Clausewitz's on War: A Biography (Books That Changed the World) Hardcover – 10 Jul 2007
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Strachan returns On War to its historical context, but also explores its continued relevance.
This examination of Clausewitz two centuries after he wrote has much of timely relevance to our own dangerous age. -- North South Magazine
This book is presented in Mp3 CD Format. Perhaps the most important book on military strategy ever written, Carl von Clausewitz's "On War" has influenced generations of generals and politicians and is required reading at military academies to this day. Hew Strachan, one of the world's foremost military historians, explains how and why "On War" was written, elucidates what Clausewitz meant, and offers insight into the impact it made on conflict and its continued significance in our world today. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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Clausewitz was captured on October 14 of 1806 when Napoleon invaded Prussia and defeated the Prussian-Saxon army. At the age of twenty-six years, became one of the 25,000 prisoners captured that day as the Prussian army disintegrated. After his release, he was opposed to Prussia's enforced alliance to Napoleon, and he left the Prussian army to serve in the Russian army from 1812 to 1813. In the service of the Russian Empire, Clausewitz helped negotiate the Convention of Tauroggen (1812), which prepared the way for the coalition of Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom that ultimately defeated Napoleon I of France and his allies.
Clausewitz spent the latter part of his life writing and rewriting his massive work, Vom Kriege (On War), which remained unfinished and was published posthumously by his widow in 1832. Few paid attention to him or his work until Prussia's astonishing victory over France in 1870.
Although Clausewitz participated in many military campaigns, he was primarily a military theorist interested in the examination of war. Drawing on the experiences of Frederick the Great and Napoleon, Clausewitz tried to isolate the factors that decide success in war. His conclusions have remained generally applicable, and since his work contains a minimum of technical discussion, it has retained a wide appeal. Clausewitz produced no system of strategy, thus breaking with the more rigid and mechanistic concepts of his predecessors. Instead, he emphasized the importance of psychological factors that elude exact calculation.
Clausewitz's On War has been blamed for the unprecedented death tolls in the First and Second World Wars, but this accusation has often been debated by historians. On War is required reading at military academies to this day, and Powell often carried a copy around with him.
This is not a book about the future of war, but this is how it is read. He is not consistent in what he says. He often contradicts himself. For example, what Clausewitz declares in book 1, he discounts in book 8. This is a work in progress, left unfinished due to his untimely death in a cholera outbreak in 1831.
Here are some of his concepts I found interesting:
The State should be viewed as an ideology and value, not as a geographic entity. This concept was new and went against 1800's thought.
Peace is the result of war. Peace is the moral aim of any war.
Napoleon was a genius. He was drunk with victory, and this state of mind led him to more victories. He called Napoleon of 1815 a gambler, gambling his way to victory.
Historians invent history.
War is nothing else than fighting. As mentioned above, Clausewitz barely mentions tactics.
Feeding the troops is of secondary importance; there are more pressing problems facing a general.
War is not impossible for a weaker army; being superior in number is not a rule.
War advocates killing for killing's sake.
Future wars will be a struggle of life and death.
Not all wars escalate.
Defensive warfare, he argued, is both militarily and politically the stronger position. A defense army is stronger but with a weaker aim; while an offensive army is weaker but with a stronger aim.
Time is on the side of the defender; aggressors can only lose time.
Expect nothing from the generosity of another. This is as true in war as between individuals!
Allies eventually go to the defender's side to keep the balance of power in check. This happened during World War I and II. Will this now happen against the US, as it expands its influence in the Middle East?
The result of war is never final, inviting more hostilities as time goes by.
In maintaining that "war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with the admixture of different means," he denied that war is an end in itself.
The phrase fog of war derives from Clausewitz's stress on how confused warfare can seem while one is immersed within it.
Though generals often proclaim wars must end in absolute victory, Clausewitz asserted that in the real world annihilating the enemy is rarely possible and often a bad idea.
He advocated the concept of total war, in which all of the enemy's territory, property, and citizens are attacked. This assertion is what led some historians to blame Clausewitz for the mass death tolls during World War I and II.
He stated that strategy should aim at three main targets: the enemy's forces, his resources, and his will to fight.
Wars are essentially unpredictable.
One of Clausewitz's most famous lines is that "War is merely a continuation of politics," ("Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln"). While accurate, some historians believe that it was not intended as a statement of fact.
Some historians assume that with the passing of cavalry and Communism, Clausewitz is passé. Others claim that nuclear proliferation makes Clausewitzian concepts obsolescent. However, no two nuclear powers have ever used their nuclear weapons against each other, instead using conventional means to settle disputes. If, hypothetically, such a conflict did occur, both combatants would be effectively annihilated. Therefore, the beginning of the 21st century has found many instances of state armies attempting to suppress terrorism and bloody feuds whilst using conventional weaponry. This makes Clausewitz's On War still relevant today, and for this very reason it is still widely read and quoted today. For example, in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) contends to T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) that "I fight like Clausewitz, you fight like Saxe." To which Lawrence replies, "We should do very well indeed, shouldn't we?" In the film Crimson Tide, the naval officers of the nuclear submarine have a discussion about the meaning of the quote "War is a continuation of politics by other means." The executive officer (played by Denzel Washington) contends that the captain (played by Gene Hackman) has taken a too simplistic reading of von Clausewitz.
I found this book a little hard to digest, and because Clausewitz was contradictory in nature, the book was hard to follow. This book might not be enjoyable to most readers with no background in military strategy. It is certainly not a book to read at bedtime. This is a book you should read in a study environment with pen and paper in hand, taking notes and discussing the concepts with your fellow readers. This book actually makes a great reading in a book club gathering.
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