Clausewitz, Zen Master

— GONG!!! —

Per Lex’s request:

The crude definition of a Zen koan is a non-rational assertion that, when meditated upon, can shock the non-rational mind into higher states of consciousness and insight. A famous example is:

Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?

— GONG!!! —

Jon Sumida argues Clausewitz may have been providing his own heavy duty Zen:

Read more

Clausewitz, On War, Book V: Clausewitz on Combined Arms

Chapter Four of Book V of On War is titled “Relationship between the Branches of the Service.” This chapter, however, doesn’t really seek to explain the relationship between the branches (infantry, artillery, and cavalry). Instead, it seeks to explain the relative strengths and weaknesses of the three branches. The specific relationships between the branches are left for us to intuit.

Clausewitz explains the strengths right off:

“The engagement consists of two essentially different components: the destructive power of firearms, and hand-to-hand, or individual, combat. The latter in turn can be used for either attack or defense (words here employed in an absolute sense, for we are speaking in the broadest of terms). Artillery is effective only through the destructive power of fire; cavalry only by way of individual combat; infantry by both these means.

In hand-to-hand fighting, the essence of defense is to stand fast, as it were, rooted to the ground; whereas movement is the essence of attack. Cavalry is totally incapable of the former, but preeminent in the latter, so is suited only to attack. Infantry is best at standing fast, but does not lack some capacity to move.” (p.285)

Clausewitz then enumerates his thoughts on the combat arms:

“1. Infantry is the most independent of the arms.
2. Artillery has no independence.
3. When one or more arms are combined, infantry is the most important of them.
4. Cavalry is the most easily dispensable arm.
5. A combination of all three confers the greatest strength.” (p.286)

And so Clausewitz starts beating around the Combined Arms bush.

But what is Combined Arms?

Read more

Clausewitz, On War, Book V: Freedom is Worth the Mass

Freedom lurks throughout On War. Not freedom for the poor, bloody infantry; in a Clausewitzian universe freedom is at its apogee when the freedom of the infantry is at its nadir. The freedom Clausewitz seeks to unleash is the freedom of the commander to work his will on the enemy. The commander’s freedom is essential to Clausewitz’s conception of war since war is an “act of force to compel our enemy to do our will”; our freedom ends where the enemy’s freedom begins. War is, therefore, fundamentally an effort to steal the enemy’s freedom and bestow it upon ourselves. We seek to take our political object, an object arrived at through the free exercise of creative will, and raise it above the oppression of enemy opposition and the dreary demands of friction. This is Clausewitz’s truth and his truth, he asserts, shall set you free.

Read more

Clausewitz, On War, Book 1: Clausewitz and Herman Kahn

Herman Kahn consciously followed Clausewitz’s lead in choosing the title On Thermonuclear War.

However, whereas Clausewitz was trying to develop a general theory of war from his and others’ experiences, Kahn was trying to develop a theory of a war of a kind that had never been fought.

In Chapter 8 of Book 1, Clausewitz telescopes war down to “a single short blow” to show that this is not possible. Nuclear war moves closer to this idealization. Kahn’s analysis is that even a nuclear war does not consist of a single short blow. There can be warnings and exchanges.

Kahn was analyzing the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. There was 30 minutes warning of a strike by one on the other. Kahn died before India and Pakistan achieved approximate nuclear parity in 1998. Their warning times come much closer to Clausewitz’s “single short blow.”

Read more

Clausewitz, On War, Book 1: Clausewitz on Military Genius

I am reading Clausewitz because I fight as a profession. It is therefore my duty to heed my obligation to society that I read and understand my craft. Clausewitz, whether one agrees with him or not, has shaped the doctrine of all modern state-owned militaries. The capstone doctrinal document of the Marines, MCDP 1: Warfighting, is laced with Clausewitzian thought and terminology. Ask any Marine lieutenant what Friction is. He almost certainly knows!

On my road to professionalism I have wondered what makes a person a genius at the military arts and sciences. Fortunately Clausewitz provided me the Third Chapter of Book One of On War, where he dissects military genius into its component parts and discusses them. In doing so he provides a great starting point to discuss the nature of military genius. What is military genius? Where does it come from? What kinds of people are military geniuses? Do we make geniuses, or are they born?

Here I will digest the chapter and provide my thoughts, as well as questions for the Round Table.

Read more