Posts Tagged ‘Clausewitz’

I hadn’t meant to start my series  “The Clausewitz Chronicles” with a post of this nature. Linear, progressing through the book, that was my thought.  But certain passages scattered throughout parts of the volume began to coalesce into a discrete topic, and the sprawling thoughts below are nearly a short article in length.

Clausewitz seems to be as popular today as he has ever been. Which is something, if you stop to think about it. After all, for a theorist’s work to be valued as highly as is Clausewitz’s, to be used as the basis of so many operational and professional platforms nearly two centuries after it was first written, is remarkable. Please note, I’m not referring, in the main, to historical studies that aim to read Clausewitz in terms of his contemporaries (which would be my approach should I ever have to teach a course on the subject). I’m referring to works such as Willmott and Barrett’s Clausewitz Reconsidered (2009), which asks if On War is still relevant to current military planning; to Sumida’s Decoding Clausewitz (2008), which values the text for treating of “important military questions,” and which has advocates a particular relationship between theory and history which has heretofore proved elusive.[1] I’m referring to van Creveldt’s article, decrying Clausewitz for discounting the “laws of war” in his lengthy discussion of war itself, and Howard’s  “Very Short Introduction,” which however does treat Clausewitz in a more historical vein. The Prussian theorist himself has come under fire more recently from CGSC professor and career soldier Stephen Melton, whose book The Clausewitz Delusion (2009) credits to a misguided affection for On War many of the U.S. military problems in Iraq and Afghanistan (not sure how much I buy that, though there are some points in favor of that thesis). Whether you love him or hate him, Clausewitz is not going away.

[Note: My edition of On War is the Everyman’s Library edition of the Howard/Paret/Brodie translation, and has a different pagination than the older editions]

As a military historian whose first area of specialization is medieval warfare, however, I have wondered at the applicability of On War to medieval warfare in particular, and to pre-Napoleonic conflicts in general.  Gillingham perhaps said it best, when, in concluding his analysis of Richard I’s generalship, he said that “[i]n these circumstances a Napoleonic or Clausewitzian Niederwerfungsstrategie made little sense.”[2] Of course, Gillingham prefaces this sentence with some remarks on the superiority of defense over offense in medieval warfare, which as we all know is a basic premise of Clausewitz’s study (VI:chapters 2  and 3).  Many would be quick to point out that this factor alone is a great example of Clausewit’z utility in analyzing past conflicts—Rogers, for example, invokes Clausewitz’s idea of the “positive aim” in his discussion of Vegetian warfare.[3] But a multiplicity of accurate observations does not justify a text’s use as a paradigm of evaluation. (more…)

Good afternoon!  “And etc.”  Ever hear that old song, “Elenore”, by the Turtles?   I always liked it, not least for actually using “et cetera” as part of the lyrics. I mean, who does that?  Anyhow, on a more serious note, there have been a few bloggable things piling up of late, among them two items of particular interest to my own work.

I have several long-term, serious blogging projects in nascent stages, where they will most likely remain until the dissertation is defended in the spring (technically summer begins June 21, so that makes anything before that the spring, right?).  One of these will have posts titled “The Clausewitz Chronicles”, since the old Prussian just doesn’t go away, and I want to explore in depth the issue of Clausewitz’s relevance to medieval warfare and the study thereof.   In that vein, The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz seems quite relevant. It’s been making its way around cyberspace lately, with a lot of my friends re-posting it.  Brilliant stuff, and the illustrations are priceless. Here’s hoping there are more posts in the future.

The second item concerns another topic I’ve been interested in, and that is an analysis and correlation of the medieval combat experience with Dave Grossman’s studies On Killing and On Combat (these future posts to appear under the title “On Medieval Combat”).  Apparently the SAXO Institute at the University of Copenhagen has been doing analogous research, and has come to the conclusion–surprise–that medieval knights suffered from PTSD, just like soldiers in any other period.  Who knew…Well, Geoffroi de Charny, for one; and, although I hesitate a bit over their precise translations of his text, I’ll go with their conclusions that he was talking about the same phenomenon as we are. On the other hand, I’m very cautious about Heebøll-Holm’s conclusion that medieval folk were no more violent than we are today–a conclusion that relies on extensive nuance and qualification, and that will be lost in a news flash.  And I’m not sure it’s an accurate conclusion anyway–but that’s a debate for another time.

And here are a couple random topics of interest: an article by Steven Hijmans on Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birthday, and the controversies it engendered in the early Church.   And a recent post in Disunion about African Americans and civil rights in 1861-2 Washington D.C., worth reading.

Ok, back to work…

Another quick post as I speed through the week…I hadn’t checked The Kings of War blog in a while, and there’s plenty of interesting entries to browse.  As the descriptor says, it’s run by faculty and students from the King’s College, London, Department of War Studies. I don’t answer for the content necessarily, I’m just saying that the posts are worth reading.

Parallel to this, I would suggest Dr. Christopher Bassford’s Clausewitz page, which has more than you ever wanted to know about the famous, and often misunderstood, German military theorist (and some would add practitioner as well, but I’m withholding judgment on that for now).

Lastly, courtesy of Dr. Mark Grimsley’s military history blog roll, I came across Mark Stout’s On War and Words blog, which is also very interesting.

Ok, that’s it for now. Have a good afternoon!

I haven’t been on the Small Wars Journal Blog in a while, and am pleased to see this interview with Colonel Gian Gentile, an acquaintance from West Point and someone whom I admire very much.  He has been a forthright opponent of the current military counter-insurgency strategy (COIN), and in this interview he delivers a thoughtful critique of that strategy; I especially like his invocation of Clausewitz in suggesting that the “center of gravity” isn’t always the same thing every time.  It needs to be “discovered,” as he says.   The article has certainly caused a bit of a stir on the forums, as the comments make clear.

As far as Afghanistan itself goes, I’m afraid I have nothing better to offer than The New York Times’ articles from the last few days.  They seem to be fairly good articles, at least from what I can tell–though I am ready to stand corrected on that, naturally.  Ostensibly, some progress is being made in suppressing the Taliban; hence the President’s announcement that the exit schedule is on track.    But the report is very forthright in saying that operations need to be stepped up, and that strategic gains are coming slowly and with much effort.  Nevertheless, the Taliban is apparently recognizing that it is losing substantial ground in the south to NATO efforts:

The stepped-up operations in Kandahar Province have left many in the Taliban demoralized, reluctant to fight and struggling to recruit, a Taliban commander said in an interview this week. Afghans with contacts in the Taliban confirmed his description. They pointed out that this was the first time in four years that the Taliban had given up their hold of all the districts around the city of Kandahar, an important staging ground for the insurgency and the focus of the 30,000 American troops whom President Obama ordered to be sent to Afghanistan last December.

All well and good.  But the Taliban isn’t done.  It’s focusing now on the north of the country, where, according to a Red Cross official, “the north as its own logic.”   I’m not sure how much stock one should put in the NYT’s graphic map of Afghanistan’s political stability, but it certainly doesn’t promote an optimistic outlook.  U.S. intelligence services apparently aren’t optimistic either, as a couple of new reports make clear.

Anyway, there it is.  Good reading to you, and godspeed to our those in our armed forces, and those of our allies.