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On War
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From Introduction:

"THE Germans interpret their new national colours--black, red, and white-by the saying, "Durch Nacht und Blut zur licht." ("Through night and blood to light"), and no work yet written conveys to the thinker a clearer conception of all that the red streak in their flag stands for than this deep and philosophical analysis of "War" by Clausewitz. It reveals "War," stripped of all accessories, as the exercise of force for the attainment of a political object, unrestrained by any law save that of expediency, and thus gives the key to the interpretation of German political aims, past, present, and future, which is unconditionally necessary for every student of the modern conditions of Europe. Step by step, every event since Waterloo follows with logical consistency from the teachings of Napoleon, formulated for the first time, some twenty years afterwards, by this remarkable thinker. What Darwin accomplished for Biology generally Clausewitz did for the Life-History of Nations nearly half a century before him, for both have proved the existence of the same law in each case, viz., "The survival of the fittest"--the "fittest," as Huxley long since pointed out, not being necessarily synonymous with the ethically "best." Neither of these thinkers was concerned with the ethics of the struggle which each studied so exhaustively, but to both men the phase or condition presented itself neither as moral nor immoral, any more than are famine, disease, or other natural phenomena, but as emanating from a force inherent in all living organisms which can only be mastered by understanding its nature. It is in that spirit that, one after the other, all the Nations of the Continent, taught by such drastic lessons as Koniggrtz and Sedan, have accepted the lesson, with the result that to-day Europe is an armed camp, and peace is maintained by the equilibrium of forces, and will continue just as long as this equilibrium exists, and no longer."

Customer Reviews:

  • Looking for a theory of war.
    It is an extensive work, since it fits with the epoch, in which writing little was a sign of inconsistency, little importance and scanty reflection. The books or parts that compose it were finished in variable degree by the author, whose premature death did not allow its conclusion. I am interested in the first chapters on the theory and the philosophy of the war.
    Other books treat on the tactics of a period in which the enemy deployment was staying at the sights of the enemy command and his HHQQ and auxiliary, placed in a nearby height. He praises Liddell Hart's opposite: a decisive battle using the maximum own concentration and power on the enemy army.
    In an age of masses armies, inaugurated by Napoleon, soon was clear that it was not possible to win a war between full armed nations, in an alone great battle. It was necessary a campaign with successive victorious operations, looking for the achievement of the military goals of the campaign (theatre of operations, Europe, Pacific Ocean, Africa) or the strategy. In addition, already there did not exist a genius advanced to his epoch as Napoleon.

    Be careful ordering an abridge edition of this work. Becuase some of the books could be missing....more info
  • The Classic Treatise on War--Everyman Edition a Must
    A while back in school I wrote a research paper on war and came across many mentions of this book. I later learned about the most famous statement by Carl von Clausewitz, often misquoted: "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means."

    This book is Clausewitz's attempt to write a summary about war--what it is (and isn't), how wars are fought, and how they are won. Though it has its problems, it is the standard, the "Old Faithful" of military treatises.

    Clausewitz's hypotheses seem basic at first, but many misunderstand the basic points. War in Clausewitz's eyes is not some large-scale duel or an act of "pure" aggression, but instead a continuation of policy. In other words, wars are fought so that the other side will DO something they wouldn't have done unless you fought them (give you their land, money, stop invading your territory, etc.). Another important point which Clausewitz makes is that one's goal in fighting another war is to destroy the enemy's forces--any other goal (claim territory, destroy morale, supplies, etc.) is ONLY a means to that end.

    There are other points made, and Clausewitz does his best to stick to facts, not conjecture. He makes many references to 18th and 19th century battles, some of which can be confusing and irrelevant today.

    The fascinating thing about Clausewitz's book is that much of it, especially the first section, applies to modern war today, even in the thermonuclear age (and the age of terrorism as well). Some of Clausewitz's description on what it takes to be a great general is so relevant that could have been written today.

    Nonetheless, this book has many difficulties. Clausewitz died before he edited it, and even he agreed that it rambled in parts and needed editing. Much of the later chapters are too specific with 19th century tactics to be of any use today, and some of his meaning is obfuscated through the German translation. It can be pretty dry at times.

    This book is a classic for a reason, however, and probably a must for any military historian. YOU MUST GET THE EVERYMAN EDITION, NOT THE PENGUIN! It is vastly superior. The translation is better, and it contains an invaluable guide in the back on the reading of the book by Bernard Brodie. There are also two fascinating chapters preceding the book which are also valuable to read.

    Enjoy this master work!
    ...more info
  • The Western adjunct to Sun Tzu
    I think the title to this review says it all. If your interest is to understand warrior culture in this era of politically correct miasma, this book and Sun Tzu are the next best thing to being there....more info
  • A must read! Even for the pacifist!
    This should be required reading in high schools, along with Lindell Hart's "The Ghost of Napoleon!"
    I cannot think of a better pair than Paret and Howard to take on this masterpiece, and put it in its proper context! ...more info
  • A great book for Microsoft Reader
    yes yes On War is a difficult book to read and I my self have had to read it several times to gleam the basic understanding I have of it now, but more importantly is how wonderful it was reading it on my Pocket PC. I own a Jornada 548 Pocket PC, which I recommend to all Pocket PC buyers. It was very clear and the ability to go to annotated text easily and my highlights made it very easy to refer back to text I needed when writing a paper on the book. I own the paperback as well, but I feel that the E-book format is far superior and suggest all those who can to get for their Portable Handheld, Desktop, or Laptop....more info
  • This one is much better
    I have the On War published by IAP, in November 2008 and it costs just US$9.99. I like it. I don't know why it is not listed when we search it....more info
  • The wrong translation
    On War is an essential work but this is an abridgement first published in the late 1960s and based on a poor translation dating from around 1908. The editor, Anatol Rapoport, is a scientist, not an historian, and the commentary is something of a hatchet job.

    Much better to get the 1976 translation with commentary edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret....more info

  • A true Classic
    This is one of the most reference yet least cited books I know. Over and over again it is mentioned that Von Cluasewitz's theme is that war and political objectives must be combined. Very much like the image of Toqueville today, through the ages those who cite this hit upon only one point. To summarize Von Cluasewitz as only saying that war is the extention of diplomatic means is a mass understatement. Like his predecessor Jomini, in his life Von Cluasewitz was truely to trying to clear the smokey halls of militay theory. Both authors emphasize above all else there are few if any absolute maxims. In Reference after Reference, both of these authors note the fact that every situation is different and that there are many facets working simultaneously. What Von Cluasewitz and Jomini both attempt have as much to do with the approach to any science as they do to war. The authors simply try to shift through the noise and filter out the complications to find basic elements that can be studied and expanded. For this reasons the works are great not only for an understanding of war but also how a scientific approach to any subject should work. I do recommended having some working knowledge of the wars of the late 18th century and the early 19th century though. Without having read Chandler's work on the Napeoleonic wars I believe I would have been lost in many of the examples. Cluasewitz often referrs to Napeleon and Fredrick the Great. I think the main points can still be seen withot much knowledge of the campaigns of the two great commanders, yet a working knowledge greatly enriches the experience....more info
  • Be sure to go for Paret's translation!
    The two stars is for the Penguin Classics translation. This translation and editing cut far too much of von Clausewitz' text. Unless you were directed by a professor/instructor to use this version, or you just want a 'PowerPoint deep' appreciation of 'Vom Kriege' (On War), go for Paret's translation from Princeton University Press, availible from Amazon.

    This having been said, Paret's translation is 5 star.

    Von Clausewitz is very dense and methodical (having lived in Germany for 6+ years, I feel comfortable in saying that this is *very* German), but made two seminal contributions to military and political science and indirectly to mathematics and a host of other disciplines. First, he developed a clear and comprehensive definition of 'war'. Second, he introduced of the concept of friction that later gave birth to 'complexity' or 'chaos' theory.

    It is critical that von Clausewitz' *entire* arguments be read. When fragments of the arguments are quoted out of context, the results are the most shocking misinterpretations of the original intent.

    Man people will question the relevance of von Clausewitz in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, but he addresses underlying principles and builds his arguments well enough that they stand the test of time....more info
  • Slog
    On War is a great book and had Civil War Generals followed its advice, the war would have probably been over much sooner and not have lasted so long.

    If you like military history, this is a must read....more info
  • Brilliant but boring
    Although this clearly is a brilliant attempt to conceptualize the theoretical background of war, this is not an easy reading, and I would discourage anyone who is not particularly interested in the works of Von Cleusewitz from reading 'On War'. However, when put in the context of the time that Clauswitz was working on this colossal piece of strategic thought - the first part of the 19th century, we can only marvel at Clausewitz's military genius. Almost two hundred years ago he managed to lay out the base of the modern military strategy with concepts such as Die Schlacht- the credible threat of total destruction which today relates to the nuclear weapons, concentrated and mobile maneuver strategy - essentially WWII's Blietzkrieg etc. However, these brilliant parts get lost in the chapters that are completely irrelevant to today's state of technology. Furthermore, only the first chapter was finished by Clausewitz, all the rest was on the level of first drafts only when a decease took Clausewtiz's life. I would recommend going to the glossary of On War and familiarizing yourself with the topics discussed in a certain chapter before reading it - might save you a lot of time and effort....more info
  • On Life
    Carl von Clausewitz's ON WAR is one of the most important books ever written, but it would be a great mistake to dismiss it merely as simply a treatise military philosophy. In this long-winded but brilliant work, Clausewitz (perhaps without meaning it) lays down the fundamental principles by which success is achieved in any field in life.

    Clausewitz was a Prussian staff officer who saw his first combat at the age of twelve, fighting against Napoleon - a task which was to occupy much of his life. ON WAR was an attempt to codify the basic principles of warfare as he saw them, using the campaigns of Frederick the Great as well as the lessons of the Napoleonic Wars as his inspiration. Some of his basic assertions were:

    - War is just politics pursed by violent means.
    - Politics and warfare are therefore two sides of the same coin; if the underlying political purpose of a war is flawed, the war will be unsuccessful.
    - However, once war is engaged, political consideration are subordinate to military aims. Don't let politicians try to dictate how you fight!
    - Strategy is the overall plan you are following in a war; tactics are how you fight the battles. If your strategy is flawed, no amount of tactical brilliance will save you. You can win lots of battles and still lose the war.
    - Everything you do once war is engaged must serve a single, clearly understood objective. Every action taken should be a step in that direction.
    - Only a nut-job starts a war without having a concrete idea of how to finish it; don't bite off more than you can chew, and always have a "Plan B."
    - In war, everything is very simple, but there is a huge difference between "simple" and "easy."
    - Iron will power can overcome any obstacle, but it often wears out the vehicle in which it travels - be it a man or an army. You can win a battle by sheer force of will, but you may very well destroy your army doing it...and no battle is worth that.
    - The proper way to win battles is to identify the weak point in the enemy's line and concentrate all your forces there. That's it, period final. Concentrate and win.
    - The way to win wars is to destroy the enemy's army, full stop. That is, to destroy his means of resisting you, not to waste time capturing territory, cities, supply dumps, etc. Cut the head off, not the fingers and the toes. Then stomp the head.
    - In war, the mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst. The most compassionate war is the one that ends quickly, and the best way of ending it quickly is by employing such overwhelming violence that the enemy is horrified into surrender.

    Had military leaders from Wilhelm II to Adolf Hitler to Lyndon Banes Johnson to George W. Bush consistently applied these principles to their military policy, they would have avoided a lot of grief. But it is as metaphor that I think Clausewitz's book is most useful. Rewritten to apply to business, sports, relationships, and life generally, Clausewitz's maxims would make a great self-help book. Consider the value of 1) Always understanding what you are getting into before you start it and why you are getting into it, as well as what you want out of it. 2) Understanding that all human interaction is political, i.e., you can't ignore politics so you must learn how to use them to serve your ends. 3) That your motives can be as important as your objectives. 4) That you should the most of your energy by concentrating it. 5) Making sure all your individual movements lead you toward your goal, not away from it or sideways. Follow these principles and almost guarantee you'll soon forget how to fail.

    So, while it won't hurt to skim some of the more outdated or tedious passages if you're not interested in the mechanics of 19th century warfare, ON WAR remains a first-class primer, not merely on the art of war, but on the art of living.
    ...more info
  • The Bible of Politics, War and Diplomacy
    A superb publication. A must read, even at nearly 1,000 densely packed pages. This book is more than just about "war" and fighting; it's also a fair and accurate description about international relations.

    This book is an outstanding piece of work. If you're not an avid reader of political and/or military history, and consider yourself just a "casual observer" of current events, reading this book will help you better understand international events, whether political, economic or military.

    WARNING: this book is not chick lit, nor is it summer reading for the beach. Don't look for this book to make it on to Oprah's Book Club anytime soon. In sum, this is hard core and no-nonsense stuff for the serious mind.

    ON WAR is, literally speaking, a very dense book. Yes, as other reviewers have noted, this is not an easy or fast read. You've got to pay attention or you'll just get lost and confused (you might even have to read it twice). It's definitely worth your time to prep yourself by reading the authors' introduction (and make sure you read the Howard/Paret version).

    Many will assert that Clausewitz was a war monger and invoking his name/ideas is somehow synonymous with being power hungry and violent.

    This simply is not true. Clausewitz clearly states that he is merely DESCRIBING war and it's many forms (including "total" war). He is NOT advocating total war in any sense; in fact, he clearly states that he is not an advocate of total war (read carefully!).

    "Describing" something is not the same as "advocating" it.

    The first 1/4 and last 1/4 of the book revolve more around strategy (war and diplomacy as the 2 strands of politics), while the middle 1/2 is devoted primarily to tactical issues. ON WAR, in my humble opinion, is undisputedly a more useful piece of work than Sun Tzu's THE ART OF WAR.

    If I had to choose 5 books to recommend whose ideas and concepts are universally applicable (and everlasting) to help understand world relations, they would be (in no particular order):

    (1). On War (Clausewitz)
    (2). Politics Among Nations (Hans Morgenthau)
    (3). The Federalist Papers (Hamilton, Madison, Jay)
    (4). The Prince and The Discourses (Machiavelli)
    (5). The Twenty Years' Crisis (Carr)

    [apologies to the cable TV news anchors and present day journalists -- some of us have known from the start that you didn't make up the phrases "the fog of war" or "friction in war"]....more info
  • The Definitive Von Clausewitz
    I purchased the Everyman's Library edition of Von Clausewitz's On War for my husband, who is a military officer. He was deeply dissatisfied with the Penguin edition, which is awful in every respect, and so I went in search of an unabridged publication. The Everyman's library version is affordable at around twenty dollars, and expertly translated by the Princeton scholars Howard and Paret (who have a much more expensive but otherwise identical Princeton press edition published). It includes the entire unfinished work, including the books that focus on specifics of military tactics left out of the Penguin edition.
    My only complaint about this excellent edition, which incidentally features a very helpful "how to read this book" section, is that it is somewhat cheaply bound and may not hold up to prolonged and intense study over the years. It would be nice to have an attractively bound copy for display in a library or office, as well. I fear we may begin to lose pages if we are not careful, but at twenty dollars, the book is replaceable. Steer clear of penguin, and go straight to Howard and Paret. You won't be sorry....more info
  • Let None Forget.
    As always, the first thing one must answer in regards to the worth of a book from 1818 is whether it has any application to the present day? In the case of Clausewitz's On War, we can answer with a definitive yes. This is not a work only about armed conflict. It addresses many aspects of psychology and human behavior. The chapter on Tactics does have some dated elements such as those concerning bayonet charges and defiles, but the virtues of the surprise attack and the need to concentrate on the enemy's weakest point remains integral to modern warfare. Of most value is the Strategy section, which can only be described as timeless. That public opinion must be considered before interventions are planned is quite current (to say the least). Throughout the strategic discussion, I could not help but think of the star-crossed General Gamelin who was exactly the opposite, in practice, of the author's ideal leader. He violated every principle as he used fortifications as an end in themselves rather than as a means to defeat the enemy outside them. The folly of forever remaining on the defensive was all too apparent to the world back in May of 1940. That a successful leader is one who makes heroic decisions based on reason is undeniable and this is the quintessential characteristic of inspired leadership. Risk, audacity, cunning, shrewdness, and strength of mind are attributes of which all men are not made which is why greatness is such a rarity. Such features were certainly present in Churchill, and entirely absent in Gamelin. As an aside, I had to laugh though upon encountering a sentence wherein he instructs his Royal Highness that he "must become acquainted" with the ideas discussed. To speak in such a fashion to a monarch must have been most unusual for a servant in those days. Once again, Clausewitz's On War proves how much the past continues to say about the present.

    Lastly allow me to make mention of a personal experience I had while rereading this the other day. I was going into a federal building and knew that I'd be in for a long wait at my destination. I brought the book with me and, upon entering, placed it upon the conveyer belt before walking through the metal detectors. The guard on the other end picked it up, looked at the title and scrunched his face up. I thought, "Oh no." He then gave it to me with a smile and said, "Looks good." Quite right. ...more info
  • A Classic Must-Read on War
    Clausewitz's aphorisms have been treated and mistreated for a century and a half, but On War remains a timeless classic. It is one of those very few works one can read at different times in life and get more and more out of.

    Much of what Clausewitz concludes is intuitively obvious, and this above all things is what makes On War timeless. It is of the greatest importance, however, to read ALL of On War, and not merely Books One, Two, and Eight. Clausewitz wrote in the context of a military and geopolitical environment that still prized fortresses, depended on pitched battle, celebrated mobile artillery as a modern refinement, and lacked the techno-logistic sophistication to support expeditionary warfare on the scale envisioned by Napoleon.

    Perhaps most important, the only experience of living Europeans at that time with rule by political terror was the brief "Reign of Terror" in post-Revolution France. Predatory Marxism and fascism of the kind that menaced millions in the 20th century, both politically and militarily, across national borders, was simply not a factor in Clausewitz's vision. War was a phenomenon bounded by time and place; battles were tactical events between like opponents that began and ended; decision could be achieved, with varying degrees of definiteness, by the deployment of military power combined with negotiation -- because all parties agreed as to how decisions were to be reached, and more fundamentally, as to what constituted decision.

    Finally, the cost of losing, or failing to win decisively, in Clausewitz's European world was much lower for the average citizen than it became in the era of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. Clausewitz's Prussia lost decisively to Napoleon during his career, with Prussia's king succumbing to Napoleon's Contintental System until the debacle of 1812, and the conditions of life for the average citizen of Prussia changed hardly at all, when compared with the impact on citizens of losing national sovereignty to Marxist and fascist regimes in the next century.

    Clausewitz wrote extensively of warfare waged by guerrillas in mountainous or other difficult terrain, for example, and concluded that such fighting was useful on the defensive, but insufficient for achieving a decisive outcome -- it merely wore an invader out. This analysis was excellent for Spain and Russia after they were invaded by Napoleon, but only indirectly valid for the guerrilla wars of the 20th century, which were often started against the insurgents' own countrymen, provoking the involvement of outside (usually post-colonial) forces in opposition. To the extent that outside patronage supported or even sparked the guerrilla efforts, the element of outside involvement was always present, but in no case was it similar to Napoleon's politically straightfoward, unequivocal invasions of Spain and Russia. The political consequences of this difference were more definitive than the military similarities of guerrilla operations over time.

    That Clausewitz's principal conclusions have still, in the main, stood the test of time testifies to how exactly he echoes the intuitive suppositions about war held by most Westerners. Interestingly, he was claimed by both sides in the West's Cold War debate over whether to "engage" the Soviet Union with concessions and negotiation, or with confrontation. A military officer (myself, for example) reading Clausewitz finds him to be an accomplished staff officer, and finds his arguments and conclusions rather obviously consonant with the military disposition to get things done, and achieve decision. Academics reading him, on the other hand, find much material for philosophical speculation, often interpreting his best-known dicta in an opposite manner from their military counterparts.

    On War is indispensable, but don't neglect the "boring parts" on military operations as conceived in the Napoleonic era. Anatole Rappaport did a generation of college students a great disservice by editing these parts out of the Penguin paperback edition. Clausewitz wrote for conditions that no longer obtain in the world, and ought to be understood in that sense.

    Any general reader who wants to undertake a more comprehensive study of human thinking on war ought also to read Sun Tzu's Art of War, B.H. Liddell-Hart's Strategy, Machiavelli's Art of War, and Hans Delbruck's History of the Art of War Within the Framework of Political History (multi-volume; the Germans and The Modern Era are the key ones to start with, in my view). For a wonderful comparison of "Eastern" vs "Western" thinking on the meaning and place of war in society, I recommend reading the passages on war, defense, and internal security from the Arthashastra, a treatise on effective government by a 2nd century AD Indian strategist (Kautilya), as well as Herodotus' Histories and, of course, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

    Bottom line: On War is a must-read classic, but should not be the only volume on war one reads.

    ...more info
  • The Classic on war
    This is not an easy book to understand. It takes sustained attention, several readings of the most important parts, guidance from supplementary articles, time and interest. After the required investment, the diligent reader will come to understand Clausewitz's system and the remarkable way that it stills aides in understanding the phenomenon of war. Readers who know of what I speak will agree that the results of the recent NATO war against Serbia over Kosova can be explained very accurately in Clausewitzian terms. Much has been made of the fact that Clausewitz died before he could complete the work. We will never know what added insights the Prussian philosopher may have been able to come up with or the additional nuances that he may have added to the framework that he had established. While true, this attitude detracts from what he was able to accomplish. The only finished portion of the book, Part 1 of Book 1 is also the most important. The rest of Book 1, Book 2, Book 3 and Book 8 (the last) are in Bernard Brodie's words, "pure gold". The other books have relevant information for our times too, but one must shift through much which belongs to the past. Clausewitz's theory of war considered war to be "a remarkable trinity" of rational action (policy), irrational action (passion) and the play of chance (friction versus genius). These three points act as poles above which "theory" itself is suspended like a magnet. Alan D. Beyerchen has pointed out that Clausewitz was talking about a non-linear system in that the course the magnet will take as it hovers above and in and out of the three fields of attraction produces an irreproducible trajectory highly sensitive to the initial conditions which set it in motion. In addition we have other important concepts such as the duel nature of war, the importance and uses of theory, friction, war's psychological element, tactical and strategic centers of gravity, and of course the primacy of policy over purely military concerns in strategic planning. All of these are still of interest today. Not bad for a work that was published initially in 1832!

    One additional note. I recommend the Everyman's Library Edition of On War. First it is the Michael Howard / Peter Paret translation which is the best in English. Second it contains four interesting and enlightening articles by Howard, Paret and Bernard Brodie and last it is a hard cover book printed and bound in Germany and of excellent quality....more info

  • A theory on war
    On War presents a theory describing warfare that is both historically grounded and, in its basics, remains true even today after the many changes in how war has been fought since it was written. The theory thoroughly describes war in the context of historical fact, where it underlines the important causes and fundamental workings of war. Clausewitz does not allow himself to wander off into the pure theoretical (and is harshly critical of those who do), nor does he offer simple solutions and case-by-case directives. Instead, On War provides the reader a way to understand war and its workings, on all levels, so that he may make informed decisions based on a realistic view of the situation. Clausewitz also does not tie himself down to only considering one fashion of waging war. Looking out across history, he analyzes how wars were fought across different times, and endeavors to reveal the political and social factors that shaped war in their time.

    An unfinished work, it is often difficult to read. Some thoughts are poorly organized, others are appear contradictory because their context is not always properly formed. A careful reading and some though, however, will allow an astute reader to understand. The reward is not only a sharp, systematic theory of war, but also a valuable history lesson in that field. ...more info
  • A great analysis of von Clausewitz's time and writings.
    The editor's introduction does an excellent job of describing the historical setting of von Clausewitz and the influences that shaped him. The book could be enhanced by an expanded section on comparative military philosophy. Highly recommended to those seeking the origins on "modern" military and political philosophy....more info
    The book arrived on time and as promised. The recipient was very happy with the book and I was very happy with the service....more info
  • Unsurpassed classic of its field.
    "On War" is essential reading for the professional military and for historians, and is of great value to those with an interest in public policy.

    That said, it is not easy to read. There are three primary reasons for this:

    First, it is unfinished. The first chapter ("book" as Clausewitz called it) is sharp, well-organized and focused, other chapters are so-so, and still others are almost formless collections of notes.

    Second, Clausewitz is thinking philosophically. Most people, including many or most in his target audience, are unaccustomed to thinking this way, and find it difficult to re-orient themselves.

    Third, parts of it are firmly locked in a particular time and place. The reader must work to determine what (if any) lessons in those parts are of enduring value and must understand references that, however clear they would have been to his contemporaries, are today obscure.

    So, given all of the above, it is fair for the reader to ask why he should bother. The reason is the power of Clausewitz's answers to:

    (1) What is the nature of war itself?

    (2) What is war's relation to the larger world in which it exists?

    (3) How can success in war be achieved?

    Clausewitz's answer to question (1) is that war in itself is a duel on a large scale, which unless acted on from the outside, tends towards the maximum possible amount of violence. This discussion of "pure war" has probably been responsible for more mis-interpretations of Clausewitz than anything else he wrote. He is writing philosophically - trying to understand the nature of the thing, and some readers mis-read him as writing prescriptively - that because "pure war" (or "ideal war") tends towards maximum violence, that those conducting war should employ maximum violence.

    Clausewitz's answer to question (2) is one of the major reasons why "pure war" doesn't, can't, and shouldn't exist in the real world. First, real war occurs over time - not as a single event but as a series of events. This provides the opportunity for other forces to act upon it. The most important outside force acting upon it is political - war it is only a means - and the end is the political purposes which the war serves. The means cannot and must not trump the end. This is his famous dictum "War is a continuation of policy by other means". The level of effort is conditioned by the end which the war serves as well as all the other ends the state is pursuing which may or may not be compatible with the war.

    It is in his answer to (3), how success in war can be achieved, that Clausewitz is at his most period-bound. He draws heavily from examples that would have been as familiar to his contemporaries as the Gulf War is to us, but time has rendered them often obscure. Further, many of his recommendations are completely tied to how war was conducted on land in the early 19th century. Those who say that they got little out of Clausewitz are often referring to this subject area.* There is quite a bit of value here, but it is obtained at effort - the reader must back up to the principals that govern Clausewitz's thinking, and re-apply them to the current technical means. Because of this, there is the irony that Clausewitz would have contributed much more here if he had written much less. Of course, he might have done so if he had finished his manuscript, but on this we can only guess.

    It is in the sum of (1), (2) and (3) that the value of Clausewitz is felt. The reader who makes the effort will find that he has acquired a systematic approach for thinking about war, a unified framework that includes the public policy perspective of when, whether, and how to employ it, as well as the military perspective of how to fight it.


    * For at least topic (3), ideally the modern reader should have read at least short military histories of the Seven Years War (in Europe - not North America) as well as the Napoleonic Wars, as these two conflicts dominate Clausewitz's references. What you want to know is the names of the major battles, the sides, and the outcomes. Maps are invaluable.

    Having a somewhat more in-depth reference handy can also be beneficial, though not necessary. If I had to recommend in-depth references, I would suggest, for the Napoleonic Wars, David Chandler's "The Campaigns of Napoleon" or Esposito and Elting's "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars". Both are readily available and well worth having. For the Seven Years War, I don't know of anything that is good and in-print, although Christopher Duffy's "The Military Life of Frederick the Great" is just what you want if you can find a copy....more info

  • Text on War
    This is not an easy book to read nor understand. It takes several readings. A large investment in time will allow the reader to understand Clausewitz's system and the remarkable way that it stills aides in understanding the phenomenon of war. The text is adorned with many historical examples. Continuously emphasizing that war is 'a continuity of policy by other means. He has defined perfectly the theory of war, its tactical and strategic purposes. A must for an military or political leader....more info