Consider the more modern versions and other relevant books shown below. Vom Kriege, by Carl von Clausewitz, ed. Werner Hahlweg. From Amazon. Erscheinungsdatum: ,

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Consider the more modern versions and other relevant books shown below. Vom Kriege, by Carl von Clausewitz, ed. Werner Hahlweg. From Amazon. Erscheinungsdatum: , Auflage, Nachdruck. ISBN: X.

It was edited by the esteemed German scholar Werner Hahlweg and is considered the standard and most accurate edition. Buy the best translation—recommended for serious readers. ISBN: ISBN: 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. 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.

WE propose to consider first the single elements of our subject, then each branch or part, and, last of all, the whole, in all its relations—therefore to advance from the simple to the complex. But it is necessary for us to commence with a glance at the nature of the whole, because it is particularly necessary that in the consideration of any of the parts the whole should be kept constantly in view. We shall not enter into any of the abstruse definitions of war used by publicists.

We shall keep to the element of the thing itself, to a duel. War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a war, we shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will: his first object is to throw his adversary, and thus to render him incapable of further resistance.

War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will. Violence arms itself with the inventions of Art and Science in order to contend against violence. Self-imposed restrictions, almost imperceptible and hardly worth mentioning, termed usages of International Law, accompany it without essentially impairing its power.

Violence, that is to say physical force for there is no moral force without the conception of states and law , is therefore the means; the compulsory submission of the enemy to our will is the ultimate object. In order to attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed; and this is, correctly speaking, the real aim of hostilities in theory. It takes the place of the final object, and puts it aside in a manner as something not properly belonging to war.

Utmost use of force. Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skilful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are just the worst.

As the use of physical power to the utmost extent by no means excludes the co-operation of the intelligence, it follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the quantity of bloodshed, must obtain a superiority if his adversary does not act likewise. By such means the former dictates the law to the latter, and both proceed to extremities, to which the only limitations are those imposed by the amount of counteracting force on each side. If the wars of civilised people are less cruel and destructive than those of savages, the difference arises from the social condition both of states in themselves and in their relations to each other.

Out of this social condition and its relations war arises, and by it war is subjected to conditions, is controlled and modified. But these things do not belong to war itself; they are only given conditions; and to introduce into the philosophy of war itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.

The fight between men consists really of two different elements, the hostile feeling and the hostile view. In our definition of war, we have chosen as its characteristic the latter of these elements, because it is the most general.

It is impossible to conceive the passion of hatred of the wildest description, bordering on mere instinct, without combining with it the idea of a hostile intention.

On the other hand, hostile intentions may often exist without being accompanied by any, or at all events, by any extreme hostility of feeling. Amongst savages views emanating from the feelings, amongst civilised nations those emanating from the understanding, have the predominance; but this difference is not inherent in a state of barbarism, and in a state of culture in themselves it arises from attendant circumstances, existing institutions, etc. In short, even the most civilised nations may burn with passionate hatred of each other.

We may see from this what a fallacy it would be to refer the war of a civilised nation entirely to an intelligent act on the part of the Government, and to imagine it as continually freeing itself more and more from all feeling of passion in such a way that at last the physical masses of combatants would no longer be required; in reality, their mere relations would suffice—a kind of algebraic action.

Theory was beginning to drift in this direction until the facts of the last war taught it better. If war is an act of force, it belongs necessarily also to the feelings.

If it does not originate in the feelings, it re-acts more or less upon them, and this more or less depends not on the degree of civilisation, but upon the importance and duration of the interests involved. Therefore, if we find civilised nations do not put their prisoners to death, do not devastate towns and countries, this is because their intelligence exercises greater influence on their mode of carrying on war, and has taught them more effectual means of applying force than these rude acts of mere instinct.

The invention of gunpowder, the constant progress of improvements in the construction of firearms are sufficient proofs that the tendency to destroy the adversary which lies at the bottom of the conception of war, is in no way changed or modified through the progress of civilisation.

We therefore repeat our proposition, that war is an act of violence, which in its application knows no bounds; as one dictates the law to the other, there arises a sort of reciprocal action, which in the conception, must lead to an extreme. This is the first reciprocal action, and the first extreme with which we meet first reciprocal action. We have already said that the aim of the action in war is to disarm the enemy, and we shall now show that this in theoretical conception at least is necessary.

If our opponent is to be made to comply with our will, we must place him in a situation which is more oppressive to him than the sacrifice which we demand; but the disadvantages of this position must naturally not be of a transitory nature, at least in appearance, otherwise the enemy, instead of yielding, will hold out, in the prospect of a change for the better. Every change in this position which is produced by a continuation of the war, should therefore be a change for the worse, at least, in idea.

The worst position in which a belligerent can be placed is that of being completely disarmed. If, therefore, the enemy is to be reduced to submission by an act of war, he must either be positively disarmed or placed in such a position that he is threatened with it according to probability. From this it follows that the disarming or overthrow of the enemy, whichever we call it, must always be the aim of warfare.

Now war is always the shock of two hostile bodies in collision, not the action of a living power upon an inanimate mass, because an absolute state of endurance would not be making war; therefore what we have just said as to the aim of action in war applies to both parties. Here then is another case of reciprocal action. As long as the enemy is not defeated, I have to apprehend that he may defeat me, then I shall be no longer my own master, but he will dictate the law to me as I did to him.

This is the second reciprocal action and leads to a second extreme second reciprocal action. If we desire to defeat the enemy, we must proportion our efforts to his powers of resistance.

This is expressed by the product of two factors which cannot be separated, namely, the sum of available means and the strength of the will. The sum of the available means may be estimated in a measure, as it depends although not entirely upon numbers; but the strength of volition, is more difficult to determine, and can only be estimated to a certain extent by the strength of the motives.

Granted we have obtained in this way an approximation to the strength of the power to be contended with, we can then take a review of our own means, and either increase them so as to obtain a preponderance, or in case we have not the resources to effect this, then do our best by increasing our means as far as possible.

But the adversary does the same; therefore there is a new mutual enhancement, which in pure conception, must create a fresh effort towards an extreme. This is the third case of reciprocal action, and a third extreme with which we meet third reciprocal action. Thus reasoning in the abstract, the mind cannot stop short of an extreme, because it has to deal with an extreme, with a conflict of forces left to themselves, and obeying no other but their own inner laws.

If we should seek to deduce from the pure conception of war an absolute point for the aim which we shall propose and for the means which we shall apply, this constant reciprocal action would involve us in extremes, which would be nothing but a play of ideas produced by an almost invisible train of logical subtleties.

If adhering closely to the absolute, we try to avoid all difficulties by a stroke of the pen, and insist with logical strictness that in every case the extreme must be the object, and the utmost effort must be exerted in that direction, such a stroke of the pen would be a mere paper law, not by any means adapted to the real world.

Even supposing this extreme tension of forces was an absolute which could easily be ascertained, still we must admit that the human mind would hardly submit itself to this kind of logical chimera. There would be in many cases an unnecessary waste of power, which would be in opposition to other principles of statecraft; an effort of will would be required disproportioned to the proposed object, and which therefore it would be impossible to realise, for the human will does not derive its impulse from logical subtleties.

But everything takes a different form when we pass from abstractions to reality. In the former everything must be subject to optimism, and we must imagine the one side as well as the other, striving after perfection and even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality? It will if 1, War becomes a completely isolated act, which arises suddenly and is in no way connected with the previous history of the states; 2, If it is limited to a single solution, or to several simultaneous solutions; 3, If it contains within itself the solution perfect and complete, free from any reaction upon it, through a calculation beforehand of the political situation which will follow from it.

With regard to the first point, neither of the two opponents is an abstract person to the other, not even as regards that factor in the sum of resistance, which does not depend on objective things, viz. This will is not an entirely unknown quantity; it indicates what it will be to-morrow by what it is to-day. War does not spring up quite suddenly, it does not spread to the full in a moment; each of the two opponents can, therefore, form an opinion of the other, in a great measure, from what he is and what he does; instead of judging of him according to what he, strictly speaking, should be or should do.

But, now, man with his incomplete organisation is always below the line of absolute perfection, and thus these deficiencies, having an influence on both sides, become a modifying principle. The second point gives rise to the following considerations:— If war ended in a single solution, or a number of simultaneous ones, then naturally all the preparations for the same would have a tendency to the extreme, for an omission could not in any way be repaired; the utmost, then, that the world of reality could furnish as a guide for us would be the preparations of the enemy, as far as they are known to us; all the rest would fall into the domain of the abstract.

But if the result is made up from several successive acts, then naturally that which precedes with all its phases may be taken as a measure for that which will follow, and in this manner the world of reality here again takes the place of the abstract, and thus modifies the effort towards the extreme.

Yet every war would necessarily resolve itself into a single solution, or a sum of simultaneous results, if all the means required for the struggle were raised at once, or could be at once raised; for as one adverse result necessarily diminishes the means, then if all the means have been applied in the first, a second cannot properly be supposed. All hostile acts which might follow would belong essentially to the first, and form in reality only its duration.

But we have already seen that even in the preparation for war the real world steps into the place of mere abstract conception—a material standard into the place of the hypotheses of an extreme: that therefore in that way both parties, by the influence of the mutual reaction, remain below the line of extreme effort, and therefore all forces are not at once brought forward.

It lies also in the nature of these forces and their application, that they cannot all be brought into activity at the same time. These forces are the armies actually on foot, the country, with its superficial extent and its population, and the allies. In point of fact the country, with its superficial area and the population, besides being the source of all military force, constitutes in itself an integral part of the efficient quantities in war, providing either the theatre of war or exercising a considerable influence on the same.

Now it is possible to bring all the moveable military forces of a country into operation at once, but not all fortresses, rivers, mountains, people, etc. Further, the co-operation of allies does not depend on the will of the belligerents; and from the nature of the political relations of states to each other, this co-operation is frequently not afforded until after the war has commenced, or it may be increased to restore the balance of power.

That this part of the means of resistance, which cannot at once be brought into activity, in many cases is a much greater part of the whole than might at first be supposed, and that it often restores the balance of power, seriously affected by the great force of the first decision, will be more fully shown hereafter.

Here it is sufficient to show that a complete concentration of all available means in a moment of time, is contradictory to the nature of war. Now this, in itself, furnishes no ground for relaxing our efforts to accumulate strength to gain the first result, because an unfavourable issue is always a disadvantage to which no one would purposely expose himself, and also because the first decision, although not the only one, still will have the more influence on subsequent events, the greater it is itself.

But the possibility of gaining a later result causes men to take refuge in that expectation owing to the repugnance, in the human mind, to making excessive efforts; and therefore forces are not concentrated and measures are not taken for the first decision with that energy which would otherwise be used. Whatever one belligerent omits from weakness, becomes to the other a real objective ground for limiting his own efforts, and thus again, through this reciprocal action, extreme tendencies are brought down to efforts on a limited scale.

Lastly, even the final decision of a whole war is not always to be regarded as absolute. The conquered state often sees in it only a passing evil, which may be repaired in after times by means of political combinations. How much this also must modify the degree of tension and the vigour of the efforts made is evident in itself.

In this manner the whole act of war is removed from under the rigorous law of forces exerted to the utmost. If the extreme is no longer to be apprehended, and no longer to be sought for, it is left to the judgment to determine the limits for the efforts to be made in place of it; and this can only be done on the data furnished by the facts of the real world by the laws of probability.

Once the belligerents are no longer mere conceptions but individual states and governments, once the war is no longer an ideal, but a definite substantial procedure, then the reality will furnish the data to compute the unknown quantities which are required to be found.


Carl von Clausewitz

British military theorist B. Impressed yet befogged, they grasped at his vivid leading phrases, seeing only their surface meaning, and missing the deeper current of his thought. It is the antithesis in a dialectical argument whose thesis is the point — made earlier in the analysis — that "war is nothing but a duel [or wrestling match, a better translation of the German Zweikampf] on a larger scale. This synthesis lies in his "fascinating trinity" [wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit]: a dynamic, inherently unstable interaction of the forces of violent emotion, chance, and rational calculation. In fact, he never used the term "total war": rather, he discussed "absolute war," a concept which evolved into the much more abstract notion of "ideal war" discussed at the very beginning of Vom Kriege—the purely logical result of the forces underlying a "pure," Platonic "ideal" of war. But in the real world, he said, such rigid logic is unrealistic and dangerous. As a practical matter, the military objectives in real war that support political objectives generally fall into two broad types: "war to achieve limited aims"; and war to "disarm" the enemy, "to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent.


O. J. Matthijs Jolles






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