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.


Culminating Point of the Attack


THE success of the attack is the result of a present superiority of force, it being understood that the moral as well as physical forces are included. In the preceding chapter we have shown that the power of the attack gradually exhausts itself; possibly at the same time the superiority may increase, but in most cases it diminishes. The assailant buys up prospective advantages which are to be turned to account hereafter in negotiations for peace; but, in the meantime, he has to pay down on the spot for them a certain amount of his military force. If a preponderance on the side of the attack, although thus daily diminishing, is still maintained until peace is concluded, the object is attained.—There are strategic attacks which have led to an immediate peace—but such instances are rare; the majority, on the contrary, lead only to a point at which the forces remaining are just sufficient to maintain a defensive, and to wait for peace.—Beyond that point the scale turns, there is a reaction; the violence of such a reaction is commonly much greater than the force of the blow. This we call the culminating point of the attack.— As the object of the attack is the possession of the enemy's territory, it follows that the advance must continue till the superiority is exhausted; this cause, therefore, impels us towards the ultimate object, and may easily lead us beyond it.—If we reflect upon the number of the elements of which an equation of the forces in action is composed, we may conceive how difficult it is in many cases to determine which of two opponents has the superiority on his side. Often all hangs on the silken thread of imagination.

Everything then depends on discovering the culminating point by the fine tact of judgment. Here we come upon a seeming contradiction. The defence is stronger than the attack; therefore we should think that the latter can never lead us too far, for as long as the weaker form remains strong enough for what is required, the stronger form ought to be still more so.*1

*1. Here follows in the MS this note: —"Development of this subject after Book 3, in the essay on the Culminating Point of Victory." Under this title, in an envelope endorsed "Various dissertations as materials," an essay has been found which appears to be a revision of the chapter here only sketched, it will be found at the end of the seventh book. —Editress' (Mrs. Clausewitz's) Note.


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