Nathan Bedford Forrest, an unlettered but practiced dealer in the market for human flesh, came to the study of war as an intelligent layman. He started as a private and rose to lieutenant general. Everything he learned about the art of war he learned on the job. This lack of formal military training freed him from some of the worst Jominian excesses of the Old Army’s officer corps (future president James Garfield, another general without professional military training, once observed “I declare that if this union goes down in blood and ruin, let it’s obituary read, “Died of West Point.”). Forrest summed up his hard-won knowledge in two memorable action hero catchphrases:
- The secret of victory was “get there first with the most men”
- “War is about fighting and fighting is about killing”
Killing is the essence of war as Book IV Clausewitz saw it. This made Book IV Clausewitz more popular with his immediate successors than Book I Clausewitz, who spouted (old school) liberal nonsense like “war is the continuation of policy by other means” which sounded suspiciously like chaining the unrivaled genius of Ludendorff and his many chins to the petty whims of Kaiser Bill, Bethmann-Hollweg, and all those commie Social Democrats in the Reichstag. But, with Book IV Clausewitz, here was a writer any red blooded Prussian with an iron backbone could respect. Seek out the decisive battle. Collide head to head with the enemy. Kill more of his men than he kills of yours. Drive him before you in relentless pursuit until victory falls into your righteous iron fist. Here was a prophet of war that any warrior would appreciate. You’ve never read Book IV until you’ve read it in the original Klingon.
This quote from Book IV Chapter IV reminded me of Forrest’s observation:
This [right after victory in battle] is the time for the victor to consolidate his gains by physical destruction – the only advantage that will be permanently his. The enemy’s morale will gradually recover, order will be restored, his courage will reurn; and in most cases only a very small portion, if any, of the hard-earned superiority will remain. In some, admittedly rare, instances a thirst for revenge and and increased surge of animosity may even produce the opposite effect. But the advantages gained by inflicting casualties, wounded, prisoners, and captured material, can never disappear from the ledger.
The truth behind the efficiency of killing and war itself has been suppressed by modern Western mores. Since the predominant skill needed for advancement in contemporary Western elites is verbal virtuosity, more emphasis is placed on changing your enemy’s mind through “constructive dialog” (since he probably just misunderstands your noble intentions) than changing it by beating the snot out of him till he gives in. In other parts of the world where slaughter is still the coin of the realm, this emphasis on heart to heart chats is seen as evil (possibly Zionist) deviousness and makes the hard-hearted tyrant yearn for the Western interlocutor to whom he can speak mano a mano without all of the righteous cant that just embarrasses those who spout it.
War works, fighting works, and killing works better than advertised.
There are two ways to get ahead in the world: extraction and improvement. In extraction, you take what you can get from the earth, nature, and other people. War is the social equivalent of strip mining. The stuff you want is buried in human flesh and you slice through whatever is in your way until everything that you want is yours and the resource you craved is exhausted. Improvement involves tending to a resource over time, folding resources into it with the hope of producing more of the resource over time than you had at the start. Book I Clausewitz seems to be an improvement guy. Book IV Clausewitz is visibly an extraction guy. It’s easy to see why the younger Moltke, the man who destroyed Western civilization, and his ilk would like Book IV. If any iteration of Clausewitz deserved the title of the “Mahdi of mass and mutual massacre” bestowed upon him by B.H. Liddell Hart, it’s Book IV Clausewitz.
Is extraction more powerful than improvement? No, it’s quicker, easier, more seductive. It will turn the well-intentioned but pouty teen Anakin Skywalker into the evil but pouty Darth Vader every time. It is easy to feast on a captive populace. However, you burn out faster. After a time, if all you do is squeeze, you will eventually squeeze them dry. Improvement is ultimately more powerful but it’s more demanding and difficult to master. It usually takes a rare breed of tyrant to promote it. Most tyrants will follow the easier and more ego fulfilling route of extraction, though some will eventually settle on a practical parasitism that feeds off a population without killing the host.
The lure of the decisive battle and permanent reducing the enemy’s voting bloc by ridding the world of a substantial number of his voters is a strong temptation. Dragging the enemy into the red while leaving us strongly in the black through a major and decisive battle seems to be the best of all worlds. It concentrates war into a compressed space and time, taking away all of those moment of inactivity and indecision that sap the will of all belligerents. Buonaparte developed a strong appetite for decision. His wars were short and decisive. As state after state fell into the hands of the Corsican ogre and his rapacious family, this appetite became more intense and decision became harder and harder to come by. Previous decisions exercised a Darwinian effect on the enemies of France. They adapted to Buonapartist warfare. The French margin of safety disappeared until, after Waterloo, Buonaparte “spent every last penny, and then fled like a beggar from the battlefield and the Empire”.
Despite this caveat, the efficiency of killing must not be overlooked. The Great Powers of the Earth, Great Britain, France, China, Russia, India, and United States, were partially built on a foundation of slaughtered men, women, and children. For every Walpole there is a Cromwell. For every Gambetta there is a Richelieu. For every Confucius there is a Shi Huang Di. For every Alexander II there is a Ivan IV. For every Madison there is a Jackson.
Recognizing that this is true does not make killing any more moral, as even the bloody minded Book IV Clausewitz points out. Moreover, the efficiency does not always translate into effectiveness. Indiscriminate slaughter can cause “a thirst for revenge and and increased surge of animosity may even produce the opposite effect”, denying the man of slaughter the full exploitation of his victory. In Buonaparte’s own case, it deprived the Man on Horseback of his throne, his Hapsburg empress, and his heir, leaving him a tubby Man of Romantic Myth who could only wage a war of nastygrams with his English jailer on a remote South Atlantic island.
However, ignoring the truth about the efficiency of slaughter leads to 4GW, the systemic explotation of impractical Western moral attitudes by opponents who possess a fulness of knowledge about the gospel of death.