GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Clausewitz, like eating bacon...never becomes common for me....

One of my favorite websites is The Diplomat.  A wonderful and often controversial collection of short, pithy posts about politics and diplomacy in the Far East, Pacific, and South Asia regions, it is a really excellent source of news and commentary.

And occasionally...military history.  While surfing the site the other day I came upon this little nugget


Now, normally I would be all over this like white on rice---because even more than revisionist history and turkey bacon, I despise know-it-all "strategic analysts" that take it upon themselves to trash my man Karl (or Carl, whatever) and I have lobbed plenty of typeface at them on this blog.

Just Can't Get Away from Clausewitz

Foucault, Clausewitz, Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, my!

 Of course I calmed down a little when I saw it was written by Dr.  James Holmes, a naval analyst that I do admire and appreciate.

SO, I read the article with an open mind and...was....intrigued. Not by what he said, but because I felt he could have said sooooo much more....Clausewitz is like my favorite buffet at Harrah's in New Orleans...there's always more to digest.

Here is Dr. Holmes basic thesis:

Clausewitz’s masterwork On War proclaims — uniformly — that war is a mere continuation of policy “with other means” (mit anderen Mitteln), or sometimes “with the addition of other means” (mit Einmischung anderer Mitteln). Nowhere in On War or his prefatory notes does the Prussian write “by” other means.

Yet this false quotation refuses to die. “By,” “with,” who cares? Well, any student or practitioner of warfare should. Substituting a two-letter for a four-letter word makes a big difference in how Westerners conceive of war. And as Clausewitz teaches, grasping the nature of war in general — and of the particular war we’re contemplating — constitutes the first, most fundamental, most crucial act of statecraft. Get the basics wrong and grim consequences follow.

Okay, so what?  Is the whole "by" or "with" a big deal....MAYBE....it depends

Dr. Holmes concludes with a pretty good dissertation about Clausewitz' theories on war, statecraft, and diplomacy, but doesn't really drive anything home for me...one of the challenges of a short web article I guess.

Pursuing political objectives “with” other means connotes adding a new implement — namely armed force — to a mix of diplomatic, economic, and informational implements rather than dropping them to pick up the sword. War operates under a distinctive martial grammar, in other words, but the logic of policy remains in charge even after combat is joined. In this Clausewitzian view, strategic competition falls somewhere along a continuum from peacetime diplomacy to high-end armed conflict. The divide between war and peace can get blurry.  
  Okay, I am certainly down with this concept. For Clausewitz, as with all late 18th and early 19th century military men, politics and war were inexorably linked.  Military men and politicians alike considered the PRIMARY duty of the monarch/government  was the conduct of war, diplomacy,  and peace, as it were. Wars were fought with regularity, usual for limited objectives, and were often preceded and followed by intense discussions about this province or that territory forfeited by the loser to the winner. 

This, of course, was one of the reasons that Clausewitz and his contemporaries were totally flummoxed by Napoleon---ol' Nappy went for the jugular and aimed for the total whup ass of his opponent....The last time the French really got the better of the Germans.

To be clear, Dr. Holmes is correct in his assertion that Clausewitz spent most of his magnum opus expounding on the differences between theoretical and realistic war, including his famous "Trinity of chance, reason, and violence"  and his axiom-"Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult."  


This was part of Enlightenment thinking I guess...discuss the theoretical, then describe the limits of its application in the real world. The trick to reading Clausewitz, besides reading it at least 4 or 5 times (sigh) is to be able to carefully discern his points separating the theoretical limits of war with the actual application to the human factor...which Clausewitz, being a man ahead of his time, was quick to recognize..unlike his contemporary Jomini who wanted to make everything in war about science and mathematics...use the right formula with the right inputs and WHAMOO victory is assured...only not so much.  

My man Clausewitz well understood the psychological factors in war and was the first to clearly state in his own book that no formula or certainty exists in war.  HOWEVER, he was wise enough to say a good general reads and studies military history....

So, hopefully he will continue this discussion...the theology of Clausewitz, to misuse a term, bears much discussion, thoughtful consideration and constant questioning of assumptions--anything that sparks more discussion of Clausewitz is fine by me.  

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