War and the Modern Mind

I have been pondering why modern Westernized man has such a problem successfully waging war for a few days and had a breakthrough recently.  Before we can really get to that, a few brief thoughts are in order. First, what is war?  Most people would probably agree that war is armed conflict between states, at least that is the classical definition.  I would add the modern caveat of armed conflict with what are euphemistically called non-state actors (IRA, AL-Qaeda, FARC, etc.).  These two definitions are good enough for my current purposes although I don’t think they really cover everything that we should or could call war. Second, what constitutes victory?  … More after the Jump…

Victory, what is it?

This question came up for several reasons mainly because of the news out of Afghanistan and Iran plus the book I am currently reading about the Second World War . Victory is an elusive thing because in war defining victory is perhaps the major strategic goal of the belligerents. I suppose that one could take the Clausewitzean the ideal of destroying the enemy’s force or means to fight  as victory but that really isn’t it. As we saw in Iraq the destruction of the enemy army does not necessarily mean that the war is over.   Unless the population of The enemy country, nation, or tribe is convinced that they … More after the Jump…

Sun-Tzu & Clausewitz: A Comparison

Both Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz have something to offer for the serious student of warfare.   The biggest distinction between the two seems to be their different approaches to the art of war.   Sun-Tzu advocates a more subtle and indirect approach to the art of war while Clausewitz advocates a more direct approach. The essence of Sun-Tzu’s philosophy seems to be winning through superior generalship.   He almost seems to advocate a type of warfare by superior maneuver similar to that practiced in Renaissance Italy.   He preaches the avoidance of pitched battles unless the attacker is assured of winning.   This view is summed up in chapter III verse … More after the Jump…

Sun-Tzu, Clausewitz, and Naval Warfare

The work of neither Sun Tzu nor Clausewitz is adequate to describe naval warfare except in the most general terms. While it is true that until recent times warfare on both land and sea was largely two dimensional, there are factors at work in naval warfare that defy explanation in either Sun Tzu or Clausewitz. The vagaries of wind and weather played a much greater role in medieval naval warfare than on land. The weather was often a determining factor in whether an engagement happened at all. The naval commander was at the mercy of the weather during the age of sail, something that ground commanders did not have to … More after the Jump…

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]

More after the Jump…Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts