American forces withdrew at the end of 2015, leaving only a token force for training oversight. A short bloody civil war ensued with a faction of the Islamic extremists affiliated with the original Taliban quickly retaking the government. They consolidated their power over the next five years, bringing isolated tribal groups under control with an extreme interpretation of sharì’a law. Afghans see this turn of events not as a return to a life of repression, or even a triumph for Islam, but as a victory over another in a series of invading states and the triumph of nationalists over subjugation to a foreign nation under the regime of a puppet government. The current government was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2035, however the United States has only limited diplomatic relations to this day.
This is the first time I have read Clausewitz. The experience has changed and expanded my understanding of conflict and warfare. I am certain it will influence the remainder of my academic and professional career.
As a Marine NCO, I was at the lowest possible layer of leadership that Clausewitz discusses. The majority of the decisions I was expected to make were operational, and therefore tactical. I was given instruction in the strategic realm only as an overview, and was expected to be concerned with the how, and not worry about the why. Hindsight, combined with insight gained from Clausewitz allows me to broaden the view and (in some cases anyway) see the strategic value in the tasks that a young Corporal grumbled over.
Clausewitz’ theory culminates in the eighth book, on “War Plans”. While it is clear by the absence of chapters that Clausewitz had more to tell us, he does a great job of bringing everything full circle in order to demonstrate the application of the information in the other books. Clausewitz manages to pull all of the previous discussions together to demonstrate applied strategy, complete with supporting examples from recent history at the time of his writing. In my mind, however, the most valuable chapters of the book are those in which Clausewitz expands on his ideas about war’s relation to the Government, particularly section B of chapter 6.
To me, book seven feels the most unfinished of all of Clausewitz’ writings. It is true that in discussing other ideas in other books, Clausewitz has already given us several points that might be contained in seven. Even so, more than the rest of the series, this book has the feel of an outline or draft to built on later.
Even though this may be the case, Clausewitz gives us the fundamentals of strategic attack. Essentially, Clausewitz tells us, seize and hold the initiative, assault through the enemy using fire and maneuver, and don’t over-extend. Also, choose objectives appropriately, and be mindful of the terrain. Of course, Clausewitz goes into some detail on each of these points, and where the overall theme is similar to ideas in early works, Clausewitz explains to us the nuances regarding application in the attack. Again, while some of the fine details have changed do to the progress of time and advances in technology, the overall ideas are still sound.
Book six gives us Clausewitz’ theory of the defense. While he is particularly verbose in this book, Clausewitz lays out for us some timeless concepts that can and should be applied as the basis to any defensive strategy. First, Clausewitz gives us the purpose of the defense. Essentially it is to gain time for the commander to seek a battle that is more advantageous to him (p.370, 380). He makes it clear that the defense is merely a means to an end, a method of war, and not the end result in its self (p.392).
Book five was perhaps the most difficult read for me thus far. Clausewitz appears to pause here in his flow of ideas to concentrate on the apocrypha of war. It is in these pages that he gives us his view of how the supporting operations should be conducted, as well as considerations for placement, movement, and troop strengths. Application of most of Clausewitz’ points to modern day is extremely difficult and in most cases takes a good deal of abstract thinking.
Going into book IV I expected to receive a lesson in general tactics. This is not the case. Instead what Clausewitz has in store for us is a discussion of the engagement as an extension of strategy, a sort of demonstration of applied theory. Modernists and critics would be quick to site this book when attempting to prove Clausewitz’ irrelevance to current warfare, citing ideas that may appear at first glance to be relics of earlier generations of warfare.
Clausewitz sites rough terrain and night as being two factors that can impede military operations to the point of bringing them to a halt. In the case of night operations especially, Clausewitz shows great concern, stating that only in the most extreme cases are operations at night warranted due to the lack of control that brings with it a high probability of failure (p. 273-275).
In book three, Clausewitz gives us a breakdown of his theory of strategy. Early on, he roughly defines strategy as “the use of engagement for the purpose of war” (p. 177). By this Clausewitz is telling us that the individual engagements are the means to the end, and the strategist must therefore understand how to apply the individual engagements to achieve the desired goal. It is a high level view of the overall theater of operations, while tactics concerns its self with actions inside the individual engagement.
Clausewitz goes on to divide the factors involved in strategy in to five general categories, focusing mainly on the ideas of the moral or psychological, and the physical. While he briefly mentions the other elements, mathematical, geographical and statistical, his main point in these areas is that they have little effect on the outcome at a strategic level.
I know this is a bit late, and if I missed the answer in someone else’s post, I’m sorry for bringing it up again. It’s a minor point perhaps, but on page 143 Clausewitz states that both time of day and weather are of minor importance in the engagement. This runs counter to what intuition would suggest. Can someone explain to me why Clausewitz says this is so?
In book II, Clausewitz goes into great detail about the formation and application of theory. While he espouses little actual theory here, he does hammer home one extremely important idea.
The most prominent point, in my mind, is that there is no one-size fits-all solution. Clausewitz discusses the use of “routine“ as necessary for ancillary functions and training, as it provides basic knowledge on a tactical level for troops in the field, and provide the junior officer with “brisk, precise, and reliable leadership, reducing natural friction and easing the working of the machine” (p. 153).
This is my first time reading On War, and I have to say that I am so far impressed with the relative ease with which Clausewitz can be applied to modern situations. Book I serves us well not only as an overview of the entire work, but also provides the reader with good baselines, defining fundamental concepts with simple language and examples that I presume would make it possible for the completely uninitiated to understand.
What I find most fascinating though is the high level of Clausewitzian thought found in Marine Corps culture, and I would guess (hope) to some extent in the cultures of other US services as well. I am not certain whether this is by conscious intent, or rather a coincidental development stemming from the Corps’ history and role, but several examples were immediately obvious to me as I read.