On War - title image

Carl von Clausewitz

[Table of Contents]

NOTE: This version of Carl von Clausewitz's On War is the long-obsolete J.J. Graham translation of Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (1832) published in London in 1873. The 1976/84 Howard/Paret version is the  standard translation today; for the most accurate text one should always consult the 1943 Jolles translation. Consider the more modern versions and other relevant books shown below.

Book Cover, ON WATERLOOOn Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Ed./trans. Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow (, 2010). ISBN: 1453701508. This book is built around a new and complete translation of Clausewitz's study of the Waterloo campaign [Berlin: 1835], a strategic analysis of the entire campaign (not just the Battle of Waterloo), and the Duke of Wellington's detailed 1842 response to it. Clausewitz's Der Felzug von 1815 was written late in his life and its findings were never incorporated into On War, so most readers will find it new material.

Jolles translation, book coverBuy the best translation—recommended for serious readers. The Book of War (The Modern Library, February 2000). ISBN: 0375754776. Clausewitz's On War and Sun Tzu's Art of War in one volume. The translation of Clausewitz's On War is the 1943 version done by German literary scholar O.J. Matthijs Jolles at the University of Chicago during World War II—not today's standard translation, but certainly the most accurate.

On War, Princeton ed.Buy the standard English translation of Clausewitz's On War, by Michael Howard and Peter Paret  (Princeton University Press, 1976/84). ISBN: 0691018545 (paperback). Kindle edition. This quite readable translation appeared at the close of the Vietnam War and—principally for marketing and copyright reasons—has become the modern standard.

Book coverDecoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War (University Press of Kansas, 2008). By Jon Tetsuro Sumida. ISBN: 9780700616169. *This is perhaps the most important recent book for anyone seeking to understand Clausewitz's thinking. Sumida contends that Clausewitz's central value lies in his method of reenacting the psychological difficulties of high command in order to promote the powers of intuition that he believed were essential to effective strategic decision-making. Sumida also correctly notes Clausewitz's argument that the defense is a stronger form of war, and goes on to explore the implications of that fact.


Duration of the Combat


IF we consider the combat no longer in itself but in relation to the other forces of war, then its duration acquires a special importance.

This duration is to be regarded to a certain extent as a second subordinate success. For the conqueror the combat can never be finished too quickly, for the vanquished, it can never last too long. A speedy victory is a higher power of victory, a tardy decision is, on the side of the defeated, some compensation for the loss.

This is in general true, but it acquires a practical importance in its application to those combats, the object of which is a relative defence.

Here the whole success often lies in the mere duration. This is the reason why we have included it amongst the strategic elements.

The duration of a combat is necessarily bound up with its essential relations. These relations are absolute magnitude of force, relation of force and (of the different) arms mutually, and nature of the country. 20,000 men do not wear themselves out upon one another as quickly as 2,000; we cannot resist an enemy double or three times our strength as long as one of the same strength; a cavalry combat is decided sooner than an infantry combat; and a combat between infantry only, quicker than if there is artillery as well; in hills and forests we cannot advance as quickly as on a level country; all this is clear enough.

From this follows, therefore, that strength, relation of the three arms, and position, must be considered if the combat is to fulfil an object by its duration; but to set up this rule was of less importance to us in our present considerations than to connect with it at once the chief results which experience gives us on the subject.

Even the resistance of an ordinary division of 8,000 to 10,000 men of all arms even opposed to an enemy considerably superior in numbers, will last several hours, if the advantages of country are not too preponderating, and if the enemy is only a little, or not at all, superior in numbers, the combat will last half a day. A corps of three or four divisions will prolong it to double the time; an army of 80,000 or 100,000 to three or four times. Therefore the masses may be left to themselves for that length of time, and no separate combat takes place if within that time other forces can be brought up, whose co-operation mingles then at once into one stream with the results of the combat which has taken place.

These calculations are the result of experience; but it is important to us at the same time to characterise more particularly the moment of the decision, and consequently the termination.


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