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.

cover image Vom Kriege, by Carl von Clausewitz, ed. Werner Hahlweg.
From Gebundene Ausgabe - Dümmler, Bonn. Erscheinungsdatum: 1991, 19. Auflage, Nachdruck.fl.
ISBN: 342782019X.

This is the 19th German edition published by Dümmlers, Clausewitz's original publisher. It was edited by the esteemed German scholar Werner Hahlweg and is considered the standard and most accurate edition.

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.


Limited Object—Offensive War


EVEN if the complete overthrow of the enemy cannot be the object, there may still be one which is directly positive, and this positive object can be nothing else than the conquest of a part of the enemy's country.

The use of such a conquest is this, that we weaken the enemy's resources generally, therefore, of course, his military power, while we increase our own; that we therefore carry on the war, to a certain extent, at his expense; further in this way, that in negotiations for peace, the possession of the enemy's provinces may be regarded as net gain, because we can either keep them or exchange them for other advantages.

This view of a conquest of the enemy's provinces is very natural, and would be open to no objection if it were not that the defensive attitude, which must succeed the offensive, may often cause uneasiness.

In the chapter on the culminating point of victory we have sufficiently explained the manner in which such an offensive weakens the combatant force, and that it may be succeeded by a situation causing anxiety as to the future.

This weakening of our combatant force by the conquest of part of the enemy's territory has its degrees, and these depend chiefly on the geographical position of this portion of territory. The more it is an annex of our own country, being contiguous to or embraced by it, the more it is in the direction of our principal force, by so much the less will it weaken our combatant force. In the Seven Years' War, Saxony was a natural complement of the Prussian theatre of war, and Frederick the Great's army, instead of being weakened, was strengthened by the possession of that province, because it lies nearer to Silesia than to the Mark, and at the same time covers the latter.

Even in 1740 and 1741, after Frederick the Great had once conquered Silesia, it did not weaken his army in the field, because, owing to its form and situation as well as the contour of its frontier line, it only presented a narrow point to the Austrians, as long as they were not masters of Saxony, and besides that, this small point of contact also lay in the direction of the chief operations of the contending forces.

If, on the other hand, the conquered territory is a strip running up between hostile provinces, has an eccentric position and unfavourable configuration of ground, then the weakening increases so visibly that a victorious battle becomes not only much easier for the enemy, but it may even become unnecessary as well.

The Austrians have always been obliged to evacuate Provence without a battle when they have made attempts on it from Italy. In the year 1744 the French were very well pleased even to get out of Bohemia without having lost a battle. In 1758 Frederick the Great could not hold his position in Bohemia and M