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On War

by General Carl von Clausewitz

{1874 was 1st edition of this translation.
1909 was the London





THE Germans interpret their new national colours--black,
red, and white-by the saying, "Durch Nacht und Blut zur
licht." ("Through night and blood to light"), and no work
yet written conveys to the thinker a clearer conception
of all that the red streak in their flag stands for than this
deep and philosophical analysis of "War" by Clausewitz.

It reveals "War," stripped of all accessories, as the
exercise of force for the attainment of a political object,
unrestrained by any law save that of expediency, and
thus gives the key to the interpretation of German political
aims, past, present, and future, which is unconditionally
necessary for every student of the modern conditions
of Europe. Step by step, every event since
Waterloo follows with logical consistency from the
teachings of Napoleon, formulated for the first time,
some twenty years afterwards, by this remarkable

What Darwin accomplished for Biology generally
Clausewitz did for the Life-History of Nations nearly half
a century before him, for both have proved the existence
of the same law in each case, viz., "The survival of the
fittest"--the "fittest," as Huxley long since pointed out,
not being necessarily synonymous with the ethically
"best." Neither of these thinkers was concerned with
the ethics of the struggle which each studied so exhaustively,
but to both men the phase or condition presented
itself neither as moral nor immoral, any more than
are famine, disease, or other natural phenomena, but as
emanating from a force inherent in all living organisms
which can only be mastered by understanding its nature.
It is in that spirit that, one after the other, all the
Nations of the Continent, taught by such drastic lessons as
Koniggrtz and Sedan, have accepted the lesson, with the
result that to-day Europe is an armed camp, and peace is
maintained by the equilibrium of forces, and will continue
just as long as this equilibrium exists, and no longer.

Whether this state of equilibrium is in itself a good or
desirable thing may be open to argument. I have discussed
it at length in my "War and the World's Life";
but I venture to suggest that to no one would a renewal
of the era of warfare be a change for the better, as far
as existing humanity is concerned. Meanwhile, however,
with every year that elapses the forces at present in
equilibrium are changing in magnitude--the pressure of
populations which have to be fed is rising, and an explosion
along the line of least resistance is, sooner or later,

As I read the teaching of the recent Hague Conference,
no responsible Government on the Continent is anxious
to form in themselves that line of least resistance; they
know only too well what War would mean; and we alone,
absolutely unconscious of the trend of the dominant
thought of Europe, are pulling down the dam which may
at any moment let in on us the flood of invasion.

Now no responsible man in Europe, perhaps least of
all in Germany, thanks us for this voluntary destruction
of our defences, for all who are of any importance would
very much rather end their days in peace than incur the
burden of responsibility which War would entail. But
they realise that the gradual dissemination of the principles
taught by Clausewitz has created a condition of
molecular tension in the minds of the Nations they
govern analogous to the "critical temperature of water
heated above boiling-point under pressure," which may at
any moment bring about an explosion which they will be
powerless to control.

The case is identical with that of an ordinary steam
boiler, delivering so and so many pounds of steam to its
engines as long as the envelope can contain the pressure;
but let a breach in its continuity arise--relieving the
boiling water of all restraint--and in a moment the whole
mass flashes into vapour, developing a power no work of
man can oppose.

The ultimate consequences of defeat no man can foretell.
The only way to avert them is to ensure victory;
and, again following out the principles of Clausewitz,
victory can only be ensured by the creation in
peace of an organisation which will bring every available
man, horse, and gun (or ship and gun, if the war be on
the sea) in the shortest possible time, and with the utmost
possible momentum, upon the decisive field of action--
which in turn leads to the final doctrine formulated by
Von der Goltz in excuse for the action of the late President
Kruger in 1899:

"The Statesman who, knowing his instrument to be
ready, and seeing War inevitable, hesitates to strike first
is guilty of a crime against his country."

It is because this sequence of cause and effect is absolutely
unknown to our Members of Parliament, elected
by popular representation, that all our efforts to ensure a
lasting peace by securing efficiency with economy in our
National Defences have been rendered nugatory.

This estimate of the influence of Clausewitz's sentiments
on contemporary thought in Continental Europe
may appear exaggerated to those who have not familiarised
themselves with M. Gustav de Bon's exposition of
the laws governing the formation and conduct of crowds
I do not wish for one minute to be understood as asserting
that Clausewitz has been conscientiously studied and
understood in any Army, not even in the Prussian, but
his work has been the ultimate foundation on which every
drill regulation in Europe, except our own, has been
reared. It is this ceaseless repetition of his fundamental
ideas to which one-half of the male population of every
Continental Nation has been subjected for two to three
years of their lives, which has tuned their minds to
vibrate in harmony with his precepts, and those who
know and appreciate this fact at its true value have
only to strike the necessary chords in order to evoke a
response sufficient to overpower any other ethical conception
which those who have not organised their forces
beforehand can appeal to.

The recent set-back experienced by the Socialists in
Germany is an illustration of my position. The Socialist
leaders of that country are far behind the responsible
Governors in their knowledge of the management of
crowds. The latter had long before (in 1893, in fact)
made their arrangements to prevent the spread of Socialistic
propaganda beyond certain useful limits. As long
as the Socialists only threatened capital they were not
seriously interfered with, for the Government knew quite
well that the undisputed sway of the employer was not
for the ultimate good of the State. The standard of
comfort must not be pitched too low if men are to he
ready to die for their country. But the moment the
Socialists began to interfere seriously with the discipline
of the Army the word went round, and the Socialists
lost heavily at the polls.

If this power of predetermined reaction to acquired
ideas can be evoked successfully in a matter of internal
interest only, in which the "obvious interest" of the
vast majority of the population is so clearly on the side
of the Socialist, it must be evident how enormously greater
it will prove when set in motion against an external
enemy, where the "obvious interest" of the people is,
from the very nature of things, as manifestly on the side
of the Government; and the Statesman who failed to
take into account the force of the "resultant thought
wave" of a crowd of some seven million men, all trained
to respond to their ruler's call, would be guilty of treachery
as grave as one who failed to strike when he knew the
Army to be ready for immediate action.

As already pointed out, it is to the spread of Clausewitz's
ideas that the present state of more or less immediate
readiness for war of all European Armies is due,
and since the organisation of these forces is uniform this
"more or less" of readiness exists in precise proportion
to the sense of duty which animates the several Armies.
Where the spirit of duty and self-sacrifice is low the
troops are unready and inefficient; where, as in Prussia,
these qualities, by the training of a whole century, have
become instinctive, troops really are ready to the last
button, and might be poured down upon any one of her
neighbours with such rapidity that the very first collision
must suffice to ensure ultimate success--a success by no
means certain if the enemy, whoever he may be, is
allowed breathing-time in which to set his house in order.

An example will make this clearer. In 1887 Germany
was on the very verge of War with France and Russia.
At that moment her superior efficiency, the consequence
of this inborn sense of duty--surely one of the highest
qualities of humanity--was so great that it is more than
probable that less than six weeks would have sufficed to
bring the French to their knees. Indeed, after the first
fortnight it would have been possible to begin transferring
troops from the Rhine to the Niemen; and the same
case may arise again. But if France and Russia had
been allowed even ten days' warning the German plan
would have been completely defeated. France alone
might then have claimed all the efforts that Germany
could have put forth to defeat her.

Yet there are politicians in England so grossly ignorant
of the German reading of the Napoleonic lessons that
they expect that Nation to sacrifice the enormous advantage
they have prepared by a whole century of self-
sacrifice and practical patriotism by an appeal to a
Court of Arbitration, and the further delays which must
arise by going through the medieaeval formalities of recalling
Ambassadors and exchanging ultimatums.

Most of our present-day politicians have made their
money in business--a "form of human competition
greatly resembling War," to paraphrase Clausewitz.
Did they, when in the throes of such competition, send
formal notice to their rivals of their plans to get the better
of them in commerce? Did Mr. Carnegie, the arch-
priest of Peace at any price, when he built up the Steel
Trust, notify his competitors when and how he proposed
to strike the blows which successively made him master
of millions? Surely the Directors of a Great Nation
may consider the interests of their shareholders--i.e., the
people they govern--as sufficiently serious not to be
endangered by the deliberate sacrifice of the preponderant
position of readiness which generations of self-devotion,
patriotism and wise forethought have won for them?

As regards the strictly military side of this work,
though the recent researches of the French General Staff
into the records and documents of the Napoleonic period
have shown conclusively that Clausewitz had never
grasped the essential point of the Great Emperor's strategic
method, yet it is admitted that he has completely fathomed
the spirit which gave life to the form; and notwithstandingthe
variations in
application which have
resulted from the progress of invention in every field of
national activity (not in the technical improvements in
armament alone), this spirit still remains the essential
factor in the whole matter. Indeed, if anything, modern
appliances have intensified its importance, for though,
with equal armaments on both sides, the form of battles
must always remain the same, the facility and certainty
of combination which better methods of communicating
orders and intelligence have conferred upon the Commanders
has rendered the control of great masses immeasurably
more certain than it was in the past.

Men kill each other at greater distances, it is true--
but killing is a constant factor in all battles. The difference
between "now and then" lies in this, that, thanks
to the enormous increase in range (the essential feature
in modern armaments), it is possible to concentrate by
surprise, on any chosen spot, a man-killing power fully
twentyfold greater than was conceivable in the days of
Waterloo; and whereas in Napoleon's time this concentration
of man-killing power (which in his hands took the
form of the great case-shot attack) depended almost
entirely on the shape and condition of the ground, which
might or might not be favourable, nowadays such concentration
of fire-power is almost independent of the
country altogether.

Thus, at Waterloo, Napoleon was compelled to wait till
the ground became firm enough for his guns to gallop
over; nowadays every gun at his disposal, and five times
that number had he possessed them, might have opened
on any point in the British position he had selected, as
soon as it became light enough to see.

Or, to take a more modern instance, viz., the battle
of St. Privat-Gravelotte, August 18, 1870, where the
Germans were able to concentrate on both wings batteries
of two hundred guns and upwards, it would have been
practically impossible, owing to the section of the slopes
of the French position, to carry out the old-fashioned
case-shot attack at all. Nowadays there would be no
difficulty in turning on the fire of two thousand guns on
any point of the position, and switching this fire up and
down the line like water from a fire-engine hose, if the
occasion demanded such concentration.

But these alterations in method make no difference
in the truth of the picture of War which Clausewitz
presents, with which every soldier, and above all every
Leader, should be saturated.

Death, wounds, suffering, and privation remain the
same, whatever the weapons employed, and their reaction
on the ultimate nature of man is the same now as
in the struggle a century ago. It is this reaction that
the Great Commander has to understand and prepare
himself to control; and the task becomes ever greater as,
fortunately for humanity, the opportunities for gathering
experience become more rare.

In the end, and with every improvement in science,
the result depends more and more on the character of
the Leader and his power of resisting "the sensuous
impressions of the battlefield." Finally, for those who
would fit themselves in advance for such responsibility,
I know of no more inspiring advice than that given by
Krishna to Arjuna ages ago, when the latter trembled
before the awful responsibility of launching his Army
against the hosts of the Pandav's:

This Life within all living things, my Prince,
Hides beyond harm. Scorn thou to suffer, then,
For that which cannot suffer. Do thy part!
Be mindful of thy name, and tremble not.
Nought better can betide a martial soul
Than lawful war. Happy the warrior
To whom comes joy of battle....
. . . But if thou shunn'st
This honourable field--a Kshittriya--
If, knowing thy duty and thy task, thou bidd'st
Duty and task go by--that shall be sin!
And those to come shall speak thee infamy
From age to age. But infamy is worse
For men of noble blood to bear than death!
. . . . . .
Therefore arise, thou Son of Kunti! Brace
Thine arm for conflict; nerve thy heart to meet,
As things alike to thee, pleasure or pain,
Profit or ruin, victory or defeat.
So minded, gird thee to the fight, for so
Thou shalt not sin!
COL. F. N. MAUDE, C.B., late R.E.



I WHAT IS WAR? page 1



IV THE COMBAT IN GENERAL (continuation) 243


IT will naturally excite surprise that a preface by a
female hand should accompany a work on such a subject
as the present. For my friends no explanation of the
circumstance is required; but I hope by a simple relation
of the cause to clear myself of the appearance of presumption
in the eyes also of those to whom I am not

The work to which these lines serve as a preface
occupied almost entirely the last twelve years of the life
of my inexpressibly beloved husband, who has unfortunately
been torn too soon from myself and his
country. To complete it was his most earnest desire;
but it was not his intention that it should be published
during his life; and if I tried to persuade him to alter
that intention, he often answered, half in jest, but also,
perhaps, half in a foreboding of early death: "Thou
shalt publish it." These words (which in those happy
days often drew tears from me, little as I was inclined to
attach a serious meaning to them) make it now, in the
opinion of my friends, a duty incumbent on me to introduce
the posthumous works of my beloved husband,
with a few prefatory lines from myself; and although
here may be a difference of opinion on this point, still
I am sure there will be no mistake as to the feeling which
has prompted me to overcome the timidity which makes
any such appearance, even in a subordinate part, so
difficult for a woman.

It will be understood, as a matter of course, that I
cannot have the most remote intention of considering
myself as the real editress of a work which is far above
the scope of my capacity: I only stand at its side as an
affectionate companion on its entrance into the world.
This position I may well claim, as a similar one was
allowed me during its formation and progress. Those
who are acquainted with our happy married life, and
know how we shared everything with each other--not
only joy and sorrow, but also every occupation, every
interest of daily life--will understand that my beloved
husband could not be occupied on a work of this kind
without its being known to me. Therefore, no one can
like me bear testimony to the zeal, to the love with which
he laboured on it, to the hopes which he bound up with
it, as well as the manner and time of its elaboration.
His richly gifted mind had from his early youth longed
for light and truth, and, varied as were his talents, still
he had chiefly directed his reflections to the science of
war, to which the duties of his profession called him, and
which are of such importance for the benefit of States.
Scharnhorst was the first to lead him into the right road,
and his subsequent appointment in 1810 as Instructor
at the General War School, as well as the honour conferred
on him at the same time of giving military instruction
to H.R.H. the Crown Prince, tended further to give his
investigations and studies that direction, and to lead
him to put down in writing whatever conclusions he
arrived at. A paper with which he finished the instruction
of H.R.H. the Crown Prince contains the germ of his
subsequent works. But it was in the year 1816, at
Coblentz, that he first devoted himself again to scientific
labours, and to collecting the fruits which his rich experience
in those four eventful years had brought to
maturity. He wrote down his views, in the first place,
in short essays, only loosely connected with each other.
The following, without date, which has been found
amongst his papers, seems to belong to those early days.

"In the principles here committed to paper, in my
opinion, the chief things which compose Strategy, as it
is called, are touched upon. I looked upon them only
as materials, and had just got to such a length towards
the moulding them into a whole.

"These materials have been amassed without any
regularly preconceived plan. My view was at first,
without regard to system and strict connection, to put
down the results of my reflections upon the most important
points in quite brief, precise, compact propositions.
The manner in which Montesquieu has treated his subject
floated before me in idea. I thought that concise,
sententious chapters, which I proposed at first to call
grains, would attract the attention of the intelligent just
as much by that which was to be developed from them,
as by that which they contained in themselves. I had,
therefore, before me in idea, intelligent readers already
acquainted with the subject. But my nature, which
always impels me to development and systematising, at
last worked its way out also in this instance. For some
time I was able to confine myself to extracting only the
most important results from the essays, which, to attain
clearness and conviction in my own mind, I wrote upon
different subjects, to concentrating in that manner their
spirit in a small compass; but afterwards my peculiarity
gained ascendency completely--I have developed what
I could, and thus naturally have supposed a reader not
yet acquainted with the subject.

"The more I advanced with the work, and the more
I yielded to the spirit of investigation, so much the more
I was also led to system; and thus, then, chapter after
chapter has been inserted.

"My ultimate view has now been to go through the
whole once more, to establish by further explanation
much of the earlier treatises, and perhaps to condense
into results many analyses on the later ones, and thus to
make a moderate whole out of it, forming a small octavo
volume. But it was my wish also in this to avoid
everything common, everything that is plain of itself,
that has been said a hundred times, and is generally
accepted; for my ambition was to write a book that
would not be forgotten in two or three years, and which
any one interested in the subject would at all events
take up more than once."

In Coblentz, where he was much occupied with duty,
he could only give occasional hours to his private studies.
It was not until 1818, after his appointment as Director
of the General Academy of War at Berlin, that he had
the leisure to expand his work, and enrich it from the
history of modern wars. This leisure also reconciled
him to his new avocation, which, in other respects, was
not satisfactory to him, as, according to the existing
organisation of the Academy, the scientific part of the
course is not under the Director, but conducted by a
Board of Studies. Free as he was from all petty vanity,
from every feeling of restless, egotistical ambition, still
he felt a desire to be really useful, and not to leave
inactive the abilities with which God had endowed him.
In active life he was not in a position in which this longing
could be satisfied, and he had little hope of attaining to
any such position: his whole energies were therefore
directed upon the domain of science, and the benefit
which he hoped to lay the foundation of by his work was
the object of his life. That, notwithstanding this, the
resolution not to let the work appear until after his
death became more confirmed is the best proof that
no vain, paltry longing for praise and distinction, no
particle of egotistical views, was mixed up with this
noble aspiration for great and lasting usefulness.

Thus he worked diligently on, until, in the spring of
1830, he was appointed to the artillery, and his energies
were called into activity in such a different sphere, and
to such a high degree, that he was obliged, for the moment
at least, to give up all literary work. He then put his
papers in order, sealed up the separate packets, labelled
them, and took sorrowful leave of this employment which
he loved so much. He was sent to Breslau in August of
the same year, as Chief of the Second Artillery District,
but in December recalled to Berlin, and appointed Chief
of the Staff to Field-Marshal Count Gneisenau (for the
term of his command). In March 1831, he accompanied
his revered Commander to Posen. When he returned
from there to Breslau in November after the melancholy
event which had taken place, he hoped to resume his
work and perhaps complete it in the course of the winter.
The Almighty has willed it should be otherwise. On
the 7th November he returned to Breslau; on the 16th
he was no more; and the packets sealed by himself were
not opened until after his death.

The papers thus left are those now made public in
the following volumes, exactly in the condition in which
they were found, without a word being added or erased.
Still, however, there was much to do before publication,
in the way of putting them in order and consulting about
them; and I am deeply indebted to several sincere
friends for the assistance they have afforded me, particularly
Major O'Etzel, who kindly undertook the
correction of the Press, as well as the preparation of the
maps to accompany the historical parts of the work. I
must also mention my much-loved brother, who was my
support in the hour of my misfortune, and who has also
done much for me in respect of these papers; amongst
other things, by carefully examining and putting them in
order, he found the commencement of the revision which
my dear husband wrote in the year 1827, and mentions
in the Notice hereafter annexed as a work he had in view.
This revision has been inserted in the place intended for
it in the first book (for it does not go any further).

There are still many other friends to whom I might
offer my thanks for their advice, for the sympathy and
friendship which they have shown me; but if I do not
name them all, they will, I am sure, not have any doubts
of my sincere gratitude. It is all the greater, from my
firm conviction that all they have done was not only on
my own account, but for the friend whom God has thus
called away from them so soon.

If I have been highly blessed as the wife of such a
man during one and twenty years, so am I still,
notwithstanding my irreparable loss, by the treasure of
my recollections and of my hopes, by the rich legacy of
sympathy and friendship which I owe the beloved
departed, by the elevating feeling which I experience
at seeing his rare worth so generally and honourably

The trust confided to me by a Royal Couple is a fresh
benefit for which I have to thank the Almighty, as it
opens to me an honourable occupation, to which Idevote myself.
May this
occupation be
blessed, and may the dear little Prince who is now
entrusted to my care, some day read this book, and
be animated by it to deeds like those of his glorious

Written at the Marble Palace, Potsdam, 30th June, 1832.

Born Countess Bruhl,
Oberhofmeisterinn to H.R.H. the Princess William.


I LOOK upon the first six books, of which a fair copy has
now been made, as only a mass which is still in a manner
without form, and which has yet to be again revised.
In this revision the two kinds of War will be everywhere
kept more distinctly in view, by which all ideas will
acquire a clearer meaning, a more precise direction, and
a closer application. The two kinds of War are, first,
those in which the object is the OVERTHROW OF THE ENEMY,
whether it be that we aim at his destruction, politically,
or merely at disarming him and forcing him to conclude
peace on our terms; and next, those in which our object
COUNTRY, either for the purpose of retaining them permanently,
or of turning them to account as matter of
exchange in the settlement of a peace. Transition from
one kind to the other must certainly continue to exist,
but the completely different nature of the tendencies of
the two must everywhere appear, and must separate
from each other things which are incompatible.

Besides establishing this real difference in Wars,
another practically necessary point of view must at the
same time be established, which is, that WAR IS ONLY A
view being adhered to everywhere, will introduce much
more unity into the consideration of the subject, and
things will be more easily disentangled from each other.
Although the chief application of this point of view does
not commence until we get to the eighth book, still it
must be completely developed in the first book, and also
lend assistance throughout the revision of the first six
books. Through such a revision the first six books will
get rid of a good deal of dross, many rents and chasms
will be closed up, and much that is of a general nature
will be transformed into distinct conceptions and forms.

The seventh book--on attack--for the different
chapters of which sketches are already made, is to be
considered as a reflection of the sixth, and must be
completed at once, according to the above-mentioned
more distinct points of view, so that it will require no
fresh revision, but rather may serve as a model in the
revision of the first six books.

For the eighth book--on the Plan of a War, that is,
of the organisation of a whole War in general--several
chapters are designed, but they are not at all to be regarded
as real materials, they are merely a track, roughly cleared,
as it were, through the mass, in order by that means to
ascertain the points of most importance. They have
answered this object, and I propose, on finishing the seventh
book, to proceed at once to the working out of the eighth,
where the two points of view above mentioned will be
chiefly affirmed, by which everything will be simplified,
and at the same time have a spirit breathed into it. I
hope in this book to iron out many creases in the heads of
strategists and statesmen, and at least to show the object
of action, and the real point to be considered in War.

Now, when I have brought my ideas clearly out by
finishing this eighth book, and have properly established
the leading features of War, it will be easier for me to
carry the spirit of these ideas in to the first six books, and
to make these same features show themselves everywhere.
Therefore I shall defer till then the revision of the first
six books.

Should the work be interrupted by my death, then
what is found can only be called a mass of conceptions
not brought into form; but as these are open to endless
misconceptions, they will doubtless give rise to a number
of crude criticisms: for in these things, every one thinks,
when he takes up his pen, that whatever comes into his
head is worth saying and printing, and quite as incontrovertible
as that twice two make four. If such a one
would take the pains, as I have done, to think over the
subject, for years, and to compare his ideas with military
history, he would certainly be a little more guarded in
his criticism.

Still, notwithstanding this imperfect form, I believe
that an impartial reader thirsting for truth and conviction
will rightly appreciate in the first six books the
fruits of several years' reflection and a diligent study of
War, and that, perhaps, he will find in them some
leading ideas which may bring about a revolution in the
theory of War.

Berlin, 10th July, 1827.

Besides this notice, amongst the papers left the
following unfinished memorandum was found, which
appears of very recent date:

The manuscript on the conduct of the Grande Guerre,
which will be found after my death, in its present state
can only be regarded as a collection of materials from
which it is intended to construct a theory of War. With
the greater part I am not yet satisfied; and the sixth
book is to be looked at as a mere essay: I should have
completely remodelled it, and have tried a different line.

But the ruling principles which pervade these materials
I hold to be the right ones: they are the result of a
very varied reflection, keeping always in view the reality,
and always bearing in mind what I have learnt by experience
and by my intercourse with distinguished soldiers.

The seventh book is to contain the attack, the
subjects of which are thrown together in a hasty manner:
the eighth, the plan for a War, in which I would have
examined War more especially in its political and human

The first chapter of the first book is the only one
which I consider as completed; it will at least serve to
show the manner in which I proposed to treat the subject

The theory of the Grande Guerre, or Strategy, as it is
called, is beset with extraordinary difficulties, and we
may affirm that very few men have clear conceptions of
the separate subjects, that is, conceptions carried up to
their full logical conclusions. In real action most men
are guided merely by the tact of judgment which hits
the object more or less accurately, according as they possess
more or less genius.

This is the way in which all great Generals have
acted, and therein partly lay their greatness and their
genius, that they always hit upon what was right by
this tact. Thus also it will always be in action, and so
far this tact is amply sufficient. But when it is a question,
not of acting oneself, but of convincing others in a
consultation, then all depends on clear conceptions and
demonstration of the inherent relations, and so little
progress has been made in this respect that most deliberations
are merely a contention of words, resting on no
firm basis, and ending either in every one retaining his own
opinion, or in a compromise from mutual considerations
of respect, a middle course really without any value.[*]

[*] Herr Clausewitz evidently had before his mind the endless
at the Headquarters of the Bohemian Army in the Leipsic
Campaign 1813.

Clear ideas on these matters are therefore not wholly
useless; besides, the human mind has a general tendency
to clearness, and always wants to be consistent
with the necessary order of things.

Owing to the great difficulties attending a philosophical
construction of the Art of War, and the many
attempts at it that have failed, most people have come
to the conclusion that such a theory is impossible, because
it concerns things which no standing law can embrace.
We should also join in this opinion and give up any
attempt at a theory, were it not that a great number of
propositions make themselves evident without any
difficulty, as, for instance, that the defensive form, with
a negative object, is the stronger form, the attack, with the
positive object, the weaker--that great results carry the
little ones with them--that, therefore, strategic effects
may be referred to certain centres of gravity--that a
demonstration is a weaker application of force than a
real attack, that, therefore, there must be some special
reason for resorting to the former--that victory consists
not merely in the conquest on the field of battle, but in
the destruction of armed forces, physically and morally,
which can in general only be effected by a pursuit after
the battle is gained--that successes are always greatest
at the point where the victory has been gained, that,
therefore, the change from one line and object to another
can only be regarded as a necessary evil--that a turning
movement is only justified by a superiority of numbers
generally or by the advantage of our lines of communication
and retreat over those of the enemy--that flank
positions are only justifiable on similar grounds--that
every attack becomes weaker as it progresses.


THAT the conception of the scientific does not consist
alone, or chiefly, in system, and its finished theoretical
constructions, requires nowadays no exposition. System
in this treatise is not to be found on the surface, and
instead of a finished building of theory, there are only

The scientific form lies here in the endeavour to
explore the nature of military phenomena to show their
affinity with the nature of the things of which they are
composed. Nowhere has the philosophical argument
been evaded, but where it runs out into too thin a thread
the Author has preferred to cut it short, and fall back
upon the corresponding results of experience; for in
the same way as many plants only bear fruit when they
do not shoot too high, so in the practical arts the theoretical
leaves and flowers must not be made to sprout
too far, but kept near to experience, which is their proper

Unquestionably it would be a mistake to try to
discover from the chemical ingredients of a grain of corn
the form of the ear of corn which it bears, as we have only
to go to the field to see the ears ripe. Investigation and
observation, philosophy and experience, must neither
despise nor exclude one another; they mutually afford
each other the rights of citizenship. Consequently,
the propositions of this book, with their arch of inherent
necessity, are supported either by experience or by the
conception of War itself as external points, so that they
are not without abutments.[*]

[*] That this is not the case in the works of many military
especially of those who have aimed at treating of War itself in a
scientific manner, is shown in many instances, in which by their
the pro and contra swallow each other up so effectually that
is no vestige of the tails even which were left in the case of
the two

It is, perhaps, not impossible to write a systematic
theory of War full of spirit and substance, but ours.
hitherto, have been very much the reverse. To say
nothing of their unscientific spirit, in their striving after
coherence and completeness of system, they overflow
with commonplaces, truisms, and twaddle of every kind.
If we want a striking picture of them we have only to
read Lichtenberg's extract from a code of regulations
in case of fire.

If a house takes fire, we must seek, above all things,
to protect the right side of the house standing on the left,
and, on the other hand, the left side of the house on the
right; for if we, for example, should protect the left side
of the house on the left, then the right side of the house
lies to the right of the left, and consequently as the fire
lies to the right of this side, and of the right side (for we
have assumed that the house is situated to the left of
the fire), therefore the right side is situated nearer to
the fire than the left, and the right side of the house might
catch fire if it was not protected before it came to the
left, which is protected. Consequently, something might
be burnt that is not protected, and that sooner than
something else would be burnt, even if it was not protected;
consequently we must let alone the latter and
protect the former. In order to impress the thing on
one's mind, we have only to note if the house is situated
to the right of the fire, then it is the left side, and if the
house is to the left it is the right side.

In order not to frighten the intelligent reader by
such commonplaces, and to make the little good that
there is distasteful by pouring water upon it, the Author
has preferred to give in small ingots of fine metal his
impressions and convictions, the result of many years'
reflection on War, of his intercourse with men of ability,
and of much personal experience. Thus the seemingly
weakly bound-together chapters of this book have
arisen, but it is hoped they will not be found wanting
in logical connection. Perhaps soon a greater head may
appear, and instead of these single grains, give the whole
in a casting of pure metal without dross.



THE Author of the work here translated, General Carl
Von Clausewitz, was born at Burg, near Magdeburg, in
1780, and entered the Prussian Army as Fahnenjunker
(i.e., ensign) in 1792. He served in the campaigns of
1793-94 on the Rhine, after which he seems to have
devoted some time to the study of the scientific branches
of his profession. In 1801 he entered the Military School
at Berlin, and remained there till 1803. During his
residence there he attracted the notice of General
Scharnhorst, then at the head of the establishment; and
the patronage of this distinguished officer had immense
influence on his future career, and we may gather
from his writings that he ever afterwards continued
to entertain a high esteem for Scharnhorst. In the
campaign of 1806 he served as Aide-de-camp to Prince
Augustus of Prussia; and being wounded and taken
prisoner, he was sent into France until the close of that
war. On his return, he was placed on General Scharnhorst's
Staff, and employed in the work then going on
for the reorganisation of the Army. He was also at this
time selected as military instructor to the late King of
Prussia, then Crown Prince. In 1812 Clausewitz, with
several other Prussian officers, having entered the
Russian service, his first appointment was as Aide-de-camp
to General Phul. Afterwards, while serving with Wittgenstein's
army, he assisted in negotiating the famous convention
of Tauroggen with York. Of the part he took in
that affair he has left an interesting account in his work
on the "Russian Campaign." It is there stated that,
in order to bring the correspondence which had been
carried on with York to a termination in one way or
another, the Author was despatched to York's headquarters
with two letters, one was from General d'Auvray,
the Chief of the Staff of Wittgenstein's army, to General
Diebitsch, showing the arrangements made to cut off
York's corps from Macdonald (this was necessary in order
to give York a plausible excuse for seceding from the
French); the other was an intercepted letter from
Macdonald to the Duke of Bassano. With regard to
the former of these, the Author says, "it would not have
had weight with a man like York, but for a military
justification, if the Prussian Court should require one
as against the French, it was important."

The second letter was calculated at the least to call
up in General York's mind all the feelings of bitterness
which perhaps for some days past bad been diminished by
the consciousness of his own behaviour towards the writer.

As the Author entered General York's chamber, the
latter called out to him, "Keep off from me; I will have
nothing more to do with you; your d----d Cossacks
have let a letter of Macdonald's pass through them,
which brings me an order to march on Piktrepohnen, in
order there to effect our junction. All doubt is now at
an end; your troops do not come up; you are too
weak; march I must, and I must excuse myself from
further negotiation, which may cost me my head."
The Author said that be would make no opposition to
all this, but begged for a candle, as he had letters to show
the General, and, as the latter seemed still to hesitate,
the Author added, "Your Excellency will not surely
place me in the embarrassment of departing without
having executed my commission." The General ordered
candles, and called in Colonel von Roeder, the chief of his
staff, from the ante-chamber. The letters were read.
After a pause of an instant, the General said, "Clausewitz,
you are a Prussian, do you believe that the letter of
General d'Auvray is sincere, and that Wittgenstein's
troops will really be at the points he mentioned on the
31st?" The Author replied, "I pledge myself for the
sincerity of this letter upon the knowledge I have of
General d'Auvray and the other men of Wittgenstein's
headquarters; whether the dispositions he announces
can be accomplished as he lays down I certainly cannot
pledge myself; for your Excellency knows that in war
we must often fall short of the line we have drawn for
ourselves." The General was silent for a few minutes
of earnest reflection; then he held out his hand to the
Author, and said, "You have me. Tell General Diebitsch
that we must confer early to-morrow at the mill of
Poschenen, and that I am now firmly determined to
separate myself from the French and their cause." The
hour was fixed for 8 A.M. After this was settled, the
General added, "But I will not do the thing by halves,
I will get you Massenbach also." He called in an officer
who was of Massenbach's cavalry, and who had just left
them. Much like Schiller's Wallenstein, he asked, walking
up and down the room the while, "What say your
regiments?" The officer broke out with enthusiasm at
the idea of a riddance from the French alliance, and said
that every man of the troops in question felt the same.

"You young ones may talk; but my older head is
shaking on my shoulders," replied the General.[*]

[*] "Campaign in Russia in 1812"; translated from the German of
General Von Clausewitz (by Lord Ellesmere).

After the close of the Russian campaign Clausewitz
remained in the service of that country, but was attached
as a Russian staff officer to Blucher's headquarters till
the Armistice in 1813.

In 1814, he became Chief of the Staff of General
Walmoden's Russo-German Corps, which formed part
of the Army of the North under Bernadotte. His
name is frequently mentioned with distinction in that
campaign, particularly in connection with the affair
of Goehrde.

Clausewitz re-entered the Prussian service in 1815,
and served as Chief of the Staff to Thielman's corps,
which was engaged with Grouchy at Wavre, on the 18th
of June.

After the Peace, he was employed in a command on
the Rhine. In 1818, he became Major-General, and
Director of the Military School at which he had been
previously educated.

In 1830, he was appointed Inspector of Artillery at
Breslau, but soon after nominated Chief of the Staff to
the Army of Observation, under Marshal Gneisenau on
the Polish frontier.

The latest notices of his life and services are probably
to be found in the memoirs of General Brandt, who,
from being on the staff of Gneisenau's army, was brought
into daily intercourse with Clausewitz in matters of
duty, and also frequently met him at the table of Marshal
Gneisenau, at Posen.

Amongst other anecdotes, General Brandt relates
that, upon one occasion, the conversation at the Marshal's
table turned upon a sermon preached by a priest, in
which some great absurdities were introduced, and a
discussion arose as to whether the Bishop should not be
made responsible for what the priest had said. This
led to the topic of theology in general, when General
Brandt, speaking of himself, says, "I expressed an
opinion that theology is only to be regarded as an historical
process, as a MOMENT in the gradual development of the
human race. This brought upon me an attack from all
quarters, but more especially from Clausewitz, who ought
to have been on my side, he having been an adherent
and pupil of Kiesewetter's, who had indoctrinated him
in the philosophy of Kant, certainly diluted--I
might even say in homoeopathic doses." This anecdote
is only interesting as the mention of Kiesewetter points
to a circumstance in the life of Clausewitz that may have
had an influence in forming those habits of thought
which distinguish his writings.

"The way," says General Brandt, "in which General
Clausewitz judged of things, drew conclusions from movements
and marches, calculated the times of the marches,
and the points where decisions would take place, was extremely
interesting. Fate has unfortunately denied him
an opportunity of showing his talents in high command,
but I have a firm persuasion that as a strategist he would
have greatly distinguished himself. As a leader on the
field of battle, on the other hand, he would not have been
so much in his right place, from a manque d'habitude
du commandement, he wanted the art d'enlever les

After the Prussian Army of Observation was dissolved,
Clausewitz returned to Breslau, and a few days after his
arrival was seized with cholera, the seeds of which
he must have brought with him from the army on the
Polish frontier. His death took place in November

His writings are contained in nine volumes, published
after his death, but his fame rests most upon the three
volumes forming his treatise on "War." In the present
attempt to render into English this portion of the works
of Clausewitz, the translator is sensible of many deficiencies,
but he hopes at all events to succeed in making this
celebrated treatise better known in England, believing,
as he does, that so far as the work concerns the interests
of this country, it has lost none of the importance it
possessed at the time of its first publication.

J. J. GRAHAM (Col.)




WE propose to consider first the single elements of our
subject, then each branch or part, and, last of all, the
whole, in all its relations--therefore to advance from the
simple to the complex. But it is necessary for us to commence
with a glance at the nature of the whole, because
it is particularly necessary that in the consideration of
any of the parts their relation to the whole should be
kept constantly in view.


We shall not enter into any of the abstruse definitions
of War used by publicists. We shall keep to the element
of the thing itself, to a duel. War is nothing but a duel
on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit
the countless number of duels which make up a War, we
shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers.
Each strives by physical force to compel the other to
submit to his will: each endeavours to throw his adversary,
and thus render him incapable of further resistance.


Violence arms itself with the inventions of Art and
Science in order to contend against violence. Self-
imposed restrictions, almost imperceptible and hardly
worth mentioning, termed usages of International Law,
accompany it without essentially impairing its power.
Violence, that is to say, physical force (for there is no moral
force without the conception of States and Law), is therefore
the MEANS; the compulsory submission of the enemy
to our will is the ultimate object. In order to attain
this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed, and
disarmament becomes therefore the immediate OBJECT of
hostilities in theory. It takes the place of the final object,
and puts it aside as something we can eliminate from
our calculations.


Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skilful
method of disarming and overcoming an enemy withoutgreat
bloodshed, and that
this is the proper
tendency of the Art of War. However plausible this may
appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated;
for in such dangerous things as War, the errors which
proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.
As the use of physical power to the utmost extent by no
means excludes the co-operation of the intelligence, it
follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without
reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a
superiority if his adversary uses less vigour in its application.
The former then dictates the law to the latter,
and both proceed to extremities to which the only
limitations are those imposed by the amount of counter-
acting force on each side.

This is the way in which the matter must be viewed
and it is to no purpose, it is even against one's own
interest, to turn away from the consideration of the real
nature of the affair because the horror of its elements
excites repugnance.

If the Wars of civilised people are less cruel and destructive
than those of savages, the difference arises from the
social condition both of States in themselves and in their
relations to each other. Out of this social condition and
its relations War arises, and by it War is subjected to
conditions, is controlled and modified. But these things
do not belong to War itself; they are only given conditions;
and to introduce into the philosophy of War itself
a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.

Two motives lead men to War: instinctive hostility
and hostile intention. In our definition of War, we
have chosen as its characteristic the latter of these
elements, because it is the most general. It is
impossible to conceive the passion of hatred of the
wildest description, bordering on mere instinct, without
combining with it the idea of a hostile intention. On
the other hand, hostile intentions may often exist without
being accompanied by any, or at all events by any
extreme, hostility of feeling. Amongst savages views
emanating from the feelings, amongst civilised nations
those emanating from the understanding, have the
predominance; but this difference arises from attendant
circumstances, existing institutions, &c., and, therefore,
is not to be found necessarily in all cases, although
it prevails in the majority. In short, even the most
civilised nations may burn with passionate hatred of each

We may see from this what a fallacy it would be to
refer the War of a civilised nation entirely to an intelligent
act on the part of the Government, and to imagine it as
continually freeing itself more and more from all feeling
of passion in such a way that at last the physical masses
of combatants would no longer be required; in reality,
their mere relations would suffice--a kind of algebraic

Theory was beginning to drift in this direction until
the facts of the last War[*] taught it better. If War is an
ACT of force, it belongs necessarily also to the feelings.
If it does not originate in the feelings, it REACTS, more or
less, upon them, and the extent of this reaction depends
not on the degree of civilisation, but upon the importance
and duration of the interests involved.

[*] Clausewitz alludes here to the "Wars of Liberation,"

Therefore, if we find civilised nations do not put their
prisoners to death, do not devastate towns and countries,
this is because their intelligence exercises greater influence
on their mode of carrying on War, and has taught them
more effectual means of applying force than these rude
acts of mere instinct. The invention of gunpowder, the
constant progress of improvements in the construction
of firearms, are sufficient proofs that the tendency to
destroy the adversary which lies at the bottom of the conception
of War is in no way changed or modified through
the progress of civilisation.

We therefore repeat our proposition, that War is an
act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds; as one
side dictates the law to the other, there arises a sort
of reciprocal action, which logically must lead to an
extreme. This is the first reciprocal action, and the
first extreme with which we meet (FIRST RECIPROCAL ACTION).


We have already said that the aim of all action in
War is to disarm the enemy, and we shall now show that
this, theoretically at least, is indispensable.

If our opponent is to be made to comply with our will,
we must place him in a situation which is more oppressive
to him than the sacrifice which we demand; but the
disadvantages of this position must naturally not be of a
transitory nature, at least in appearance, otherwise the
enemy, instead of yielding, will hold out, in the prospect
of a change for the better. Every change in this position
which is produced by a continuation of the War should
therefore be a change for the worse. The worst condition
in which a belligerent can be placed is that of
being completely disarmed. If, therefore, the enemy is
to be reduced to submission by an act of War, he must
either be positively disarmed or placed in such a
position that he is threatened with it. From this it
follows that the disarming or overthrow of the
enemy, whichever we call it, must always be the aim
of Warfare. Now War is always the shock of two
hostile bodies in collision, not the action of a living
power upon an inanimate mass, because an absolute
state of endurance would not be making War; therefore,
what we have just said as to the aim of action in
War applies to both parties. Here, then, is another
case of reciprocal action. As long as the enemy is not
defeated, he may defeat me; then I shall be no
longer my own master; he will dictate the law to me
as I did to him. This is the second reciprocal action,
and leads to a second extreme (SECOND RECIPROCAL ACTION).


If we desire to defeat the enemy, we must proportion
our efforts to his powers of resistance. This is expressed
by the product of two factors which cannot be separated,
namely, the sum of available means and the strength of the
Will. The sum of the available means may be estimated
in a measure, as it depends (although not entirely) upon
numbers; but the strength of volition is more difficult
to determine, and can only be estimated to a certain
extent by the strength of the motives. Granted we have
obtained in this way an approximation to the strength
of the power to be contended with, we can then take of our own
means, and
either increase them so as to obtain a preponderance, or, in case
we have
not the resources to effect this, then do our best by increasing
our means as far as possible. But the adversary does the
same; therefore, there is a new mutual enhancement,
which, in pure conception, must create a fresh effort
towards an extreme. This is the third case of reciprocal
action, and a third extreme with which we meet (THIRD


Thus reasoning in the abstract, the mind cannot stop
short of an extreme, because it has to deal with an extreme,
with a conflict of forces left to themselves, and obeying
no other but their own inner laws. If we should seek to
deduce from the pure conception of War an absolute point
for the aim which we shall propose and for the means
which we shall apply, this constant reciprocal action would
involve us in extremes, which would be nothing but a play
of ideas produced by an almost invisible train of logical
subtleties. If, adhering closely to the absolute, we try
to avoid all difficulties by a stroke of the pen, and insist
with logical strictness that in every case the extreme must
be the object, and the utmost effort must be exerted
in that direction, such a stroke of the pen would be
a mere paper law, not by any means adapted to the real

Even supposing this extreme tension of forces was an
absolute which could easily be ascertained, still we must
admit that the human mind would hardly submit itself
to this kind of logical chimera. There would be in many
cases an unnecessary waste of power, which would be
in opposition to other principles of statecraft; an effort
of Will would be required disproportioned to the proposed
object, which therefore it would be impossible to
realise, for the human will does not derive its impulse
from logical subtleties.

But everything takes a different shape when we pass
from abstractions to reality. In the former, everything
must be subject to optimism, and we must imagine the
one side as well as the other striving after perfection and
even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality?
It will if,

(1) War becomes a completely isolated act, which
arises suddenly, and is in no way connected with the
previous history of the combatant States.

(2) If it is limited to a single solution, or to several
simultaneous solutions.

(3) If it contains within itself the solution perfect and
complete, free from any reaction upon it, through a calculation
beforehand of the political situation which will
follow from it.


With regard to the first point, neither of the two
opponents is an abstract person to the other, not even
as regards that factor in the sum of resistance which
does not depend on objective things, viz., the Will. This
Will is not an entirely unknown quantity; it indicates
what it will be to-morrow by what it is to-day. War
does not spring up quite suddenly, it does not spread
to the full in a moment; each of the two opponents
can, therefore, form an opinion of the other, in a great
measure, from what he is and what he does, instead of
judging of him according to what he, strictly speaking,
should be or should do. But, now, man with his incomplete
organisation is always below the line of absolute
perfection, and thus these deficiencies, having an influence
on both sides, become a modifying principle.


The second point gives rise to the following

If War ended in a single solution, or a number of simultaneous
ones, then naturally all the preparations for the
same would have a tendency to the extreme, for an
omission could not in any way be repaired; the utmost,
then, that the world of reality could furnish as a guide
for us would be the preparations of the enemy, as far as
they are known to us; all the rest would fall into the
domain of the abstract. But if the result is made up
from several successive acts, then naturally that which
precedes with all its phases may be taken as a measure
for that which will follow, and in this manner the world
of reality again takes the place of the abstract, and thus
modifies the effort towards the extreme.

Yet every War would necessarily resolve itself into a
single solution, or a sum of simultaneous results, if all the
means required for the struggle were raised at once, or
could be at once raised; for as one adverse result necessarily
diminishes the means, then if all the means have
been applied in the first, a second cannot properly be
supposed. All hostile acts which might follow would
belong essentially to the first, and form, in reality only
its duration.

But we have already seen that even in the preparation
for War the real world steps into the place of mere
abstract conception--a material standard into the place
of the hypotheses of an extreme: that therefore in that
way both parties, by the influence of the mutual reaction,
remain below the line of extreme effort, and therefore all
forces are not at once brought forward.

It lies also in the nature of these forces and their application
that they cannot all be brought into activity at the
same time. These forces are THE ARMIES ACTUALLY ON FOOT,
THE COUNTRY, with its superficial extent and its population,

In point of fact, the country, with its superficial area
and the population, besides being the source of all military
force, constitutes in itself an integral part of the efficient
quantities in War, providing either the theatre of war
or exercising a considerable influence on the same.

Now, it is possible to bring all the movable military
forces of a country into operation at once, but not all
fortresses, rivers, mountains, people, &c.--in short, not
the whole country, unless it is so small that it may be
completely embraced by the first act of the War. Further,
the co-operation of allies does not depend on the Will of
the belligerents; and from the nature of the political
relations of states to each other, this co-operation is
frequently not afforded until after the War has commenced,
or it may be increased to restore the balance of power.

That this part of the means of resistance, which cannot
at once be brought into activity, in many cases, is a much
greater part of the whole than might at first be supposed,
and that it often restores the balance of power, seriously
affected by the great force of the first decision, will be
more fully shown hereafter. Here it is sufficient to show
that a complete concentration of all available means in a
moment of time is contradictory to the nature of War.

Now this, in itself, furnishes no ground for relaxing
our efforts to accumulate strength to gain the first result,
because an unfavourable issue is always a disadvantage
to which no one would purposely expose himself, and
also because the first decision, although not the only
one, still will have the more influence on subsequent
events, the greater it is in itself.

But the possibility of gaining a later result causes men
to take refuge in that expectation, owing to the repugnance
in the human mind to making excessive efforts; and
therefore forces are not concentrated and measures are
not taken for the first decision with that energy which
would otherwise be used. Whatever one belligerent
omits from weakness, becomes to the other a real objective
ground for limiting his own efforts, and thus again,
through this reciprocal action, extreme tendencies are
brought down to efforts on a limited scale.


Lastly, even the final decision of a whole War is not
always to be regarded as absolute. The conquered State
often sees in it only a passing evil, which may be repaired
in after times by means of political combinations. How
much this must modify the degree of tension, and the
vigour of the efforts made, is evident in itself.


In this manner, the whole act of War is removed from
the rigorous law of forces exerted to the utmost. If
the extreme is no longer to be apprehended, and no
longer to be sought for, it is left to the judgment to determine
the limits for the efforts to be made in place of it,
and this can only be done on the data furnished by the
facts of the real world by the LAWS OF PROBABILITY. Once
the belligerents are no longer mere conceptions, but
individual States and Governments, once the War is
no longer an ideal, but a definite substantial procedure,
then the reality will furnish the data to compute the
unknown quantities which are required to be found.

From the character, the measures, the situation of
the adversary, and the relations with which he is
surrounded, each side will draw conclusions by the law
of probability as to the designs of the other, and act


Here the question which we had laid aside forces
itself again into consideration (see No. 2), viz., the
political object of the War. The law of the extreme, the
view to disarm the adversary, to overthrow him, has
hitherto to a certain extent usurped the place of this end
or object. Just as this law loses its force, the political must
again come
forward. If the whole consideration
is a calculation of probability based on definite
persons and relations, then the political object, being
the original motive, must be an essential factor in the
product. The smaller the sacrifice we demand from our, the
smaller, it may
be expected, will be the
means of resistance which he will employ; but the
smaller his preparation, the smaller will ours require
to be. Further, the smaller our political object, the
less value shall we set upon it, and the more easily shall
we be induced to give it up altogether.

Thus, therefore, the political object, as the original
motive of the War, will be the standard for determining
both the aim of the military force and also the amount
of effort to be made. This it cannot be in itself, but it
is so in relation to both the belligerent States, because
we are concerned with realities, not with mere abstractions.
One and the same political object may produce totally
different effects upon different people, or even upon the
same people at different times; we can, therefore, only
admit the political object as the measure, by considering
it in its effects upon those masses which it is to move,
and consequently the nature of those masses also comes
into consideration. It is easy to see that thus the result
may be very different according as these masses are
animated with a spirit which will infuse vigour into the
action or otherwise. It is quite possible for such a state
of feeling to exist between two States that a very trifling
political motive for War may produce an effect quite
disproportionate--in fact, a perfect explosion.

This applies to the efforts which the political object
will call forth in the two States, and to the aim which the
military action shall prescribe for itself. At times it
may itself be that aim, as, for example, the conquest of a
province. At other times the political object itself
is not suitable for the aim of military action; then such
a one must be chosen as will be an equivalent for it,
and stand in its place as regards the conclusion of
peace. But also, in this, due attention to the peculiar
character of the States concerned is always supposed.
There are circumstances in which the equivalent must be
much greater than the political object, in order to secure
the latter. The political object will be so much the more
the standard of aim and effort, and have more influence
in itself, the more the masses are indifferent, the less that
any mutual feeling of hostility prevails in the two States
from other causes, and therefore there are cases where
the political object almost alone will be decisive.

If the aim of the military action is an equivalent for the
political object, that action will in general diminish as
the political object diminishes, and in a greater degree
the more the political object dominates. Thus it is
explained how, without any contradiction in itself, there
may be Wars of all degrees of importance and energy,
from a War of extermination down to the mere use of an
army of observation. This, however, leads to a question
of another kind which we have hereafter to develop and


However insignificant the political claims mutually
advanced, however weak the means put forth, however
small the aim to which military action is directed, can
this action be suspended even for a moment? This is a
question which penetrates deeply into the nature of the

Every transaction requires for its accomplishment a
certain time which we call its duration. This may be
longer or shorter, according as the person acting throws
more or less despatch into his movements.

About this more or less we shall not trouble ourselves
here. Each person acts in his own fashion; but the
slow person does not protract the thing because he wishes
to spend more time about it, but because by his nature
he requires more time, and if he made more haste would
not do the thing so well. This time, therefore, depends
on subjective causes, and belongs to the length, so called,
of the action.

If we allow now to every action in War this, its length,
then we must assume, at first sight at least, that any
expenditure of time beyond this length, that is, every
suspension of hostile action, appears an absurdity; with
respect to this it must not be forgotten that we now speak
not of the progress of one or other of the two opponents,
but of the general progress of the whole action of the


If two parties have armed themselves for strife, then a
feeling of animosity must have moved them to it; as
long now as they continue armed, that is, do not come to
terms of peace, this feeling must exist; and it can only
be brought to a standstill by either side by one single
motive alone, which is, THAT HE WAITS FOR A MORE FAVOURABLE
MOMENT FOR ACTION. Now, at first sight, it appears that
this motive can never exist except on one side, because
it, eo ipso, must be prejudicial to the other. If the one
has an interest in acting, then the other must have an
interest in waiting.

A complete equilibrium of forces can never produce
a suspension of action, for during this suspension he who
has the positive object (that is, the assailant) must continue
progressing; for if we should imagine an equilibrium
in this way, that he who has the positive object, therefore
the strongest motive, can at the same time only command
the lesser means, so that the equation is made up by the
product of the motive and the power, then we must say,
if no alteration in this condition of equilibrium is to be
expected, the two parties must make peace; but if an
alteration is to be expected, then it can only be favourable
to one side, and therefore the other has a manifest
interest to act without delay. We see that the conception
of an equilibrium cannot explain a suspension of
arms, but that it ends in the question of the EXPECTATION

Let us suppose, therefore, that one of two States has
a positive object, as, for instance, the conquest of one of
the enemy's provinces--which is to be utilised in the
settlement of peace. After this conquest, his political
object is accomplished, the necessity for action ceases,
and for him a pause ensues. If the adversary is also
contented with this solution, he will make peace; if not,
he must act. Now, if we suppose that in four weeks he
will be in a better condition to act, then he has sufficient
grounds for putting off the time of action.

But from that moment the logical course for the enemy
appears to be to act that he may not give the conquered
party THE DESIRED time. Of course, in this mode of reasoning
a complete insight into the state of circumstances
on both sides is supposed.


If this unbroken continuity of hostile operations really
existed, the effect would be that everything would again
be driven towards the extreme; for, irrespective of the
effect of such incessant activity in inflaming the feelings,
and infusing into the whole a greater degree of passion,
a greater elementary force, there would also follow from
this continuance of action a stricter continuity, a closer
connection between cause and effect, and thus every
single action would become of more importance, and
consequently more replete with danger.

But we know that the course of action in War has
seldom or never this unbroken continuity, and that there
have been many Wars in which action occupied by far
the smallest portion of time employed, the whole of the
rest being consumed in inaction. It is impossible that
this should be always an anomaly; suspension of action
in War must therefore be possible, that is no contradiction
in itself. We now proceed to show how this is.


As we have supposed the interests of one Commander
to be always antagonistic to those of the other, we have
assumed a true POLARITY. We reserve a fuller explanation
of this for another chapter, merely making the following
observation on it at present.

The principle of polarity is only valid when it can be
conceived in one and the same thing, where the positive
and its opposite the negative completely destroy each
other. In a battle both sides strive to conquer; that is
true polarity, for the victory of the one side destroys
that of the other. But when we speak of two different
things which have a common relation external to themselves,
then it is not the things but their relations which
have the polarity.


If there was only one form of War, to wit, the attack
of the enemy, therefore no defence; or, in other words,
if the attack was distinguished from the defence merely
by the positive motive, which the one has and the other
has not, but the methods of each were precisely one and
the same: then in this sort of fight every advantage
gained on the one side would be a corresponding disadvantage
on the other, and true polarity would exist.

But action in War is divided into two forms, attack
and defence, which, as we shall hereafter explain more
particularly, are very different and of unequal strength.
Polarity therefore lies in that to which both bear a
relation, in the decision, but not in the attack or defence

If the one Commander wishes the solution put off, the
other must wish to hasten it, but only by the same
form of action. If it is A's interest not to attack
his enemy at present, but four weeks hence, then it is
B's interest to be attacked, not four weeks hence, but at
the present moment. This is the direct antagonism of
interests, but it by no means follows that it would be for
B's interest to attack A at once. That is plainly something
totally different.


If the form of defence is stronger than that of offence,
as we shall hereafter show, the question arises, Is the
advantage of a deferred decision as great on the one side
as the advantage of the defensive form on the other?
If it is not, then it cannot by its counter-weight over-
balance the latter, and thus influence the progress of the
action of the War. We see, therefore, that the impulsive
force existing in the polarity of interests may be lost in
the difference between the strength of the offensive and
the defensive, and thereby become ineffectual.

If, therefore, that side for which the present is favourable,
is too weak to be able to dispense with the advantage
of the defensive, he must put up with the unfavourable
prospects which the future holds out; for it may still be
better to fight a defensive battle in the unpromising future
than to assume the offensive or make peace at present.
Now, being convinced that the superiority of the defensive[*]
(rightly understood) is very great, and much greater
than may appear at first sight, we conceive that the
greater number of those periods of inaction which occur
in war are thus explained without involving any contradiction.
The weaker the motives to action are, the
more will those motives be absorbed and neutralised
by this difference between attack and defence, the more
frequently, therefore, will action in warfare be stopped,
as indeed experience teaches.

[*] It must be remembered that all this antedates by some years
the introduction of long-range weapons.


But there is still another cause which may stop action
in War, viz., an incomplete view of the situation. Each
Commander can only fully know his own position; that
of his opponent can only be known to him by reports,
which are uncertain; he may, therefore, form a wrong
judgment with respect to it upon data of this description,
and, in consequence of that error, he may suppose that
the power of taking the initiative rests with his adversary
when it lies really with himself. This want of perfect
insight might certainly just as often occasion an untimely
action as untimely inaction, and hence it would in itself
no more contribute to delay than to accelerate action in
War. Still, it must always be regarded as one of the
natural causes which may bring action in War to a standstill
without involving a contradiction. But if we reflect
how much more we are inclined and induced to estimate
the power of our opponents too high than too low, because
it lies in human nature to do so, we shall admit that our
imperfect insight into facts in general must contribute
very much to delay action in War, and to modify the
application of the principles pending our conduct.

The possibility of a standstill brings into the action
of War a new modification, inasmuch as it dilutes that
action with the element of time, checks the influence or
sense of danger in its course, and increases the means of
reinstating a lost balance of force. The greater the
tension of feelings from which the War springs, the greater
therefore the energy with which it is carried on, so much
the shorter will be the periods of inaction; on the other
hand, the weaker the principle of warlike activity, the
longer will be these periods: for powerful motives increase
the force of the will, and this, as we know, is always a
factor in the product of force.


But the slower the action proceeds in War, the more
frequent and longer the periods of inaction, so much the
more easily can an error be repaired; therefore, so much
the bolder a General will be in his calculations, so much
the more readily will he keep them below the line of
the absolute, and build everything upon probabilities and
conjecture. Thus, according as the course of the War is
more or less slow, more or less time will be allowed for
that which the nature of a concrete case particularly
requires, calculation of probability based on given


We see from the foregoing how much the objective
nature of War makes it a calculation of probabilities;
now there is only one single element still wanting to make
it a game, and that element it certainly is not without:
it is chance. There is no human affair which stands
so constantly and so generally in close connection with
chance as War. But together with chance, the accidental,
and along with it good luck, occupy a great place in


If we now take a look at the subjective nature of War,
that is to say, at those conditions under which it is carried
on, it will appear to us still more like a game. Primarily
the element in which the operations of War are carried on
is danger; but which of all the moral qualities is the first in
danger? COURAGE. Now certainly courage is quite compatible
with prudent calculation, but still they are things
of quite a different kind, essentially different qualities of
the mind; on the other hand, daring reliance on good
fortune, boldness, rashness, are only expressions of
courage, and all these propensities of the mind look for
the fortuitous (or accidental), because it is their element.

We see, therefore, how, from the commencement, the
absolute, the mathematical as it is called, nowhere finds
any sure basis in the calculations in the Art of War; and
that from the outset there is a play of possibilities,
probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads about with all
the coarse and fine threads of its web, and makes War of all
branches of human activity the most like a gambling game.


Although our intellect always feels itself urged towards
clearness and certainty, still our mind often feels itself
attracted by uncertainty. Instead of threading its way
with the understanding along the narrow path of philosophical
investigations and logical conclusions, in order,
almost unconscious of itself, to arrive in spaces where it
feels itself a stranger, and where it seems to part from
all well-known objects, it prefers to remain with the
imagination in the realms of chance and luck. Instead
of living yonder on poor necessity, it revels here in the
wealth of possibilities; animated thereby, courage
then takes wings to itself, and daring and danger make
the element into which it launches itself as a fearless
swimmer plunges into the stream.

Shall theory leave it here, and move on, self-satisfied
with absolute conclusions and rules? Then it is of no
practical use. Theory must also take into account
the human element; it must accord a place to courage,
to boldness, even to rashness. The Art of War has to deal
with living and with moral forces, the consequence of
which is that it can never attain the absolute and positive.
There is therefore everywhere a margin for the accidental,
and just as much in the greatest things as in the smallest.
As there is room for this accidental on the one hand, so
on the other there must be courage and self-reliance in
proportion to the room available. If these qualities are
forthcoming in a high degree, the margin left may likewise
be great. Courage and self-reliance are, therefore,
principles quite essential to War; consequently, theory
must only set up such rules as allow ample scope for all
degrees and varieties of these necessary and noblest
of military virtues. In daring there may still be wisdom,
and prudence as well, only they are estimated by a
different standard of value.


Such is War; such the Commander who conducts it;
such the theory which rules it. But War is no pastime;
no mere passion for venturing and winning; no work
of a free enthusiasm: it is a serious means for a serious
object. All that appearance which it wears from the
varying hues of fortune, all that it assimilates into itself
of the oscillations of passion, of courage, of imagination,
of enthusiasm, are only particular properties of this means.

The War of a community--of whole Nations, and particularly
of civilised Nations--always starts from a
political condition, and is called forth by a political
motive. It is, therefore, a political act. Now if it was a
perfect, unrestrained, and absolute expression of force, as
we had to deduct it from its mere conception, then the
moment it is called forth by policy it would step into the
place of policy, and as something quite independent of it
would set it aside, and only follow its own laws, just as a
mine at the moment of explosion cannot be guided into
any other direction than that which has been given to it by
preparatory arrangements. This is how the thing has
really been viewed hitherto, whenever a want of harmony
between policy and the conduct of a War has led to
theoretical distinctions of the kind. But it is not so,
and the idea is radically false. War in the real world,
as we have already seen, is not an extreme thing which
expends itself at one single discharge; it is the operation
of powers which do not develop themselves completely
in the same manner and in the same measure, but which
at one time expand sufficiently to overcome the resistance
opposed by inertia or friction, while at another they are
too weak to produce an effect; it is therefore, in a
certain measure, a pulsation of violent force more or less
vehement, consequently making its discharges and
exhausting its powers more or less quickly--in other words,
conducting more or less quickly to the aim, but always
lasting long enough to admit of influence being exerted
on it in its course, so as to give it this or that direction,
in short, to be subject to the will of a guiding intelligence.,
if we
reflect that War has its root in a political object,
then naturally this original motive which called it into
existence should also continue the first and highest
consideration in its conduct. Still, the political object
is no despotic lawgiver on that account; it must accommodate
itself to the nature of the means, and though
changes in these means may involve modification in the
political objective, the latter always retains a prior right
to consideration. Policy, therefore, is interwoven with
the whole action of War, and must exercise a continuous
influence upon it, as far as the nature of the forces liberated
by it will permit.


We see, therefore, that 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. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar
to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means
which it uses. That the tendencies and views of policy
shall not be incompatible with these means, the Art of
War in general and the Commander in each particular
case may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling
one. But however powerfully this may react on political
views in particular cases, still it must always be regarded
as only a modification of them; for the political view
is the object, War is the means, and the means must
always include the object in our conception.


The greater and the more powerful the motives of a
War, the more it affects the whole existence of a people.
The more violent the excitement which precedes the War,
by so much the nearer will the War approach to its abstract
form, so much the more will it be directed to the destruction
of the enemy, so much the nearer will the military
and political ends coincide, so much the more purely
military and less political the War appears to be; but
the weaker the motives and the tensions, so much the
less will the natural direction of the military element--
that is, force--be coincident with the direction which
the political element indicates; so much the more must,
therefore, the War become diverted from its natural
direction, the political object diverge from the aim of
an ideal War, and the War appear to become political.

But, that the reader may not form any false conceptions,

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