the plain honest soldier as the very opposite of the man of reflection and refined education. But for each station, from the lowest upwards, to render distinguished services in War, there must be a particular genius. But the title of 'Genius', posterity only confers on those who have shone in the highest rank. Buonaparte was right when he said that many of the questions which come before a General would equal the mathematics of a Newton or an Euler.

    Closest to military genius is the mind searching rather than inventive, comprehensive minds rather than the specialist, cool rather than fiery heads. It is to these, in time of War, we should entrust the welfare of our women and children, the honour and the safety of our fatherland.


    When we first hear of danger, before we know what it is, we find it attractive. To throw oneself, blinded by excitement, against cold death, uncertain whether we shall escape him, and all this close to the golden gate of victory, close to the rich fruit which ambition thirsts for- can this be difficult?

    Let us accompany the novice to the battle-field. Here, in the close striking of the cannon balls and the bursting of shells, the seriousness of life makes itself visible. We see a friend fall, and know that even the bravest is confused. We see the General, a man of acknowledged courage, keeping carefully behind a rising ground, a house, or a tree. A picture far short of that formed by the student in his chamber!


    If no one were allowed to pass an opinion on War, except when he is benumbed by frost, sinking from heat and thirst, or dying with hunger and fatigue, we should certainly have fewer judgments correct objectively; but they would be so, subjectively. No Commander or Army will lessen the impression of a disgraceful defeat by depicting the danger, the distress, the exertions, which would immensely enhance the glory of a victory.


    A great part of the information obtained in War is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is of a doubtful character. The law of probability must be the officer's only guide.

    The timidity of men acts as a multiplier of lies and untruths. Everyone is inclined to magnify the bad in some measure, and although the alarms thus propagated subside into themselves like the waves of the sea, still, like them, they rise again. Firm in his own convictions, the Chief must stand like a rock against which the sea breaks its fury in vain. This is one of the great chasms which separate conception from execution.


    As long as we have no personal knowledge of War, we cannot conceive what are its difficulties, and what genius and extraordinary mental powers are required in a General.

    Everything is very simple in War, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction which no man can imagine who has not seen War. Suppose a traveller arrives at a station to find no horses, or very bad ones; then a hilly country, bad roads, and a dark night. He is glad to reach even miserable accommodation.

    Activity in War is movement in a resistant medium. Just as a man immersed in water is unable to perform the simplest movement, that of walking, so in War, with ordinary powers, one cannot acheive even mediocrity. This is why absurd theorists, who have never plunged in themselves, teach only what every one knows- how to walk.

    Further, every War is rich in facts, while at the same time is an unexplored sea, full of rocks which the General has never seen, and round which he must steer in the dark.


    Now is there no oil which can diminish the friction of War? Only one- the habituation of an Army to War. Camp manoeuvres furnish but a weak substitute for it, but it is of immense importance that all ranks should not encounter in War those things which, when seen for the first time, cause astonishment and perplexity. This relates notably to bodily fatigues. They should be practised less to accustom the body than the mind.

    Another means of gaining habituation to War is to procure some foreign officers who have done good service.



    WAR means fighting. But fighting is a trial of moral as well as physical forces, and the condition of the mind has always the most decisive influence.

    The conduct of War presents the totally different activities of the formation and conduct of single combats in themselves, and the combination of them with one another, with a view to the ultimate object. The first is called tactics, the other strategy. Tactics is the theory of the use of military forces in combat. Strategy is the theory of the use of combats for the object of the war. But there are in War a number of activities which are subservient to military force. These are marches, camps, and cantonments, subsistence, care of the sick, the supply and repair of arms and equipment. Thus the activities belonging to War divide themselves into two principal classes, into "preparations for War" and into the "War itself."


    1. The first "art of war" was merely the preparation of forces.
    2. True war as craft appears in the art of sieges.
    3. Then tactics appeared, and, at first, led to an army like an automaton with rigid formations and orders, intended to unwind like clockwork.
    4. The real conduct of war appeared only incidentally.
    5. Which showed the want of a military theory.
    6. There arose maxims, rules, and even systems for the conduct of war.
    7. Theoretical writers attempted to make war a matter of calculation, but directed their maxims only upon material things and one-sided activity.
    8. Superiority in numbers was chosen from amongst all the factors required to produce victory, because it could be brought under mathematical laws, a restriction overruled by the force of realities.
    9. Victualling of troops was systematised, but only through arbitrary and impractical calculations.
    10. An ingenious author tried to concentrate on a single conception, that of a base for the subsistence of the troops, the keeping them complete in numbers and equipment.
    11. The idea of 'interior lines' is purely geometrical; another one-sided theory.
    12. All these attempts are open to objection. They strive after determinate quantities, whilst in war all is undetermined.
    13. As a rule they exclude genius. Pity the theory which sets itself in opposition to the mind!
    15. The moral quantities must not be excluded in war. War is never directed solely against matter; but always against an intelligent force. Danger in war is like a crystalline lens through which all appearances pass before reaching the understanding. Every one knows the moral effect of a surprise, of an attack in flank or rear. Every one thinks less of the enemy's courage as soon as he turns his back. Every one judges the enemy's General by his reputation, and shapes his course accordingly. Every one casts a scrutinising glance at the spirit and feeling of his own and the enemy's troops.
    17. The first great moral force is the expression of hostile feeling, but in wars, this frequently resolves into merely a hostile view, with no innate hostile feeling residing in individual against individual. National hatred is some substitute for personal hostility, but where this is wanting, a hostile feeling is kindled by the combat itself.
    18. The combat begets danger. Courage is no mere counterpoise to danger, but a peculiar power in itself.
    20. A soldier must become unused to deceit, because it is of no avail against death, and so attain that soldierly simplicity of character which has always been the best representative of the military profession.
    23. The second peculiarity in war is the living reaction, and the reciprocal action resulting therefrom.
    24. Thirdly, the great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty. All action must be planned in a mere twilight, which, like fog or moonshine, gives things exaggerated dimensions.
    25. Thus it is a sheer impossibility to construct a theory of war.
    27. Theory must, therefore, be of the nature of observations, not of doctrine.
    30. There are certain circumstances which attend the combat throughout; the locality, the time of day, and the weather.
    37. Strategy deduces only from experience the ends and means to be examined.
    38. How far should theory go in its analysis of the means. The conduct of war is not making powder and cannon. Strategy makes use of maps without troubling itself about triangulations; it does not inquire how the country is subdivided, how the people are educated and governed; but it takes things as it finds them in the community of european states, and observes where different conditions have an influence on war.
    39. A great simplification of knowledge is required.
    40. As a rule, the most distinguished generals have never risen from the very learned or erudite class of officers.
    43. Knowledge must be suitable to the position. There are field marshals who would not have shone at the head of a cavalry regiment, and vice versa.
    44. The knowledge in war is very simple, but not, at the same time, very easy. It increases in difficulty with increase of rank, and in the highest position, in that of commander-in-chief, is to be reckoned among the most difficult which there is for the human mind.
    45. The commander of an army need not understand the harness of a battery horse, but he must know how to calculate exactly the march of a column. The necessary knowledge for high military position is only to be attained through a special talent which understands how to extract from the phenomena of life only the essence or spirit, as bees take honey from the flowers. Life alone will never bring about a Newton by its rich teachings, but it may bring forth great calculators in war, such as Frederick.
    46. Knowledge must be converted into real power, as seems so easy with men distinguished in war. Science must become art.


    War is science when mere knowing; art, when doing. War is part of the intercourse of the human race, and so belongs not to the Arts and Sciences, but to social life. Besides, State policy is the womb in which War is developed. War is no activity of the will, exerted upon inanimate matter like the mechanical Arts, but against a living and reacting force.


    There is a logical hierarchy through which the world of action is governed. Law is the relation of things and their effects to one another; as a subject of the will, equivalent to command or prohibition. Principle is the spirit and sense of laws. Principle is objective when it is the result of objective truth, and consequently of equal value for all men; it is subjective, and called maxim, if it has value only for the person who makes it. Methodicism is determination by methods instead of principles or prescriptions. Methodicism is founded on the average probability of cases one with another.

    Law of action cannot be the basis for the conduct of War. Not to use cavalry against unbroken infantry, only to use firearms within effective range, to spare forces for the final struggle- these are only tactical principles, which cannot be applied absolutely in every case.


    Critical analysis, more even than doctrine, can act upon real life. It consists of:
    First, historical investigation
    Secondly, tracing of effects to causes.
    Thirdly, testing of the means employed.

    But in War, as generally in the world, there is a connection between everything, so that, however small a cause, its effects reach to the end of the act. If criticism dispenses praise or censure, it should seek to place itself at the same point of view as the person acting.

    When Buonaparte marched to Moscow in 1812, all depended upon him taking the capital; the only alternative was a strategic defeat. But the Conquerer of the World did not keep Moscow. Shall we then discard his campaigns of 1805, 1807, 1809, and say on account of 1812 that they were acts of imprudence? That would be an unwarrantable conclusion, for no human eye can trace the thread of necessary connections up to the decision.

    It is more natural to say that in 1805, 1807 and 1809, Buonaparte judged his opponents correctly, and in 1812 he erred. On the former occasions, therefore, he was right, in the latter wrong; in both cases we judge by result. All action in War, as we have already said, is directed on probable, not on certain, results.

    Criticism, therefore, should educate the mind of the Commander for War; it is not intended to furnish him with positive doctrines and systems. So it must always be its aim to avoid mysterious, unintelligible phraseology. Great is the evil which lies in the pompous retinue of technical terms- scientific expressions and metaphors, which these systems carry in their train, like the rabble baggage of a broken army, hanging about in all directions. So frequently theoretical and critical books are mere hollow shells without any kernel. The author, with no clear perception of what he means, contents himself with vague ideas, which if expressed in plain language would be unsatisfactory even to himself. What can be gained for practical life by such obscure, confused conceptions?



    Strategy is the employment of the battle to gain the end of the War. Strategy forms the plan of the War, and to this end it links together the series of acts which are to lead to the final decision. Strategy can therefore never take its hand from the work for a moment. In Strategy everything is very simple, but not on that account very easy.

    Frederick the Great's campaign of 1760 is celebrated for its fine marches and manoeuvres: a perfect masterpiece of Strategic skill. What we admire above all is the sagacity of the King in pursuing a great object with very limited means; he undertook nothing beyond his powers, and just enough to gain his object.

    If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits.


    The strategic elements that affect the use of engagements may be classified into: moral, physical, mathematical, geographical, and statistical. But these elements are generally manifold, and intimately connected with each other in every single operation.


    The spirit and other moral qualities which animate an Army, a General, or Governments, public opinion in provinces in which a War is raging, the moral effect of a victory or of a defeat, are things which may have an influence in different ways. It should be noted that the seeds of wisdom that are to bear fruit in the intellect are sown less by critical studies and learned monographs than by insights, broad impressions, and flashes of intuition.


    These are The Talents of the Commander; The Military Virtue of the Army and its National feeling. Which of these is the most important? The best plan is not to undervalue any of them, a fault which human judgment is prone to in its whimsical oscillations.

    The national spirit of an Army (enthusiasm, fanatical zeal, faith, opinion) displays itself most in mountain warfare, while expertness of an Army through training shows their superiority in open country. The talent of a General has most room to display itself in undulating country.


    An Army which preserves its formations under the heaviest fire, which is never shaken by imaginary fears, and in the face of real danger disputes the ground inch by inch, which, proud of its victories, never loses its sense of obedience even under the depressing effects of defeat; an Army which looks upon its toils as the means to victory, and which is always reminded of its duties and virtues by the short catechism of one idea, namely the honour of its arms;- such an Army is imbued with the true military spirit.

    Soldiers may fight bravely and do great things like the Swiss, the Americans, or Spaniards, without displaying this military virtue. The natural qualities of a truly warlike people are: bravery, aptitude, powers of endurance and enthusiasm, from which may be deduced:

    1. Military virtue is a quality of standing Armies only.
    2. How much that is great, this spirit, this refining of ore into polished metal, has already done, we see in the Macedonians under Alexander, the Romans under Cesar, the Prussians under Frederick, and the French under Buonaparte.

    This spirit can only be generated from two sources, and only by these two conjointly; from a succession of great victories; and from an activity of the Army carried to the highest pitch. The more a General is in the habit of demanding from his troops, the surer he will be that his demands will be answered. The soldier is as proud of overcoming toil, as he is of surmounting danger. Once this spirit becomes a strong tree, it will stand against the fiercest storms of misfortune and defeat.


    From the transport-driver and the drummer to the General, boldness is the noblest of virtues, the true steel which gives the weapon its edge and brilliancy. Even foolhardiness, or boldness without aim, is to be repressed only when it strikes at the root of obedience, for nothing in War is of greater importance than obedience.

    Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage than audacity. But lucid thought diminishes the emotional forces, so that boldness becomes rarer the higher the rank, so that almost all Generals have merely attained to mediocrity.

    The spirit of boldness can exist in an Army, either because it is in the people, or because it has been generated in a successful War conducted by able Generals. There is hardly any other means of educating the spirit of a people in this respect, except by War, and that too under bold Generals. By it alone can that effeminate propensity to seek for the enjoyment of comfort, which cause degeneracy in a prosperous people immersed in busy commerce, be counteracted.


    In War more than anywhere else in the world things happen differently to what we had expected. With serenity the architect can watch his work gradually rising to his plan. In War, on the other hand, the Commander finds himself in a constant whirlpool of false and true information, of mistakes committed through fear, through negligence, of accidents which no mortal could have foreseen. He who would yield to these impressions would never carry out an undertaking, and on that account perseverance is a most necessary counterpoise.


    When we strip combat of all its variables, then nothing remains but the number of combatants. This number will determine victory.

    But Frederick the Great beat 80,000 Austrians at Leuthen with 30,000 men. Buonaparte had at Dresden 120,000 against 220,000. But at Kollin, Frederick did not succeed, with 30,000 against 50,000 Austrians, neither did Buonaparte at Leipsic, where he was 160,000 against 280,000. From this we may infer that it is very difficult in the present state of Europe for the most talented General to gain a victory over an enemy double his strength.

    It is the superiority in numbers at the decisive point which is of the capital importance. The measure of the absolute force is determined by the Government, so that there remains nothing, where absolute superiority is not attainable, but to produce a relative one at the decisive point, by making skilful use of what we have.


    After the endeavour to attain a relative superiority, there follows the surprise of the enemy. It lies more or less at the foundation of all undertakings. When it is successful in a high degree, confusion and broken courage in the enemy's ranks are the consequences.

    Secrecy and rapidity are needed, which supposes in the Government and the Commander-in-Chief great energy, and a high sense of duty in the Army. With effeminacy and loose principles it is in vain to calculate upon a surprise. In idea it promises a great deal; in the execution it generally sticks fast by the friction of the whole machine.

    The preparations for a War usually occupy several months, so that one State rarely surprises another.


    STRATAGEM, or CUNNING has a great deal to do with deceit, and seems to have given its name to Strategy. In War, orders given as make-believers, or false reports sent to the enemy- is usually of little effect. Equally, it is dangerous to detach large forces merely for a trick, because there is always the risk of its being done in vain. A correct and penetrating eye is a more useful quality for a General than craftiness, although that also does no harm.


    The best Strategy is always to be very strong, first generally then at the decisive point. Therefore, there is no greater law for Strategy than to keep the forces concentrated. Troops have too often been separated merely through a mysterious feeling of convention, without any clear perception of the reason.


    War is the shock of two opposing forces in collision with each other, from which it follows that the stronger destroys the other. But if in a fire combat 1000 men are opposed to 500, then 1000 men fire twice as many shots as 500, but more shots will take effect on the 1000 than on the 500 because they stand in closer order. If we suppose the number of hits to be double, then the losses on each side would be equal. Thus the employment of too many forces may give superiority in the first moment, but we may have to pay dearly for in the next.

    If Buonaparte, in his invasion of Russia in 1812, concentrated his Army in great masses upon one single road in a manner never heard of before, and thus caused unparalleled privations, we must ascribe it to his maxim that it is impossible to be too strong at the decisive point. By means of his enormous numerical superiority, Buonaparte was enabled to reach Moscow.

    The rule which we set forth is, therefore, that all forces which are available for a strategic object should be simultaneously applied to it; so that everything is compressed into one act and into one movement.


    A reserve may be kept for the prolongation and renewal of combat, or for use in case of unforeseen events. Strategic command requires that, according to the degree of uncertainty, forces be kept in reserve against future contingencies. In the defence of obstacles of ground, like rivers, hills, &c. such contingencies happen constantly.

    But this uncertainty ceases where it borders on politics. The direction in which the enemy leads his columns can be perceived only by sight. But the line by which he proposes to invade our country is usually announced by the newspapers.

    The point where the idea of a strategic reserve begins to become inconsistent lies in the Supreme Decision. Employment must be given to all the forces within the space of the supreme decision, and every reserve which is only intended for use after that decision is opposed to common sense.

    The idea of a strategic reserve which is not to co-operate in the capital result is an absurdity. If we would see a memorable instance of such we have only to call to mind that Prussia in 1806 left a reserve of 20,000 men cantoned in the Mark, which could not possibly reach the Saale in time to be of any use.


    The road of reason, as we have said, seldom allows itself to be reduced to mathematical principles. Yet one simplified characteristic has value- whoever has forces where the enemy does not give them sufficient employment, whoever has part of his forces on the march- that is, allows them to lie dead- while the enemy's are fighting, he is a bad manager of his forces.


    In War one of the parties must of necessity be assumed politically to be the aggressor, because no War could take place from defensive intentions on both sides. The aggressor has the positive object, the defender merely a negative one. From this point of view, the two Armies should destroy one another unremittingly, just as fire and water can never put themselves in equilibrium. But War still wears chains of human weakness.

    Military history shows that standing still and doing nothing is quite plainly the normal condition of an Army in the midst of War. Acting, the exception.

    There are three causes to be noticed here:

    The first is natural timidity and want of resolution in the human mind.
    The second is the imperfection of human perception and judgment, greater in War than anywhere.
    The third cause, which may, like a ratchet wheel in machinery, produce a complete standstill, is the greater strength of the defensive form. War is then merely a half-and-half armed neutrality, or a menacing attitude to support negotiations.

    Nevertheless in this kind of Warfare, there is also a certain shrewdness. Between separate bloody acts, there is a period of watching, during which both parties fall into the defensive, and also that usually a higher object causes aggression to predominate on one side, and thus leaves it in an advancing position.


    All former methods were upset by Buonaparte's luck and boldness, and first-rate Powers almost wiped out. The Spaniards have shown what the general arming of a nation can effect, and Prussia has shown that an Army may be swelled sixfold by the militia. War is now waged with the whole weight of the nation on each side, and must be organised differently. Standing Armies once resembled fleets, and the Art of War on shore had in it something of naval tactics, which it has now quite lost.


    The Dynamic Law of War. If there is a suspension of action in War, if neither party wills something positive, there is rest and equilibrium. As soon as one of the two parties proposes a new positive object, and as soon as the adversary opposes this, there is a tension of powers, followed by a movement in one or other direction.

    Every measure which is taken during a state of tension is more important and more prolific in results than the same measure could be in a state of equilibrium. Most bygone Wars consisted, the greater part of the time, in the state of equilibrium. Often they were theatrical exhibitions, got up in honour of a royal birthday (Hochkirch), or the personal vanity of the commander (Freiberg).



    We shall give now the characteristics of the modern battle in its tactical course, because that lies at the foundation of our conceptions of what the battle really is.


    What do we do now usually in a great battle? We place ourselves in great masses. We deploy a small portion in a fire-combat lasting several hours, interrupted by small shocks from charges. When this line has exhausted its warlike ardour and there remains only cinders, it is withdrawn and replaced by another. The battle burns slowly away like wet powder. This description suits for the offensive and defensive, because modern parties find themselves nearly on a level as regards military organisation and knowledge.


    Our Wars are made up of a number of great and small combats. Now we maintain that in the majority of cases, the object of the battle is always insignificant in comparison with the general object.

    How shall we combat that subtle idea, which supposes it possible to effect by a small direct destruction of the enemy's forces a much greater destruction? A victory at one point may be of more value than another, but we assert that the direct destruction of the enemy's forces must be everywhere predominant; we contend here for the overruling importance of this destructive principle and nothing else. If we seek for the lowest foundation-stones of these propositions we find that in the one it is ability, in the other, courage.


    By the destruction of the enemy's Army we mean a diminution of it relatively greater than that on our own side. Every other kind of victory over our opponent will yield only a temporary or relative advantage.

    Now it is known by experience, that the losses in physical forces in the course of a battle seldom present a great difference between victor and vanquished. But not so the relation of the moral ones; the loss of moral force may be measured by the reserves that have been used as if it were on a foot-rule.

    Of the loss in moral forces there is no reliable measure, except in the trophies. It is to be regarded as a confession of inferiority- as the lowering of the flag, by which right and superiority are conceded to the enemy. This degree of humiliation and disgrace is an essential part of the victory. It is this part alone which acts upon the public opinion and upon Government.

    If it is chiefly the moral force which is shaken by defeat, and if the number of trophies reaped by the enemy mounts up to an unusual height, then the lost combat becomes a rout, and the whole action consists of flight.


    Two principal forms of War, the offensive and defensive do not modify the first motive, but they certainly do modify others, and if we arrange them in a scheme they appear thus:-
    1. Destruction of enemy's force
    2. Conquest of a place.
    3. Conquest of some object.
    1. Destruction of enemy's force.
    2. Conquest of a place. 2. Defence of a place.
    3. Defence of some object.

    The two last in a defensive battle are in reality such as yield no fruit, they are purely negative, and can only be serviceable, indirectly, by facilitating something else which is positive. It is, therefore, a bad sign of the strategic situation if battles of this kind become too frequent


    For the conqueror the combat can never be finished too quickly, for the vanquished it can never last too long. A speedy victory indicates a higher power of victory, a tardy decision is, on the side of the defeated, some compensation for the loss. Here the whole success often lies in the mere duration, which is itself necessarily bound up with its essential relations: magnitude of force, relation of force, difference of arms, and nature of the country.


    No battle is decided in a single moment, although in every battle there arise moments of crisis, on which the result depends. We therefore ask, Which is the moment of the decision?

    1. If possession of a movable object was the object, the loss of the same is the decision.
    2. If possession of ground was the object, then the decision generally lies in its loss.
    3. In all other cases the decision is reached when the conqueror ceases to feel himself in a state of disintegration.

    Further, the moment when the crisis-stage of the combat ceases takes place sooner the smaller the unit. A picket of cavalry pursuing an enemy at full gallop will in a few minutes resume its proper order, and the crisis ceases. A whole regiment of cavalry requires a longer time.

    On the effect of flank or rear attacks intended for the restoration of the combat, there are two things of importance: first, flank and rear attacks have, as a rule, a more favourable effect on the consequences of the decision than upon the decision itself. This second is the moral effect of the surprise, which, as a rule, a reinforcement coming up to re-establish a combat has generally in its favour. This is the right field for boldness and daring.

    We have still another conclusion to examine. If on a regular pitched battle, the decision has gone against one, this does not constitute a motive for determining on a new one. This conclusion, however, is opposed by a moral force, which we must take into account: from the oldest Field-Marshal to the youngest drummer-boy there is a rage for revenge, and, therefore, troops are never in better spirits for fighting. Such a feeling must undoubtedly have led the noble Bluecher with his third Corps to the field of battle in 1814. Had he known that he would come upon Buonaparte in person, then reason would have determined him to put off his revenge to another day.


    NO battle can take place unless by mutual consent. It has happened that one Commander has offered battle to the other, and the latter has not accepted it, and amongst the ancients, battle did not become possible until the enemy left camp.

    But, during the past thirty years War has improved itself, and the defensive side can no longer refuse a battle, yet he may still avoid it by giving up his position.

    But on the other hand, he who now wishes to, and can, retreat cannot easily be forced to give battle. The principal means to compel such an opponent to give battle are- first surroundng the enemy so as to make his retreat impossible; and, secondly, surprising him.

    An example: Archduke Charles fought the battle of Neresheim in 1796 merely with a view to facilitate his retreat, although we freely confess we have never been able to understand the argument of the renowned general in this case.


    A battle is ony a part of the whole, but it is always to be regarded as the real centre of gravity of the War. A battle must not be given up on account of secondary circumstances, but only and alone in the event of the forces appearing completely insufficient. Now how is that moment to be described?

    The signs of the scales turning are, first by the knowledge in the minds of the leading officers. Secondly, by the quicker melting away of our troops. Thirdly, by lost ground. After such, a well-conducted retreat may save what, by a longer delay ending in flight and disaster, would be lost.

    However highly we esteem courage and firmness in War, there is a point beyond which perseverance becomes desperate folly. In the most celebrated of all battles, that of Belle-Alliance, Buonaparte used his last reserve in an effort to retrieve a battle which was past being retrieved. He spent his last farthing, and then, as a beggar, abandoned both the battle-field and his crown

    CHAPTER X. EFFECTS OF VICTORY (continuation)

    We may feel as much astonished at the extraordinary results of some great battles as at the want of results in others. Usually, the difference in killed, wounded, artillery lost and so forth is only triflingly different between victor and vanquished. But the moral effects are greater on the conquered than on the conqueror: they lead to greater losses in physical force, which in turn react on the moral element, and so they support and intensify each other. At the loss of a great battle, the first thing which overpowers the imagination is the diminution of the mass; the loss of ground, then the rupture of formation and the jumbling of troops. Then is the retreat and the leaving behind of men worn out, often the bravest. Then the feeling of being conquered spreads through all ranks, even down to the common soldiers, aggravated by a rising distrust of the chief. It becomes an evident truth that the enemy is superior to us. And as to the effect of defeat upon the Nation and Government! It is the collapse of hopes, the downfall of self-reliance.

    Without boldness and an enterprising spirit on the part of the leader, even the most brilliant victory will lead to no great success, for all War supposes human weakness, and against that it is directed. If there is anything to be retrieved in defeat, it is that, through defeat, new forces may be roused into existence.


    In all War, we can be convinced that:

    1. Destruction of the enemy's military force, is the leading principle.
    2. This destruction must be principally effected by means of battle.
    3. Only great battles produce great results.

    The battle is the bloodiest way of solution. True, it is not merely reciprocal slaughter, and its effect is more a killing of the enemy's courage than of the enemy's soldiers- but still blood is always its price, and slaughter its character. It is from this that the humanity in the General's mind recoils with horror.

    Thus Statesmen and Generals have at all times endeavoured to seek their aims without battle, but contemporary history has destroyed this illusion. Perhaps, by-and- by, Buonaparte's campaigns will be looked upon as mere barbarism and stupidity, and we shall once more turn with confidence to the dress-sword of obsolete and musty institutions. Theory must caution against this.

    Let us not hear of Generals who conquer without bloodshed. If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that is a ground for paying more respect to War, but not for making the sword we wear blunter, until some one steps in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our body.


    THE more difficult part, that of perfectly preparing the victory, is a silent service of which the merit belongs to Strategy. It appears brilliant and full of renown by turning a victory gained to good account.

    Usually the victorious party is very little less disorganised than the vanquished, and therefore requires time to reform, to collect stragglers, and issue fresh ammunition. All these things place the conqueror himself in a state of crisis. Adverse combats are still possible, but the Commander, through mental and bodily fatigue, is more or less weakened, and thus what little is done is to be ascribed entirely to his thirst for glory.

    The first pursuit of the enemy we limit in general to the extent of the first day. When the conqueror can continue pursuit throughout the night, the effect of the victory is immensely increased, of this the battles of Leuthen and La Belle Alliance [Waterloo] are examples. At Borodino, French authors, even great admirers of Buonaparte (Vaudancourt, Chambray, Se'gur), have blamed him because he did not drive the Russian Army completely off the field. We however reckon the Battle of Borodino as amongst battles, like Bautzen, one left unfinished.


    In a lost battle the power of an Army is broken, morally more than physicaly. A second battle, would lead to destruction. This is a military axiom.

    To profit by such weakness in an enemy, not to yield one inch more than the circumstance demands and, above all things, in order to keep up the moral forces, then a slow retreat, incessant resistance, and courageous counterstrokes, are absolutely necessary. Retreats of great Generals and of Armies have always resembled the retreat of a wounded lion. It has been suggested to divide for the purpose of retreating. This is a great error. Every lost battle is a disorganisation; and the first desideratum is to concentrate, to recover order, courage, and confidence.


    Night attack is a more vehement form of surprise. The risk is extreme and the difficulty immense, counseling us to confine night enterprises to small bodies- in general only directed against single outposts, and can only be feasible against greater bodies if they are without sufficient outposts, like Frederick the Great at Hochkirch. Night combats are so conducted as to end with daylight, because the assailant can then better profit by the state of confusion into which he throws his adversary.

    General Carl Von Clausewitz
    Clausewitz's tomb in the city cemetery at Burg.

    ISBN 9781326806781
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