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On War by Carl von Clausewitz

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THIS is distinguished from mere bravery, and still more
from enthusiasm for the business of War. The first is
certainly a necessary constituent part of it, but in the
same way as bravery, which is a natural gift in some men,
may arise in a soldier as a part of an Army from habit
and custom, so with him it must also have a different
direction from that which it has with others. It must
lose that impulse to unbridled activity and exercise of
force which is its characteristic in the individual, and
submit itself to demands of a higher kind, to obedience,
order, rule, and method. Enthusiasm for the profession
gives life and greater fire to the military virtue of an Army,
but does not necessarily constitute a part of it.

War is a special business, and however general its relations
may be, and even if all the male population of a
country, capable of bearing arms, exercise this calling,
still it always continues to be different and separate from
the other pursuits which occupy the life of man.--To be
imbued with a sense of the spirit and nature of this
business, to make use of, to rouse, to assimilate into the
system the powers which should be active in it, to penetrate
completely into the nature of the business with the
understanding, through exercise to gain confidence and
expertness in it, to be completely given up to it, to pass
out of the man into the part which it is assigned to us to
play in War, that is the military virtue of an Army in
the individual.

However much pains may be taken to combine the
soldier and the citizen in one and the same individual,
whatever may be done to nationalise Wars, and however
much we may imagine times have changed since the days
of the old Condottieri, never will it be possible to do away
with the individuality of the business; and if that cannot
be done, then those who belong to it, as long as they
belong to it, will always look upon themselves as a kind
of guild, in the regulations, laws and customs in which
the "Spirit of War" by preference finds its expression.
And so it is in fact. Even with the most decided inclination
to look at War from the highest point of view, it
would be very wrong to look down upon this corporate
spirit (e'sprit de corps) which may and should exist more
or less in every Army. This corporate spirit forms the
bond of union between the natural forces which are active
in that which we have called military virtue. The
crystals of military virtue have a greater affinity for the
spirit of a corporate body than for anything else.

An Army which preserves its usual formations under the
heaviest fire, which is never shaken by imaginary fears, and
in the face of real danger disputes the ground inch by inch,
which, proud in the feeling of its victories, never loses its
sense of obedience, its respect for and confidence in its
leaders, even under the depressing effects of defeat; an
Army with all its physical powers, inured to privations and
fatigue by exercise, like the muscles of an athlete; an Army
which looks upon all its toils as the means to victory, not
as a curse which hovers over its standards, and which is
always reminded of its duties and virtues by the short
catechism of one idea, namely the HONOUR OF ITS ARMS;--
Such an Army is imbued with the true military spirit.

Soldiers may fight bravely like the Vende'ans, and do
great things like the Swiss, the Americans, or Spaniards,
without displaying this military virtue. A Commander
may also be successful at the head of standing Armies,
like Eugene and Marlborough, without enjoying the
benefit of its assistance; we must not, therefore, say that
a successful War without it cannot be imagined; and we
draw especial attention to that point, in order the more
to individualise the conception which is here brought
forward, that the idea may not dissolve into a generalisation
and that it may not be thought that military virtue
is in the end everything. It is not so. Military virtue
in an Army is a definite moral power which may be supposed
wanting, and the influence of which may therefore
be estimated--like any instrument the power of which
may be calculated.

Having thus characterised it, we proceed to consider
what can be predicated of its influence, and what are the
means of gaining its assistance.

Military virtue is for the parts, what the genius of the
Commander is for the whole. The General can only guide
the whole, not each separate part, and where he cannot
guide the part, there military virtue must be its leader.
A General is chosen by the reputation of his superior
talents, the chief leaders of large masses after careful
probation; but this probation diminishes as we descend
the scale of rank, and in just the same measure we may
reckon less and less upon individual talents; but what is
wanting in this respect military virtue should supply.
The natural qualities of a warlike people play just this

These properties may therefore supply the place of
military virtue, and vice versa, from which the following
may be deduced:

1. Military virtue is a quality of standing Armies only,
but they require it the most. In national risings its
place is supplied by natural qualities, which develop
themselves there more rapidly.

2. Standing Armies opposed to standing Armies, can
more easily dispense with it, than a standing Army
opposed to a national insurrection, for in that case, the
troops are more scattered, and the divisions left more to
themselves. But where an Army can be kept concentrated,
the genius of the General takes a greater place,
and supplies what is wanting in the spirit of the Army.
Therefore generally military virtue becomes more necessary
the more the theatre of operations and other circumstances
make the War complicated, and cause the forces
to be scattered.

From these truths the only lesson to be derived is this,
that if an Army is deficient in this quality, every endeavour
should be made to simplify the operations of the War
as much as possible, or to introduce double efficiency
in the organisation of the Army in some other respect,
and not to expect from the mere name of a standing
Army, that which only the veritable thing itself can give.

The military virtue of an Army is, therefore, one of the
most important moral powers in War, and where it is
wanting, we either see its place supplied by one of the
others, such as the great superiority of generalship or
popular enthusiasm, or we find the results not commensurate
with the exertions made.--How much that is great,
this spirit, this sterling worth of an army, this refining
of ore into the polished metal, has already done, we see
in the history of the Macedonians under Alexander,
the Roman legions under Cesar, the Spanish infantry
under Alexander Farnese, the Swedes under Gustavus
Adolphus and Charles XII, the Prussians under Frederick
the Great, and the French under Buonaparte. We must
purposely shut our eyes against all historical proof, if
we do not admit, that the astonishing successes of these
Generals and their greatness in situations of extreme
difficulty, were only possible with Armies possessing this

This spirit can only be generated from two sources, and
only by these two conjointly; the first is a succession of
campaigns and great victories; the other is, an activity of
the Army carried sometimes to the highest pitch. Only
by these, does the soldier learn to know his powers.
The more a General is in the habit of demanding from his
troops, the surer he will be that his demands will be
answered. The soldier is as proud of overcoming toil,
as he is of surmounting danger. Therefore it is only in
the soil of incessant activity and exertion that the germ
will thrive, but also only in the sunshine of victory.
Once it becomes a STRONG TREE, it will stand against the
fiercest storms of misfortune and defeat, and even against
the indolent inactivity of peace, at least for a time.
It can therefore only be created in War, and under great
Generals, but no doubt it may last at least for several
generations, even under Generals of moderate capacity,
and through considerable periods of peace.

With this generous and noble spirit of union in a line
of veteran troops, covered with scars and thoroughly
inured to War, we must not compare the self-esteem and
vanity of a standing Army,[*] held together merely by the
glue of service-regulations and a drill book; a certain
plodding earnestness and strict discipline may keep up
military virtue for a long time, but can never create
it; these things therefore have a certain value, but must
not be over-rated. Order, smartness, good will, also a
certain degree of pride and high feeling, are qualities of
an Army formed in time of peace which are to be prized,
but cannot stand alone. The whole retains the whole,
and as with glass too quickly cooled, a single crack
breaks the whole mass. Above all, the highest spirit in
the world changes only too easily at the first check into
depression, and one might say into a kind of rhodomontade
of alarm, the French sauve que peut.--Such an Army can
only achieve something through its leader, never by
itself. It must be led with double caution, until by
degrees, in victory and hardships, the strength grows
into the full armour. Beware then of confusing the
SPIRIT of an Army with its temper.

[*] Clausewitz is, of course, thinking of the long-service
standing armies
of his own youth. Not of the short-service standing armies of


THE place and part which boldness takes in the dynamic
system of powers, where it stands opposed to Foresight
and prudence, has been stated in the chapter on the certainty
of the result in order thereby to show, that theory
has no right to restrict it by virtue of its legislative

But this noble impulse, with which the human soul
raises itself above the most formidable dangers, is to be
regarded as an active principle peculiarly belonging to
War. In fact, in what branch of human activity should
boldness have a right of citizenship if not in War?

From the transport-driver and the drummer up to the
General, it is the noblest of virtues, the true steel which
gives the weapon its edge and brilliancy.

Let us admit in fact it has in War even its own prerogatives.
Over and above the result of the calculation of
space, time, and quantity, we must allow a certain percentage
which boldness derives from the weakness of
others, whenever it gains the mastery. It is therefore,
virtually, a creative power. This is not difficult to
demonstrate philosophically. As often as boldness
encounters hesitation, the probability of the result is
of necessity in its favour, because the very state of hesitation
implies a loss of equilibrium already. It is only
when it encounters cautious foresight--which we may say
is just as bold, at all events just as strong and powerful
as itself--that it is at a disadvantage; such cases,
however, rarely occur. Out of the whole multitude of
prudent men in the world, the great majority are so
from timidity.

Amongst large masses, boldness is a force, the special
cultivation of which can never be to the detriment of
other forces, because the great mass is bound to a higher
will by the frame-work and joints of the order of battle
and of the service, and therefore is guided by an intelligent
power which is extraneous. Boldness is therefore here
only like a spring held down until its action is required.

The higher the rank the more necessary it is that boldness
should be accompanied by a reflective mind, that it
may not be a mere blind outburst of passion to no purpose;
for with increase of rank it becomes always less a matter
of self-sacrifice and more a matter of the preservation
of others, and the good of the whole. Where regulations
of the service, as a kind of second nature, prescribe for
the masses, reflection must be the guide of the General,
and in his case individual boldness in action may easily
become a fault. Still, at the same time, it is a fine failing,
and must not be looked at in the same light as any other.
Happy the Army in which an untimely boldness frequently
manifests itself; it is an exuberant growth which shows
a rich soil. Even foolhardiness, that is boldness without
an object, is not to be despised; in point of fact it is the
same energy of feeling, only exercised as a kind of passion
without any co-operation of the intelligent faculties. It
is only when it strikes at the root of obedience, when it
treats with contempt the orders of superior authority,
that it must be repressed as a dangerous evil, not on its
own account but on account of the act of disobedience,
for there is nothing in War which is of GREATER IMPORTANCE

The reader will readily agree with us that, supposing
an equal degree of discernment to be forthcoming in a
certain number of cases, a thousand times as many of
them will end in disaster through over-anxiety as through

One would suppose it natural that the interposition
of a reasonable object should stimulate boldness, and
therefore lessen its intrinsic merit, and yet the reverse is
the case in reality.

The intervention of lucid thought or the general supremacy
of mind deprives the emotional forces of a great
part of their power. On that account BOLDNESS BECOMES
for whether the discernment and the understanding do
or do not increase with these ranks still the Commanders,
in their several stations as they rise, are pressed upon
more and more severely by objective things, by relations
and claims from without, so that they become the more
perplexed the lower the degree of their individual intelligence.
This so far as regards War is the chief foundation
of the truth of the French proverb:--

"Tel brille au second qui s' e'clipse an premier."

Almost all the Generals who are represented in history
as merely having attained to mediocrity, and as wanting
in decision when in supreme command, are men celebrated
in their antecedent career for their boldness and decision.[*]

[*] Beaulieu, Benedek, Bazaine, Buller, Melas, Mack. &c. &c.

In those motives to bold action which arise from the
pressure of necessity we must make a distinction. Necessity
has its degrees of intensity. If it lies near at hand,
if the person acting is in the pursuit of his object driven
into great dangers in order to escape others equally great,
then we can only admire his resolution, which still has
also its value. If a young man to show his skill in horsemanship
leaps across a deep cleft, then he is bold; if he
makes the same leap pursued by a troop of head-chopping
Janissaries he is only resolute. But the farther off the
necessity from the point of action, the greater the number
of relations intervening which the mind has to traverse;
in order to realise them, by so much the less does necessity
take from boldness in action. If Frederick the Great,
in the year 1756, saw that War was inevitable, and that
he could only escape destruction by being beforehand
with his enemies, it became necessary for him to commence
the War himself, but at the same time it was certainly
very bold: for few men in his position would have made
up their minds to do so.

Although Strategy is only the province of Generals-in-
Chief or Commanders in the higher positions, still boldness
in all the other branches of an Army is as little a matter of
indifference to it as their other military virtues. With an
Army belonging to a bold race, and in which the spirit
of boldness has been always nourished, very different
things may be undertaken than with one in which this
virtue, is unknown; for that reason we have considered
it in connection with an Army. But our subject is specially
the boldness of the General, and yet we have not much
to say about it after having described this military
virtue in a general way to the best of our ability.

The higher we rise in a position of command, the more
of the mind, understanding, and penetration predominate
in activity, the more therefore is boldness, which is a property
of the feelings, kept in subjection, and for that
reason we find it so rarely in the highest positions, but
then, so much the more should it be admired. Boldness,
directed by an overruling intelligence, is the stamp of
the hero: this boldness does not consist in venturing
directly against the nature of things, in a downright
contempt of the laws of probability, but, if a choice is
once made, in the rigorous adherence to that higher
calculation which genius, the tact of judgment, has gone
over with the speed of lightning. The more boldness
lends wings to the mind and the discernment, so much the
farther they will reach in their flight, so much the more
comprehensive will be the view, the more exact the result,
but certainly always only in the sense that with greater
objects greater dangers are connected. The ordinary man,
not to speak of the weak and irresolute, arrives at an exact
result so far as such is possible without ocular demonstration,
at most after diligent reflection in his chamber,
at a distance from danger and responsibility. Let danger
and responsibility draw close round him in every direction,
then he loses the power of comprehensive vision, and if
he retains this in any measure by the influence of others,
still he will lose his power of DECISION, because in that point
no one can help him.

We think then that it is impossible to imagine a distinguished
General without boldness, that is to say, that
no man can become one who is not born with this power
of the soul, and we therefore look upon it as the first
requisite for such a career. How much of this inborn
power, developed and moderated through education and
the circumstances of life, is left when the man has attained
a high position, is the second question. The greater
this power still is, the stronger will genius be on the wing,
the higher will be its flight. The risks become always
greater, but the purpose grows with them. Whether
its lines proceed out of and get their direction from a
distant necessity, or whether they converge to the keystone
of a building which ambition has planned, whether
Frederick or Alexander acts, is much the same as regards
the critical view. If the one excites the imagination more
because it is bolder, the other pleases the understanding
most, because it has in it more absolute necessity.

We have still to advert to one very important circumstance.

The spirit of boldness can exist in an Army, either
because it is in the people, or because it has been generated
in a successful War conducted by able Generals.
In the latter case it must of course be dispensed with at
the commencement.

Now in our days there is hardly any other means of
educating the spirit of a people in this respect, except by
War, and that too under bold Generals. By it alone can
that effeminacy of feeling be counteracted, that propensity
to seek for the enjoyment of comfort, which cause
degeneracy in a people rising in prosperity and immersed
in an extremely busy commerce.

A Nation can hope to have a strong position in the
political world only if its character and practice in actual
War mutually support each other in constant reciprocal


THE reader expects to hear of angles and lines, and finds,
instead of these citizens of the scientific world, only
people out of common life, such as he meets with every
day in the street. And yet the author cannot make up
his mind to become a hair's breadth more mathematical
than the subject seems to him to require, and he is not
alarmed at the surprise which the reader may show.

In War more than anywhere else in the world things
happen differently to what we had expected, and look
differently when near, to what they did at a distance.
With what serenity the architect can watch his work
gradually rising and growing into his plan. The doctor
although much more at the mercy of mysterious agencies
and chances than the architect, still knows enough of
the forms and effects of his means. In War, on the other
hand, the Commander of an immense whole finds himself
in a constant whirlpool of false and true information, of
mistakes committed through fear, through negligence,
through precipitation, of contraventions of his authority,
either from mistaken or correct motives, from ill will,
true or false sense of duty, indolence or exhaustion, of
accidents which no mortal could have foreseen. In short,
he is the victim of a hundred thousand impressions, of
which the most have an intimidating, the fewest an
encouraging tendency. By long experience in War, the
tact is acquired of readily appreciating the value of these
incidents; high courage and stability of character stand
proof against them, as the rock resists the beating of the
waves. He who would yield to these impressions would
never carry out an undertaking, and on that account
PERSEVERANCE in the proposed object, as long as there is no
decided reason against it, is a most necessary counterpoise.
Further, there is hardly any celebrated enterprise
in War which was not achieved by endless exertion, pains,
and privations; and as here the weakness of the physical
and moral man is ever disposed to yield, only an immense
force of will, which manifests itself in perseverance
admired by present and future generations, can conduct to our


THIS is in tactics, as well as in Strategy, the most general
principle of victory, and shall be examined by us first
in its generality, for which we may be permitted the
following exposition:

Strategy fixes the point where, the time when, and the
numerical force with which the battle is to be fought.
By this triple determination it has therefore a very essential
influence on the issue of the combat. If tactics has
fought the battle, if the result is over, let it be victory or
defeat, Strategy makes such use of it as can be made in
accordance with the great object of the War. This object
is naturally often a very distant one, seldom does it lie
quite close at hand. A series of other objects subordinate
themselves to it as means. These objects, which are at
the same time means to a higher purpose, may be practically
of various kinds; even the ultimate aim of the
whole War may be a different one in every case. We shall
make ourselves acquainted with these things according as
we come to know the separate objects which they come,
in contact with; and it is not our intention here to
embrace the whole subject by a complete enumeration
of them, even if that were possible. We therefore let
the employment of the battle stand over for the present.

Even those things through which Strategy has an influence
on the issue of the combat, inasmuch as it establishes
the same, to a certain extent decrees them, are not
so simple that they can be embraced in one single view.
For as Strategy appoints time, place and force, it can do
so in practice in many ways, each of which influences in
a different manner the result of the combat as well as its
consequences. Therefore we shall only get acquainted
with this also by degrees, that is, through the subjects
which more closely determine the application.

If we strip the combat of all modifications which it
may undergo according to its immediate purpose and the
circumstances from which it proceeds, lastly if we set
aside the valour of the troops, because that is a given
quantity, then there remains only the bare conception
of the combat, that is a combat without form, in which
we distinguish nothing but the number of the combatants.

This number will therefore determine victory. Now
from the number of things above deducted to get to this
point, it is shown that the superiority in numbers in a
battle is only one of the factors employed to produce
victory that therefore so far from having with the
superiority in number obtained all, or even only the
principal thing, we have perhaps got very little by it,
according as the other circumstances which co-operate
happen to vary.

But this superiority has degrees, it may be imagined
as twofold, threefold or fourfold, and every one sees,
that by increasing in this way, it must (at last) overpower
everything else.

In such an aspect we grant, that the superiority in
numbers is the most important factor in the result of a
combat, only it must be sufficiently great to be a counterpoise
to all the other co-operating circumstances. The
direct result of this is, that the greatest possible number
of troops should be brought into action at the decisive

Whether the troops thus brought are sufficient or not,
we have then done in this respect all that our means
allowed. This is the first principle in Strategy, therefore
in general as now stated, it is just as well suited for Greeks
and Persians, or for Englishmen and Mahrattas, as for
French and Germans. But we shall take a glance at our
relations in Europe, as respects War, in order to arrive
at some more definite idea on this subject.

Here we find Armies much more alike in equipment,
organisation, and practical skill of every kind. There
only remains a difference in the military virtue of Armies,
and in the talent of Generals which may fluctuate with
time from side to side. If we go through the military
history of modern Europe, we find no example of a

Frederick the Great beat 80,000 Austrians at Leuthen
with about 30,000 men, and at Rosbach with 25,000 some
50,000 allies; these are however the only instances of
victories gained against an enemy double, or more than
double in numbers. Charles XII, in the battle of Narva,
we cannot well quote, for the Russians were at that time
hardly to be regarded as Europeans, also the principal
circumstances, even of the battle, are too little known.
Buonaparte had at Dresden 120,000 against 220,000,
therefore not the double. At Kollin, Frederick the Great
did not succeed, with 30,000 against 50,000 Austrians,
neither did Buonaparte in the desperate battle of Leipsic,
where he was 160,000 strong, against 280,000.

From this we may infer, that it is very difficult in the
present state of Europe, for the most talented General
to gain a victory over an enemy double his strength.
Now if we see double numbers prove such a weight in the
scale against the greatest Generals, we may be sure, that
in ordinary cases, in small as well as great combats, an
important superiority of numbers, but which need not
be over two to one, will be sufficient to ensure the victory,
however disadvantageous other circumstances may be.
Certainly, we may imagine a defile which even tenfold
would not suffice to force, but in such a case it can be
no question of a battle at all.

We think, therefore, that under our conditions, as well
as in all similar ones, the superiority at the decisive point
is a matter of capital importance, and that this subject, in
the generality of cases, is decidedly the most important
of all. The strength at the decisive point depends on
the absolute strength of the Army, and on skill in making
use of it.

The first rule is therefore to enter the field with an Army
as strong as possible. This sounds very like a commonplace,
but still it is really not so.

In order to show that for a long time the strength of
forces was by no means regarded as a chief point, we need
only observe, that in most, and even in the most detailed
histories of the Wars in the eighteenth century, the
strength of the Armies is either not given at all, or only
incidentally, and in no case is any special value laid upon
it. Tempelhof in his history of the Seven Years' War is
the earliest writer who gives it regularly, but at the same
time he does it only very superficially.

Even Massenbach, in his manifold critical observations
on the Prussian campaigns of 1793-94 in the Vosges,
talks a great deal about hills and valleys, roads and footpaths,
but does not say a syllable about mutual strength.

Another proof lies in a wonderful notion which haunted
the heads of many critical historians, according to which
there was a certain size of an Army which was the best,
a normal strength, beyond which the forces in excess were
burdensome rather than serviceable.[*]

[*] Tempelhof and Montalembert are the first we recollect as
--the first in a passage of his first part, page 148; the other
in his
correspondence relative to the plan of operations of the Russians
in 1759.

Lastly, there are a number of instances to be found,
in which all the available forces were not really brought
into the battle,[*] or into the War, because the superiority
of numbers was not considered to have that importance
which in the nature of things belongs to it.

[*] The Prussians at Jena, 1806. Wellington at Waterloo.

If we are thoroughly penetrated with the conviction
that with a considerable superiority of numbers everything
possible is to be effected, then it cannot fail that
this clear conviction reacts on the preparations for the
War, so as to make us appear in the field with as many
troops as possible, and either to give us ourselves the
superiority, or at least to guard against the enemy
obtaining it. So much for what concerns the absolute
force with which the War is to be conducted.

The measure of this absolute force is determined by
the Government; and although with this determination
the real action of War commences, and it forms an essential
part of the Strategy of the War, still in most cases
the General who is to command these forces in the War
must regard their absolute strength as a given quantity,
whether it be that he has had no voice in fixing it, or that
circumstances prevented a sufficient expansion being
given to it.

There remains nothing, therefore, where an absolute
superiority is not attainable, but to produce a relative
one at the decisive point, by making skilful use of what
we have.

The calculation of space and time appears as the most
essential thing to this end--and this has caused that
subject to be regarded as one which embraces nearly the
whole art of using military forces. Indeed, some have
gone so far as to ascribe to great strategists and tacticians
a mental organ peculiarly adapted to this point.

But the calculation of time and space, although it lies
universally at the foundation of Strategy, and is to a
certain extent its daily bread, is still neither the most
difficult, nor the most decisive one.

If we take an unprejudiced glance at military history,
we shall find that the instances in which mistakes in such
a calculation have proved the cause of serious losses are
very rare, at least in Strategy. But if the conception of
a skilful combination of time and space is fully to account
for every instance of a resolute and active Commander
beating several separate opponents with one and the same
army (Frederick the Great, Buonaparte), then we perplex
ourselves unnecessarily with conventional language.
For the sake of clearness and the profitable use of conceptions,
it is necessary that things should always be called
by their right names.

The right appreciation of their opponents (Daun,
Schwartzenberg), the audacity to leave for a short space
of time a small force only before them, energy in forced
marches, boldness in sudden attacks, the intensified
activity which great souls acquire in the moment of
danger, these are the grounds of such victories; and what
have these to do with the ability to make an exact calculation
of two such simple things as time and space?

But even this ricochetting play of forces, "when the
victories at Rosbach and Montmirail give the impulse
to victories at Leuthen and Montereau," to which great
Generals on the defensive have often trusted, is still, if we
would be clear and exact, only a rare occurrence in history.

Much more frequently the relative superiority--that
is, the skilful assemblage of superior forces at the decisive
point--has its foundation in the right appreciation of
those points, in the judicious direction which by that means
has been given to the forces from the very first, and in
the resolution required to sacrifice the unimportant to
the advantage of the important--that is, to keep the
forces concentrated in an overpowering mass. In this,
Frederick the Great and Buonaparte are particularly

We think we have now allotted to the superiority
in numbers the importance which belongs to it; it is to
be regarded as the fundamental idea, always to be aimed
at before all and as far as possible.

But to regard it on this account as a necessary condition
of victory would be a complete misconception of our
exposition; in the conclusion to be drawn from it there
lies nothing more than the value which should attach
to numerical strength in the combat. If that strength
is made as great as possible, then the maxim is
satisfied; a review of the total relations must then decide
whether or not the combat is to be avoided for want of
sufficient force.[*]

[*] Owing to our freedom from invasion, and to the condition
arise in our Colonial Wars, we have not yet, in England, arrived
at a
correct appreciation of the value of superior numbers in War, and
adhere to the idea of an Army just "big enough," which Clausewitz
has so unsparingly ridiculed. (EDITOR.)


FROM the subject of the foregoing chapter, the general
endeavour to attain a relative superiority, there follows
another endeavour which must consequently be just as
general in its nature: this is the SURPRISE of the enemy.
It lies more or less at the foundation of all undertakings,
for without it the preponderance at the decisive point
is not properly conceivable.

The surprise is, therefore, not only the means to
the attainment of numerical superiority; but it is also
to be regarded as a substantive principle in itself, on
account of its moral effect. When it is successful in a
high degree, confusion and broken courage in the enemy's
ranks are the consequences; and of the degree to which
these multiply a success, there are examples enough,
great and small. We are not now speaking of the
particular surprise which belongs to the attack, but of
the endeavour by measures generally, and especially
by the distribution of forces, to surprise the enemy, which
can be imagined just as well in the defensive, and which
in the tactical defence particularly is a chief point.

We say, surprise lies at the foundation of all undertakings
without exception, only in very different degrees
according to the nature of the undertaking and other

This difference, indeed, originates in the properties or
peculiarities of the Army and its Commander, in those
even of the Government.

Secrecy and rapidity are the two factors in this product
and these suppose in the Government and the Commander-
in-Chief great energy, and on the part of the Army a high
sense of military duty. With effeminacy and loose
principles it is in vain to calculate upon a surprise. But
so general, indeed so indispensable, as is this endeavour,
and true as it is that it is never wholly unproductive of
effect, still it is not the less true that it seldom succeeds
to a REMARKABLE degree, and this follows from the nature of
the idea itself. We should form an erroneous conception
if we believed that by this means chiefly there is much to
be attained in War. In idea it promises a great deal;
in the execution it generally sticks fast by the friction of
the whole machine.

In tactics the surprise is much more at home, for the
very natural reason that all times and spaces are on a
smaller scale. It will, therefore, in Strategy be the more
feasible in proportion as the measures lie nearer to the
province of tactics, and more difficult the higher up they
lie towards the province of policy.

The preparations for a War usually occupy several
months; the assembly of an Army at its principal positions
requires generally the formation of depo^ts and
magazines, and long marches, the object of which can be
guessed soon enough.

It therefore rarely happens that one State surprises
another by a War, or by the direction which it gives the
mass of its forces. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, when War turned very much upon sieges,
it was a frequent aim, and quite a peculiar and important
chapter in the Art of War, to invest a strong place unexpectedly,
but even that only rarely succeeded.[*]

[*] Railways, steamships, and telegraphs have, however,
modified the relative importance and practicability of surprise.

On the other hand, with things which can be done in a
day or two, a surprise is much more conceivable, and,
therefore, also it is often not difficult thus to gain a march
upon the enemy, and thereby a position, a point of country,
a road, &c. But it is evident that what surprise gains
in this way in easy execution, it loses in the efficacy, as
the greater the efficacy the greater always the difficulty
of execution. Whoever thinks that with such surprises
on a small scale, he may connect great results--as, for
example, the gain of a battle, the capture of an important
magazine--believes in something which it is certainly
very possible to imagine, but for which there is no warrant
in history; for there are upon the whole very few instances
where anything great has resulted from such surprises;
from which we may justly conclude that inherent difficulties
lie in the way of their success.

Certainly, whoever would consult history on such points
must not depend on sundry battle steeds of historical
critics, on their wise dicta and self-complacent terminology,
but look at facts with his own eyes. There is, for instance,
a certain day in the campaign in Silesia, 1761, which, in
this respect, has attained a kind of notoriety. It is the
22nd July, on which Frederick the Great gained on
Laudon the march to Nossen, near Neisse, by which, as
is said, the junction of the Austrian and Russian armies
in Upper Silesia became impossible, and, therefore, a
period of four weeks was gained by the King. Whoever
reads over this occurrence carefully in the principal
histories,[*] and considers it impartially, will, in the march
of the 22nd July, never find this importance; and
generally in the whole of the fashionable logic on this
subject, he will see nothing but contradictions; but in
the proceedings of Laudon, in this renowned period of
manoeuvres, much that is unaccountable. How could
one, with a thirst for truth, and clear conviction, accept
such historical evidence?

[*] Tempelhof, The Veteran, Frederick the Great. Compare also
(Clausewitz) "Hinterlassene Werke," vol. x., p. 158.

When we promise ourselves great effects in a campaign
from the principle of surprising, we think upon great
activity, rapid resolutions, and forced marches, as the
means of producing them; but that these things, even
when forthcoming in a very high degree, will not always
produce the desired effect, we see in examples given byGenerals,
who may be
allowed to have had the greatest
talent in the use of these means, Frederick the Great and
Buonaparte. The first when he left Dresden so suddenly
in July 1760, and falling upon Lascy, then turned against
Dresden, gained nothing by the whole of that intermezzo,
but rather placed his affairs in a condition notably worse,
as the fortress Glatz fell in the meantime.

In 1813, Buonaparte turned suddenly from Dresden
twice against Bluecher, to say nothing of his incursion into
Bohemia from Upper Lusatia, and both times without
in the least attaining his object. They were blows in the
air which only cost him time and force, and might have
placed him in a dangerous position in Dresden.

Therefore, even in this field, a surprise does not necessarily
meet with great success through the mere activity,
energy, and resolution of the Commander; it must be
favoured by other circumstances. But we by no means
deny that there can be success; we only connect with it
a necessity of favourable circumstances, which, certainly
do not occur very frequently, and which the Commander
can seldom bring about himself.

Just those two Generals afford each a striking illustration
of this. We take first Buonaparte in his famous
enterprise against Bluecher's Army in February 1814,
when it was separated from the Grand Army, and descending
the Marne. It would not be easy to find a two days'
march to surprise the enemy productive of greater results
than this; Bluecher's Army, extended over a distance of
three days' march, was beaten in detail, and suffered a
loss nearly equal to that of defeat in a great battle. This
was completely the effect of a surprise, for if Bluecher
had thought of such a near possibility of an attack from
Buonaparte[*] he would have organised his march quite
differently. To this mistake of Bluecher's the result is
to be attributed. Buonaparte did not know all these
circumstances, and so there was a piece of good fortune
that mixed itself up in his favour.

[*] Bluecher believed his march to be covered by Pahlen's
but these had been withdrawn without warning to him by the Grand
Army Headquarters under Schwartzenberg.

It is the same with the battle of Liegnitz, 1760. Frederick
the Great gained this fine victory through altering
during the night a position which he had just before taken
up. Laudon was through this completely surprised, and
lost 70 pieces of artillery and 10,000 men. Although
Frederick the Great had at this time adopted the principle
of moving backwards and forwards in order to make a
battle impossible, or at least to disconcert the enemy's
plans, still the alteration of position on the night of the
14-15 was not made exactly with that intention, but as
the King himself says, because the position of the 14th did
not please him. Here, therefore, also chance was hard at
work; without this happy conjunction of the attack and
the change of position in the night, and the difficult
nature of the country, the result would not have been
the same.

Also in the higher and highest province of Strategy
there are some instances of surprises fruitful in results.
We shall only cite the brilliant marches of the Great
Elector against the Swedes from Franconia to Pomerania
and from the Mark (Brandenburg) to the Pregel in 1757,
and the celebrated passage of the Alps by Buonaparte,
1800. In the latter case an Army gave up its whole
theatre of war by a capitulation, and in 1757 another
Army was very near giving up its theatre of war and itself
as well. Lastly, as an instance of a War wholly unexpected,
we may bring forward the invasion of Silesia
by Frederick the Great. Great and powerful are here the
results everywhere, but such events are not common in
history if we do not confuse with them cases in which
a State, for want of activity and energy (Saxony 1756,
and Russia, 1812), has not completed its preparations
in time.

Now there still remains an observation which concerns
the essence of the thing. A surprise can only be effected
by that party which gives the law to the other; and he
who is in the right gives the law. If we surprise the
adversary by a wrong measure, then instead of reaping
good results, we may have to bear a sound blow in return;
in any case the adversary need not trouble himself much
about our surprise, he has in our mistake the means of
turning off the evil. As the offensive includes in itself
much more positive action than the defensive, so the
surprise is certainly more in its place with the assailant,
but by no means invariably, as we shall hereafter see.
Mutual surprises by the offensive and defensive may
therefore meet, and then that one will have the advantage
who has hit the nail on the head the best.

So should it be, but practical life does not keep to this
line so exactly, and that for a very simple reason. The
moral effects which attend a surprise often convert the
worst case into a good one for the side they favour, and
do not allow the other to make any regular determination.
We have here in view more than anywhere else not only
the chief Commander, but each single one, because a surprise
has the effect in particular of greatly loosening
unity, so that the individuality of each separate leader
easily comes to light.

Much depends here on the general relation in which
the two parties stand to each other. If the one side
through a general moral superiority can intimidate and
outdo the other, then he can make use of the surprise
with more success, and even reap good fruit where
properly he should come to ruin.


STRATAGEM implies a concealed intention, and therefore
is opposed to straightforward dealing, in the same way
as wit is the opposite of direct proof. It has therefore
nothing in common with means of persuasion, of self-
interest, of force, but a great deal to do with deceit,
because that likewise conceals its object. It is itself
a deceit as well when it is done, but still it differs from
what is commonly called deceit, in this respect that there
is no direct breach of word. The deceiver by stratagem
leaves it to the person himself whom he is deceiving to
commit the errors of understanding which at last, flowing
into ONE result, suddenly change the nature of things in
his eyes. We may therefore say, as nit is a sleight of
hand with ideas and conceptions, so stratagem is a sleight
of hand with actions.

At first sight it appears as if Strategy had not improperly
derived its name from stratagem; and that, with all the
real and apparent changes which the whole character of
War has undergone since the time of the Greeks, this
term still points to its real nature.

If we leave to tactics the actual delivery of the blow,
the battle itself, and look upon Strategy as the art of
using this means with skill, then besides the forces of
the character, such as burning ambition which always
presses like a spring, a strong will which hardly bends
&c. &c., there seems no subjective quality so suited to
guide and inspire strategic activity as stratagem. The
general tendency to surprise, treated of in the foregoing
chapter, points to this conclusion, for there is a degree of
stratagem, be it ever so small, which lies at the foundation
of every attempt to surprise.

But however much we feel a desire to see the actors
in War outdo each other in hidden activity, readiness,
and stratagem, still we must admit that these qualities
show themselves but little in history, and have rarely
been able to work their way to the surface from amongst
the mass of relations and circumstances.

The explanation of this is obvious, and it is almost
identical with the subject matter of the preceding

Strategy knows no other activity than the regulating
of combat with the measures which relate to it. It has
no concern, like ordinary life, with transactions which
consist merely of words--that is, in expressions, declarations,
&c. But these, which are very inexpensive, are
chiefly the means with which the wily one takes in those
he practises upon.

That which there is like it in War, plans and orders
given merely as make-believers, false reports sent on
purpose to the enemy--is usually of so little effect in the
strategic field that it is only resorted to in particular
cases which offer of themselves, therefore cannot be
regarded as spontaneous action which emanates from the

But such measures as carrying out the arrangements
for a battle, so far as to impose upon the enemy, require
a considerable expenditure of time and power; of course,
the greater the impression to be made, the greater the
expenditure in these respects. And as this is usually
not given for the purpose, very few demonstrations,
so-called, in Strategy, effect the object for which they are
designed. In fact, it is dangerous to detach large forces
for any length of time merely for a trick, because there is
always the risk of its being done in vain, and then these
forces are wanted at the decisive point.

The chief actor in War is always thoroughly sensible
of this sober truth, and therefore he has no desire to play
at tricks of agility. The bitter earnestness of necessity
presses so fully into direct action that there is no room
for that game. In a word, the pieces on the strategical
chess-board want that mobility which is the element of
stratagem and subtility.

The conclusion which we draw, is that a correct and
penetrating eye is a more necessary and more useful
quality for a General than craftiness, although that also
does no harm if it does not exist at the expense of necessary
qualities of the heart, which is only too often the case.

But the weaker the forces become which are under
the command of Strategy, so much the more they become
adapted for stratagem, so that to the quite feeble and
little, for whom no prudence, no sagacity is any longer
sufficient at the point where all art seems to forsake him,
stratagem offers itself as a last resource. The more
helpless his situation, the more everything presses towards
one single, desperate blow, the more readily stratagem
comes to the aid of his boldness. Let loose from all
further calculations, freed from all concern for the future,
boldness and stratagem intensify each other, and thus
collect at one point an infinitesimal glimmering of hope
into a single ray, which may likewise serve to kindle
a flame.


THE best Strategy is ALWAYS TO BE VERY STRONG, first generally
then at the decisive point. Therefore, apart from the
energy which creates the Army, a work which is not
always done by the General, there is no more imperative
and no simpler law for Strategy than to KEEP THE FORCES
CONCENTRATED.--No portion is to be separated from the main
body unless called away by some urgent necessity. On
this maxim we stand firm, and look upon it as a guide
to be depended upon. What are the reasonable grounds
on which a detachment of forces may be made we shall
learn by degrees. Then we shall also see that this principle
cannot have the same general effects in every War,
but that these are different according to the means and

It seems incredible, and yet it has happened a hundred
times, that troops have been divided and separated
merely through a mysterious feeling of conventional
manner, without any clear perception of the reason.

If the concentration of the whole force is acknowledged
as the norm, and every division and separation as an
exception which must be justified, then not only will
that folly be completely avoided, but also many an
erroneous ground for separating troops will be barred


WE have here to deal with a conception which in real
life diffuses many kinds of illusory light. A clear definition
and development of the idea is therefore necessary,
and we hope to be allowed a short analysis.

War is the shock of two opposing forces in collision
with each other, from which it follows as a matter of
course that the stronger not only destroys the other,
but carries it forward with it in its movement. This
fundamentally admits of no successive action of powers,
but makes the simultaneous application of all forces
intended for the shock appear as a primordial law of War.

So it is in reality, but only so far as the struggle resembles
also in practice a mechanical shock, but when
it consists in a lasting, mutual action of destructive
forces, then we can certainly imagine a successive action
of forces. This is the case in tactics, principally because
firearms form the basis of all tactics, but also for other
reasons as well. If in a fire combat 1000 men are opposed
to 500, then the gross loss is calculated from the amount
of the enemy's force and our own; 1000 men fire twice as
many shots as 500, but more shots will take effect on the
1000 than on the 500 because it is assumed that they stand
in closer order than the other. If we were to suppose the
number of hits to be double, then the losses on each side
would be equal. From the 500 there would be for example
200 disabled, and out of the body of 1000 likewise the
same; now if the 500 had kept another body of equal
number quite out of fire, then both sides would have 800
effective men; but of these, on the one side there would
be 500 men quite fresh, fully supplied with ammunition,
and in their full vigour; on the other side only 800 all
alike shaken in their order, in want of sufficient ammunition
and weakened in physical force. The assumption
that the 1000 men merely on account of their greater
number would lose twice as many as 500 would have lost
in their place, is certainly not correct; therefore the
greater loss which the side suffers that has placed the
half of its force in reserve, must be regarded as a disadvantage
in that original formation; further it must be
admitted, that in the generality of cases the 1000 men
would have the advantage at the first commencement of
being able to drive their opponent out of his position and
force him to a retrograde movement; now, whether these
two advantages are a counterpoise to the disadvantage
of finding ourselves with 800 men to a certain extent
disorganised by the combat, opposed to an enemy who is
not materially weaker in numbers and who has 500 quite
fresh troops, is one that cannot be decided by pursuing
an analysis further, we must here rely upon experience,
and there will scarcely be an officer experienced in War
who will not in the generality of cases assign the advantage
to that side which has the fresh troops.

In this way it becomes evident how the employment
of too many forces in combat may be disadvantageous;
for whatever advantages the superiority may give in the
first moment, we may have to pay dearly for in the next.

But this danger only endures as long as the disorder,
the state of confusion and weakness lasts, in a word, up
to the crisis which every combat brings with it even for
the conqueror. Within the duration of this relaxed state
of exhaustion, the appearance of a proportionate number
of fresh troops is decisive.

But when this disordering effect of victory stops, and
therefore only the moral superiority remains which every
victory gives, then it is no longer possible for fresh troops
to restore the combat, they would only be carried along
in the general movement; a beaten Army cannot be
brought back to victory a day after by means of a strong
reserve. Here we find ourselves at the source of a highly
material difference between tactics and strategy.

The tactical results, the results within the four corners
of the battle, and before its close, lie for the most part
within the limits of that period of disorder and weakness.
But the strategic result, that is to say, the result of the
total combat, of the victories realised, let them be small
or great, lies completely (beyond) outside of that period.
It is only when the results of partial combats have bound
themselves together into an independent whole, that the
strategic result appears, but then, the state of crisis is
over, the forces have resumed their original form, and
are now only weakened to the extent of those actually
destroyed (placed hors de combat).

The consequence of this difference is, that tactics can
make a continued use of forces, Strategy only a simultaneous

[*] See chaps. xiii., and xiv., Book III and chap. xxix. Book

If I cannot, in tactics, decide all by the first success, if
I have to fear the next moment, it follows of itself that I
employ only so much of my force for the success of the
first moment as appears sufficient for that object, and keep
the rest beyond the reach of fire or conflict of any kind,
in order to be able to oppose fresh troops to fresh, or
with such to overcome those that are exhausted. But
it is not so in Strategy. Partly, as we have just shown,
it has not so much reason to fear a reaction after a success
realised, because with that success the crisis stops; partly
all the forces strategically employed are not necessarily
weakened. Only so much of them as have been tactically
in conflict with the enemy's force, that is, engaged in
partial combat, are weakened by it; consequently, only so
much as was unavoidably necessary, but by no means
all which was strategically in conflict with the enemy,
unless tactics has expended them unnecessarily. Corps
which, on account of the general superiority in numbers,
have either been little or not at all engaged, whose presence
alone has assisted in the result, are after the decision
the same as they were before, and for new enterprises as
efficient as if they had been entirely inactive. How
greatly such corps which thus constitute our excess may
contribute to the total success is evident in itself; indeed,
it is not difficult to see how they may even diminish
considerably the loss of the forces engaged in tactical,
conflict on our side.

If, therefore, in Strategy the loss does not increase with
the number of the troops employed, but is often diminished
by it, and if, as a natural consequence, the decision in our
favor is, by that
means, the more certain, then it follows naturally that in
Strategy we can
never employ too many forces, and consequently also that they
be applied simultaneously to the immediate purpose.

But we must vindicate this proposition upon another
ground. We have hitherto only spoken of the combat
itself; it is the real activity in War, but men, time, and
space, which appear as the elements of this activity,
must, at the same time, be kept in view, and the results
of their influence brought into consideration also.

Fatigue, exertion, and privation constitute in War a
special principle of destruction, not essentially belonging
to contest, but more or less inseparably bound up with it,
and certainly one which especially belongs to Strategy.
They no doubt exist in tactics as well, and perhaps there
in the highest degree; but as the duration of the tactical
acts is shorter, therefore the small effects of exertion and
privation on them can come but little into consideration.
But in Strategy on the other hand, where time and space,
are on a larger scale, their influence is not only always
very considerable, but often quite decisive. It is not at
all uncommon for a victorious Army to lose many more
by sickness than on the field of battle.

If, therefore, we look at this sphere of destruction in
Strategy in the same manner as we have considered that
of fire and close combat in tactics, then we may well
imagine that everything which comes within its vortex
will, at the end of the campaign or of any other strategic
period, be reduced to a state of weakness, which makes
the arrival of a fresh force decisive. We might therefore
conclude that there is a motive in the one case as well
as the other to strive for the first success with as few forces
as possible, in order to keep up this fresh force for the

In order to estimate exactly this conclusion, which,
in many cases in practice, will have a great appearancetruth, we
must direct
our attention to the separate
ideas which it contains. In the first place, we must not
confuse the notion of reinforcement with that of fresh
unused troops. There are few campaigns at the end of
which an increase of force is not earnestly desired by
the conqueror as well as the conquered, and indeed
should appear decisive; but that is not the point here,
for that increase of force could not be necessary if the force
had been so much larger at the first. But it would be
contrary to all experience to suppose that an Army coming
fresh into the field is to be esteemed higher in point of
moral value than an Army already in the field, just as a
tactical reserve is more to be esteemed than a body of
troops which has been already severely handled in the
fight. Just as much as an unfortunate campaign lowers
the courage and moral powers of an Army, a successful
one raises these elements in their value. In the generality
of cases, therefore, these influences are compensated,
and then there remains over and above as clear gain the
habituation to War. We should besides look more here
to successful than to unsuccessful campaigns, because
when the greater probability of the latter may be seen
beforehand, without doubt forces are wanted, and,
therefore, the reserving a portion for future use is out of
the question.

This point being settled, then the question is, Do the
losses which a force sustains through fatigues and privations
increase in proportion to the size of the force, as
is the case in a combat? And to that we answer "No."

The fatigues of War result in a great measure from the
dangers with which every moment of the act of War is
more or less impregnated. To encounter these dangers
at all points, to proceed onwards with security in the
execution of one's plans, gives employment to a multitude
of agencies which make up the tactical and
strategic service of the Army. This service is more difficult
the weaker an Army is, and easier as its numerical
superiority over that of the enemy increases. Who can
doubt this? A campaign against a much weaker enemy
will therefore cost smaller efforts than against one just
as strong or stronger.

So much for the fatigues. It is somewhat different
with the privations; they consist chiefly of two things,
the want of food, and the want of shelter for the troops,
either in quarters or in suitable camps. Both these
wants will no doubt be greater in proportion as the number
of men on one spot is greater. But does not the superiority
in force afford also the best means of spreading
out and finding more room, and therefore more means of
subsistence and shelter?

If Buonaparte, in his invasion of Russia in 1812,
concentrated his Army in great masses upon one single road
in a manner never heard of before, and thus caused
privations equally unparalleled, we must ascribe it to his
POINT. Whether in this instance he did not strain the
principle too far is a question which would be out of place
here; but it is certain that, if he had made a point of
avoiding the distress which was by that means brought
about, he had only to advance on a greater breadth of
front. Room was not wanted for the purpose in Russia,
and in very few cases can it be wanted. Therefore, from
this no ground can be deduced to prove that the simultaneous
employment of very superior forces must produce
greater weakening. But now, supposing that in spite
of the general relief afforded by setting apart a portion
of the Army, wind and weather and the toils of War had
produced a diminution even on the part which as a spare
force had been reserved for later use, still we must take
a comprehensive general view of the whole, and therefore
ask, Will this diminution of force suffice to counterbalance
the gain in forces, which we, through our superiority
in numbers, may be able to make in more ways
than one?

But there still remains a most important point to be
noticed. In a partial combat, the force required to obtain
a great result can be approximately estimated without
much difficulty, and, consequently, we can form an idea
of what is superfluous. In Strategy this may be said to
be impossible, because the strategic result has no such
well-defined object and no such circumscribed limits as
the tactical. Thus what can be looked upon in tactics
as an excess of power, must be regarded in Strategy as a
means to give expansion to success, if opportunity offers
for it; with the magnitude of the success the gain in force
increases at the same time, and in this way the superiority
of numbers may soon reach a point which the most
careful economy of forces could never have attained.

By means of his enormous numerical superiority,
Buonaparte was enabled to reach Moscow in 1812, and
to take that central capital. Had he by means of this
superiority succeeded in completely defeating the Russian
Army, he would, in all probability, have concluded a
peace in Moscow which in any other way was much less
attainable. This example is used to explain the idea,
not to prove it, which would require a circumstantial
demonstration, for which this is not the place.[*]

[*] Compare Book VII., second edition, p. 56.

All these reflections bear merely upon the idea of a
successive employment of forces, and not upon the conception
of a reserve properly so called, which they, no doubt,
come in contact with throughout, but which, as we shall
see in the following chapter, is connected with some other

What we desire to establish here is, that if in tactics
the military force through the mere duration of actual
employment suffers a diminution of power, if time,
therefore, appears as a factor in the result, this is not the
case in Strategy in a material degree. The destructive
effects which are also produced upon the forces in Strategy
by time, are partly diminished through their mass,
partly made good in other ways, and, therefore, in
Strategy it cannot be an object to make time an ally on
its own account by bringing troops successively into

We say on "its own account," for the influence which
time, on account of other circumstances which it brings
about but which are different from itself can have, indeed
must necessarily have, for one of the two parties, is quite
another thing, is anything but indifferent or unimportant,
and will be the subject of consideration hereafter.

The rule which we have been seeking to set forth is,
therefore, that all forces which are available and destined
for a strategic object should be SIMULTANEOUSLY applied to
it; and this application will be so much the more complete
the more everything is compressed into one act and into
one movement.

But still there is in Strategy a renewal of effort and a
persistent action which, as a chief means towards the
ultimate success, is more particularly not to be overlooked,
is also the subject of another chapter, and we only refer
to it here in order to prevent the reader from having
something in view of which we have not been speaking.

We now turn to a subject very closely connected with
our present considerations, which must be settled before
full light can be thrown on the whole, we mean the


A RESERVE has two objects which are very distinct from
each other, namely, first, the prolongation and renewal
of the combat, and secondly, for use in case of unforeseen
events. The first object implies the utility of a successive
application of forces, and on that account cannot
occur in Strategy. Cases in which a corps is sent to
succour a point which is supposed to be about to fall are
plainly to be placed in the category of the second object,
as the resistance which has to be offered here could not
have been sufficiently foreseen. But a corps which is
destined expressly to prolong the combat, and with that
object in view is placed in rear, would be only a corps
placed out of reach of fire, but under the command and
at the disposition of the General Commanding in the
action, and accordingly would be a tactical and not a
strategic reserve.

But the necessity for a force ready for unforeseen
events may also take place in Strategy, and consequently
there may also be a strategic reserve, but only where
unforeseen events are imaginable. In tactics, where the
enemy's measures are generally first ascertained by direct
sight, and where they may be concealed by every wood,
every fold of undulating ground, we must naturally
always be alive, more or less, to the possibility of unforeseen
events, in order to strengthen, subsequently, those
points which appear too weak, and, in fact, to modify
generally the disposition of our troops, so as to make it
correspond better to that of the enemy.

Such cases must also happen in Strategy, because the
strategic act is directly linked to the tactical. In Strategy
also many a measure is first adopted in consequence of
what is actually seen, or in consequence of uncertain
reports arriving from day to day, or even from hour to
hour, and lastly, from the actual results of the combats
it is, therefore, an essential condition of strategic command
that, according to the degree of uncertainty,
forces must be kept in reserve against future contingencies.

In the defensive generally, but particularly in the
defence of certain obstacles of ground, like rivers, hills,
&c., such contingencies, as is well known, happen constantly.

But this uncertainty diminishes in proportion as the
strategic activity has less of the tactical character, and
ceases almost altogether in those regions where it borders
on politics.

The direction in which the enemy leads his columns to
the combat can be perceived by actual sight only; where
he intends to pass a river is learnt from a few preparations
which are made shortly before; the line by which he
proposes to invade our country is usually announced by
all the newspapers before a pistol shot has been fired.
The greater the nature of the measure the less it will
take the enemy by surprise. Time and space are so
considerable, the circumstances out of which the action
proceeds so public and little susceptible of alteration,
that the coming event is either made known in good time,
or can be discovered with reasonable certainty.

On the other hand the use of a reserve in this province
of Strategy, even if one were available, will always be
less efficacious the more the measure has a tendency
towards being one of a general nature.

We have seen that the decision of a partial combat is
nothing in itself, but that all partial combats only find
their complete solution in the decision of the total

But even this decision of the total combat has only a
relative meaning of many different gradations, according
as the force over which the victory has been gained
forms a more or less great and important part of the whole.
The lost battle of a corps may be repaired by the victory
of the Army. Even the lost battle of an Army may not
only be counterbalanced by the gain of a more important
one, but converted into a fortunate event (the two days
of Kulm, August 29 and 30, 1813[*]). No one can doubt
this; but it is just as clear that the weight of each victory
(the successful issue of each total combat) is so much the
more substantial the more important the part conquered,
and that therefore the possibility of repairing the loss
by subsequent events diminishes in the same proportion.
In another place we shall have to examine this more in
detail; it suffices for the present to have drawn attention
to the indubitable existence of this progression.

[*] Refers to the destruction of Vandamme's column, which had
sent unsupported to intercept the retreat of the Austrians and
from Dresden--but was forgotten by Napoleon.--EDITOR.

If we now add lastly to these two considerations the
third, which is, that if the persistent use of forces in tactics
always shifts the great result to the end of the whole act,law of
simultaneous use of the forces in Strategy,
on the contrary, lets the principal result (which need not
be the final one) take place almost always at the commencement
of the great (or whole) act, then in these three
results we have grounds sufficient to find strategic reserves
always more superfluous, always more useless, always
more dangerous, the more general their destination.

The point where the idea of a strategic reserve begins
to become inconsistent is not difficult to determine: it
lies in the SUPREME DECISION. Employment must be given
to all the forces within the space of the supreme decision,
and every reserve (active force available) which is only
intended for use after that decision is opposed to common

If, therefore, tactics has in its reserves the means of
not only meeting unforeseen dispositions on the part of
the enemy, but also of repairing that which never can be
foreseen, the result of the combat, should that be unfortunate;
Strategy on the other hand must, at least as far
as relates to the capital result, renounce the use of these
means. As A rule, it can only repair the losses sustained at
one point by advantages gained at another, in a few cases
by moving troops from one point to another; the idea
of preparing for such reverses by placing forces in reserve
beforehand, can never be entertained in Strategy.

We have pointed out as an absurdity the idea of a
strategic reserve which is not to co-operate in the capital
result, and as it is so beyond a doubt, we should not have
been led into such an analysis as we have made in these
two chapters, were it not that, in the disguise of other
ideas, it looks like something better, and frequently makes
its appearance. One person sees in it the acme of strategic
sagacity and foresight; another rejects it, and with it
the idea of any reserve, consequently even of a tactical
one. This confusion of ideas is transferred to real life,
and if we would see a memorable instance of it we have
only to call to mind that Prussia in 1806 left a reserve of
20,000 men cantoned in the Mark, under Prince Eugene
of Wurtemberg, which could not possibly reach the Saale
in time to be of any use, and that another force Of 25,000
men belonging to this power remained in East and South
Prussia, destined only to be put on a war-footing afterwards
as a reserve.

After these examples we cannot be accused of having
been fighting with windmills.


THE road of reason, as we have said, seldom allows itself
to be reduced to a mathematical line by principles and
opinions. There remains always a certain margin.
But it is the same in all the practical arts of life. For the
lines of beauty there are no abscissae and ordinates;
circles and ellipses are not described by means of their
algebraical formulae. The actor in War therefore soon
finds he must trust himself to the delicate tact of judgment
which, founded on natural quickness of perception, and
educated by reflection, almost unconsciously seizes upon
the right; he soon finds that at one time he must
simplify the law (by reducing it) to some prominent
characteristic points which form his rules; that at another
the adopted method must become the staff on which he

As one of these simplified characteristic points as a
mental appliance, we look upon the principle of watching
continually over the co-operation of all forces, or in other
words, of keeping constantly in view that no part of them
should ever be idle. Whoever has forces where the enemy
does not give them sufficient employment, whoever has
part of his forces on the march--that is, allows them to
lie dead--while the enemy's are fighting, he is a bad
manager of his forces. In this sense there is a waste of
forces, which is even worse than their employment to no
purpose. If there must be action, then the first point is
that all parts act, because the most purposeless activity
still keeps employed and destroys a portion of the enemy's
force, whilst troops completely inactive are for the
moment quite neutralised. Unmistakably this idea is
bound up with the principles contained in the last three
chapters, it is the same truth, but seen from a somewhat
more comprehensive point of view and condensed into a
single conception.


THE length to which the geometrical element or form in
the disposition of military force in War can become a
predominant principle, we see in the art of fortification,
where geometry looks after the great and the little. Also
in tactics it plays a great part. It is the basis of elementary
tactics, or of the theory of moving troops; but in
field fortification, as well as in the theory of positions,
and of their attack, its angles and lines rule like law
givers who have to decide the contest. Many things
here were at one time misapplied, and others were mere
fribbles; still, however, in the tactics of the present day,
in which in every combat the aim is to surround the
enemy, the geometrical element has attained anew a
great importance in a very simple, but constantly recurring
application. Nevertheless, in tactics, where all is
more movable, where the moral forces, individual traits,
and chance are more influential than in a war of sieges,
the geometrical element can never attain to the same
degree of supremacy as in the latter. But less still is its
influence in Strategy; certainly here, also, form in the
disposition of troops, the shape of countries and states
is of great importance; but the geometrical element is
not decisive, as in fortification, and not nearly so important
as in tactics.--The manner in which this influence
exhibits itself, can only be shown by degrees at those
places where it makes its appearance, and deserves notice.
Here we wish more to direct attention to the difference
which there is between tactics and Strategy in relation
to it.

In tactics time and space quickly dwindle to their
absolute minimum. If a body of troops is attacked in
flank and rear by the enemy, it soon gets to a point where
retreat no longer remains; such a position is very close
to an absolute impossibility of continuing the fight; it
must therefore extricate itself from it, or avoid getting
into it. This gives to all combinations aiming at this
from the first commencement a great efficiency, which
chiefly consists in the disquietude which it causes the
enemy as to consequences. This is why the geometrical
disposition of the forces is such an important factor in
the tactical product.

In Strategy this is only faintly reflected, on account of
the greater space and time. We do not fire from one
theatre of war upon another; and often weeks and months
must pass before a strategic movement designed to
surround the enemy can be executed. Further, the
distances are so great that the probability of hitting
the right point at last, even with the best arrangements,
is but small.

In Strategy therefore the scope for such combinations,
that is for those resting on the geometrical element, is
much smaller, and for the same reason the effect of an
advantage once actually gained at any point is much
greater. Such advantage has time to bring all its effects
to maturity before it is disturbed, or quite neutralised
therein, by any counteracting apprehensions. We therefore
do not hesitate to regard as an established truth,
that in Strategy more depends on the number and the magnitude of
the victorious
combats, than on the form of the great lines by which they are

A view just the reverse has been a favourite theme
of modern theory, because a greater importance was supposed
to be thus given to Strategy, and, as the higher
functions of the mind were seen in Strategy, it was
thought by that means to ennoble War, and, as it was
said--through a new substitution of ideas--to make it
more scientific. We hold it to be one of the principal
uses of a complete theory openly to expose such vagaries,
and as the geometrical element is the fundamental idea
from which theory usually proceeds, therefore we have
expressly brought out this point in strong relief.


IF one considers War as an act of mutual destruction, we
must of necessity imagine both parties as making some
progress; but at the same time, as regards the existing
moment, we must almost as necessarily suppose the one
party in a state of expectation, and only the other actually
advancing, for circumstances can never be actually the
same on both sides, or continue so. In time a change must
ensue, from which it follows that the present moment is
more favourable to one side than the other. Now if we
suppose that both commanders have a full knowledge of
this circumstance, then the one has a motive for action,
which at the same time is a motive for the other to wait;
therefore, according to this it cannot be for the interest
of both at the same time to advance, nor can waiting be
for the interest of both at the same time. This opposition
of interest as regards the object is not deduced here
from the principle of general polarity, and therefore is not
in opposition to the argument in the fifth chapter of the
second book; it depends on the fact that here in reality
the same thing is at once an incentive or motive to both
commanders, namely the probability of improving or
impairing their position by future action.

But even if we suppose the possibility of a perfect
equality of circumstances in this respect, or if we take
into account that through imperfect knowledge of their
mutual position such an equality may appear to the two
Commanders to subsist, still the difference of political
objects does away with this possibility of suspension.
One of the parties must of necessity be assumed politically
to be the aggressor, because no War could take place from
defensive intentions on both sides. But the aggressor
has the positive object, the defender merely a negative
one. To the first then belongs the positive action, for
it is only by that means that he can attain the positive
object; therefore, in cases where both parties are in
precisely similar circumstances, the aggressor is called
upon to act by virtue of his positive object.

Therefore, from this point of view, a suspension in the
act of Warfare, strictly speaking, is in contradiction with
the nature of the thing; because two Armies, being two
incompatible elements, should destroy one another
unremittingly, just as fire and water can never put themselves
in equilibrium, but act and react upon one another,
until one quite disappears. What would be said of two
wrestlers who remained clasped round each other for
hours without making a movement. Action in War,
therefore, like that of a clock which is wound up, should
go on running down in regular motion.--But wild as is
the nature of War it still wears the chains of human
weakness, and the contradiction we see here, viz., that
man seeks and creates dangers which he fears at the
same time will astonish no one.

If we cast a glance at military history in general, we
find so much the opposite of an incessant advance towards
the aim, that STANDING STILL and DOING NOTHING is quite
plainly the NORMAL CONDITION of an Army in the midst of
War, ACTING, the EXCEPTION. This must almost raise a
doubt as to the correctness of our conception. But if
military history leads to this conclusion when viewed
in the mass the latest series of campaigns redeems our
position. The War of the French Revolution shows too
plainly its reality, and only proves too clearly its necessity.
In these operations, and especially in the campaigns of
Buonaparte, the conduct of War attained to that unlimited
degree of energy which we have represented as the
natural law of the element. This degree is therefore
possible, and if it is possible then it is necessary.

How could any one in fact justify in the eyes of reason
the expenditure of forces in War, if acting was not the
object? The baker only heats his oven if he has bread
to put into it; the horse is only yoked to the carriage if
we mean to drive; why then make the enormous effort
of a War if we look for nothing else by it but like efforts
on the part of the enemy?

So much in justification of the general principle; now
as to its modifications, as far as they lie in the nature of
the thing and are independent of special cases.

There are three causes to be noticed here, which appear
as innate counterpoises and prevent the over-rapid or
uncontrollable movement of the wheel-work.

The first, which produces a constant tendency to delay,
and is thereby a retarding principle, is the natural timidity
and want of resolution in the human mind, a kind of
inertia in the moral world, but which is produced not by
attractive, but by repellent forces, that is to say, by dread
of danger and responsibility.

In the burning element of War, ordinary natures appear
to become heavier; the impulsion given must therefore
be stronger and more frequently repeated if the motion is
to be a continuous one. The mere idea of the object for
which arms have been taken up is seldom sufficient to
overcome this resistant force, and if a warlike enterprising
spirit is not at the head, who feels himself in War in his
natural element, as much as a fish in the ocean, or if
there is not the pressure from above of some great
responsibility, then standing still will be the order of
the day, and progress will be the exception.

The second cause is the imperfection of human perception
and judgment, which is greater in War than anywhere,
because a person hardly knows exactly his own position
from one moment to another, and can only conjecture on
slight grounds that of the enemy, which is purposely
concealed; this often gives rise to the case of both parties
looking upon one and the same object as advantageous
for them, while in reality the interest of one must
preponderate; thus then each may think he acts wisely
by waiting another moment, as we have already said in
the fifth chapter of the second book.

The third cause which catches hold, like a ratchet wheel
in machinery, from time to time producing a complete
standstill, is the greater strength of the defensive form.
A may feel too weak to attack B, from which it does not
follow that B is strong enough for an attack on A. The
addition of strength, which the defensive gives is not
merely lost by assuming the offensive, but also passes to
the enemy just as, figuratively expressed, the difference
of a + b and a - b is equal to 2b. Therefore it may so
happen that both parties, at one and the same time, not
only feel themselves too weak to attack, but also are so
in reality.

Thus even in the midst of the act of War itself, anxious
sagacity and the apprehension of too great danger find
vantage ground, by means of which they can exert their
power, and tame the elementary impetuosity of War.

However, at the same time these causes without an
exaggeration of their effect, would hardly explain the long
states of inactivity which took place in military operations,
in former times, in Wars undertaken about interests of
no great importance, and in which inactivity consumed
nine-tenths of the time that the troops remained under
arms. This feature in these Wars, is to be traced
principally to the influence which the demands of the
one party, and the condition, and feeling of the other,
exercised over the conduct of the operations, as has
been already observed in the chapter on the essence
and object of War.

These things may obtain such a preponderating influence
as to make of War a half-and-half affair. A War
is often nothing more than an armed neutrality, or a
menacing attitude to support negotiations or an attempt
to gain some small advantage by small exertions, and
then to wait the tide of circumstances, or a disagreeable
treaty obligation, which is fulfilled in the most niggardly
way possible.

In all these cases in which the impulse given by interest
is slight, and the principle of hostility feeble, in which
there is no desire to do much, and also not much to dread
from the enemy; in short, where no powerful motives
press and drive, cabinets will not risk much in the game;
hence this tame mode of carrying on War, in which the
hostile spirit of real War is laid in irons.

The more War becomes in this manner devitalised
so much the more its theory becomes destitute of the
necessary firm pivots and buttresses for its reasoning;
the necessary is constantly diminishing, the accidental
constantly increasing.

Nevertheless in this kind of Warfare, there is also a
certain shrewdness, indeed, its action is perhaps more
diversified, and more extensive than in the other. Hazard
played with realeaux of gold seems changed into a game
of commerce with groschen. And on this field, where the
conduct of War spins out the time with a number of small
flourishes, with skirmishes at outposts, half in earnest
half in jest, with long dispositions which end in nothing
with positions and marches, which afterwards are designated
as skilful only because their infinitesimally small
causes are lost, and common sense can make nothing of
them, here on this very field many theorists find the real
Art of War at home: in these feints, parades, half and
quarter thrusts of former Wars, they find the aim of all
theory, the supremacy of mind over matter, and modern
Wars appear to them mere savage fisticuffs, from which
nothing is to be learnt, and which must be regarded as mere
retrograde steps towards barbarism. This opinion is as
frivolous as the objects to which it relates. Where great
forces and great passions are wanting, it is certainly easier
for a practised dexterity to show its game; but is then
the command of great forces, not in itself a higher exercise
of the intelligent faculties? Is then that kind of conventional
sword-exercise not comprised in and belonging to
the other mode of conducting War? Does it not bear the
same relation to it as the motions upon a ship to the motion
of the ship itself? Truly it can take place only under the
tacit condition that the adversary does no better. And
can we tell, how long he may choose to respect those
conditions? Has not then the French Revolution fallen
upon us in the midst of the fancied security of our old
system of War, and driven us from Chalons to Moscow?
And did not Frederick the Great in like manner surprise
the Austrians reposing in their ancient habits of War,
and make their monarchy tremble? Woe to the cabinet
which, with a shilly-shally policy, and a routine-ridden
military system, meets with an adversary who, like the
rude element, knows no other law than that of his intrinsic
force. Every deficiency in energy and exertion is then a
weight in the scales in favour of the enemy; it is not so
easy then to change from the fencing posture into that
of an athlete, and a slight blow is often sufficient to
knock down the whole.

The result of all the causes now adduced is, that the
hostile action of a campaign does not progress by a
continuous, but by an intermittent movement, and that,
therefore, between the separate bloody acts, there is a
period of watching, during which both parties fall into
the defensive, and also that usually a higher object causes
the principle of aggression to predominate on one side,
and thus leaves it in general in an advancing position,
by which then its proceedings become modified in some


THE attention which must be paid to the character of War
as it is now made, has a great influence upon all plans,
especially on strategic ones.

Since all methods formerly usual were upset by Buonaparte's
luck and boldness, and first-rate Powers almost
wiped out at a blow; since the Spaniards by their stubborn
resistance have shown what the general arming of a nation
and insurgent measures on a great scale can effect, in
spite of weakness and porousness of individual parts;
since Russia, by the campaign of 1812 has taught us, first,
that an Empire of great dimensions is not to be conquered
(which might have been easily known before), secondly,
that the probability of final success does not in all cases
diminish in the same measure as battles, capitals, and
provinces are lost (which was formerly an incontrovertible
principle with all diplomatists, and therefore made them
always ready to enter at once into some bad temporary
peace), but that a nation is often strongest in the heart of
its country, if the enemy's offensive power has exhausted
itself, and with what enormous force the defensive then
springs over to the offensive; further, since Prussia
(1813) has shown that sudden efforts may add to an Army
sixfold by means of the militia, and that this militia is
just as fit for service abroad as in its own country;--
since all these events have shown what an enormous
factor the heart and sentiments of a Nation may be in the
product of its political and military strength, in fine,
since governments have found out all these additional
aids, it is not to be expected that they will let them lie
idle in future Wars, whether it be that danger threatens
their own existence, or that restless ambition drives
them on.

That a War which is waged with the whole weight
of the national power on each side must be organised
differently in principle to those where everything is
calculated according to the relations of standing Armies
to each other, it is easy to perceive. Standing Armies
once resembled fleets, the land force the sea force in their
relations to the remainder of the State, and from that the
Art of War on shore had in it something of naval tactics,
which it has now quite lost.


The Dynamic Law of War

WE have seen in the sixteenth chapter of this book, how, in most
much more time used to be spent in standing still and inaction
than in

Now, although, as observed in the preceding chapter
we see quite a different character in the present form of
War, still it is certain that real action will always be
interrupted more or less by long pauses; and this leads
to the necessity of our examining more closely the nature
of these two phases of War.

If there is a suspension of action in War, that is, if
neither party wills something positive, there is rest, and
consequently equilibrium, but certainly an equilibrium
in the largest signification, in which not only the moral
and physical war-forces, but all relations and interests,
come into calculation. As soon as ever one of the two
parties proposes to himself a new positive object, and
commences active steps towards it, even if it is only by

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