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  • Clausewitz, On War, Book 2, Concluding Comments

    Posted by seydlitz89 on January 27th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Time constraints as usual are not allowing me to participate like I would wish to in this fascinating discussion.

    Just a few comments, a bit disjointed perhaps, but here goes:

    First, the “tactical nature” of victory.  Fighting is the means for tactics and military victory is the end, whereas military victory is the means for strategy whose end is the return to peace with the political purpose attained  (Book 2, ch 2).   Of course either side could forestall peace for whatever reason, seeing the continuation of (relatively low-level) hostilities as more advantageous than concluding peace.  This brings up potentially other problems as referred to in Section 3, Ch 1, Book 1.  In any case, a four-star general who says that he didn’t plan for “Phase IV” operations should be busted to private and expected to clean latrines for the duration.  You would only have to do this once, and the effect on strategic thought and its interaction with planning would be only beneficial.

    Second, “Politics, moreover is the womb in which war developes – where its outlines already exist in their hidden rudimentary form, like the characteristics of living creatures in their embryos.” Book 2, ch 3.  Once again war must be seen as a theoretical whole, as a complete social phenomenon subordinate to politics and thus drawing its “nature” from the poltical conditions / relations present at the specific time.  Herbert Rosinski in his classic, The German Army (1966 Edition), claimed this as Clausewitz’s most important contribution, “Clausewitz grasped the idea of war as a coherent, continuous whole, directed to the complete overthrow of the enemy’s power of resistance. This brilliant inspiration transformed his investigation from the naive brilliance of his earlier studies into the philosophical profundity of his mature work . . . but he never lost sight of the fact that the indispensible conditions for it [complete overthrow] might again some day no longer exist and that military theory must therefore envisage other, less rational forms of warfare . . . [developing] an infinately wider and more elastic theory, capable of embracing every conceivable form of war or strategy.” (pp 110-111).   In other words Clausewitz’s general theory of war.

    Third, while I agree with Lexington Green’s comment as to the primary aim of Clausewitz’s theory to be in training of military commanders, the project required for this is much more extensive.  Training would have to begin at the level of the junior officer since their judgement in just as necessary in tactical situations as for the commander in strategic ones.  Also staff officers are necessary for modern armies to function and (this was evident even in Clausewitz’s time) the training of staff officers in strategic theory is necessary for various obvious reasons (war planning duties being one).  Also theory being necessarily reflective, due to its close relationship with military history, properly written military history (critical analysis) is absolutely necessary for the career development of military commanders (Book 2, Ch 5).  I would add that Clausewitz’s approach to critical analysis is mirrored and expanded upon in Max Weber’s methodology for the social sciences.  (See The Essential Weber, pp 359-403).

     

    2 Responses to “Clausewitz, On War, Book 2, Concluding Comments”

    1. Lexington Green Says:

      “… Of course either side could forestall peace for whatever reason, seeing the continuation of (relatively low-level) hostilities as more advantageous than concluding peace.”

      He specifically tells us that the Austrians gave up rather than keep fighting when they were beaten because the cost would be too high. The Russians were willing to bear the great cost of a huge invasion and the destruction of their ancient capital. The Spanish were willing to see their country reduced to brigandage and be the site of a long, hard struggle. The willingness of a country to suffer protracted operations is a function of the political will of the leadership, the will of the people to keep fighting, and the capacity of the armed element (I do not say army, we could mean guerillas, insurgents, what have you) to survive and retain at least the prospect of continuing to inflict damage. This is somewhere in Book I, actually. Clausewitz was aware of this prospect. He also talks about the challenges of occupying a country and how hard it is on the army trying to do it. None of this is a mystery. In the case of Iraq, failing to plan carefully for the occupation phase, and to do a “critical analysis” of what it would take, and having a “go to Hell” plan in case the happy planning assumptions were wrong — none of that is excusable, and most of the blame lies with the civilian leadership.

      “…primary aim of Clausewitz’s theory to be in training of military commanders…”

      I think you would have to start training them from the outset — you cannot know who is going to end up being the commander. And you are right about staff officers. I should probably have said, start training young officers so they have had “Clausewitzian intellectual formation” by the time they reach senior rank, whether line or staff.

      “I would add that Clausewitz’s approach to critical analysis is mirrored and expanded upon in Max Weber’s methodology for the social sciences.” I read Weber in college. In Dean Donald Levine’s excellent class “History of Social Theory” we read a large chunk of Weber. I think Clausewitz is very “Weberian”, in particular, in the construction of “ideal types” which capture the essence of a phenomenon, which are then shown to fall short of the “ideal” due to various real world elements that have to be factored in. I don’t think Weber was influenced by Clausewitz. I think they were both influenced by the enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, as well as Newtonian mechanics, which posits a frictionless world where moving bodies interacts, then real world elements of friction are added, changing the predicted outcome. The use of the term friction is a rather obvious clue here that he was thinking of mechanics. I am guessing about these particular influence with Clausewitz; his biographers would have the exact intellectual pedigree, to the extent it can be known from the surviving record.

    2. zenpundit Says:

      “In any case, a four-star general who says that he didn’t plan for “Phase IV” operations should be busted to private and expected to clean latrines for the duration. You would only have to do this once, and the effect on strategic thought and its interaction with planning would be only beneficial.”

      Agreed.

      The function of bureaucracy and compartmentalization of problems on modern militaries have eroded what would have once been considered “normal” exercise of responsibility by a commanding general. In this example, the decision not to plan was largely careerist in nature, yielding to certain political factions in the civilian hierarchy and hiding behind bureaucratic DoD regs.

      It was also a “class” interest decision as senior American officers disdained any kind of intervention (not just Iraq) other than preparing for war against the non-existent Soviet Union, so they were happy, with some exceptions, to let civilians try to anticipate post-occupation problems on their own instead of forcefully offering their best military advice. DNI recently ran the anecdote of Gen. Krulak stubbornly telling LBJ to his face what he needed to hear about Vietnam rather than what Johnson wanted to hear and getting physically booted from the Oval Office by the President himself. Krulak did his duty that day.