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.”

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