Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

As I am getting ready to begin the final class for my MA and complete my Thesis I have been re-reading Clausewitz and his ideas and theory of War.   One of the things that that has struck me the most and made me realize how much Clausewitz is misunderstood is the way in which his most famous quote from the book about how “War is the continuation of policy by other means”[1] is completely taken out of context in most history.

If you read his book further, and I assume that most generals, staff chiefs, and even military historians have then it is clear that this quote is just a starting point given the numerous caveats and expansions on that simple statement in his theory.   Indeed, the very section that this quote heads explains what he means in a very concise and unambiguous manner; it is worth quoting in full.  

“We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.   What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.   War in general, and the commander in any specific instance, is entitled to require that the trend and designs of policy shall not be inconsistent with these means.   That of course, is no small demand; but however much it may affect political aims in a given case, it will never do more than modify them.   The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.”[2]

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Learning a Language

I was thinking this morning about how important learning a second language is to good scholarship. It hit me because I was not required to learn a second language for my undergrad, I wish I had been. My chosen historical specialty is 18th – 19th century Prussian history. It is kind of hard to see how I could do any really good research without learning German and maybe French. Luckily, I am married to a German woman and had no choice but to learn German if I want to talk to any of my in-laws since most of them don’t speak a lick of English. How could I expect them too since they all live in Germany?
Learning German has stood me in good stead the longer I have been studying history and especially in conducting research for my thesis. I have made several trips to archives in Germany and Austria conducting research for my thesis and these trips would have been completely wasted with no knowledge of German. I probably would not have made them in the first place.

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Why Military History

I ran across this piece by Jay Luvaas again today and it got me thinking about why I like Military history and if it is a worthwhile pursuit.   My short answer is that I don’t know why I like it and yes it is. The long answer is that I guess I like military history because war is the most extreme pursuit man engages in.   Extreme sports such as base jumping, free diving, mountain climbing, etc have nothing on the sheer rush and danger of engaging in the single most dangerous thing man has come up with; hunting our fellow man.   I have personally been to combat but … Read more…

The Dreyse Needle Gun

One of the most consistent features of accounts of the German Wars of Unification are the assertions that the Prussian possession of the Dreyse Needle Gun was decisive in and of itself because of its impact on Prussian tactical formation and the flexibility it gave the average infantryman. Make no mistake, the Dreyse was a technological marvel for its time, it indeed gave the Prussians tactical flexibility and radically increased their rate of fire when compared to muzzleloader equipped armies of the time.  The tactical innovations it allowed were few but important.  Perhaps the single most important innovation it allowed was that it allowed the infantry to reload from the … Read more…

Book Review: Intervention in Russia: 1918-1920, A Cautionary Tale


Intervention in Russia: 1918-1920, A Cautionary Tale

 Intervention in Russia: 1918-1920, A Cautionary Tale, is a very well written account of a little known part of the First World War.   Mr. Hudson writes in the style that I find to be the most readable and enjoyable.   Perhaps it is because he is British.   I have always found that British historians have a more lyrical and artistic writing style as compared to American historians.   Most of my favorite historians are British, whereas Americans tend to make history books dry and boring; the British, and Australians for that matter, can make the most boring subject interesting simply by the style with which they write.

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Book Review: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan


The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan,  is one of those rare history books that manages to be both readable scholarly at the same time.   Indeed, it is an even rarer breed of book because it is an anthology and not by a single author.   Where many history books are written for the specialist historical crowd and there is an element of haughtiness in the writing, that condescension is entirely missing here.   This history book does not assume knowledge on the part of the reader, but at the same time does not present its material in such a way that the non-historian would be put off by it.

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Book Review: Decisions for War, 1914-1917


Decisions for War, 1914-1917

In Decisions for War, 1914-1917, Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig present a new thesis for the origins of World War I.   They argue that in all the belligerent countries the decision for war was made by a one person or at most a small group of individuals regardless of the type of government.   Given the wealth of material written about the origins of the First World War it seems incredible to me that this possibility has, if not been overlooked in all previous scholarship, then certainly ignored, as the authors claim[1].   While Hamilton and Herwig do not entirely discount that other factors than pure national self-interest on the part of the leaders played a role in the decision for war, they do contend that this was the overriding concern in most if not all of the wars belligerents.

            I found the book to be a fairly easy to read, the writing style was not as dry as might be expected given the topic of discussion.   Even though I do not necessarily agree with the authors, the book was fun and captivating to read.   They write with a style similar to what I try to achieve in my own writing.   It is written such that it is simultaneously engaging, factual, and descriptive, just a good read.   I do not have to agree with a book to enjoy it, and the authors certainly made reading this enjoyable.   It was laid out well and the chapters flowed in a logical progression, discussing each country in the order in which it declared war.  

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