The latest revival of interest in the thoughts of the famous Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) reflects efforts to apply his ideas in the "surprisingly" complex post-Cold War world, and especially in the context of the "war on terrorism." For recent major books on Clausewitz (at least 16 in English alone since 2000), click HERE. On this page, we will list recent news articles of particular interest. No attempt will be made to list every mention of Clausewitz in the news, since there are far too many to make that practical, and since many of these references are essentially meaningless. However, we will make a special effort to track the weirdly dopey references made by historian/journalist John Keegan—mostly out of morbid curiosity (see below). Please submit suggestions for entries on this page to The Clausewitz Homepage editor.
Page initiated 16 September 2002.
THE ECONOMIST has a defence, security and diplomacy blog named "Clausewitz." It has nothing to do with Clausewitz, really, but the debate over what to name it was revealing.
Search the New York Times archives for "Clausewitz"— 659 items since 1851 (as of late 2014)
Mark Perry, "What Would Clausewitz Do? For a growing number of military officers, combatting ISIS is a test of national resolve." The Bridge, Medium.com. Asks how Clausewitz would view the West's faltering efforts against Clausewitz.
REUTERS: John Kemp, "Clausewitz and oil prices." 22 DEC 2014. "German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz was writing about the role of intelligence in warfare, but his insight about unreliable information is equally applicable to traders, investors and business leaders trying to understand whether oil prices have fallen far enough or have further to drop."
Russian Communist Proposes to Fundx
Bust of Clausewitz in Hamburg
WEB SPECIAL, SEPTEMBER 2006
TONY CORN[US Department of State]
"Clausewitz in Wonderland"
EXCERPT: "If a Colin Gray arguably the smartest living Clausewitzian today can be so blind as to the nature of the challenges facing the West, one can easily guess the damage done by Clausewitzology on less talented minds."
Despite the poor logic revealed in the excerpt above, this is an interesting piece. For some reason, Corn has chosen to pretend that Carl von Clausewitz is behind the scientific, historical, and anthropological ignorance, the political naiveté, and the smothering political correctness that underlie the remarkably dysfunctional national strategic culture that the United States displays today. This article may be a clever critique of that strategic culture or merely a particularly poignant example of it.
The Clausewitz Homepage responds HERE.
A useful on-line discussion of the Corn article:
12 July 2005 — The Daily Kos
"A Clausewitzian View of the War on Terror"
"The Iraq war, as it is sold to the American people as part of the GWOT, especially defies any rationale from a Clausewitzian perspective, the publicly stated war aims hopelessly compromised by the war planning and conduct of military operations, resulting in a constantly changing strategic focus or ad hoc rationales more intended for domestic US consumption than as basis for strategy." Followed by some interesting reader discussion.
SPIKED's editors tell us that "spiked is an online publication with the modest ambition of making history as well as reporting it. spiked stands for liberty, enlightenment, experimentation and excellence. Its priorities are content, content and content. (Although the design is not bad either.)"
James Woudhuysen [professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester], " Dresden: dont apologise understand ," spiked, 8 February 2005.
" Reinforced by a little Marxism, the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), author of On War (1832), might have suggested that, from the Allies' side, the Second World War was the extension of politics by other means—the politics of the dominant wings of the mid-century British and American ruling classes."
"Santa Clausewitz, a Minor Chinese God"
Asia Times On-Line
Dec 21, 2004
"Santa Claus, were Christianity to disappear, would live on in China as a minor prosperity god.... If there were a minor god of strategy, though, we might call him Santa Clausewitz, after the 19th-century Prussian military theorist. He is a god not of prosperity but of creative destruction, and his sleigh bells are tinkling over the rooftops of Beijing. The Sino-US power duopoly constitutes the most disruptive force in world economic life since cheap British textiles crushed India's weaving industry at the outset of the 19th century. An impossibly high threshold confronts any other part of the world seeking economic success. Not in their wildest imaginings could American planners have invented a more effective way of projecting US power and suppressing prospective challengers.
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
October 22, 2004
"You do not need a Farsi edition of Clausewitz to work out that a nuclear weapon might be a useful protection against efforts at regime change in Tehran—a thought surely reflected in Wednesday's launch of a new long-range ballistic missile."
Paul Kennedy "The Degeneration of war"
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
May 11, 2004
"War is Hell. [Ed.: A note from William Tecumseh Sherman, not Clausewitz, though the latter would probably have approved the sentiment.] As Clausewitz so frequently warned, it rarely ends up where it was planned to conclude. This is something the neo-conservative strategists never thought about. Moral degeneration in war is something that the higher military leaders, although they worried that the post-battle situation would not be pleasant, did not anticipate."
Jonathan Steele, review of Rageh Omaar, Revolution Day: The Human Story of the Battle for Iraq
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
March 20 2004
"There is an important message for journalists in Karl von Clausewitz's Prussian description of war as 'the continuation of politics by other means.' A war correspondent is a political reporter in a different context. Of course, war creates its own dynamic. Blood, revenge, fear, and the desperate struggle for survival change the way people behave and think. But ultimately wars are still about politics. 'Human interest' reporting is not enough. Who benefits from letting war happen, which groups expect to suffer most and which least while the fighting is under way, who manages to do best from victory or defeat—these are political issues."
Sistani, Clausewitz, the World
January 24, 2004
JournalistHelena Cobban writes a regular column on global affairs for The Christian Science Monitor and a (separate) one for Al-Hayat (London).
"For all the supposed smarts the neo-cons throw out, their actions and policies prove that, at most, they have only read the cliff notes version of On War. Their actions prove that they have concentrated (poorly) on only one element of war's 'remarkable trinity,' viz. political purpose and effect. What of the other two (violence & passion, and uncertainty, chance & probability)? Nowhere to be seen in the Iraqi quagmire. Inflamed passions of a 'conquered' people? We'll be gone before that happens! Thousands of combat casualties? No one will see them coming home in boxes, stretchers, and wheelchairs in the middle of the night! Friction influencing combat and events? That only happens to the other guy becuase we have omniscient 'information dominance!' Just who is our 'military genius' whose coup d'oeuil sees the conflict, the objective, the terrain, means, and path to victory? Surely not President Bush, who by his own admission is not that interested in the world and takes his orders from the Almighty.
"Despite the rhetoric from the 4thG Warfare ["fourth-generation warfare"] and post-modern world crowds that Clausewitz is passé and too 'Western,' I find much of his work very relevant to our (US) current situation. I once heard that Clausewitz only gets studied by 'losers'—or at least only after losing a conflict. This was certainly true for the US military for the period between Vietnam and Gulf War I. The USMC has adopted many of Clausewitz's tenents in their professional military education (to which I have had some exposure). Seems to me that the long dead Prussian's work still speaks to the ages and across time. Too bad so many have used much of his 19th Century specificity to silence his words in favor of 'net-centric' and 'anti-septic' warfare."
PURPLE PATCH: Total Wars
by Mary Kaldor [professor and head of the Institute of Global Studies at the London School of Economics]
"In Clausewitz’s work, there was always a tension between his insistence on reason and his emphasis on will and emotion.... Indeed, the tension between reason and emotion, art and science, attrition and manourvre, defence and offence, instrumentalism and extremism constitute[s] the key components of Clausewitzean thought...."
Ah. This is an interesting and intelligent view from Kaldor from before the dark times... before the Empire.... Before she completely lost track of the real Clausewitz in her "New Wars" fantasy world.
General Richard B. Myers (Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff),"
Speech to the Economic Club of New York,"
Wednesday, 26 February 2003
"We often think of fighting an adversary in open combat.... That's certainly one way of looking at it.
"The Prussian scholar Clausewitz gives us another perspective on war. He's often quoted to remind us that war's 'an extension of politics by other means.' Most of you have probably heard that and know that. And if you dig deeper into his writing, you appreciate that ultimately war's an attempt to force your opponent to accept your will. You do that by making the current situation... more unpleasant than the future you want him to accept. You also do that by making it clear you'll deny him the future he seeks. I'll admit that's pretty heavy stuff. But it helps us appreciate that a struggle between two adversaries doesn't always involve armies engaged in physical combat."
A Warning from Clausewitz
By WILLIAM S. LIND
A pessimistic look at the coming struggle.
"In a somewhat more famous [book] On War, Clausewitz wrote: 'The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and Commander have to make is to establish...the kind of war on which they are embarking: neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.'"
Mackubin Owens, "A Clausewitzian Read: The proper balance"
National Review On-Line, March 23, 2003.
Mackubin Thomas Owens, an NRO contributing editor, is on leave from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., to write a history of U.S. civil-military relations. In this article, he discusses the meaning of Clausewitz's thinking on civil-military relations.
"Some have misread Clausewitz to mean that civilian authorities should set the goals, then step out of the way to permit the military to determine the strategic and operational steps necessary to achieve those goals. But the interaction of political goals and military means permeates the conduct of war at all levels. Circumstances change and as they do, the means employed must be modified to reflect those changes."
Military Theory and The Force Of Ideas
From Sparta to Baghdad, Paradigms Have Shifted. Human Nature Has Not.
by Joel Achenbach, Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2003; Page F01
Original URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12208-2003Mar22.html
Photo by Gerald Martineau, The Washington Post
"Warfare has changed. War has not," says Lani Kass, with fellow war college teachers Christopher Bassford, left, and Mark Clodfelter
George Will, Syndicated Columnist, Wednesday, April 2, 2003
Judge the course of war tentatively
"Today the fog of Washington thickens the fog of war. The second-guessing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—for the 'rolling start' of the war before all the forces reached the region, and for the composition of the force—justifies a permutation of Clausewitz's axiom that war is the continuation of politics by other means."
Ian Black, "The language of war: Decoding the military jargon"
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
April 2, 2003
Centre of gravity
"It's almost shaping up that the Republican Guard is the real centre of gravity," said one impressively erudite Pentagon official. "If Saddam Hussein was popped today, they'd fight on." Centre of gravity is an old concept in military terminology, coined by the 19th century Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), and which he called "schwerpunkt." It means the crucial point around which a battle or a campaign is decided. His book, On War, (1832) is still viewed as one of the two great works on strategy in the western canon. The other is The Peloponnesian War by the Athenian writer Thucydides (400BC)." [Ed.: This last line sounds suspiciously like some of the pro-Clausewitz propaganda put out by The Clausewitz Homepage.]
"In military terminology, attackers reach their 'culminating point' when their supplies and energy are depleted to the point when they can no longer overcome enemy resistance. 'There are some tough days ahead,' predicted one senior US general. 'I think this whole thing is at the culminating point. Within the next week to 10 days, we will find out about the mettle of the Republican Guard.'" [Ed. A not entirely accurate but in-the-ballpark description of another Clausewitzian concept embedded in US military doctrine and PR-speak.]
Ralph Peters, " A New Age of War ," New York Post, April 10, 2003.
Ralph, an avid admirer of Clausewitz, is up to his usual trick of beating on the German theorist for dramatic effect:
"Far from technically incompetent, Saddam's plan was right out of Clausewitz.... But the campaign the U.S. military fought cast off the rules of the modern era. We fought the first post-modern war. In the final grudge match between Clausewitz and GI Joe, it was a shutout."
Eva Figes, "A love gone sour"
Review of Amos Elon, The Pity of It All: A Portrait of Jews in Germany 1743-1933
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
May 10 2003
"Most of these gains [in Jewish emancipation within the German states] were reversed with the defeat of Napoleon. Enlightenment and reason gave way to romanticism and irrational, blind nationalism. The new nationalism was linked to Christianity, and claimed a mystical union between tribe and state which, by definition, excluded Jews. The philosopher JG Fichte gave voice to the new anti-semitism and defined nations in organic terms, as born of a common "mystical experience of the soul". Dwindling support for Jewish emancipation was reflected in the emergence in Berlin of the new Christian German Dining Club, which excluded women, Frenchmen and Jews, including converts. The members included almost the entire non-Jewish intellectual elite, and they gloried in the abuse of Jews. Kleist, Brentano and Carl von Clausewitz were among the members, as well as the future husband of Rahel Levin, who presided over Berlin's most famous Jewish salon...."
Lawrence Freedman, " War ," a "Think Again" column in Foreign Policy, July-August 2003
Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, BA(Man) BPhil (York) DPhil (Oxford), is Professor of War Studies and Vice-Principal (Research)
for Contemporary Defence and Foreign Policy Issues.
Opening line: “'War Is the Continuation of Politics by Other Means.' Yes. After more than 170 years, the thesis of Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz still applies. War is violence with a purpose. What has changed is whose purposes are being served and their nature."
A Prussian in the USA
by Andreas Herberg-Rothe
Original article in .PDF format: A German scholar looks at the relevance and importance of Clausewitz's theories to America's political leaders and their new wars.
English Translation [This is based on the original MS and thus may differ somewhat from the printed article in Europäische Sicherheit.]
Speed is not everything
Galal Nassar, Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line, 20 - 26 November 2003.
"The technological advancement of modern armies may prove less than effective against guerrilla warfare tactics...."
" Exercises in Wishful Thinking – Balkans in Empire's Shadow ." Pravda , English Language Forum, 17:46 8 February 2002.
"Politics, however – the continuation of war by other means, as Clausewitz would have said—is by nature an indoor activity, and thus exempt from the elements."
Ed.: Well, actually, no—that's Lenin's formulation, not Clausewitz's. Clausewitz saw war as a special case of politics and considered a return to peace to be the goal of military operations. This Leninist variation is a radical recasting of the idea—one with which Clausewitz definitely would not have agreed.
Tampa Tribune, March 7, 2002
'Fog' Obscuring U.S. Military Vision
By KEITH EPSTEIN
"The term ``fog of war,'' increasingly invoked by senior military officials in recent days, originated with the Napoleonic wars, when black-powder weapons produced a cloud in the air, obscuring vision.
"More than 150 years ago, Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz extended the meaning, referring to the difficulty of getting even ordinary information during a war. Reality is hard to discern. Von Clausewitz wrote that battlefield action occurs ``in a kind of twilight, which, like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.''
"Even with radical improvements in satellite imagery, the use of night-vision goggles and the Predator, technology cuts through only some of the fog. Gigabytes and streaming video are no guarantee that people will learn everything they want to know or even see the same thing."
Iraq: Recognizing the Military Problems of a Campaign
"In short, the US can fight Iraq, alone if need be, and probably win on the battlefield. But Clausewitz' link between operations and policy should not be forgotten, and an understanding of the real political as well as human costs should be the priority of anyone designing a war plan."
Lee Harris, " Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology ," Policy Review, 2 August 2002.
[Ed.: This is a truly interesting article, well written and argued. We are puzzled only by the author's assumption that a war of extermination, which is essentially what he advocates the West wage against radical Islamism, is somehow irreconcilable with Clausewitz's notion of war as an extension of policy or politics. Harris says "Clausewitzian war, in short, is rational and instrumental. It is the attempt to bring about a new state of affairs through the artful combination of violence and the promise to cease violence if certain political objectives are met."
This is odd in two ways. First: Is Harris saying that his own objective, the destruction of radical Islamism as a force in world politics, is not a practical political objective that can be met? Why then, one might ask, should we take practical steps seeking it? But, of course, Harris really does think that this is a desirable and realistic goal—so, therefore, a war to accomplish it must be a rational expression of policy. As Clausewitz said, "The maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect."
Second, Harris's purely rationalist interpretation of Clausewitz is in counterdistinction to the frequently expressed—but wrong—view that Clausewitz was himself an advocate of "absolute, total war." (Never mind that Clausewitz's completely abstract notion of "absolute war" is not at all the same thing that "total-war" advocates like Ludendorff had in mind.)
Clausewitz has been called both "the apostle of total war" (B.H. Liddell Hart) and "The preeminent military and political strategist of limited war in modern times" (Robert Osgood). Both statements are true, in a sense, since Clausewitz argued that war could take on many forms and objectives, depending on the political and historical context. Both statements are false, however, in limiting Clausewitz's theory to one form or the other.]
GROVE CITY COLLEGE FACULTY OPINIONS...
Camelot, Clausewitz or Clinton?
by Dr. Earl Tilford
"If war is in our national best interest, we must win quickly and decisively. Prolonged war can only sap both our national will and beleaguered economy, possibly benefiting Iraq and breathing new life into Al Qaeda. As Clausewitz noted, 'the maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect.'"
Talk the walk on Iraq
The Washington Times, August 12, 2002
by Roger D. Carstens
"In applying the lessons of Clausewitz and Thucydides to the current discussion over the decision to invade Iraq, one comes to the conclusion that the conduct of a free and open debate strengthens America by keeping her trinity balanced."
[Ed.: Unfortunately, Carstens has misread the trinity in a unique way—taking only the first clause in Clausewitz's definition (which, admittedly but by chance, has three nouns in it), then ignoring both it and the other two clauses and erroneously interpreting the trinity as people/army/government. C'mon people. All you have to do is read five short paragraphs—or even just read the first one grammatically.]
Pejman Yousefzadeh, " Listen to Carl von Clausewitz's Advice: Make War, Not Love Against Terrorism ,"
Capitalism Magazine ["In Defense of Individual Rights"].
(August 19, 2002).
Robin Brown [Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds], " Clausewitz in the Age of Al-Jazeera: Rethinking the Military-Media Relationship ," Paper, Harvard Symposium "Restless Searchlight: The Media and Terrorism," 21 August 2002.
Here, Keegan continues his longstanding effort to obfuscate the ideas of his dead competitor: "Clausewitz, the great military philosopher, taught that war is the continuation of politics by other means.... the idea does not seem so profound any longer. How can a state usefully mobilize force against an enemy who is not a state and does not practice politics in any recognizable form? How can military power be used to alter the policies of an opponent whose demands are not negotiable in political terms?" Having told us yet again that war is not a means to political ends, Keegan goes on to describe how the US "undoubtedly achieved a great victory at the very outset" with its destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and to forcefully advocate war against Iraq in pursuit of Western policy objectives. (See "John Keegan and the Grand Tradition of Trashing Clausewitz," War and History, November, 1994.
The fog of "war"
By Scott Rosenberg
Sept. 6, 2002
"Carl von Clausewitz famously defined war as 'an extension of politics [in German, politik, or 'policy'] by other means.' In a war as complex and unorthodox as the war with al-Qaida, one that leaves old concepts of battlefield engagement far behind, that definition, with its reminder to keep one's eye on ultimate goals, provides a valuable compass.
"Unfortunately, President Bush seems to be simply reading Clausewitz in a self-interestedly literal-minded way. For him, the war on terror—the war that he has framed as a noble crusade for freedom—has become just a crude extension of his political agenda, 'by other means.'"
by John Lewis Gaddis
Foreign Policy, NOV/DEC 2002
This is an outstanding article by America's leading diplomatic historian. Offering a seemingly positive critique of the Bush administration's newly published national security policy, it makes only two mentions of Clausewitz, but both references are accurate reflections of important aspects of Clausewitz's theories.
Can [the new Bush national securrity strategy] Work? "The honest answer is that no one knows. We've had examples in the past of carefully crafted strategies failing: most conspicuously, the Nixon-Kissinger attempt, during the early 1970s, to bring the Soviet Union within the international system of satisfied states. We've had examples of carelessly improvised strategies succeeding: The Clinton administration accomplished this feat in Kosovo in 1999. The greatest theorist of strategy, Carl von Clausewitz, repeatedly emphasized the role of chance, which can at times defeat the best of designs and at other times hand victory to the worst of them. For this reason, he insisted, theory can never really predict what's going to happen." ... "There's certainly no guarantee of success—but as Clausewitz would have pointed out, there never is in anything that's worth doing."
John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett professor of military and naval history at Yale University, and author, most recently, of The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Niall Ferguson, "WAR NAMES: Random War, Remote War, Absolute War, Do-It-Yourself War
—New Weapons and New Enemies Are Making War New Too"
New York Times Magazine, December 15, 2002, p.39.
CHP Editor: This article inspired at least one reader to complain about a perceived mistreatment of Clausewitz. Since the NYTM editor did not see fit to print the complaint, we've posted it here. We're not in complete agreement with this reader, but he raises some valid points.
Ferguson, Professor of Political and Financial History at Oxford, bites into Clausewitz several times while trying to come to terms with the nature of war in the post-9/11 world. By and large, after much ducking and weaving, Ferguson gets it right: "True, the war against terrorism has a novel character—it is remote both geographically and technologically. It will nonetheless be Clausewitzian in principle, the wholehearted pursuit of a legitimate political objective by, regrettably but necessarily, violent means." And he cites the most useful of Clausewitz's three variations on his famous line—war is a "continuation of political intercourse, with the intermixing of other means."
The glaring exception to this accurate perception is Ferguson's confusion between Clausewitz's "absolute war" and "real war," equating the latter very narrowly with "limited war" (by which Ferguson means war waged by one side or the other for limited political and military objectives). We're always puzzled by this very common mix-up. We accept that "absolute war" has proven to be a difficult concept for many readers to grasp. Like Daniel Treisman in the article listed earlier on this page, many writers get this philosophical abstraction confused with "total war" of the 1914-45 variety and think wrongly that this is Clausewitz's practical prescription for the waging of war. "Real War," on the other hand, is not an abstraction at all—it is actually among the simplest concepts in Clausewitz's work. It means, simply and perhaps too obviously, war as it really occurs and as we actually experience it—in all its variety. Thus it describes both wars of very limited political and/or military objectives and wars of unlimited objectives, even utter annihilation—any form or intensity of war, in fact, of which we can find a real-world example. For some reason, academics typically want to redefine "real war" into a highly specialized term referring to some very narrow species of the phenomenon.
Ferguson's treatment, which equates the abstraction of absolute war with a prescription for total war, is simply a retransmission of the traditional British nonsense on this subject—essentially a rumor started by B.H. Liddell Hart after the Great War. Clausewitz himself called "ideal" or absolute war a "logical fantasy" or "chimera"—to which, he said, perhaps over-optimistically, "the human mind would hardly submit itself." Yes, we know that in some older parts of the original manuscripts, the still-evolving Clausewitz used "absolute war" in a sense somewhat like what the rumor describes. That's not much excuse for ignoring the full, formal discussion of the subject that comes in the very first pages of On War. One has only to read the first chapter as far as its sixteenth paragraph, "Modification in the reality," to discover what Clausewitz is really up to. This is too far to sustain mental alertness, it seems—the rumor has become so fixed in the culture that even actual reading, which Ferguson has obviously done, cannot easily dislodge it. This was not true before Liddell Hart began his disinformation campaign. An examination of the actual evidence shows that those pre-WWI writers who advocated the disastrous "total war" approach taken in 1914-1918 consciously and explicitly rejected Clausewitz's relevant arguments (i.e., those on the superior power of the defense, the subordination of military strategy to policy concerns, and the concept of war for limited objectives). General Erich von Ludendorff, Germany's virtual military dictator during WWI and a fierce proponent of total war, said "All theories of Clausewitz have to be thrown overboard." These writers seem to have had little difficulty distinguishing between Clausewitz's philosophical and practical categories.
Also puzzling, and unrelated to Clausewitz issues, is Ferguson's notion that "liberals" are obsessed with "national sovereignty"—we thought that this was a conservative obsession. Ah well, this is just further proof that such labels are useless.
Still, this is an interesting article on its main subject, American empire. Look for Ferguson's new book, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and its Lessons for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
Martin Woollacott, review of Waging Modern War by General Wesley K Clark
"Choose your enemy - and aim - with care"
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
November 3, 2001
"Nobody starts a war, Clausewitz wrote, 'or, rather, no-one in his senses ought to do so, without being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.' It is a principle that has often been violated. Never more so than in the conflicts of the last years of the 20th century—and, it seems possible, in the first serious conflict of the 21st. Whether Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein truly had clear objectives may be doubted. Equally, we may now be overestimating Osama bin Laden's capacities by inflating him into a sort of Napoleon of terrorism. But it is clear that the response to such challenges has not exhibited the clarity of aim and means that Clausewitz recommends. Muddle and hesitation, misguided compromise with the perpetrators of atrocities and the initiators of wars, seesaws of public opinion, and dissent among allies have marked the diplomatic and military efforts of western nations in a critical decade."
Christopher Bassford, “War View: We can’t predict the outcome but action is vital,” BBC News, 26 October 2001. There is no explicit mention of Clausewitz here by name, but the author (a known Clausewitzian) bases his whole argument on Clausewitz's "fascinating trinity" of war: violent emotion; the interaction of chance and probability with human creativity; and rational policy calculation.
Philip Hensher, review of Nigel Hamilton, The Full Monty
"The soldier's soldier who outfoxed the Desert Fox"
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks]
October 21, 2001
"Montgomery, I think, was remembering the folly of the Somme when he made the great tactical decision at El Alamein to dig in at Alam Halfa, to reinforce and reinforce and reinforce and not to move. 'Rommel,' Hamilton says, 'was dumbfounded.' He could not believe that the British were not to be lured into attack, and faced, too late, the prospect of the Afrika Corps being destroyed by the RAF.
"Brilliant as he was, Rommel's tactics were fundamentally those of Frederick the Great and Clausewitz. [Ed.: Gee, I thought the Brits called Clausewitz the "High-priest of Napoleon." Looks like there's more than one way to get it wrong.] Monty remembered the Somme and would not succumb to the fantasy of a 'big push'. He was a brilliant soldier, but, at that point, he revealed himself as nothing less than a visionary and the great victory at El Alamein turned the course of the war."
Daniel Treisman, University of California, Los Angeles [email protected]. [No date; clearly post-9/11]
"We are at war, so I read Clausewitz.... my disheveled, second-hand Pelican Classics edition of On War...." [referring to Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. Anatol Rapoport, New York: Penguin, 1968]. Ah! There's your problem, Dan—the Penguin edition.
[Ed.: Not a bad piece in many ways, but Treisner says, "A Clausewitzian war is one without limits—'an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds.' It is 'the shock of two opposing forces in collision with each other, from which it follows as a matter of course that the stronger not only destroys the other, but carries it forward with it in its movement.'”
This view of "Clausewitzian war" is absolutely sensible—if you stop reading Clausewitz 3 pages into Chapter One of On War. This is a description of what Clausewitz called the "logical fantasy" of "absolute war." It describes neither what Clausewitz thought war in the real world is nor what he thought it should be.
Come on, guys, read (and think about) at least the whole first chapter before you stamp "expert" on your foreheads.]
Richard Williams "The A to B of English football"
The Guardian (London). [Entry courtesy of David Brooks] January 15, 2001
(Note to American readers: Sven-Goran Eriksson is the Swedish coach of England's football [soccer] team)
"Time spent in reconnaissance, as Clausewitz said, is never wasted—and at least Sven-Goran Eriksson now knows exactly what he is up against. By choosing to spend his first working weekend in England at Upton Park and Portman Road, he exposed himself to the kind of wholehearted mediocrity which it is his task to transcend."
US • UK • France • Germany
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