Carl von Clausewitz

German-Prussian general and military theorist

Carl von Clausewitz (1 June 178016 November 1831) was a Prussian general and influential military theorist. He is most famous for his military treatise Vom Kriege, translated into English as On War.

War is very simple, but in War the simplest things become very difficult.

Quotes edit

On War (1832) edit

Full text online at Project Gutenberg

Book 1 edit

War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.
  • War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.
    • Ch. 1, ¶2
  • Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.
    • Ch. 1, Section 3, ¶1
  • To introduce into the philosophy of War itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.
    • Ch. 1, Section 3, ¶3
    • Variant translation: To introduce into the philosophy of war a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.
      • As quoted in The Campaign of 1914 in France and Belgium‎ (1915) by George Herbert Perris, p. 56
  • War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds.
    • Ch. 1, Section 3, ¶8
    • Variant translation: War is an act of violence which in its application knows no bonds.
      • As quoted in The Campaign of 1914 in France and Belgium‎ (1915) by George Herbert Perris, p. 56
  • Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln
    • War is merely the continuation of policy by other means.
      We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.
    • Ch. 1, Section 24, in the Princeton University Press translation (1976)
    • Variant translations:
    • War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.
    • 'War is merely the continuation of politics with other means.'
  • Determination in a single instance is an expression of courage; if it becomes characteristic, a mental habit. But here we are referring not to physical courage but to courage to accept responsibility, courage in the face of a moral danger. This has often been called courage d'esprit, because it is created by the intellect. That, however, does not make it an act of the intellect: it is an act of temperament. Intelligence alone is not courage; we often see that the most intelligent people are irresolute. Since in the rush of events a man is governed by feelings rather than by thought, the intellect needs to arouse the quality of courage, which then supports and sustains it in action.
    Looked at in this way, the role of determination is to limit the agonies of doubt and the perils of hesitation when the motives for action are inadequate.
    • Ch. 3
  • Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea. (Original German: "Ein starkes Gemüt ist nicht ein solches, welches bloß starker Regungen fähig ist, sondern dasjenige, welches bei den stärksten Regungen im Gleichgewicht bleibt, so daß trotz den Stürmen in der Brust der Einsicht und Überzeugung wie der Nadel des Kompasses auf dem sturmbewegten Schiff das feinste Spiel gestattet ist.")
    • Ch. 3
  • Action in war is like movement in a resistant element. Just as the simplest and most natural of movements, walking, cannot easily be performed in water, so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results.
  • The invention of gunpowder and the constant improvement of firearms are enough in themselves to show that the advance of civilization has done nothing practical to alter or deflect the impulse to destroy the enemy, which is central to the very idea of war.
  • The worst of all conditions in which a belligerent can find himself is to be utterly defenseless.
  • Men are always more inclined to pitch their estimate of the enemy's strength too high than too low, such is human nature.
  • ...only the element of chance is needed to make war a gamble, and that element is never absent.
  • the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards.
  • Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.
  • With uncertainty in one scale, courage and self-confidence should be thrown into the other to correct the balance. The greater they are, the greater the margin that can be left for accidents.
  • ...the side that feels the lesser urge for peace will naturally get the better bargain.
  • Blind aggressiveness would destroy the attack itself, not the defense.
  • Our discussion has shown that while in war many different roads can lead to the goal, to the attainment of the political object, fighting is the only possible means.
  • Any complex activity, if it is to be carried on with any degree of virtuosity, calls for appropriate gifts of intellect and temperament. If they are outstanding and reveal themselves in exceptional achievements, their possessor is called a 'genius'.
  • If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.
  • ...the role of determination is to limit the agonies of doubt and the perils of hesitation when the motives for action are inadequate.
  • Of all the passions that inspire a man in a battle, none, we have to admit, is so powerful and so constant as the longing for honor and renown.
  • Obstinacy is a fault of temperament. Stubbornness and intolerance of contradiction result from a special kind of egotism, which elevates above everything else the pleasure of its autonomous intellect, to which others must bow.
  • ...self-reliance is the best defense against the pressures of the moment.
  • Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.

Book 2 edit

  • Architects and painters know precisely what they are about as long as they deal with material phenomena. … But when they come to the aesthetics of their work, when they aim at a particular effect on the mind or on the senses, the rules dissolve into nothing but vague ideas.
  • Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations; this serves more or less as a substitute for hatred between individuals.
  • ...soldierly simplicity of character that has always represented the military at its best. In the higher ranks it is different. The higher a man is placed, the broader his point of view. Different interests and a wide variety of passions, good and bad, will arise on all sides. Envy and generosity, pride and humility, wrath and compassion - all may appear as effective forces in this great drama.
  • ...talent and genius operate outside the rules, and theory conflicts with practice.
  • The more physical the activity, the less the difficulties will be. The more the activity becomes intellectual and turns into motives which exercise a determining influence on the commander's will, the more the difficulties will increase.
  • Great things alone can make a great mind, and petty things will make a petty mind unless a man rejects them as completely alien.
  • Knowledge in war is very simple, being concerned with so few subjects, and only with their final results at that. But this does not make its application easy.
  • intellectual instinct which extracts the essence from the phenomena of life, as a bee sucks honey from a flower. In addition to study and reflections, life itself serves as a source.
  • Knowledge must be so absorbed into the mind that it ceases to exist in a separate, objective way.
  • is better to go on striking in the same direction than to move one's forces this way and that.
  • There are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom.
  • Thus it has come about that our theoretical and critical literature, instead of giving plain, straightforward arguments in which the author at least always knows what he is saying and the reader what he is reading, is crammed with jargon, ending at obscure crossroads where the author loses its readers. Sometimes these books are even worse: they are just hollow shells. The author himself no longer knows just what he is thinking and soothes himself with obscure ideas which would not satisfy him if expressed in plain speech.
  • Anyone who feels the urge to undertake such a task must dedicate himself for his labors as he would prepare for a pilgrimage to distant lands. He must spare no time or effort, fear no earthly power or rank, and rise above his own vanity or false modesty in order to tell, in accordance with the expression of the Code Napoléon, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  • Essentally combat is an expression of hostile feelings. But in the large-scale combat that we call war hostile feelings often have become merely hostile intentions. At any rate, there are usually no hostile feelings between individuals. Yet such emotions can never be completely absent from war. Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations; this serves as a more or less substitute for the hatred between individuals. Even when there is no natural hatred and no animosity to start with, the fighting itself will stir up hostile feelings: violence committed on superior orders will stir up the desire for revenge and retaliation against the perpetrator rather than against the powers that ordered the action. It is only human (or animal, if you like), but it is a fact.

Book 3 edit

  • A prince or general can best demonstrate his genius by managing a campaign exactly to suit his objectives and his resources, doing neither too much nor too little.
  • What we should admire is the acute fulfillment of the unspoken assumptions, the smooth harmony of the whole activity, which only become evident in the final success.
  • Where execution is dominant, as it is in the individual events of a war whether great or small, then intellectual factors are reduced to a minimum.
  • If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits. In so doing, and in ignoring the fact that they are links in a continuous chain of events, we also ignore the possibility that their possession may later lead to definite disadvantages.
  • war, the advantages and disadvantages of a single action could only be determined by the final balance.
  • The moral elements are among the most important in war. They constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole, and at an early stage they establish a close affinity with the will that moves and leads a whole mass of force, practically merging with it, since the will is itself a moral quantity. Unfortunately they will not yield to academic wisdom. They cannot be classified or counted. They have to be seen or felt. … It is paltry philosophy if in the old-fashioned way one lays down rules and principles in total disregard of moral values. As soon as these appear one regards them as exceptions, which gives them a certain scientific status, and thus makes them into rules. Or again one may appeal to genius, which is above all rules; which amounts to admitting that rules are not only made for idiots, but are idiotic in themselves.
    • Ch 3 : Moral Factors, as translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret.
  • The commander's talents are given greatest scope in rough hilly country. Mountains allow him too little real command over his scattered units and he is unable to control them all; in open country, control is a simple matter and does not test his ability to the fullest.
  • Boldness will be at a disadvantage only in an encounter with deliberate caution, which may be considered bold in its own right, and is certainly just as powerful and effective; but such cases are rare.
  • Timidity is the root of prudence in the majority of men.
  • Boldness governed by superior intellect is the mark of a hero.
  • man under pressure tends to give in to physical and intellectual weakness, only great strength of will can lead to the objective.
  • Beauty cannot be defined by abscissas and ordinates; neither are circles and ellipses created by their geometrical formulas.
  • If a segment of one's force is located where it is not sufficiently busy with the enemy, or if the troops are on the march - that is, idle - while the enemy is fighting, then these forces are being managed uneconomically. In this sense they are being wasted, which is even worse than using them inappropriately.
  • ...any move made in a state of tension will be of more important, and will have more results, than it would have made in a state of equilibrium. In times of maximum tension this importance will rise to an infinite degree.
  • The state of crisis is the real war; the equilibrium is nothing but its reflex.

Book 5 edit

  • All war presupposes human weakness and seeks to exploit it.

Book 6 edit

  • What is the object of defense? To preserve. To preserve is easier than to acquire.
    • Ch. 1
  • Every suspension of offensive action, either from erroneous views, from fear or from indolence, is in favor of the side acting defensively.
    • Ch. 1
  • If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object.
    • Ch. 1
  • But if the assailant, without troubling himself about the existence of the Army awaiting his attack in a defensive position, advances with his main body by another line in pursuit of his object, then he 'passes by the position,' and if he can do this with impunity, and really does it, he will immediately enforce the abandonment of the position, consequently put an end to its usefulness.
    • Ch. 1
  • Surprise becomes effective when we suddenly face the enemy at one point with far more troops than he expected. This type of numerical superiority is quite distinct from numerical superiority in general: it is the most powerful medium in the art of war.
    • Ch. 1
  • Phillipsburg was the name of one of those badly drawn fortresses resembling a fool with his nose too close to the wall.
    • Ch. 2
  • The Conqueror is always a lover of peace: he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.
    • Ch. 2
  • A conqueror is always a lover of peace (as Bonaparte always asserted of himself); he would like to make his entry into our state unopposed; in order to prevent this, we must choose war, and therefore also make preparations, that is in other words, it is just the weak, or that side which must defend itself, which should be always armed in order not to be taken by surprise; so it is willed by the art of war. (Original German: "Der Eroberer ist immer friedliebend (wie Bonaparte auch stets behauptet hat), er zöge ganz gern ruhig in unseren Staat ein; damit er dies aber nicht könne, darum müssen wir den Krieg wollen und also auch vorbereiten, d. h. mit anderen Worten: es sollen gerade die Schwachen, der Verteidigung Unterworfenen, immer gerüstet sein und nicht überfallen werden; so will es die Kriegskunst.")
    • Ch. 5
  • A general who allows himself to be decisively defeated in an extended mountain position deserves to be court-martialled.
    • Ch. 11
  • ...only a fraction of book learning will seep into practical life anyhow; and the more foolish the theory, the less of it.
    • Ch. 17

Quotes about Clausewitz edit

  • On War constitutes the most important single work ever written on the subject. It has inspired general staffs, radical thinkers like Marx and Mao Tse-tung, and (with the start of the Cold War) jargon-ridden American academic studies of "strategy", huge in size but low in payload. Yet, oddly enough, Clausewitz figures little in university courses on political thought. Why Burke, Rousseau and J.S. Mill, but not Clausewitz? It is because his analysis is far too politically incorrect to be acceptable to the liberal mindset that has prevailed in Western academia since the mid-19th century. But such is Clausewitz's continuing power that small-l liberals even including, sad to say, John Keegan, author of this year's Reith Lectures – are at vast pains to dismiss his thinking as irrelevant, outmoded, dangerous or, absurdly, amoral.
  • What lessons, then, does the case of Clausewitz...offer to a military historian asked to ponder the future of war over the next 170 years? The first is that it would be pointless to imagine that future in terms of even the most advanced military technology of today. Everything that Clausewitz wrote, about the actual conduct of operations became irrelevant within 50 years, because firepower became transformed by breechloading, rifling and the machine-gun, while logistics and communications were transformed by the railway and the electric telegraph... Rather than thus seek to predict how wars will be operationally conducted and with what technology, it is more useful to return for guidance to Clausewitz's fundamental insights into the enduring nature of conflict and the relationship between war and politics. He famously wrote that "war is a continuation of policy by other means", meaning that it is not just a regrettable breakdown of a natural human harmony (as in the liberal view), but a tool of political purpose, and one which should be governed throughout its course by political, not purely military considerations. War, he further observes, is an act of violence intended to compel an opponent to fulfil our will.
  • One cannot help feeling that Liddell Hart was prejudiced against Clausewitz in the profoundest sense. He writes throughout as though the latter was advocating unlimited war to the exclusion of all alternatives, whereas even a superficial reading shows Clausewitz's intention to have been quite different; namely to suggest that total war was at one end of the spectrum of inter-state violence. Napoleon's campaigns had shown that modern nations in arms were capable of fighting such "total" wars and, once manifested, it was unlikely that similar wars would not occur in the future. But total war was "ideal" for Clausewitz only in the philosophical sense: his reiterated phrases to the effect that war must be subordinated to policy and is indeed only "a continuation of state policy with an admixture of other means" gives the lie to Liddell Hart's misrepresentation. In numerous places where Liddell Hart criticises him, Clausewitz is only coolly and accurately describing what tends to happen in war. The former gives the game away when he remarks: "Perhaps the harm might have been avoided if his book had been viewed in the light that its title implied—as a treatise on the nature of war, instead of as a practical guide to the conduct of war." Yet this is precisely the mistake that Liddell Hart himself repeatedly makes.
    • Brian Bond, Liddell Hart: A Study of His Military Thought (1977), pp. 80-81
  • His is not simply the greatest but the only truly great book on war.
    • Bernard Brodie, ‘The Continuing Relevance of On War’, in Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1976; 1989), p. 53
  • 1870 woke us out of that sleep, for it gave us an enemy formed by the teaching of history—by the study of concrete facts. It was in such a fashion that Scharnhorst, Willisen and Clausewitz had, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, formed the Command of the Prussian Army. In order to know and understand war they had not confined themselves to examining the tool which is used in warfare, and taking it to pieces in its component material parts without taking man—who uses it—into account. In the Book of History, carefully analysed, they had found the living Army, troops in movement and action with their human needs, passions, weaknesses, self-denials, capacities of all sorts: "Far from being an exact science, war is a dreadful and impassioned drama."
  • It was during the period of calm that one of the most important works of military science was composed, Vom Kriege (‘On War’), by the director of the Prussian War Academy, Carl von Clausewitz.
    This little-read but much-criticised book contains the first attempt to create a philosophy of war and to analyse its characteristics from a detached standpoint. It played a great part in forming the attitude of mind of several generations of German General Staff Corps officers. From it derives that striving to observe both men and affairs coolly and sensibly which has been the foremost quality of all outstanding members of the German General Staff. It served also to strengthen the patriotism and the idealism which inspired such officers.
  • Although Moltke did not follow Clausewitz's teachings on the proper relationship between war and politics, on many other points he was the key link between On War's philosophical speculations and the theory and practice of the Prussian army. Writing after the Second World War, General Staff officer Hermann Teske wrote that Moltke was the incarnation of the Clausewitzian theory. In the essays printed here, the reader will find ample conformation that Moltke employed Clausewitzian thinking and specific terms in numerous cases. Both Clausewitz and Moltke emphasised the primacy of battle and annihilation of the main enemy army. Both accepted uncertainty in warfare and emphasised improvisation over permanent or binding doctrine. Both emphasised the need for speed in making and executing decisions rather than lengthy searches for ideal solutions. Both emphasised moral factors in war and the need for independent action by local commanders, although Moltke certainly carried this farther than did Clausewitz. Both rejected the idea that systems could ever replace individual talent, and neither believed that any firm rules were possible in warfare.
    • Daniel J. Hughes, 'Introduction', Moltke On the Art of War: Selected Writings (1993), pp. 5-6
  • Herbert Rosinski concluded that Moltke was the man who applied Clausewitz's pure theory to the sphere of practical action. Waldemar Erfurth, an important German military writer and general in the Second World War, argued that Moltke freed the Prussian General Staff from Jomini's theories, led it into the intellectual world of Clausewitz, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau, and developed Clausewitz's operational teachings in light of nineteenth-century developments.
    • Daniel J. Hughes, 'Introduction', Moltke On the Art of War: Selected Writings (1993), p. 6
  • We all know the dictum of Clausewitz, one of the most famous writers on the philosophy and history of war, which says: “War is a continuation of policy by other means.” This dictum comes from a writer who reviewed the history of wars and drew philosophic lessons from it shortly after the period of the Napoleonic wars. This writer, whose basic views are now undoubtedly familiar to every thinking person, nearly eighty years ago challenged the ignorant man-in-the-street conception of war as being a thing apart from the policies of the governments and classes concerned, as being a simple attack that disturbs the peace, and is then followed by restoration of the peace thus disturbed…
    • Vladimir Lenin, 'War and Revolution: A Lecture Delivered May 14 (27), 1917', Pravda No. 93 (23 April 1929)
      • Известно изречение одного из самых знаменитых писателей по философии войн и по истории войн — Клаузевица, которое гласит: «Война есть продолжение политики иными средствами». Это изречение принадлежит писателю, который обозревал историю войн и выводил философские уроки из этой истории — вскоре после эпохи наполеоновских войн. Этот писатель, основные мысли которого сделались в настоящее время безусловным приобретением всякого мыслящего человека, уже около 80 лет тому назад боролся против обывательского и невежественного предрассудка, будто бы войну можно выделить из политики соответственных правительств, соответственных классов, будто бы войну когда-нибудь можно рассматривать как простое нападение, нарушающее мир, и затем восстановление этого нарушенного мира.
  • If one weighs his influence and his emphasis, one might describe him historically as the Mahdi of mass and mutual massacre. For he was the source of the doctrine of "absolute war", the fight to a finish theory which, beginning with the argument that "war is only a continuation of state policy by other means", ended by making policy the slave of strategy.
  • Clausewitz's principle of force without limit and without calculation of cost fits, and is only fit for, a hate-maddened mob. It is the negation of statesmanship—and of intelligent strategy, which seeks to serve the ends of policy.
  • [T]he rascal has a ‘common sense’ bordering on wit.
  • It is difficult not to feel that Clausewitz was right in teaching that "you must concentrate against the main enemy, who must be overthrown first", and that "the armed forces form the true objective", at least in any war where there is a genuine ideological issue.
    • George Orwell, review of B. H. Liddell Hart's The British Way in Warfare in New Statesman and Nation (21 November 1942), quoted in George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume II: My Country Right or Left, 1940–1943, eds. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (1968), p. 248
  • By considering a few of Clausewitz's statements in isolation and christening him the "Mahdi of Mass," Basil Liddell Hart portrayed him as an intellectual forerunner of the commanders of the First World War, who for three-and-a-half years found no way out of the stalemate of the Western front, with its hundreds and thousands of casualties each week. For having stated that war was merely the continuation of policy by other means, Clausewitz was charged with minimising differences between peace and war, and thus making war more acceptable. But that accusation was based on a misunderstanding of the larger theoretical purpose of this definition: to identify political decisions as the common cause of war, which—if the leadership was rational—should also determine the degree of violence needed to achieve the political purpose. This misinterpretation fed into the view held by John Keegan, among others, that Clausewitz saw nothing morally reprehensible in war, and that his theories contributed to the boundless violence of the world wars and their ancillary conflicts in the twentieth century. To misread Clausewitz, and then ascribe to his ideas a greater influence than the world's actual experience with Napoleonic war, the vast expansion of armed forces throughout the nineteenth century, industrialisation, modern technology, and new ideologies, is, however, to fail to distinguish between historical events and their analyst.
    • Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times (1976; 1985), p. ix
  • [T]he characterisation of Clausewitz as a conservative fails to place him in the Prussian context, and, on the other hand, does not recognise that in the 1820s even a Briton with Clausewitz's views would have been a very odd Tory indeed. Clausewitz welcomed the destruction of corporative society in Prussia, to which he himself had contributed during the reform era; he believed in equality before the law, in a strong militia or Landwehr based on universal military service, in an independent judiciary, ministerial responsibility, a limited franchise, and a parliament with advisory functions. These views had much in common with early German liberalism, which still considered representative institutions less important than a professional and honest administration and a strong executive, able to defend Germany against east and west. Clausewitz's emphasis on a powerful central authority had conservative implications; yet it placed him in opposition to those conservatives who were more concerned with maintaining the traditional order of society than with increasing the power of the state, and neither Prussian conservatives nor the crown had any patience with the idea of a parliament, however limited its functions.
    • Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times (1976; 1985), p. xiv
  • Clausewitz's position on domestic issues was heavily influenced by his view of foreign affairs as they affected the security of the Prussian state. He was immune to the Byronic idealisation of liberation and freedom, valued stability, and trusted the balance of power to overcome or contain most international crises, as long as the strongest states had the ability and will to resort to war to defend the independence of the international community. That some smaller states might be sacrificed in the process, he accepted as inevitable. But at the same time he believed that Prussia would be stronger politically and militarily if its passive subjects turned into active citizens, serving in an army made up of regulars and a strong Landwehr, an institution that would give the middle class new openings to influence and power. On domestic affairs Clausewitz's views tended toward liberalism, on foreign affairs toward conservatism. In France and Britain before the Reform Act of 1832, these opinions might have placed him among moderates; in Prussia they sufficed to brand him Jacobin.
    • Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times (1976; 1985), p. xiv
  • If one compares Clausewitz and Foch, one will see that Foch before the World War strongly emphasized the demoralization of the enemy as the military objective; whereas Clausewitz, thinking more coolly and more comprehensively, reminded his readers that the capture or killing of the enemy constitutes in the tactical sphere the final destruction of his ability to fight on, whereas his moral overthrow constitutes only a conditioned, or generally only a temporary elimination.
    • Walther Reinhardt, quoted in Herbert Rosinski, The German Army (1939; rev. ed., 1944), pp. 185-186
  • Clausewitz was anything but a mere expert, a technician of the military craft. As shown by his poetic and expressive language alone, his way was a truly creative mind, richly endowed, open to all the sensations of nature, the full wealth of the human spirit. All in all he represented a most curious and rare combination of philosophical contemplation and impatience for action, of cold, lucid intellect and passionate sensitivity—a reflective spirit who ardently longed for heroic deeds with an ambition that was never to be fulfilled. He was, therefore, virtually predestined to cast the essence of the Prussian military spirit into a literary form none had found before him.
    • Gerhard Ritter, The Sword and the Sceptre: The Problem of Militarism in Germany, Volume I: The Prussian Tradition, 1740–1890 (1972), p. 52
  • His Protestation of 1812 is by far the purest and most powerful expression of the new spirit of militancy that inspired the patriots of 1812–1813. Among other things it contains a virtual catalogue of political virtues and vices, a brief summary of the new militant political ethic, so to speak. Clausewitz solemnly rejected everything that might buffer the iron necessity of a life-and-death struggle, or that might tempt man to evade it—such things as the "frivolous hope" for a favourable chance; languid inaction while blindly waiting what the future might bring; "unworthy servility and flattery" to appease tyrants; "false resignation" and "unreasoning distrust" of one's own capacity; "culpable neglect of duty" toward the general good; and above all cowardly submission and the "shameless surrender of the country's and people's honour, of the personal dignity of man." What he pledged instead was to shed the last drop of blood for life's freedom and dignity; to put king and country above all else; to regard their preservation as a "most sacred duty"; to "meet danger with manly courage, calm and firm resolve, and full awareness"; to be prepared to make the "supreme sacrifice" without fear or false cunning, free of all selfishness, inspired by the "glorious struggle for freedom and the dignity of the fatherland."
    • Gerhard Ritter, The Sword and the Sceptre: The Problem of Militarism in Germany, Volume I: The Prussian Tradition, 1740–1890 (1972), pp. 53-54
  • That the General Staff succeeded in preserving the lessons learned at such cost in the struggle against Napoleon, was to a large extent the work of Clausewitz. Among the whole group of the Reformers, Clausewitz had been from the outset the theoretician par excellence. Not in the sense of a one-sided abstract academic pedant, but as a practical soldier, who at the same time happened to be that rare phenomenon, a natural born theorist; combining a keen appreciation of the requirements of a sound theory, with a unique understanding of the practical uses to which it could be put. During the wars against Napoleon a series of mishaps kept Clausewitz in relatively subordinate positions incommensurate with his exceptional abilities. After the peace had been reestablished, he was confined for twelve dreary years, from 1818 to 1830 to a purely administrative post as military director of the War Academy in Berlin. There, out of the intense feeling of frustration that forced him to seek an outlet for his gifts and energies in his private studies arose a long series of military studies, culminating in his famous treatise On War, the most profound, comprehensive, and systematic examination of war that has appeared to the present day.
  • [H]e far transcended the two great inspirations of his life: Scharnhorst and Napoleon. Out of Scharnhorst's fragmentary and aphoristic heritage he developed the systematic, closely knit, perfectly balanced theory, in which every factor, every aspect, every argument had its place from which it could not be removed without fatally endangering the delicate balance of the whole. From the deep appreciation of the revolution wrought by Napoleon in the art of war, he reached an infinitely broader conception embracing within its elastic framework and majestic sweep every conceivable form of warfare and strategy... [T]he impression it made when it was published after his death through the devoted efforts of his widow and friends was extraordinary. The circle of those who noticed it was at first not large, and the magnitude of his achievement, even in its fragmentary form, was far too great to be taken in at once. But his perfect mastery of his subject, the intuitive genius with which he had succeeded in expressing what his contemporaries consciously or subconsciously felt, the charm of his style deeply affected all those who read it. By a process of infiltration, the influence of his ideas spread through the higher ranks of the army, influencing the thoughts of men and replacing the far more superficial, if much more easily assimilable, doctrines of his Swiss contemporary and rival Jomini. That process, going on unobtrusively throughout the middle decades of the 19th Century, came to a full and open conclusion after the sudden death of Reyher when the leadership of the General Staff was entrusted to Moltke, who combined in an almost perfect balance the technical mastery of the conduct of operations developed in the General Staff with his profound insight into the deeper issues developed in Clausewitz's great treatise.
  • We must renounce attempts at building an absolute revolutionary strategy out of the elements of our limited experience of the three years of civil war, during which units of a particular quality fought under particular conditions. Clausewitz warned very well against this. "What could be more natural," he wrote, "than the fact that war of the French Revolution had its characteristic style, and what theory could have been expected to accommodate it? The danger is that this kind of style, developed out of a single case, can easily outlive the situation that gave rise to it: for conditions change imperceptibly. That danger is the very thing a theory should prevent by lucid, rational criticism. In 1806 the Prussian generals were under the sway of this methodism", and so on. Alas! Prussian generals are not the only ones with an inclination towards methodism, that is, towards stereotypes and conventional patterns.
  • [Clausewitz] quite understands that you must break the enemy's will, for which he suggests three processes: first to crush his army, and then to take his capital and, if that is not enough, to occupy his territory.
    • Spenser Wilkinson to B. H. Liddell Hart (14 June 1924), quoted in Brian Bond, Liddell Hart: A Study of His Military Thought (1977), p. 44

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