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  • Clausewitz, On War, Book 2: War is an Act of Human Intercourse

    Posted by Zenpundit on January 28th, 2009 (All posts by )

    I’d like to follow up on Younghusband’s excellent post “Clausewitz, On War, Book 2: Clausewitz as social theorist

    Social factors can play a pivotal role in an engagement. During the Kamakura period the Japanese style of one on one combat with longswords was forever changed after facing a Mongol cavalry charge and a wall of Chinese spearmen. Furthermore, social factors abound in the first Book of On War where Clausewitz lists the general variables of war (see my equation for examples). Part of Clausewitz’s military “genius” could be “social intelligence”. This type of intelligence plays an important role in understanding personal relations, navigating and influencing politics, and affects interpretive skills such as those needed in intelligence analysis. As in the Mongolian example above, social rules periodically clash with changing times or new enemies. A military “socialite” would have the attuned social intelligence to not only detect these changes but to be able to react to them.
     
    Clausewitz was correct to identify the social dimension as a weak point of the materialists. His only fault was being 250 years ahead of his time, before social constructivism had an established framework to deal with the problem.

    A nice piece of analysis by Younghusband. I was stirred to ponder along a related tangent by Clausewitz’s passage ” War is an Act of Human Intercourse”:

    We therefore conclude that war does not belong in the realm of arts and sciences; rather it is part of man’s social existence. War is aclash between major interests, which is resolved by bloodshed – that is the only way which it differs from other conflicts. Rather than comparing it to art we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still closer to politics, which in turn may be considered as a kind of commerce on a larger scale. Politics, moreover, is the womb in which war develops – where its outlines already exist in their hidden, rudimentary, form, like the characteristics of living creatures in their embryos.

    Clausewitz is telling us that war is transactional. War is also one facet of a larger phenomena of ur-conflict of which commerce and politics are different yet elated forms of competition. Book II may be ” a jumble” as many commenters have noted, but this insightful paragraph is true brilliance.

    Nation-states are superorganisms and warfare constitutes a form of collective bargaining, a market of blood. Lyndon Johnson in the basement of the White House, pouring over maps of North Vietnam, picking out bombing targets was attempting to bargain with Hanoi through the martial gestures of escalation. Even amidst the total war of WWII, the belligerents made calculated gestures in the intransigence of Stalingrad, the reckless dash for Cairo or through the Ardennes, in the step by step horror that was Okinawa, to signal to the enemy “the price” for continuing the war. Hiroshima and Nagasaki cleared the table of all but the most dangerous of gamblers.

    Bravo, General von Clausewitz!