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Topic: The Meaning of Clausewitz  (Read 2155 times)
To Understand Everything Means To Forgive Everyone.
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« on: March 19, 2007, 02:47:10 PM »

Philosopher Immanuel Kant has done his work too well on von Causewitz, his student, for the latter is too evidently practicing the intellectual tautology founded on pure logic as the "categorical imperative" for his work "On War". I mean this simply on the account of Clausewitz's unstated presumption that cold and calculated logic (even if mere ‘common sense’) is the driving force of War and therefore also of History - and not a hint as to the fact that a pattern of the irrational does exist and determines far more the course of wars (even, I say, in the age of Rationalism!) than a rational and war-resources-comprehensive Napoleonic-era "wrestling match" (war) or "fist fight to the finish" (a war in the sense of the times of Clausewitz and his work). Even today we are still living in a historic epoch derived from Industrial and French Revolutions, a period known in other cultures (like the Chinese) as “The Age of Contending States (Nations).” Only for such a fearful period, always lasting a few centuries and coming invariably at an end of every Culture-cycle, does the type of warfare that Clausewitz preaches make historic sense.

As for Clausewitz’s typically Rationalistic or Age-of-Enlightenment premise of universal logical principles of war – it almost suffers from the kind of ailment that every period-specific theory has (for Marxism it was the example of British industrialization, for Darwin it was the phlegmatic Ape idea, for liberal democratism of today it is the façade of American democracy, for Leninism it was the Colonialism of the day, etc.) and for Clausewitz theory of warfare it was the system of warfare practiced by Napoleon. Still, his allowance for the empirical factor and a lack of true presumptuousness makes his work a practical guide to warfare in the Age of Contending States.

To name a few examples from History for which nothing in Clausewitz theory of war is applicable:

Exhibit A. (The Prussian Class Revolt)

There was absolutely nothing rational or sensible about the continuation of war in Europe after July 20th 1944 (the assassination attempt on Hitler) - and yet the war continued on into the dismal abyss.

Exhibit B. (The Oriental Northerners)
There was nothing rational about the desperate conduct of war on the part of North Korea and North Vietnam - and yet each “won” a war through horrendous casualties with bragging rights. Was the war necessary in each case for the native side?

Exhibit C. (The Serbian Pride)
Continuing with the fatalistic Serbian tendency towards hopeless resistance - there was nothing rational about the decision of President Milosevic of Serbia in 1999 to refuse an ultimatum by NATO – nor was there anything rational about the Serbian decision to break the mild Treaty with Hitler in late March, 1941.

Exhibit C. (Militant Judaism)
There was nothing rational about the great Jewish revolts against the Romans (both the revolt of Pharisees/Zealots of 68 AD, the Trajan’s “Parthian War” 115-117 AD, and Bar Kocheba/Rabbi Akiva's great revolt of 131 AD). Even the revolt of Judah Maccabee (160’s BC) against the Greek Syrians ought to be counted among events of this irrational sort. Ironically, the Palestinians of today in relation to the Israelis are almost exactly there where the ancient Judaic Jews were in relation to their Alexandrian Greek (“Diadochi”) and Roman contemporaries (the “Israelis” of those days). Even in the choice of self-destructive, terroristic methods of resistance to an alien community’s forces there is no discrepancy between the two historic parallels.

One reason the above examples are exempted from Clausewitz Theory of War is because the following thought from the 1st chapter of his seminal book “On War” does not address them (but in fact excludes them in the very act of trying to become universal):

“Force—that is, physical force, FOR MORAL FORCE HAS NO EXISTENCE SAVE AS EXPRESSED IN THE STATE AND THE LAW—is thus the means of war; to impose our will on the enemy is its object. To secure that object we must render the enemy powerless; and that, in theory, is the true aim of warfare.” 1

One need only glance at the Book of Revelations according to John at the end of the New Testament to see what sort of imagery drove the ancient Jewish zealots to war – in fact is manifested in their firm belief in the wealth of the invisible World out there for the sake of which they would fight so they could die a righteous death in the process. This can either be considered AS THE OBJECT OF RELIGIOUS WAR (the moral force of their “divinely inspired” being – the lamb of sacrifice – as the ‘casus belli’ in itself) OR their apocalyptic-grade hatred of everything Gentile and pagan can (which would most likely be labeled as ‘genocide’-inspiration today). Martyrdom was a powerful spiritual force that defined the nature of the fighting on one side, for example in the difficult Trajan’s War (112-117 AD) and characterized the Jewish resistance incredibly helter-skelter ferocious and unpredictable – in part because the opponents, the Jewish-Persian Crusade against Rome and its scions, was not motivated by clearly definable goals, and although the theoretical object of its rising was the annihilation of Rome and its people – the logic behind the actual fighting was to secure eternal life through a righteous death in battle. 2

That is why every Jewish revolt against Rome began with a ritualistic massacre of any hapless Classical (pagan) community that happened to be within reach of the rebels (according to Josephus, in the revolt of 68 AD, Pilate’s old administrative capital of Judea, Caesaria Maritima, was annihilated together with its Classical occupants at the onset of the revolt). The reason of course for such murderous hatred has to be found in the very real feeling among the ancient middle-easterners of the non-Classical cast that these Classical-cast pagan communities implanted in their midst represent the agents of the Devil enslaving the “People of God” through the hedonistic Classical cities which were always supported and built by the sumptuous and highly civilized Graeco-Italian pagan conquerors to the chagrin of all the prophets of the Bible.3

Although the Romans did resort to brutal counter-measures to defeat the rebels (certainly a Saddam-style measures) – in the end – instead of resulting in a “Kingdom of God” around a large venerated religious temple to a single god – all their actions would result in new roads, aqueducts, amphitheatres, forae, shopping malls (mercati), basilicas, mausoleums and libraries with this worldly goals. Their aim was not, although it could be (and at times it was – such as it was with Carthage in 146 BC) a total annihilation of the enemy. The Romans did not yearn for a total destruction of their enemies (otherwise how would they exploit their victories?) while their northern barbarian and middle-eastern enemies (around the time of Jesus) did.

The great military historian and venerated analyst Hans Delbruck (who debunked many myths that were imported into Western scholarship thanks to a myopic extrapolation of ancient sources uncritically) clearly discovered the limited application of the type of thought finding expression through Clausewitz, in Historic time, by distinguishing between Ermattungsstrategie (the strategy of exhaustion) and (Clausewitz’s) Niederwerfungsstrategie (the strategy of annihilation). 4

The following quote does not fully explain the type of event (a deeply religious war fought as such only by one side) but does contain a postulate appropriate for passionate struggle of irreconcilable opponents (something that was unthinkable in the European Age of the Baroque and of the Gothic – but quite natural in the 20th and the 21st century):

“The thesis, then, must be repeated: war is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force. Each side, therefore, compels its opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes.” 5

The Congress of Vienna in 1815 was truly the last “gentleman’s agreement” that finally closed the Age of the Baroque for Europe as far as diplomacy was concerned in one last grand gesture.

The 1st book of Clausewitz’s volume “On War” is titled “On the Nature of War” and it defines the general characteristics of war in social and political world, and identifies elements that are always present in the conduct of war:

- danger
- physical/mental effort
- psychological factors
- many impediments (“friction”) [room for the empirical factors]
(“The art of war deals with living and with moral forces. Consequently, it cannot attain the absolute, or certainty; it must always leave a margin for uncertainty, in the greatest things as much as in the smallest.”) 6

Although the following is often used as the hallmark of Clausewitz’s argument (“WAR IS MERELY THE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS”) it is not the main argument of chapter 1, section 1.

The following beautifully-worded argument of Clausewitz express not only his acumen and openness for historic understanding of war-problems but also a logical foundation for viewing war in a larger context:

“The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army: the third the government. 1) The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; 2) the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; 3) but the political aims are the business of government alone .
These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless. [i.e. Marxism]
Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets.”

This core setting for Clausewitz’s world-view (in German: “Weltanschauung”) is a reflection of the age of Napoleon (the sudden “peripeteia” of Western History brought about by the failure at Valmy in 1792 of the Baroque powers) – which is relevant for the entire West from then on (but not necessarily or not at all for the non-Western World).

Only under the type of government that Napoleon created (as a paradigm for the future internal State-devolution of the West from its highest possible form-expression in the Age of the Baroque across the stages of democratic political chaos to the last age in the future of the West when military officers will run the government at whimsical will) are the three futuristic tendencies clearly distinguished – the passions of the throngs (the once-sovereign people devolving into a mob that demands pleasing), the accident of talented leadership (for which there is NO future guarantee) and the strong political policies coming from the civilian side (dependent upon a viable tradition of civilian training for the affairs of State - precisely the kind that Germany lacked in both world wars). The fact that Napoleon, the commander, controlled the civilian side too – was merely an early harbinger of dire things to come centuries later (much like in the Classical humanity - centuries prior the leadership of Appius Claudius the Censor in Rome or Alexander the Great in Macedon foreshadowed Marius, Sulla and ultimately Caesar).

This is the answer to what I believe a question #5 in our lesson outline for the week is communicating about (“What did Clausewitz mean when he wrote, “As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity”?”) The total war is not however a sum of the three contradicting parts – one need only glance at the respected civilian institution of the Roman tribunate (which was a powerful civilian office that later served to enable the ambitious generals to use to claim political legitimacy – and Augustus retained it) – which is something that in the future can be done with the office of the US presidency (which already designates the holder as “commander-in-chief” never mind that many civilian U.S. presidents were dunces in military terms).
So, something less than a total war is less than a trinity – because a total war (understood as the total mobilization of national resources for the waging of war on all fronts) – the way Dr. Joseph Goebbels defined it in 1943 (“Totalen Krieg”) – needs all three, however NOT necessarily bound in a relationship that Clausewitz postulated with his trinity arrangement (the actual civilian government can disappear as it did under Napoleon and a war-machine can determine war-policy as the German General Staff did in WWI during the abjectly weak civilian leadership of the Kaiser).

Only when a state is no longer in proper form do its constituent parts (public, government and military) appear to be in real or actual contradiction and mutual conflict. There is no longer an organic functional unity at play. The Autumn of the History of the West is already inadvertently hinted at by this view that Clausewitz formulated. What used to come about naturally now requires a logical formula to be explained.


1 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), page 76

2 Dr.Oswald Spengler ‘Decline of the West vol.II p.480

3 ibid.

4 Gordon Craig in “Makers of Modern Strategy” (edited by P. Paret) p.341

5 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), page 88

6. ibid.
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