On War - Volume 1 - The Original Classic Edition

Overview

Unsurpassed classic of its field: 'On War' is essential reading for the professional military and for historians, and is of great value to those with an interest in public policy.

That said, it is not easy to read. There are three primary reasons for this:

First, it is unfinished. The first chapter ('book' as Clausewitz called it) is sharp, well-organized and focused, other chapters are so-so, and still others...

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Overview

Unsurpassed classic of its field: 'On War' is essential reading for the professional military and for historians, and is of great value to those with an interest in public policy.

That said, it is not easy to read. There are three primary reasons for this:

First, it is unfinished. The first chapter ('book' as Clausewitz called it) is sharp, well-organized and focused, other chapters are so-so, and still others are almost formless collections of notes.

Second, Clausewitz is thinking philosophically. Most people, including many or most in his target audience, are unaccustomed to thinking this way, and find it difficult to re-orient themselves.

Third, parts of it are firmly locked in a particular time and place. The reader must work to determine what (if any) lessons in those parts are of enduring value and must understand references that, however clear they would have been to his contemporaries, are today obscure.

So, given all of the above, it is fair for the reader to ask why he should bother. The reason is the power of Clausewitz's answers to:

(1) What is the nature of war itself?

(2) What is war's relation to the larger world in which it exists?

(3) How can success in war be achieved?

Clausewitz's answer to question (1) is that war in itself is a duel on a large scale, which unless acted on from the outside, tends towards the maximum possible amount of violence. This discussion of 'pure war' has probably been responsible for more mis-interpretations of Clausewitz than anything else he wrote. He is writing philosophically - trying to understand the nature of the thing, and some readers mis-read him as writing prescriptively - that because 'pure war' (or 'ideal war') tends towards maximum violence, that those conducting war should employ maximum violence.

Clausewitz's answer to question (2) is one of the major reasons why 'pure war' doesn't, can't, and shouldn't exist in the real world. First, real war occurs over time - not as a single event but as a series of events. This provides the opportunity for other forces to act upon it. The most important outside force acting upon it is political - war it is only a means - and the end is the political purposes which the war serves. The means cannot and must not trump the end. This is his famous dictum 'War is a continuation of policy by other means'. The level of effort is conditioned by the end which the war serves as well as all the other ends the state is pursuing which may or may not be compatible with the war.

It is in his answer to (3), how success in war can be achieved, that Clausewitz is at his most period-bound. He draws heavily from examples that would have been as familiar to his contemporaries as the Gulf War is to us, but time has rendered them often obscure. Further, many of his recommendations are completely tied to how war was conducted on land in the early 19th century. Those who say that they got little out of Clausewitz are often referring to this subject area.* There is quite a bit of value here, but it is obtained at effort - the reader must back up to the principals that govern Clausewitz's thinking, and re-apply them to the current technical means. Because of this, there is the irony that Clausewitz would have contributed much more here if he had written much less. Of course, he might have done so if he had finished his manuscript, but on this we can only guess.

It is in the sum of (1), (2) and (3) that the value of Clausewitz is felt. The reader who makes the effort will find that he has acquired a systematic approach for thinking about war, a unified framework that includes the public policy perspective of when, whether, and how to employ it, as well as the military perspective of how to fight it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781743334379
  • Publisher: Emereo Pty Ltd
  • Publication date: 11/29/2011
  • Pages: 122
  • Sales rank: 1,456,186
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.26 (d)

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