Carl von Clausewitz

Carl von ClausewitzGeneral Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz was born in 1780 in Magdenburg and died of cholera in Breslau in 1831 at the age of 51. Right up to the present day his writings have been compulsory reading in military academies both in the East and West. His masterwork “Vom Kriege”, which came about in the period 1819-1830, is not an easy book to read.

In fact, it comprises a total of eight books which he was unable to fully complete. Unlike Jomini, who divided battle principles in categories, Clausewitz’s theories were listed as considerations rather than ultimatums. Although he wrote about various battle conditions, he went beyond these conditions and related them to psychological and political considerations.

Clausewitz is not the strategist of the “absolute war” that many think him to be (for example the English military theorist Liddell Hart).
Van de Sande has even called Clausewitz an optimist due to his steadfast trust in “fair authority”.

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It is quite tragic that he is more often quoted incorrectly than read. Clausewitz was primarily a philosophical-general who wanted to warn against the dangers of destructive wars. ”Vom Kriege” is not so much a guide on how to conduct war (such as De Jomini's Précis de l'Art de la Guerre), but rather a study (partly philosophical) of the phenomenon of war,
which even today is the subject of much heated debate among military historians regarding his intentions and importance.

Clausewitz understood that the world was ever changing (dynamic) and that an intelligent general should disregard standard theories in certain situations and act according to the demands of the situation. He stated: “All principles, rules and methods exist to offer themselves for use as required, and it must always be left for judgment to decide whether or not they are suitable. Theory must never be used as norms for a standard, but merely as aids to judgment.”
Although many of his tactical views have been replaced by others in the course of history, what he wrote on strategy and the military systems remains until this day unassailable.
Along with his many writings on the factors that influence battles, his comments regarding the suppressing factors of actual warfare (the execution of the plan) are perhaps the most important. He summarizes these unforeseen causes under the term “friction”.

One of Von Clausewitz's most well-known quotes is:
“War is the continuation of state politics by other means."

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Sources:

• Raymond Aron, Penser la Guerre, Clausewitz Editions, Gallimard 1976.

• Donald D. Chipman, Clausewitz and the concept of command leadership Military review August 1987.

• Michael I. Handel, Clausewitz and Modern Strategy, Frank Cass & Company 1986.

Colonel Dr Jehuda L. Wallach, Professor at the University of Tel Aviv, Kriegstheorien (Theories of War), Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1972, Chapter 2.

• Blois, Prof A.G. Weiler & L. Wecke, Centre for Study of Peace Issues, the Hague, cahier 39, 1987.

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