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], which is a strategic analysis of the entire campaign (not just the Battle of Waterloo), and the Duke of Wellington's detailed 1842 response to it.

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 coverVanya Eftimova Bellinger, Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War (Oxford University Press, 2015), ISBN: 0190225432. A rich biography of Countess Marie von Clausewitz that also sheds enormous light on the life, ideas, influences upon, and character of the great military thinker himself.



The Attack in Relation to the Defence


IF two ideas form an exact logical antithesis, that is to say if the one is the complement of the other, then, in fact, each one is implied in the other; and when the limited power of our mind is insufficient to apprehend both at once, and, by the mere antithesis, to recognise in the one perfect conception the totality of the other also, still, at all events, the one always throws on the other a strong, and in many parts a sufficient light Thus we think the first chapter on the defence throws a sufficient light on all the points of the attack which it touches upon. But it is not so throughout in respect of every point; the train of thought could nowhere be carried to a finality; it is, therefore, natural that where the opposition of ideas does not lie so immediately at the root of the conception as in the first chapters, all that can be said about the attack does not follow directly from what has been said on the defence. An alteration of our point of view brings us nearer to the subject, and it is natural for us to observe, at this closer point of view, that which escaped observation at our former standpoint. What is thus perceived will, therefore, be the complement of our former train of thought; and it will not unfrequently happen that what is said on the attack will throw a new light on the defence.

In treating of the attack we shall, of course, very frequently have the same subjects before us with which our attention has been occupied in the defence. But we have no intention, nor would it be consistent with the nature of the thing, to adopt the usual plan of works on engineering, and in treating of the attack, to circumvent or upset all that we have found of positive value in the defence, by showing that against every means of defence, there is an infallible method of attack. The defence has its strong points and weak ones; if the first are even not unsurmountable, still they can only be overcome at a disproportionate price, and that must remain true from whatever point of view we look at it, or we get involved in a contradiction. Further, it is not our intention thoroughly to review the reciprocal action of the means; each means of defence suggests a means of attack; but this is often so evident, that there is no occasion to transfer oneself from our standpoint in treating of the defence to a fresh one for the attack, in order to perceive it; the one issues from the other of itself. Our object is, in each subject, to set forth the peculiar relations of the attack, so far as they do not directly come out of the defence, and this mode of treatment must necessarily lead us to many chapters to which there are no corresponding ones in the defence.


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