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On War by Carl von Clausewitz

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that derived from experience, therefore in those cases
which admit of, and require, a free individual treatment
they readily make use of the means which experience
gives them--that is, an imitation of the particular methods
practised by great Generals, by which a method of
action then arises of itself. If we see Frederick the
Great's Generals always making their appearance in the
so-called oblique order of battle, the Generals of the French
Revolution always using turning movements with a long,
extended line of battle, and Buonaparte's lieutenants
rushing to the attack with the bloody energy of concentrated
masses, then we recognise in the recurrence of the
mode of proceeding evidently an adopted method, and
see therefore that method of action can reach up to regions
bordering on the highest. Should an improved theory
facilitate the study of the conduct of War, form the mind
and judgment of men who are rising to the highest commands,
then also method in action will no longer reach
so far, and so much of it as is to be considered indispensable
will then at
least be formed from theory itself,
and not take place out of mere imitation. However
pre-eminently a great Commander does things, there is
always something subjective in the way he does them;
and if he has a certain manner, a large share of his
individuality is contained in it which does not always accord
with the individuality of the person who copies his manner.

At the same time, it would neither be possible nor right
to banish subjective methodicism or manner completely
from the conduct of War: it is rather to be regarded as a
manifestation of that influence which the general character
of a War has upon its separate events, and to which
satisfaction can only be done in that way if theory is not
able to foresee this general character and include it in
its considerations. What is more natural than that the
War of the French Revolution had its own way of doing
things? and what theory could ever have included that
peculiar method? The evil is only that such a manner
originating in a special case easily outlives itself,
whilst circumstances imperceptibly change.
This is what theory should prevent by lucid and rational
criticism. When in the year 1806 the Prussian Generals,
Prince Louis at Saalfeld, Tauentzien on the Dornberg near
Jena, Grawert before and Ruechel behind Kappellendorf,
all threw themselves into the open jaws of destruction
in the oblique order of Frederick the Great, and
managed to ruin Hohenlohe's Army in a way that no
Army was ever ruined, even on the field of battle, all
this was done through a manner which had outlived its
day, together with the most downright stupidity to which
methodicism ever led.


THE influence of theoretical principles upon real life is
produced more through criticism than through doctrine,
for as criticism is an application of abstract truth to real
events, therefore it not only brings truth of this description
nearer to life, but also accustoms the understanding
more to such truths by the constant repetition of their
application. We therefore think it necessary to fix the
point of view for criticism next to that for theory.

From the simple narration of an historical occurrence
which places events in chronological order, or at most
only touches on their more immediate causes, we separate

In this CRITICAL three different operations of the mind
may be observed.

First, the historical investigation and determining of
doubtful facts. This is properly historical research, and
has nothing in common with theory.

Secondly, the tracing of effects to causes. This is the
REAL CRITICAL INQUIRY; it is indispensable to theory, for
everything which in theory is to be established, supported,
or even merely explained, by experience can only be settled
in this way.

Thirdly, the testing of the means employed. This is
criticism, properly speaking, in which praise and censure
is contained. This is where theory helps history, or
rather, the teaching to be derived from it.

In these two last strictly critical parts of historical
study, all depends on tracing things to their primary
elements, that is to say, up to undoubted truths, and not,
as is so often done, resting half-way, that is, on some
arbitrary assumption or supposition.

As respects the tracing of effect to cause, that is often
attended with the insuperable difficulty that the real
causes are not known. In none of the relations of life
does this so frequently happen as in War, where events
are seldom fully known, and still less motives, as the latter
have been, perhaps purposely, concealed by the chief
actor, or have been of such a transient and accidental
character that they have been lost for history. For this
reason critical narration must generally proceed hand in
hand with historical investigation, and still such a want
of connection between cause and effect will often present
itself, that it does not seem justifiable to consider effects
as the necessary results of known causes. Here, therefore,must
occur, that
is, historical results which cannot be made use of for teaching.
All that
theory can demand is that the investigation should be rigidly
up to that point, and there leave off without
drawing conclusions. A real evil springs up only if the
known is made perforce to suffice as an explanation of
effects, and thus a false importance is ascribed to it.

Besides this difficulty, critical inquiry also meets with
another great and intrinsic one, which is that the progress
of events in War seldom proceeds from one simple cause,
but from several in common, and that it therefore is not
sufficient to follow up a series of events to their origin
in a candid and impartial spirit, but that it is then also
necessary to apportion to each contributing cause its
due weight. This leads, therefore, to a closer investigation
of their nature, and thus a critical investigation
may lead into what is the proper field of theory.

The critical CONSIDERATION, that is, the testing of the
means, leads to the question, Which are the effects
peculiar to the means applied, and whether these effects
were comprehended in the plans of the person directing?

The effects peculiar to the means lead to the investigation of
their nature,
and thus again into the field of theory.

We have already seen that in criticism all depends
upon attaining to positive truth; therefore, that we must
not stop at arbitrary propositions which are not allowed
by others, and to which other perhaps equally arbitrary
assertions may again be opposed, so that there is no end
to pros and cons; the whole is without result, and
therefore without instruction.

We have seen that both the search for causes and the
examination of means lead into the field of theory;
that is, into the field of universal truth, which does not
proceed solely from the case immediately under examination.
If there is a theory which can be used, then the
critical consideration will appeal to the proofs there
afforded, and the examination may there stop. But
where no such theoretical truth is to be found, the inquiry
must be pushed up to the original elements. If this
necessity occurs often, it must lead the historian (according
to a common expression) into a labyrinth of details.
He then has his hands full, and it is impossible for him to
stop to give the requisite attention everywhere; the consequence
is, that in order to set bounds to his investigation,
he adopts some arbitrary assumptions which, if
they do not appear so to him, do so to others, as they are
not evident in themselves or capable of proof.

A sound theory is therefore an essential foundation
for criticism, and it is impossible for it, without the
assistance of a sensible theory, to attain to that point at
which it commences chiefly to be instructive, that is,
where it becomes demonstration, both convincing and
sans re'plique.

But it would be a visionary hope to believe in the possibility
of a theory applicable to every abstract truth,
leaving nothing for criticism to do but to place the case
under its appropriate law: it would be ridiculous pedantry
to lay down as a rule for criticism that it must always
halt and turn round on reaching the boundaries of sacred
theory. The same spirit of analytical inquiry which
is the origin of theory must also guide the critic in his
work; and it can and must therefore happen that he
strays beyond the boundaries of the province of theory
and elucidates those points with which he is more particularly
concerned. It is more likely, on the contrary,
that criticism would completely fail in its object if it
degenerated into a mechanical application of theory.
All positive results of theoretical inquiry, all principles,
rules, and methods, are the more wanting in generality
and positive truth the more they become positive doctrine.
They exist to offer themselves for use as required, and
it must always be left for judgment to decide whether
they are suitable or not. Such results of theory must
never be used in criticism as rules or norms for a standard,
but in the same way as the person acting should use them,
that is, merely as aids to judgment. If it is an acknowledged
principle in tactics that in the usual order of battle
cavalry should be placed behind infantry, not in line with
it, still it would be folly on this account to condemn
every deviation from this principle. Criticism must
investigate the grounds of the deviation, and it is only in
case these are insufficient that it has a right to appeal to
principles laid down in theory. If it is further established
in theory that a divided attack diminishes the probability
of success, still it would be just as unreasonable, whenever
there is a divided attack and an unsuccessful issue,
to regard the latter as the result of the former, without
further investigation into the connection between the
two, as where a divided attack is successful to infer from
it the fallacy of that theoretical principle. The spirit
of investigation which belongs to criticism cannot allow
either. Criticism therefore supports itself chiefly on
the results of the analytical investigation of theory;
what has been made out and determined by theory does
not require to be demonstrated over again by criticism,
and it is so determined by theory that criticism may find
it ready demonstrated.

This office of criticism, of examining the effect produced
by certain causes, and whether a means applied has
answered its object, will be easy enough if cause and
effect, means and end, are all near together.

If an Army is surprised, and therefore cannot make a
regular and intelligent use of its powers and resources, then
the effect of the surprise is not doubtful.--If theory
has determined that in a battle the convergent form of
attack is calculated to produce greater but less certain
results, then the question is whether he who employs
that convergent form had in view chiefly that greatness
of result as his object; if so, the proper means were chosen.
But if by this form he intended to make the result more
certain, and that expectation was founded not on some
exceptional circumstances (in this case), but on the general
nature of the convergent form, as has happened a hundred
times, then he mistook the nature of the means and
committed an error.

Here the work of military investigation and criticism
is easy, and it will always be so when confined to the
immediate effects and objects. This can be done quite
at option, if we abstract the connection of the parts
with the whole, and only look at things in that relation.

But in War, as generally in the world, there is a connection
between everything which belongs to a whole; and
therefore, however small a cause may be in itself, its
effects reach to the end of the act of warfare, and modify
or influence the final result in some degree, let that degree
be ever so small. In the same manner every means
must be felt up to the ultimate object.

We can therefore trace the effects of a cause as long
as events are worth noticing, and in the same way we
must not stop at the testing of a means for the immediate
object, but test also this object as a means to a higher
one, and thus ascend the series of facts in succession,
until we come to one so absolutely necessary in its nature
as to require no examination or proof. In many cases,
particularly in what concerns great and decisive measures,
the investigation must be carried to the final aim, to that
which leads immediately to peace.

It is evident that in thus ascending, at every new station
which we reach a new point of view for the judgment
is attained, so that the same means which appeared
advisable at one station, when looked at from the next
above it may have to be rejected.

The search for the causes of events and the comparison
of means with ends must always go hand in hand in the
critical review of an act, for the investigation of causes
leads us first to the discovery of those things which are
worth examining.

This following of the clue up and down is attended
with considerable difficulty, for the farther from an event
the cause lies which we are looking for, the greater must
be the number of other causes which must at the same
time be kept in view and allowed for in reference to the
share which they have in the course of events, and then
eliminated, because the higher the importance of a fact
the greater will be the number of separate forces and
circumstances by which it is conditioned. If we have
unravelled the causes of a battle being lost, we have
certainly also ascertained a part of the causes of the
consequences which this defeat has upon the whole War,
but only a part, because the effects of other causes, more
or less according to circumstances, will flow into the final

The same multiplicity of circumstances is presented
also in the examination of the means the higher our point
of view, for the higher the object is situated, the greater
must be the number of means employed to reach it.
The ultimate object of the War is the object aimed at
by all the Armies simultaneously, and it is therefore
necessary that the consideration should embrace all that
each has done or could have done.

It is obvious that this may sometimes lead to a wide
field of inquiry, in which it is easy to wander and lose
the way, and in which this difficulty prevails--that a
number of assumptions or suppositions must be made
about a variety of things which do not actually appear,
but which in all probability did take place, and therefore
cannot possibly be left out of consideration.

When Buonaparte, in 1797,[*] at the head of the Army
of Italy, advanced from the Tagliamento against the
Archduke Charles, he did so with a view to force that
General to a decisive action before the reinforcements
expected from the Rhine had reached him. If we look,
only at the immediate object, the means were well chosen
and justified by the result, for the Archduke was so inferior
in numbers that he only made a show of resistance on the
Tagliamento, and when he saw his adversary so strong
and resolute, yielded ground, and left open the passages,
of the Norican Alps. Now to what use could Buonaparte
turn this fortunate event? To penetrate into the heart
of the Austrian empire itself, to facilitate the advance of
the Rhine Armies under Moreau and Hoche, and open
communication with them? This was the view taken
by Buonaparte, and from this point of view he was right.
But now, if criticism places itself at a higher point of
view--namely, that of the French Directory, which body
could see and know that the Armies on the Rhine could
not commence the campaign for six weeks, then the
advance of Buonaparte over the Norican Alps can only
be regarded as an extremely hazardous measure; for if
the Austrians had drawn largely on their Rhine Armies
to reinforce their Army in Styria, so as to enable the
Archduke to fall upon the Army of Italy, not only would
that Army have been routed, but the whole campaign
lost. This consideration, which attracted the serious
attention of Buonaparte at Villach, no doubt induced him
to sign the armistice of Leoben with so much readiness.

[*] Compare Hinterlassene Werke, 2nd edition, vol. iv. p. 276 et

If criticism takes a still higher position, and if it knows
that the Austrians had no reserves between the Army
of the Archduke Charles and Vienna, then we see that
Vienna became threatened by the advance of the Army
of Italy.

Supposing that Buonaparte knew that the capital was
thus uncovered, and knew that he still retained the same
superiority in numbers over the Archduke as he had in
Styria, then his advance against the heart of the Austrian
States was no longer without purpose, and its value
depended on the value which the Austrians might place
on preserving their capital. If that was so great that,
rather than lose it, they would accept the conditions of
peace which Buonaparte was ready to offer them, it
became an object of the first importance to threaten
Vienna. If Buonaparte had any reason to know this,
then criticism may stop there, but if this point was only
problematical, then criticism must take a still higher
position, and ask what would have followed if the Austrians
had resolved to abandon Vienna and retire farther
into the vast dominions still left to them. But it is easy
to see that this question cannot be answered without
bringing into the consideration the probable movements
of the Rhine Armies on both sides. Through the decided
superiority of numbers on the side of the French--
130,000 to 80,000--there could be little doubt of the
result; but then next arises the question, What use would
the Directory make of a victory; whether they would
follow up their success to the opposite frontiers of the
Austrian monarchy, therefore to the complete breaking
up or overthrow of that power, or whether they would be
satisfied with the conquest of a considerable portion to
serve as a security for peace? The probable result in
each case must be estimated, in order to come to a conclusion
as to the probable determination of the Directory.
Supposing the result of these considerations to be that the
French forces were much too weak for the complete
subjugation of the Austrian monarchy, so that the
attempt might completely reverse the respective positions
of the contending Armies, and that even the conquest
and occupation of a considerable district of country
would place the French Army in strategic relations to which
they were not equal, then that result must naturally
influence the estimate of the position of the Army of
Italy, and compel it to lower its expectations. And this,
it was no doubt which influenced Buonaparte, although
fully aware of the helpless condition of the Archduke,
still to sign the peace of Campo Formio, which imposed
no greater sacrifices on the Austrians than the loss of
provinces which, even if the campaign took the most
favourable turn for them, they could not have reconquered.
But the French could not have reckoned on
even the moderate treaty of Campo Formio, and therefore
it could not have been their object in making their bold
advance if two considerations had not presented themselves
to their view, the first of which consisted in the question,
what degree of value the Austrians would attach to
each of the above-mentioned results; whether, notwithstanding the
probability of a satisfactory result in either
of these cases, would it be worth while to make the
sacrifices inseparable from a continuance of the War,
when they could be spared those sacrifices by a peace
on terms not too humiliating? The second consideration
is the question whether the Austrian Government, instead
of seriously weighing the possible results of a resistance
pushed to extremities, would not prove completely disheartened
by the impression of their present reverses.

The consideration which forms the subject of the first
is no idle piece of subtle argument, but a consideration of
such decidedly practical importance that it comes up
whenever the plan of pushing War to the utmost extremity
is mooted, and by its weight in most cases restrains the
execution of such plans.

The second consideration is of equal importance, for
we do not make War with an abstraction but with a
reality, which we must always keep in view, and we may
be sure that it was not overlooked by the bold Buonaparte
--that is, that he was keenly alive to the terror
which the appearance of his sword inspired. It was
reliance on that which led him to Moscow. There it
led him into a scrape. The terror of him had been
weakened by the gigantic struggles in which he had been
engaged; in the year 1797 it was still fresh, and the
secret of a resistance pushed to extremities had not been
discovered; nevertheless even in 1797 his boldness
might have led to a negative result if, as already said,
he had not with a sort of presentiment avoided it by
signing the moderate peace of Campo Formio.

We must now bring these considerations to a close--
they will suffice to show the wide sphere, the diversity
and embarrassing nature of the subjects embraced in a
critical examination carried to the fullest extent, that is,
to those measures of a great and decisive class which
must necessarily be included. It follows from them that
besides a theoretical acquaintance with the subject,
natural talent must also have a great influence on the
value of critical examinations, for it rests chiefly with the
latter to throw the requisite light on the interrelations
of things, and to distinguish from amongst the endless
connections of events those which are really essential.

But talent is also called into requisition in another
way. Critical examination is not merely the appreciation
of those means which have been actually employed,
but also of all possible means, which therefore must be
suggested in the first place--that is, must be discovered;
and the use of any particular means is not fairly open to
censure until a better is pointed out. Now, however
small the number of possible combinations may be in
most cases, still it must be admitted that to point out
those which have not been used is not a mere analysis
of actual things, but a spontaneous creation which
cannot be prescribed, and depends on the fertility of

We are far from seeing a field for great genius in a case
which admits only of the application of a few simple
combinations, and we think it exceedingly ridiculous
to hold up, as is often done, the turning of a position as
an invention showing the highest genius; still nevertheless
this creative self-activity on the part of the critic is
necessary, and it is one of the points which essentially
determine the value of critical examination.

When Buonaparte on 30th July, 1796,[*] determined
to raise the siege of Mantua, in order to march with his
whole force against the enemy, advancing in separate
columns to the relief of the place, and to beat them in
detail, this appeared the surest way to the attainment
of brilliant victories. These victories actually followed,
and were afterwards again repeated on a still more brilliant
scale on the attempt to relieve the fortress being again
renewed. We hear only one opinion on these achievements,
that of unmixed admiration.

[*] Compare Hinterlassene Werke, 2nd edition, vol. iv. p. 107 et

At the same time, Buonaparte could not have adopted
this course on the 30th July without quite giving up
the idea of the siege of Mantua, because it was impossible
to save the siege train, and it could not be replaced by
another in this campaign. In fact, the siege was converted
into a blockade, and the town, which if the siege
had continued must have very shortly fallen, held out
for six months in spite of Buonaparte's victories in the
open field.

Criticism has generally regarded this as an evil that
was unavoidable, because critics have not been able to
suggest any better course. Resistance to a relieving
Army within lines of circumvallation had fallen into
such disrepute and contempt that it appears to have
entirely escaped consideration as a means. And yet in
the reign of Louis XIV. that measure was so often used
with success that we can only attribute to the force of
fashion the fact that a hundred years later it never
occurred to any one even to propose such a measure.
If the practicability of such a plan had ever been entertained
for a moment, a closer consideration of circumstances
would have shown that 40,000 of the best infantry
in the world under Buonaparte, behind strong lines of
circumvallation round Mantua, had so little to fear from
the 50,000 men coming to the relief under Wurmser, that
it was very unlikely that any attempt even would be
made upon their lines. We shall not seek here to establish
this point, but we believe enough has been said to show
that this means was one which had a right to a share of
consideration. Whether Buonaparte himself ever thought
of such a plan we leave undecided; neither in his memoirs
nor in other sources is there any trace to be found of his
having done so; in no critical works has it been touched
upon, the measure being one which the mind had lost
sight of. The merit of resuscitating the idea of this
means is not great, for it suggests itself at once to any
one who breaks loose from the trammels of fashion.
Still it is necessary that it should suggest itself for us to
bring it into consideration and compare it with the means
which Buonaparte employed. Whatever may be the
result of the comparison, it is one which should not be
omitted by criticism.

When Buonaparte, in February, 1814,[*] after gaining
the battles at Etoges, Champ-Aubert, and Montmirail,
left Bluecher's Army, and turning upon Schwartzenberg,
beat his troops at Montereau and Mormant, every one
was filled with admiration, because Buonaparte, by thus
throwing his concentrated force first upon one opponent,
then upon another, made a brilliant use of the mistakes
which his adversaries had committed in dividing their
forces. If these brilliant strokes in different directions
failed to save him, it was generally considered to be no
fault of his, at least. No one has yet asked the question,
What would have been the result if, instead of turning
from Bluecher upon Schwartzenberg, he had tried another
blow at Bluecher, and pursued him to the Rhine? We
are convinced that it would have completely changed the
course of the campaign, and that the Army of the Allies,
instead of marching to Paris, would have retired behind
the Rhine. We do not ask others to share our conviction,
but no one who understands the thing will doubt, at the
mere mention of this alternative course, that it is one
which should not be overlooked in criticism.

[*] Compare Hinterlassene Werks, 2nd edition. vol. vii. p. 193 et

In this case the means of comparison lie much more
on the surface than in the foregoing, but they have
been equally overlooked, because one-sided views have
prevailed, and there has been no freedom of judgment.

From the necessity of pointing out a better means which
might have been used in place of those which are condemned
has arisen the form of criticism almost exclusively
in use, which contents itself with pointing out the
better means without demonstrating in what the superiority
consists. The consequence is that some are not
convinced, that others start up and do the same thing,
and that thus discussion arises which is without any fixed
basis for the argument. Military literature abounds
with matter of this sort.

The demonstration we require is always necessary
when the superiority of the means propounded is not so
evident as to leave no room for doubt, and it consists
in the examination of each of the means on its own
merits, and then of its comparison with the object desired.
When once the thing is traced back to a simple truth,
controversy must cease, or at all events a new result
is obtained, whilst by the other plan the pros and cons
go on for ever consuming each other.

Should we, for example, not rest content with assertion
in the case before mentioned, and wish to prove that the
persistent pursuit of Bluecher would have been more
advantageous than the turning on Schwartzenberg, we
should support the arguments on the following simple

1. In general it is more advantageous to continue our
blows in one and the same direction, because there is a
loss of time in striking in different directions; and at a
point where the moral power is already shaken by considerable
losses there is the more reason to expect fresh
successes, therefore in that way no part of the preponderance
already gained is left idle.

2. Because Bluecher, although weaker than Schwartzenberg,
was, on account of his enterprising spirit, the more
important adversary; in him, therefore, lay the centre
of attraction which drew the others along in the same

3. Because the losses which Bluecher had sustained
almost amounted to a defeat, which gave Buonaparte
such a preponderance over him as to make his retreat
to the Rhine almost certain, and at the same time no
reserves of any consequence awaited him there.

4. Because there was no other result which would be
so terrific in its aspects, would appear to the imagination
in such gigantic proportions, an immense advantage in
dealing with a Staff so weak and irresolute as that of
Schwartzenberg notoriously was at this time. What
had happened to the Crown Prince of Wartemberg at
Montereau, and to Count Wittgenstein at Mormant,
Prince Schwartzenberg must have known well enough;
but all the untoward events on Bluecher's distant and
separate line from the Marne to the Rhine would only
reach him by the avalanche of rumour. The desperate
movements which Buonaparte made upon Vitry at the
end of March, to see what the Allies would do if he
threatened to turn them strategically, were evidently
done on the principle of working on their fears; but it
was done under far different circumstances, in consequence
of his defeat at Laon and Arcis, and because
Bluecher, with 100,000 men, was then in communication
with Schwartzenberg.

There are people, no doubt, who will not be convinced
on these arguments, but at all events they cannot
retort by saying, that "whilst Buonaparte threatened
Schwartzenberg's base by advancing to the Rhine,
Schwartzenberg at the same time threatened Buonaparte's
communications with Paris," because we have shown
by the reasons above given that Schwartzenberg would
never have thought of marching on Paris.

With respect to the example quoted by us from the
campaign of 1796, we should say: Buonaparte looked
upon the plan he adopted as the surest means of beating
the Austrians; but admitting that it was so, still the
object to be attained was only an empty victory, which
could have hardly any sensible influence on the fall of
Mantua. The way which we should have chosen would,
in our opinion, have been much more certain to prevent
the relief of Mantua; but even if we place ourselves in
the position of the French General and assume that it
was not so, and look upon the certainty of success to
have been less, the question then amounts to a choice
between a more certain but less useful, and therefore less
important, victory on the one hand, and a somewhat less
probable but far more decisive and important victory,
on the other hand. Presented in this form, boldness
must have declared for the second solution, which is the
reverse of what took place, when the thing was only superficially
viewed. Buonaparte certainly was anything but
deficient in boldness, and we may be sure that he did
not see the whole case and its consequences as fully and
clearly as we can at the present time.

Naturally the critic, in treating of the means, must
often appeal to military history, as experience is of more
value in the Art of War than all philosophical truth. But
this exemplification from history is subject to certain
conditions, of which we shall treat in a special chapter and
unfortunately these conditions are so seldom regarded
that reference to history generally only serves to increase
the confusion of ideas.

We have still a most important subject to consider,
which is, How far criticism in passing judgments on
particular events is permitted, or in duty bound, to make
use of its wider view of things, and therefore also of that
which is shown by results; or when and where it should
leave out of sight these things in order to place itself,
as far as possible, in the exact position of the chief actor?

If criticism dispenses praise or censure, it should seek
to place itself as nearly as possible at the same point of
view as the person acting, that is to say, to collect all he
knew and all the motives on which he acted, and, on the
other hand, to leave out of the consideration all that the
person acting could not or did not know, and above all,
the result. But this is only an object to aim at, which
can never be reached because the state of circumstances
from which an event proceeded can never be placed before
the eye of the critic exactly as it lay before the eye of the
person acting. A number of inferior circumstances,
which must have influenced the result, are completely
lost to sight, and many a subjective motive has never
come to light.

The latter can only be learnt from the memoirs of the
chief actor, or from his intimate friends; and in such things of
this kind
are often treated of in a very
desultory manner, or purpusely misrepresented. Criticism
must, therefore, always forego much which was
present in the minds of those whose acts are criticised.

On the other hand, it is much more difficult to leave out
of sight that which criticism knows in excess. This is
only easy as regards accidental circumstances, that is,
circumstances which have been mixed up, but are in no
way necessarily related. But it is very difficult, and, in
fact, can never be completely done with regard to things
really essential.

Let us take first, the result. If it has not proceeded
from accidental circumstances, it is almost impossible
that the knowledge of it should not have an effect on the
judgment passed on events which have preceded it, for
we see these things in the light of this result, and it is to
a certain extent by it that we first become acquainted
with them and appreciate them. Military history, with
all its events, is a source of instruction for criticism
itself, and it is only natural that criticism should throw
that light on things which it has itself obtained from the
consideration of the whole. If therefore it might wish
in some cases to leave the result out of the consideration,
it would be impossible to do so completely.

But it is not only in relation to the result, that is, with
what takes place at the last, that this embarrassment
arises; the same occurs in relation to preceding events,
therefore with the data which furnished the motives to
action. Criticism has before it, in most cases, more
information on this point than the principal in the transaction.
Now it may seem easy to dismiss from the consideration
everything of this nature, but it is not so easy
as we may think. The knowledge of preceding and
concurrent events is founded not only on certain information,
but on a number of conjectures and suppositions;
indeed, there is hardly any of the information respecting
things not purely accidental which has not been preceded
by suppositions or conjectures destined to take the place
of certain information in case such should never be
supplied. Now is it conceivable that criticism in after
times, which has before it as facts all the preceding and
concurrent circumstances, should not allow itself to be
thereby influenced when it asks itself the question,
What portion of the circumstances, which at the moment
of action were unknown, would it have held to be probable?
We maintain that in this case, as in the case of
the results, and for the same reason, it is impossible to
disregard all these things completely.

If therefore the critic wishes to bestow praise or blame
upon any single act, he can only succeed to a certain
degree in placing himself in the position of the person
whose act he has under review. In many cases he can
do so sufficiently near for any practical purpose, but in
many instances it is the very reverse, and this fact should
never be overlooked.

But it is neither necessary nor desirable that criticism
should completely identify itself with the person acting.
In War, as in all matters of skill, there is a certain natural
aptitude required which is called talent. This may be
great or small. In the first case it may easily be superior
to that of the critic, for what critic can pretend to the
skill of a Frederick or a Buonaparte? Therefore, if
criticism is not to abstain altogether from offering an
opinion where eminent talent is concerned, it must be
allowed to make use of the advantage which its enlarged
horizon affords. Criticism must not, therefore, treat
the solution of a problem by a great General like a sum
in arithmetic; it is only through the results and through
the exact coincidences of events that it can recognise
with admiration how much is due to the exercise of genius,
and that it first learns the essential combination which
the glance of that genius devised.

But for every, even the smallest, act of genius it is
necessary that criticism should take a higher point of
view, so that, having at command many objective grounds
of decision, it may be as little subjective as possible,
and that the critic may not take the limited scope of his
own mind as a standard.

This elevated position of criticism, its praise and blame
pronounced with a full knowledge of all the circumstances,
has in itself nothing which hurts our feelings; it only
does so if the critic pushes himself forward, and speaks
in a tone as if all the wisdom which he has obtained by
an exhaustive examination of the event under consideration
were really his own talent. Palpable as is this
deception, it is one which people may easily fall into
through vanity, and one which is naturally distasteful to
others. It very often happens that although the critic
has no such arrogant pretensions, they are imputed to
him by the reader because he has not expressly disclaimed
them, and then follows immediately a charge of a want of
the power of critical judgment.

If therefore a critic points out an error made by a
Frederick or a Buonaparte, that does not mean that he
who makes the criticism would not have committed the
same error; he may even be ready to grant that had
he been in the place of these great Generals he might
have made much greater mistakes; he merely sees this
error from the chain of events, and he thinks that it
should not have escaped the sagacity of the General.

This is, therefore, an opinion formed through the connection
of events, and therefore through the RESULT. But
there is another quite different effect of the result itself
upon the judgment, that is if it is used quite alone as an
example for or against the soundness of a measure. This
judgment appears at first sight inadmissible, and yet it
is not.

When Buonaparte marched to Moscow in 1812, all
depended upon whether the taking of the capital, and the
events which preceded the capture, would force the
Emperor Alexander to make peace, as he had been compelled
to do after the battle of Friedland in 1807, and
the Emperor Francis in 1805 and 1809 after Austerlitz
and Wagram; for if Buonaparte did not obtain a peace
at Moscow, there was no alternative but to return--that
is, there was nothing for him but a strategic defeat.
We shall leave out of the question what he did to get to
Moscow, and whether in his advance he did not miss many
opportunities of bringing the Emperor Alexander to peace;
we shall also exclude all consideration of the disastrous
circumstances which attended his retreat, and which
perhaps had their origin in the general conduct of the
campaign. Still the question remains the same, for
however much more brilliant the course of the campaign
up to Moscow might have been, still there was always
an uncertainty whether the Emperor Alexander would be
intimidated into making peace; and then, even if a retreat
did not contain in itself the seeds of such disasters as did
in fact occur, still it could never be anything else than a
great strategic defeat. If the Emperor Alexander agreed
to a peace which was disadvantageous to him, the campaign
of 1812 would have ranked with those of Austerlitz,
Friedland, and Wagram. But these campaigns also, if
they had not led to peace, would in all probability have
ended in similar catastrophes. Whatever, therefore, of
genius, skill, and energy the Conqueror of the World
applied to the task, this last question addressed to fate[*]
remained always the same. Shall we then discard the
campaigns of 1805, 1807, 1809, and say on account of the
campaign of 1812 that they were acts of imprudence;
that the results were against the nature of things, and that
in 1812 strategic justice at last found vent for itself
in opposition to blind chance? That would be an
unwarrantable conclusion, a most arbitrary judgment,
a case only half proved, because no human, eye can trace
the thread of the necessary connection of events up to
the determination of the conquered Princes.

[*] "Frage an der Schicksal,"a familiar quotation from

Still less can we say the campaign of 1812 merited the
same success as the others, and that the reason why it
turned out otherwise lies in something unnatural, for
we cannot regard the firmness of Alexander as something

What can be more natural than to say that in the
years 1805, 1807, 1809, Buonaparte judged his opponents
correctly, and that in 1812 he erred in that point? On
the former occasions, therefore, he was right, in the
latter wrong, and in both cases we judge by the RESULT.

All action in War, as we have already said, is directed
on probable, not on certain, results. Whatever is wanting
in certainty must always be left to fate, or chance, call
it which you will. We may demand that what is so left
should be as little as possible, but only in relation to
the particular case--that is, as little as is possible in this
one case, but not that the case in which the least is left
to chance is always to be preferred. That would be an
enormous error, as follows from all our theoretical views.
There are cases in which the greatest daring is the greatest

Now in everything which is left to chance by the chief
actor, his personal merit, and therefore his responsibility
as well, seems to be completely set aside; nevertheless
we cannot suppress an inward feeling of satisfaction
whenever expectation realises itself, and if it disappoints
us our mind is dissatisfied; and more than this of right
and wrong should not be meant by the judgment which
we form from the mere result, or rather that we find there.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the satisfaction
which our mind experiences at success, the pain caused
by failure, proceed from a sort of mysterious feeling;
we suppose between that success ascribed to good fortune
and the genius of the chief a fine connecting thread,
invisible to the mind's eye, and the supposition gives
pleasure. What tends to confirm this idea is that our
sympathy increases, becomes more decided, if the successes
and defeats of the principal actor are often repeated.
Thus it becomes intelligible how good luck in War assumes
a much nobler nature than good luck at play. In general,
when a fortunate warrior does not otherwise lessen our
interest in his behalf, we have a pleasure in accompanying
him in his career.

Criticism, therefore, after having weighed all that comes
within the sphere of human reason and conviction, will
let the result speak for that part where the deep mysterious
relations are not disclosed in any visible form,
and will protect this silent sentence of a higher authority
from the noise of crude opinions on the one hand, while
on the other it prevents the gross abuse which might
be made of this last tribunal.

This verdict of the result must therefore always bring
forth that which human sagacity cannot discover; and
it will be chiefly as regards the intellectual powers and
operations that it will be called into requisition, partly
because they can be estimated with the least certainty,
partly because their close connection with the will is
favourable to their exercising over it an important
influence. When fear or bravery precipitates the decision,
there is nothing objective intervening between them
for our consideration, and consequently nothing by which
sagacity and calculation might have met the probable

We must now be allowed to make a few observations
on the instrument of criticism, that is, the language
which it uses, because that is to a certain extent connected
with the action in War; for the critical examination is
nothing more than the deliberation which should precede
action in War. We therefore think it very essential
that the language used in criticism should have the same
character as that which deliberation in War must have,
for otherwise it would cease to be practical, and criticism
could gain no admittance in actual life.

We have said in our observations on the theory of the
conduct of War that it should educate the mind of the
Commander for War, or that its teaching should guide his
education; also that it is not intended to furnish him
with positive doctrines and systems which he can use
like mental appliances. But if the construction of
scientific formulae is never required, or even allowable,
in War to aid the decision on the case presented, if truth
does not appear there in a systematic shape, if it is not
found in an indirect way, but directly by the natural
perception of the mind, then it must be the same also in
a critical review.

It is true as we have seen that, wherever complete
demonstration of the nature of things would be too tedious,
criticism must support itself on those truths which theory
has established on the point. But, just as in War the
actor obeys these theoretical truths rather because his
mind is imbued with them than because he regards them
as objective inflexible laws, so criticism must also make
use of them, not as an external law or an algebraic formula,
of which fresh proof is not required each time they are
applied, but it must always throw a light on this proof
itself, leaving only to theory the more minute and circumstantial
proof. Thus it avoids a mysterious, unintelligible
phraseology, and makes its progress in plain language,
that is, with a clear and always visible chain of ideas.

Certainly this cannot always be completely attained,
but it must always be the aim in critical expositions.
Such expositions must use complicated forms of science
as sparingly as possible, and never resort to the construction
of scientific aids as of a truth apparatus of its own,
but always be guided by the natural and unbiassed
impressions of the mind.

But this pious endeavour, if we may use the expression,
has unfortunately seldom hitherto presided over critical
examinations: the most of them have rather been
emanations of a species of vanity--a wish to make a
display of ideas.

The first evil which we constantly stumble upon is a
lame, totally inadmissible application of certain one-
sided systems as of a formal code of laws. But it is
never difficult to show the one-sidedness of such systems,
and this only requires to be done once to throw discredit
for ever on critical judgments which are based on them.
We have here to deal with a definite subject, and as the
number of possible systems after all can be but small,
therefore also they are themselves the lesser evil.

Much greater is the evil which lies in the pompous
retinue of technical terms--scientific expressions and
metaphors, which these systems carry in their train, and
which like a rabble-like the baggage of an Army broken
away from its Chief--hang about in all directions. Any
critic who has not adopted a system, either because he has
not found one to please him, or because he has not yet
been able to make himself master of one, will at least
occasionally make use of a piece of one, as one would
use a ruler, to show the blunders committed by a General.
The most of them are incapable of reasoning without
using as a help here and there some shreds of scientific
military theory. The smallest of these fragments,
consisting in mere scientific words and metaphors, are
often nothing more than ornamental flourishes of critical
narration. Now it is in the nature of things that all
technical and scientific expressions which belong to a
system lose their propriety, if they ever had any, as soon
as they are distorted, and used as general axioms, or as
small crystalline talismans, which have more power of
demonstration than simple speech.

Thus it has come to pass that our theoretical and
critical books, instead of being straightforward, intelligible
dissertations, in which the author always knows at least
what he says and the reader what he reads, are brimful
of these technical terms, which form dark points of interference
author and reader part company. But
frequently they are something worse, being nothing but
hollow shells without any kernel. The author himself
has no clear perception of what he means, contents himself
with vague ideas, which if expressed in plain language
would be unsatisfactory even to himself.

A third fault in criticism is the MISUSE of HISTORICAL
EXAMPLES, and a display of great reading or learning.
What the history of the Art of War is we have already
said, and we shall further explain our views on examples
and on military history in general in special chapters.
One fact merely touched upon in a very cursory manner
may be used to support the most opposite views, and
three or four such facts of the most heterogeneous description,
brought together out of the most distant lands and
remote times and heaped up, generally distract and
bewilder the judgment and understanding without
demonstrating anything; for when exposed to the light
they turn out to be only trumpery rubbish, made use
of to show off the author's learning.

But what can be gained for practical life by such
obscure, partly false, confused arbitrary conceptions?
So little is gained that theory on account of them has
always been a true antithesis of practice, and frequently
a subject of ridicule to those whose soldierly qualities
in the field are above question.

But it is impossible that this could have been the case,
if theory in simple language, and by natural treatment
of those things which constitute the Art of making War,
had merely sought to establish just so much as admits of
being established; if, avoiding all false pretensions and
irrelevant display of scientific forms and historical
parallels, it had kept close to the subject, and gone hand
in hand with those who must conduct affairs in the field
by their own natural genius.


EXAMPLES from history make everything clear, and
furnish the best description of proof in the empirical
sciences. This applies with more force to the Art of War
than to any other. General Scharnhorst, whose handbook
is the best ever written on actual War, pronounces
historical examples to be of the first importance, and
makes an admirable use of them himself. Had he survived
the War in which he fell,[*] the fourth part of his
revised treatise on artillery would have given a still
greater proof of the observing and enlightened spirit
in which he sifted matters of experience.

But such use of historical examples is rarely made by
theoretical writers; the way in which they more commonly
make use of them is rather calculated to leave
the mind unsatisfied, as well as to offend the understanding.
We therefore think it important to bring specially
into view the use and abuse of historical examples.

[*] General Scharnhorst died in 1813, of a wound received in the
battle of Bautzen or Grosz Gorchen--EDITOR.

Unquestionably the branches of knowledge which lie
at the foundation of the Art of War come under the
denomination of empirical sciences; for although they
are derived in a great measure from the nature of things,
still we can only learn this very nature itself for the most
part from experience; and besides that, the practical
application is modified by so many circumstances that
the effects can never be completely learnt from the mere
nature of the means.

The effects of gunpowder, that great agent in our
military activity, were only learnt by experience, and up
to this hour experiments are continually in progress in
order to investigate them more fully. That an iron ball
to which powder has given a velocity of 1000 feet in a
second, smashes every living thing which it touches in
its course is intelligible in itself; experience is not
required to tell us that; but in producing this effect how
many hundred circumstances are concerned, some of
which can only be learnt by experience! And the
physical is not the only effect which we have to study,
it is the moral which we are in search of, and that can only
be ascertained by experience; and there is no other way
of learning and appreciating it but by experience. In
the middle ages, when firearms were first invented,
their effect, owing to their rude make, was materially
but trifling compared to what it now is, but their effect
morally was much greater. One must have witnessed
the firmness of one of those masses taught and led by
Buonaparte, under the heaviest and most unintermittent
cannonade, in order to understand what troops, hardened
by long practice in the field of danger, can do, when by
a career of victory they have reached the noble principle
of demanding from themselves their utmost efforts. In
pure conception no one would believe it. On the other
hand, it is well known that there are troops in the service
of European Powers at the present moment who would
easily be dispersed by a few cannon shots.

But no empirical science, consequently also no theory
of the Art of War, can always corroborate its truths by
historical proof; it would also be, in some measure,
difficult to support experience by single facts. If any
means is once found efficacious in War, it is repeated;
one nation copies another, the thing becomes the fashion,
and in this manner it comes into use, supported by experience,
and takes its place in theory, which contents itself
with appealing to experience in general in order to
show its origin, but not as a verification of its truth.

But it is quite otherwise if experience is to be used
in order to overthrow some means in use, to confirm
what is doubtful, or introduce something new; then
particular examples from history must be quoted as

Now, if we consider closely the use of historical proofs,
four points of view readily present themselves for the

First, they may be used merely as an EXPLANATION of an
idea. In every abstract consideration it is very easy to
be misunderstood, or not to be intelligible at all: when
an author is afraid of this, an exemplification from history
serves to throw the light which is wanted on his idea, and
to ensure his being intelligible to his reader.

Secondly, it may serve as an APPLICATION of an idea,
because by means of an example there is an opportunity
of showing the action of those minor circumstances
which cannot all be comprehended and explained in any
general expression of an idea; for in that consists, indeed,
the difference between theory and experience. Both
these cases belong to examples properly speaking, the
two following belong to historical proofs.

Thirdly, a historical fact may be referred to particularly,
in order to support what one has advanced. This is in
all cases sufficient, if we have ONLY to prove the POSSIBILITY
of a fact or effect.

Lastly, in the fourth place, from the circumstantial
detail of a historical event, and by collecting together
several of them, we may deduce some theory, which
therefore has its true PROOF in this testimony itself.

For the first of these purposes all that is generally
required is a cursory notice of the case, as it is only used
partially. Historical correctness is a secondary consideration;
a case invented might also serve the purpose as
well, only historical ones are always to be preferred,
because they bring the idea which they illustrate nearer
to practical life.

The second use supposes a more circumstantial relation
of events, but historical authenticity is again of secondary
importance, and in respect to this point the same is to be
said as in the first case.

For the third purpose the mere quotation of an undoubted
fact is generally sufficient. If it is asserted
that fortified positions may fulfil their object under
certain conditions, it is only necessary to mention the
position of Bunzelwitz[*] in support of the assertion.

[*] Frederick the Great's celebrated entrenched camp in 1761.

But if, through the narrative of a case in history, an
abstract truth is to be demonstrated, then everything
in the case bearing on the demonstration must be analysed
in the most searching and complete manner; it must,
to a certain extent, develop itself carefully before the
eyes of the reader. The less effectually this is done the
weaker will be the proof, and the more necessary it will
be to supply the demonstrative proof which is wanting
in the single case by a number of cases, because we have
a right to suppose that the more minute details which
we are unable to give neutralise each other in their
effects in a certain number of cases.

If we want to show by example derived from experience
that cavalry are better placed behind than in a line with
infantry; that it is very hazardous without a decided
preponderance of numbers to attempt an enveloping
movement, with widely separated columns, either on a
field of battle or in the theatre of war--that is, either
tactically or strategically--then in the first of these cases
it would not be sufficient to specify some lost battles in
which the cavalry was on the flanks and some gained in
which the cavalry was in rear of the infantry; and in the
tatter of these cases it is not sufficient to refer to the
battles of Rivoli and Wagram, to the attack of the
Austrians on the theatre of war in Italy, in 1796, or of
the French upon the German theatre of war in the same
year. The way in which these orders of battle or plans
of attack essentially contributed to disastrous issues
in those particular cases must be shown by closely tracing
out circumstances and occurrences. Then it will appear
how far such forms or measures are to be condemned,
a point which it is very necessary to show, for a total
condemnation would be inconsistent with truth.

It has been already said that when a circumstantial
detail of facts is impossible, the demonstrative power
which is deficient may to a certain extent be supplied by
the number of cases quoted; but this is a very dangerous
method of getting out of the difficulty, and one which
has been much abused. Instead of one well-explained
example, three or four are just touched upon, and thus
a show is made of strong evidence. But there are matters
where a whole dozen of cases brought forward would
prove nothing, if, for instance, they are facts of frequent
occurrence, and therefore a dozen other cases with an
opposite result might just as easily be brought forward.
If any one will instance a dozen lost battles in which
the side beaten attacked in separate converging columns,
we can instance a dozen that have been gained in which
the same order was adopted. It is evident that in this
way no result is to be obtained.

Upon carefully considering these different points, it will
be seen how easily examples may be misapplied.

An occurrence which, instead of being carefully analysed
in all its parts, is superficially noticed, is like an object
seen at a great distance, presenting the same appearance
on each side, and in which the details of its parts cannot
be distinguished. Such examples have, in reality, served
to support the most contradictory opinions. To some
Daun's campaigns are models of prudence and skill. To
others, they are nothing but examples of timidity and
want of resolution. Buonaparte's passage across the
Noric Alps in 1797 may be made to appear the noblest
resolution, but also as an act of sheer temerity. His
strategic defeat in 1812 may be represented as the consequence
either of an excess, or of a deficiency, of energy.
All these opinions have been broached, and it is easy to
see that they might very well arise, because each person
takes a different view of the connection of events. At the
same time these antagonistic opinions cannot be reconciled
with each other, and therefore one of the two must
be wrong.

Much as we are obliged to the worthy Feuquieres for the
numerous examples introduced in his memoirs--partly
because a number of historical incidents have thus been
preserved which might otherwise have been lost, and
partly because he was one of the first to bring theoretical,
that is, abstract, ideas into connection with the practical
in war, in so far that the cases brought forward may be
regarded as intended to exemplify and confirm what is
theoretically asserted--yet, in the opinion of an impartial
reader, he will hardly be allowed to have attained the
object he proposed to himself, that of proving theoretical
principles by historical examples. For although he sometimes
relates occurrences with great minuteness, still he
falls short very often of showing that the deductions
drawn necessarily proceed from the inner relations of
these events.

Another evil which comes from the superficial notice of
historical events, is that some readers are either wholly
of the events, or cannot call them to remembrance
sufficiently to be able to grasp the author's meaning,
so that there is no alternative between either accepting
blindly what is said, or remaining unconvinced.

It is extremely difficult to put together or unfold historical
events before the eyes of a reader in such a way
as is necessary, in order to be able to use them as proofs;
for the writer very often wants the means, and can neither
afford the time nor the requisite space; but we maintain
that, when the object is to establish a new or doubtful
opinion, one single example, thoroughly analysed, is far
more instructive than ten which are superficially treated.
The great mischief of these superficial representations is
not that the writer puts his story forward as a proof
when it has only a false title, but that he has not made
himself properly acquainted with the subject, and that
from this sort of slovenly, shallow treatment of history,
a hundred false views and attempts at the construction of
theories arise, which would never have made their appearance
if the writer had looked upon it as his duty to
deduce from the strict connection of events everything
new which he brought to market, and sought to prove
from history.

When we are convinced of these difficulties in the use of
historical examples, and at the same time of the necessity
(of making use of such examples), then we shall also come
to the conclusion that the latest military history is
naturally the best field from which to draw them, inasmuch
as it alone is sufficiently authentic and detailed.

In ancient times, circumstances connected with War,
as well as the method of carrying it on, were different;
therefore its events are of less use to us either theoretically
or practically; in addition to which, military history, like
every other, naturally loses in the course of time a number
of small traits and lineaments originally to be seen, loses in
colour and life, like a worn-out or darkened picture; so
that perhaps at last only the large masses and leading
features remain, which thus acquire undue proportions.

If we look at the present state of warfare, we should
say that the Wars since that of the Austrian succession are
almost the only ones which, at least as far as armament,
have still a considerable similarity to the present, and
which, notwithstanding the many important changes which
have taken place both great and small, are still capable
of affording much instruction. It is quite otherwise with
the War of the Spanish succession, as the use of fire-arms
had not then so far advanced towards perfection, and
cavalry still continued the most important arm. The
farther we go back, the less useful becomes military history,
as it gets so much the more meagre and barren of detail.
The most useless of all is that of the old world.

But this uselessness is not altogether absolute, it relates
only to those subjects which depend on a knowledge
of minute details, or on those things in which the method
of conducting war has changed. Although we know very
little about the tactics in the battles between the Swiss
and the Austrians, the Burgundians and French, still we
find in them unmistakable evidence that they were the
first in which the superiority of a good infantry over the
best cavalry was, displayed. A general glance at the time
of the Condottieri teaches us how the whole method of
conducting War is dependent on the instrument used;
for at no period have the forces used in War had so much
the characteristics of a special instrument, and been a
class so totally distinct from the rest of the national
community. The memorable way in which the Romans in the
second Punic War attacked the Carthaginan possessions
in Spain and Africa, while Hannibal still maintained himself
in Italy, is a most instructive subject to study, as the
general relations of the States and Armies concerned in
this indirect act of defence are sufficiently well known.

But the more things descend into particulars and deviate
in character from the most general relations, the less
we can look for examples and lessons of experience from
very remote periods, for we have neither the means of
judging properly of corresponding events, nor can we
apply them to our completely different method of War.

Unfortunately, however, it has always been the
fashion with historical writers to talk about ancient times.
We shall not say how far vanity and charlatanism may
have had a share in this, but in general we fail to discover
any honest intention and earnest endeavour to instruct
and convince, and we can therefore only look upon such
quotations and references as embellishments to fill up
gaps and hide defects.

It would be an immense service to teach the Art of War
entirely by historical examples, as Feuquieres proposed
to do; but it would be full work for the whole life of a
man, if we reflect that he who undertakes it must first
qualify himself for the task by a long personal experience
in actual War.

Whoever, stirred by ambition, undertakes such a task,
let him prepare himself for his pious undertaking as for a
long pilgrimage; let him give up his time, spare no
sacrifice, fear no temporal rank or power, and rise above
all feelings of personal vanity, of false shame, in order,
according to the French code, to speak THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE



IN the second chapter of the second book, Strategy has
been defined as "the employment of the battle as the means
towards the attainment of the object of the War." Properly
speaking it has to do with nothing but the battle, but
its theory must include in this consideration the instrument
of this real activity--the armed force--in itself and
in its principal relations, for the battle is fought by it,
and shows its effects upon it in turn. It must be well
acquainted with the battle itself as far as relates to its
possible results, and those mental and moral powers
which are the most important in the use of the same.

Strategy is the employment of the battle to gain the
end of the War; it must therefore give an aim to the whole
military action, which must be in accordance with the
object of the War; in other words, Strategy forms the
plan of the War, and to this end it links together the
series of acts which are to lead to the final decision, that,
is to say, it makes the plans for the separate campaigns
and regulates the combats to be fought in each. As these
are all things which to a great extent can only be determined
on conjectures some of which turn out incorrect,
while a number of other arrangements pertaining to details
cannot be made at all beforehand, it follows, as a matter
of course, that Strategy must go with the Army to the field
in order to arrange particulars on the spot, and to make
the modifications in the general plan, which incessantly
become necessary in War. Strategy can therefore never
take its hand from the work for a moment.

That this, however, has not always been the view taken
is evident from the former custom of keeping Strategy
in the cabinet and not with the Army, a thing only allowable
if the cabinet is so near to the Army that it can be
taken for the chief head-quarters of the Army.

Theory will therefore attend on Strategy in the determination
of its plans, or, as we may more properly say,
it will throw a light on things in themselves, and on their
relations to each other, and bring out prominently the
little that there is of principle or rule.

If we recall to mind from the first chapter how many
things of the highest importance War touches upon, we
may conceive that a consideration of all requires a rare
grasp of mind.

A Prince or General who knows exactly how to organise
his War according to his object and means, who does neither
too little nor too much, gives by that the greatest proof
of his genius. But the effects of this talent are exhibited
not so much by the invention of new modes of action,
which might strike the eye immediately, as in the successful
final result of the whole. It is the exact fulfilment
of silent suppositions, it is the noiseless harmony of the
whole action which we should admire, and which only
makes itself known in the total result.
inquirer who, tracing back from the final result,
does not perceive the signs of that harmony is one who
is apt to seek for genius where it is not, and where it
cannot be found.

The means and forms which Strategy uses are in fact
so extremely simple, so well known by their constant
repetition, that it only appears ridiculous to sound
common sense when it hears critics so frequently speaking
of them with high-flown emphasis. Turning a flank,
which has been done a thousand times, is regarded here
as a proof of the most brilliant genius, there as a
proof of the most profound penetration, indeed even of
the most comprehensive knowledge. Can there be in the
book--world more absurd productions?[*]

[*] This paragraph refers to the works of Lloyd, Buelow, indeed
to all
the eighteenth-century writers, from whose influence we in
England are
not even yet free.--ED.

It is still more ridiculous if, in addition to this, we
reflect that the same critic, in accordance with prevalent
opinion, excludes all moral forces from theory, and will
not allow it to be concerned with anything but the material
forces, so that all must be confined to a few mathematical
relations of equilibrium and preponderance, of time and
space, and a few lines and angles. If it were nothing
more than this, then out of such a miserable business there
would not be a scientific problem for even a schoolboy.

But let us admit: there is no question here about
scientific formulas and problems; the relations of material
things are all very simple; the right comprehension of
the moral forces which come into play is more difficult.
Still, even in respect to them, it is only in the highest
branches of Strategy that moral complications and a great
diversity of quantities and relations are to be looked for,
only at that point where Strategy borders on political
science, or rather where the two become one, and there,
as we have before observed, they have more influence on
the "how much" and "how little" is to be done than on
the form of execution. Where the latter is the principal
question, as in the single acts both great and small in War,
the moral quantities are already reduced to a very small

Thus, then, in Strategy everything is very simple, but
not on that account very easy. Once it is determined
from the relations of the State what should and may be
done by War, then the way to it is easy to find; but to
follow that way straightforward, to carry out the plan
without being obliged to deviate from it a thousand times
by a thousand varying influences, requires, besides great
strength of character, great clearness and steadiness of
mind, and out of a thousand men who are remarkable,
some for mind, others for penetration, others again for
boldness or strength of will, perhaps not one will combine
in himself all those qualities which are required to raise a
man above mediocrity in the career of a general.

It may sound strange, but for all who know War in this
respect it is a fact beyond doubt, that much more strength
of will is required to make an important decision in
Strategy than in tactics. In the latter we are hurried on
with the moment; a Commander feels himself borne along
in a strong current, against which he durst not contend
without the most destructive consequences, he suppresses
the rising fears, and boldly ventures further. In Strategy,
where all goes on at a slower rate, there is more room
allowed for our own apprehensions and those of others,
for objections and remonstrances, consequently also for
unseasonable regrets; and as we do not see things in
Strategy as we do at least half of them in tactics, with
the living eye, but everything must be conjectured and
assumed, the convictions produced are less powerful.
The consequence is that most Generals, when they should
act, remain stuck fast in bewildering doubts.

Now let us cast a glance at history--upon Frederick
the Great's campaign of 1760, celebrated for its fine
marches and manoeuvres: a perfect masterpiece of
Strategic skill as critics tell us. Is there really anything
to drive us out of our wits with admiration in the King's
first trying to turn Daun's right flank, then his left, then
again his right, &c. ? Are we to see profound wisdom in
this? No, that we cannot, if we are to decide naturally
and without affectation. What we rather admire above
all is the sagacity of the King in this respect, that while
pursuing a great object with very limited means, he undertook
nothing beyond his powers, and JUST ENOUGH to gain
his object. This sagacity of the General is visible not
only in this campaign, but throughout all the three Wars
of the Great King!

To bring Silesia into the safe harbour of a well-
guaranteed peace was his object.

At the head of a small State, which was like other
States in most things, and only ahead of them in some
branches of administration; he could not be an Alexander,
and, as Charles XII, he would only, like him, have broken
his head. We find, therefore, in the whole of his conduct
of War, a controlled power, always well balanced, and
never wanting in energy, which in the most critical
moments rises to astonishing deeds, and the next moment
oscillates quietly on again in subordination to the play
of the most subtil political influences. Neither vanity,
thirst for glory, nor vengeance could make him deviate
from his course, and this course alone it is which brought
him to a fortunate termination of the contest.

These few words do but scant justice to this phase of
the genius of the great General; the eyes must be fixed
carefully on the extraordinary issue of the struggle, and
the causes which brought about that issue must be traced
out, in order thoroughly to understand that nothing but
the King's penetrating eye brought him safely out of all
his dangers.

This is one feature in this great Commander which we
admire in the campaign of 1760--and in all others, but
in this especially--because in none did he keep the
balance even against such a superior hostile force, with
such a small sacrifice.

Another feature relates to the difficulty of execution.
Marches to turn a flank, right or left, are easily combined;
the idea of keeping a small force always well concentrated
to be able to meet the enemy on equal terms at any point,
to multiply a force by rapid movement, is as easily conceived
as expressed; the mere contrivance in these points,
therefore, cannot excite our admiration, and with respect
to such simple things, there is nothing further than to
admit that they are simple.

But let a General try to do these things like Frederick
the Great. Long afterwards authors, who were eyewitnesses,
have spoken of the danger, indeed of the
imprudence, of the King's camps, and doubtless, at the
time he pitched them, the danger appeared three times
as great as afterwards.

It was the same with his marches, under the eyes, nay,
often under the cannon of the enemy's Army; these camps
were taken up, these marches made, not from want of
prudence, but because in Daun's system, in his mode of
drawing up his Army, in the responsibility which pressed
upon him, and in his character, Frederick found that
security which justified his camps and marches. But
it required the King's boldness, determination, and
strength of will to see things in this light, and not to be
led astray and intimidated by the danger of which thirty
years after people still wrote and spoke. Few Generals in
this situation would have believed these simple strategic
means to be practicable.

Again, another difficulty in execution lay in this, that
the King's Army in this campaign was constantly in
motion. Twice it marched by wretched cross-roads,
from the Elbe into Silesia, in rear of Daun and pursued
by Lascy (beginning of July, beginning of August). It
required to be always ready for battle, and its marches
had to be organised with a degree of skill which necessarily
called forth a proportionate amount of exertion.
Although attended and delayed by thousands of waggons,
still its subsistence was extremely difficult. In Silesia,
for eight days before the battle of Leignitz, it had constantly
to march, defiling alternately right and left in
front of the enemy:--this costs great fatigue, and entails
great privations.

Is it to be supposed that all this could have been done
without producing great friction in the machine? Can
the mind of a Commander elaborate such movements with
the same ease as the hand of a land surveyor uses the
astrolabe? Does not the sight of the sufferings of their
hungry, thirsty comrades pierce the hearts of the Commander
and his Generals a thousand times? Must not
the murmurs and doubts which these cause reach his ear?
Has an ordinary man the courage to demand such sacrifices,
and would not such efforts most certainly demoralise
the Army, break up the bands of discipline, and, in short,
undermine its military virtue, if firm reliance on the greatness
and infallibility of the Commander did not compensate
for all? Here, therefore, it is that we should pay respect;
it is these miracles of execution which we should admire.
But it is impossible to realise all this in its full force
a foretaste of it by experience. He who only knows
War from books or the drill-ground cannot realise the
whole effect of this counterpoise in action; WE BEG HIM,

This illustration is intended to give more clearness to
the course of our ideas, and in closing this chapter we will
only briefly observe that in our exposition of Strategy
we shall describe those separate subjects which appear to
us the most important, whether of a moral or material
nature; then proceed from the simple to the complex,
and conclude with the inner connection of the whole
act of War, in other words, with the plan for a War or


In an earlier manuscript of the second book are the
following passages endorsed by the author himself
to be used for the first Chapter of the second Book: the
projected revision of that chapter not having been made,
the passages referred to are introduced here in full.

By the mere assemblage of armed forces at a particular
point, a battle there becomes possible, but does not always
take place. Is that possibility now to be regarded as a
reality and therefore an effective thing? Certainly, it is
so by its results, and these effects, whatever they may
be, can never fail.


If a detachment is sent away to cut off the retreat of a
flying enemy, and the enemy surrenders in consequence
without further resistance, still it is through the combat
which is offered to him by this detachment sent after him
that he is brought to his decision.

If a part of our Army occupies an enemy's province
which was undefended, and thus deprives the enemy of
very considerable means of keeping up the strength of
his Army, it is entirely through the battle which our
detached body gives the enemy to expect, in case he seeks
to recover the lost province, that we remain in possession
of the same.

In both cases, therefore, the mere possibility of a battle
has produced results, and is therefore to be classed
amongst actual events. Suppose that in these cases the
enemy has opposed our troops with others superior in
force, and thus forced ours to give up their object without
a combat, then certainly our plan has failed, but the
battle which we offered at (either of) those points has
not on that account been without effect, for it attracted
the enemy's forces to that point. And in case our whole
undertaking has done us harm, it cannot be said that these
positions, these possible battles, have been attended
with no results; their effects, then, are similar to those
of a lost battle.

In this manner we see that the destruction of the
enemy's military forces, the overthrow of the enemy's
power, is only to be done through the effect of a battle,
whether it be that it actually takes place, or that it is
merely offered, and not accepted.


But these effects are of two kinds, direct and indirect
they are of the latter, if other things intrude themselves
and become the object of the combat--things which cannot
be regarded as the destruction of enemy's force, but
only leading up to it, certainly by a circuitous road, but
with so much the greater effect. The possession of provinces,
towns, fortresses, roads, bridges, magazines, &c.,
may be the IMMEDIATE object of a battle, but never the
ultimate one. Things of this description can never be,
looked upon otherwise than as means of gaining greater
superiority, so as at last to offer battle to the enemy in
such a way that it will be impossible for him to accept it.
Therefore all these things must only be regarded as intermediate
links, steps, as it were, leading up to the effectual
principle, but never as that principle itself.


In 1814, by the capture of Buonaparte's capital the object
of the War was attained. The political divisions which
had their roots in Paris came into active operation, and
an enormous split left the power of the Emperor to collapse
of itself. Nevertheless the point of view from which we
must look at all this is, that through these causes the
forces and defensive means of Buonaparte were suddenly
very much diminished, the superiority of the Allies,
therefore, just in the same measure increased, and any
further resistance then became IMPOSSIBLE. It was this
impossibility which produced the peace with France.
If we suppose the forces of the Allies at that moment
diminished to a like extent through external causes;--
if the superiority vanishes, then at the same time vanishes
also all the effect and importance of the taking of Paris.

We have gone through this chain of argument in order
to show that this is the natural and only true view of
the thing from which it derives its importance. It leads
always back to the question, What at any given moment
of the War or campaign will be the probable result of the
great or small combats which the two sides might offer to
each other? In the consideration of a plan for a campaign,
this question only is decisive as to the measures which are
to be taken all through from the very commencement.


If we do not accustom ourselves to look upon War, and
the single campaigns in a War, as a chain which is all
composed of battles strung together, one of which always
brings on another; if we adopt the idea that the taking
of a certain geographical point, the occupation of an
undefended province, is in itself anything; then we are
very likely to regard it as an acquisition which we may
retain; and if we look at it so, and not as a term in the
whole series of events, we do not ask ourselves whether
this possession may not lead to greater disadvantages
hereafter. How often we find this mistake recurring in
military history.

We might say that, just as in commerce the merchant
cannot set apart and place in security gains from one
single transaction by itself, so in War a single advantage
cannot be separated from the result of the whole. Just
as the former must always operate with the whole bulk
of his means, just so in War, only the sum total will decide
on the advantage or disadvantage of each item.

If the mind's eye is always directed upon the series of
combats, so far as they can be seen beforehand, then it is
always looking in the right direction, and thereby the
motion of the force acquires that rapidity, that is to say,
willing and doing acquire that energy which is suitable
to the matter, and which is not to be thwarted or turned
aside by extraneous influences.[*]

[*] The whole of this chapter is directed against the theories of
the Austrian Staff in 1814. It may be taken as the foundation of
modern teaching of the Prussian General Staff. See especially von


THE causes which condition the use of the combat in
Strategy may be easily divided into elements of different
kinds, such as the moral, physical, mathematical,
geographical and statistical elements.

The first class includes all that can be called forth by
moral qualities and effects; to the second belong the
whole mass of the military force, its organisation, the
proportion of the three arms, &c. &c.; to the third,
the angle of the lines of operation, the concentric and
eccentric movements in as far as their geometrical nature
has any value in the calculation; to the fourth, the
influences of country, such as commanding points, hills,
rivers, woods, roads, &c. &c.; lastly, to the fifth, all the
means of supply. The separation of these things once
for all in the mind does good in giving clearness and
helping us to estimate at once, at a higher or lower value,
the different classes as we pass onwards. For, in considering
them separately, many lose of themselves their
borrowed importance; one feels, for instance, quite
plainly that the value of a base of operations, even if
we look at nothing in it but its relative position to the
line of operations, depends much less in that simple form
on the geometrical element of the angle which they form
with one another, than on the nature of the roads and the
country through which they pass.

But to treat upon Strategy according to these elements
would be the most unfortunate idea that could be conceived,
for these elements are generally manifold, and
intimately connected with each other in every single
operation of War. We should lose ourselves in the most
soulless analysis, and as if in a horrid dream, we should
be for ever trying in vain to build up an arch to connect
this base of abstractions with facts belonging to the real
world. Heaven preserve every theorist from such an
undertaking! We shall keep to the world of things in
their totality, and not pursue our analysis further than
is necessary from time to time to give distinctness to
the idea which we wish to impart, and which has come
to us, not by a speculative investigation, but through
the impression made by the realities of War in their


WE must return again to this subject, which is touched
upon in the third chapter of the second book,
because the moral forces are amongst the most important
subjects in War. They form the spirit which permeates
the whole being of War. These forces fasten themselves
soonest and with the greatest affinity on to the Will which
puts in motion and guides the whole mass of powers,
uniting with it as it were in one stream, because this is a
moral force itself. Unfortunately they will escape from all
book-analysis, for they will neither be brought into numbers
nor into classes, and require to be both seen and felt.

The spirit and other moral qualities which animate
an Army, a General, or Governments, public opinion in
provinces in which a War is raging, the moral effect of
a victory or of a defeat, are things which in themselves
vary very much in their nature, and which also, according
as they stand with regard to our object and our relations,
may have an influence in different ways.

Although little or nothing can be said about these things
in books, still they belong to the theory of the Art of War,
as much as everything else which constitutes War. For
I must here once more repeat that it is a miserable philosophy
if, according to the old plan, we establish rules and
principles wholly regardless of all moral forces, and then,
as soon as these forces make their appearance, we begin
to count exceptions which we thereby establish as it were
theoretically, that is, make into rules; or if we resort
to an appeal to genius, which is above all rules, thus
giving out by implication, not only that rules were only
made for fools, but also that they themselves are no
better than folly.

Even if the theory of the Art of War does no more in
reality than recall these things to remembrance, showing
the necessity of allowing to the moral forces their full
value, and of always taking them into consideration,
by so doing it extends its borders over the region of
immaterial forces, and by establishing that point of view,
condemns beforehand every one who would endeavour
to justify himself before its judgment seat by the mere
physical relations of forces.

Further out of regard to all other so-called rules, theory
cannot banish the moral forces beyond its frontier, because
the effects of the physical forces and the moral are completely
fused, and are not to be decomposed like a metal
alloy by a chemical process. In every rule relating
to the physical forces, theory must present to the mind
at the same time the share which the moral powers will
have in it, if it would not be led to categorical propositions,
at one time too timid and contracted, at another
too dogmatical and wide. Even the most matter-of-fact
theories have, without knowing it, strayed over into this
moral kingdom; for, as an example, the effects of a
victory cannot in any way be explained without taking
into consideration the moral impressions. And therefore
the most of the subjects which we shall go through in
this book are composed half of physical, half of moral
causes and effects, and we might say the physical are
almost no more than the wooden handle, whilst the moral
are the noble metal, the real bright-polished weapon.

The value of the moral powers, and their frequently
incredible influence, are best exemplified by history, and
this is the most generous and the purest nourishment
which the mind of the General can extract from it.--At
the same time it is to be observed, that it is less
critical examinations, and learned treatises, than
sentiments, general impressions, and single flashing
sparks of truth, which yield the seeds of knowledge that
are to fertilise the mind.

We might go through the most important moral phenomena
in War, and with all the care of a diligent professor
try what we could impart about each, either good or bad.
But as in such a method one slides too much into the
commonplace and trite, whilst real mind quickly makes its
escape in analysis, the end is that one gets imperceptibly
to the relation of things which everybody knows. We
prefer, therefore, to remain here more than usually incomplete
and rhapsodical, content to have drawn attention
to the importance of the subject in a general way, and to
have pointed out the spirit in which the views given in
this book have been conceived.


THESE are The Talents of the Commander; The Military
Virtue of the Army; Its National feeling. Which of
these is the most important no one can tell in a general
way, for it is very difficult to say anything in general
of their strength, and still more difficult to compare the
strength of one with that of another. The best plan is
not to undervalue any of them, a fault which human
judgment is prone to, sometimes on one side, sometimes
on another, in its whimsical oscillations. It is better
to satisfy ourselves of the undeniable efficacy of these
three things by sufficient evidence from history.

It is true, however, that in modern times the Armies of
European states have arrived very much at a par as
regards discipline and fitness for service, and that the
conduct of War has--as philosophers would say--naturally
developed itself, thereby become a method, common as
it were to all Armies, so that even from Commanders there
is nothing further to be expected in the way of application
of special means of Art, in the limited sense (such as
Frederick the Second's oblique order). Hence it cannot be
denied that, as matters now stand, greater scope is afforded
for the influence of National spirit and habituation of an
army to War. A long peace may again alter all this.[*]

[*] Written shortly after the Great Napoleonic campaigns.

The national spirit of an Army (enthusiasm, fanatical
zeal, faith, opinion) displays itself most in mountain
warfare, where every one down to the common soldier is
left to himself. On this account, a mountainous country
is the best campaigning ground for popular levies.

Expertness of an Army through training, and that
well-tempered courage which holds the ranks together
as if they had been cast in a mould, show their superiority
in an open country.

The talent of a General has most room to display itself
in a closely intersected, undulating country. In mountains
he has too little command over the separate parts,
and the direction of all is beyond his powers; in open
plains it is simple and does not exceed those powers.

According to these undeniable elective affinities, plans
should be regulated.


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