On War

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Vom Kriege (German pronunciation: [fɔm ˈkʁiːɡə]) is a book on war and military strategy by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, written mostly after the Napoleonic wars, between 1816 and 1830, and published posthumously by his wife in 1832. It has been translated into English several times as On War. On War is actually an unfinished work; Clausewitz had set about revising his accumulated manuscripts in 1827, but did not live to finish the task. His wife eventually compiled his work, leaving out his later revisions, and finishing the final two chapters either herself or with assistance from an unknown government official.[1]

Clausewitz integrates politics and social and economic issues as some of the most important factors in deciding the outcomes of a war. It is one of the most important treatises on strategy ever written, and is prescribed at various military academies to this day.

Contents

History

Carl von Clausewitz was a Prussian officer among those baffled by how the armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon had changed the nature of war through their ability to motivate the populace and thus unleash war on a greater scale than had previously been the case in Europe. Clausewitz was well educated and had a strong interest in art, science, and education, but he was a professional soldier who spent a considerable part of his life fighting against Napoleon. There is no doubt that the insights he gained from his experiences, combined with a solid grasp of European history, provided much of the raw material for the book. On War represents the compilation of his most cogent observations.

Clausewitz states that Napoleon's tactics were not revolutionary at all and that Napoleonic Warfare did not change anything greatly in military history. The technology of weaponry for the most part remained static, and new strategies weren't developed, but rather Napoleon refurbished old ones, mixing them into one grand strategy.

Synopsis

The book contains a wealth of historical examples used to illustrate its various concepts. Frederick II of Prussia (the Great) figures prominently for having made very efficient use of the limited forces at his disposal. Napoleon also is a central figure.

Among many strands of thought, three stand out as essential to Clausewitz's concept:

  • War must never be seen as a purpose to itself, but as a means of physically forcing one's will on an opponent ("War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means."[2]).
  • The military objectives in war that support one's political objectives fall into two broad types: "war to achieve limited aims" and war to "disarm” the enemy: “to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent."
  • The course of war will tend to favor the party employing more force and resources (a notion extended by Germany's leaders in World War One into "total war"—the pursuit of complete military victory regardless of the political consequences).

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