How not to win a war

How not to win a war? A good beginning would be to ignore Karl Maria von Clauswitz- as we have apparently have been doing for the past seven decades….

Since 1945, under the stimulus of the Cold War, an immense apparatus has been created in the United States to apply academic minds to the problems of war in international relations. Learned volumes and articles continue to pour forth and a new jargon has been invented, a vernacular to enhance the mystique of the authors and obscure their meaning. And there has been complicity with mathematicians, lawyers, economists and social scientists in joining the Pentagon Irregulars.

However, the climax of fifty-five years of intense and nationwide intellectual study of war proved to be the American defeat in Vietnam followed now by the boots on the ground experience in Iraq,Afghanistan, and missions still to come in that part of the world. How much the academic think merchants share in the responsibility for the mess cannot yet be known. But, judging from the published literature and articles, perhaps the United States government would have found a better guide to action in the works of Karl von Clausewitz, a Prussian major general who died in 1831.

—Running on Empty, by Edward Sorel. From “The $3 Trillion War,” by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, April 2008.—Read More:

Clausewitz was the first man to make conceptual sense of war as a social and political activity and to deduce its governing principles. Clausewitz is the starting point of all later theorizing about war, and often the finishing point as well. He significantly influenced the German and French general staffs before 1914; he was the fountainhead Cold War Communist thinking about war; and he ought to be part of every Western person’s secular education. His great work, On War ( Vom Kriege) , casts more light than any other single book on all the facets of collective human rivalry.

Clausewitz was an early example of that German phenomenon, the intellectual soldier: a man whose professional worth lay not in powers of leadership but in powers of mind. Born in Magdeburg in 1780- and therefore not Prussian by birth- he joined the Prussian army in 1792, at the outset of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. When thirteen and fourteen he served with the Prussian army in the campaigns on the Rhine. While he was studying at the Berlin Military Academy, between 1801 and 1803, he was noticed by the head of the school, Scharnhorst, who was later to carry out the sweeping reforms in the military system that followed the Prussian defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1806. In that dismal campaign, in which the enemy bequeathed by Frederick the Great was smashed like an old clockwork toy, Clausewitz acted as aide-de-camp to Prince August of Prussia. He was wounded and taken prisoner.

—The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, which began in 1789 and ended with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, sent shock waves through European societies and revolutionised warfare. When the French battalions of the revolutionary government beat a Prussian intervention force back at Valmy in 1792, the poet Goethe consoled one of his defeated compatriots: “From this place and from this day begins a new era in the history of the world, and you will be able to say, I was there.”
The revolutionary and Napoleonic wars had their own enlightened interpreter – Carl von Clausewitz, the great advocate of the application of reason to conflict. As a Prussian, who spent his entire military career fighting the French – on the Rhine in 1793, then in the battles of Auerstadt (1806), Borodino (1812) and Wavre (1815)–Clausewitz was well qualified to reflect on the success of the Napoleonic campaigns. —Read More: image:

On his return after rhe peace, he served on Scharnhorst’s staff during the reorganization of the army. It was a mark of his intellectual reputation that he was also appointed military tutor to the crown prince of Russia.

In 1812, when Russia remained neutral under Napoleon’s pressure, Clausewitz, with other Prussian officers, joined the Russian army and served through the campaigns of 1812,1813, and 1814, first as an A.D.C. and then as chief of staff to an army, a post he filled with distinction. He took part in the negotiations that led to the Convention of Tauroggen in 1812, by which the Prussian army deserted Napoleon. During the Waterloo campaign Clausewitz was chief of staff to a Prussian corps and was present with Grouchy at the Battle of the Wavre on the same day as Waterloo. In 1818 he became director of the Military Academy in Berlin, an administrative, not teaching post. ….( to be continued)

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