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We propose tO consider, first, the several elements of our subject, then .irs several parts or divis




We propose tO consider, first, the several elements of our subject, then .irs several parts or divisions, and, finally, the whole in its internal connecti on. Thus we proceed from the simple tO the complex. Bur in this subject more than in any other it is necessary to begin with a glance at the nature of the whole, because here more than elsewhere the pan and the whole must al­ ways be considered together.


We shall not begin here with a clumsy, pedantic definition of war, but con­ fine ourselves to its essence, the duel. War is nothing but a duel on a larger scale. If we would combine into one conception the countless separate duels of which it consists, we would do well ro think of two w resrlers. Each tries by physical force to compel the other to do his will; his imme­ diate object is to overthrow his adversary and thereby make him incapable of any further resistance.

War is thur an act of force to compel our adv,,-,-sary to do our wilt.

Force, tO meet force, arms itself with the inventions of art and science. Ir is accompanied by insignificant restrictions, hardly worth mentioning, which it imposes on itself under the name of international law and usage,

On WM 26

hue which do not really weaken its power. Force, chat is co say, phys1cnl Corce (for no moral force exists a art from rhe conception of a scare and lnw), is thus the merms; to impose our · ipon the enemy is the iobpct,’To nchieve chis object with certainty we muse disarm the enemy, and this dis­ nrming is by definition the proper aim of military action. It rakes the place 01 the object and in a certain sense pushes it aside as something not be­ longing to war itself.


N ow philanthropic souls might easily imagine that there was an artistic way of disarming or overthrowing our adversary without too much blood­ shed and that this was what the art of war should seek to achieve. However agreeable this may sound, it is a false idea which must be demolished. [n ” affairs so dangerous as war, false ideas proceeding from kindness of heart J are precisely the worst. As the most extensive use of physical force by no means excludes the co-operation of intelligence, he who uses this force ruthlessly, shrinking from no amount of bloodshed, musr gain an advan- ‘­ rage if his adversary does nor do the same. Thereby he forces his adver­ sary’s hand, and rhus each pushes the otl1er tO extremities to which the ‘ only limitation is the strength of resistance on the other side.

This is how the matter must be regarded, and it is a waste–and worse than a waste-of effort tO ignore the element of brutality because of the repugnance it excites.

If rhe wars of civilized nations are far less cruel and destructive than J” 1


those of the uncivilized, tl1e reason lies in the social condition of the states, both in themselves and in their relations to one another. From this condition, with its attendant circumstances, war arises and is shaped, Jim­ ired and modified. But these things do not themselves belong to war; they 1 already exist. Never in the philosophy of war itself can we incroduce a

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modifying principle without committing an absurdity. .l�- Conflict between men really consists of two different elements: hostile ‘

feeling and hostile intention. We have chosen the latter of these two ele­ ments as the distinguishing mark of our definition because it is the more general. We cannot conceive rhe most savage, almost instinctive, passion of hatred as existing without hostile intention, whereas there are many hos- tile intentions accompanied by absolutely no hostility, or, at all events, no predominant hostility, of feeling. Among savages intentions inspired by


!(1(1 A r11 / 1 1i111 Cltm.wwitz

,•1111111011 lll’t’Vllil; among civilized peoples those prescribed by intelligence. 11111 d11s difference lies not in the intrinsic nanire of savagery and civiliza- 11011, h111 in their accompanying circumstances, institutions, and so forth. 11 docs not necessarily, therefore, exist in every case, bur only prevails in I he majority of cases. In a word, even the most civilized nations can be pussionatcly inflamed against one another.

From chis we see how far from the truth we should be if we ascribed war among civilized men to a purely rational act of the governments and con­ ceived it as continually freeing itself more and more from all passion, so that at lase there was no longer need of the physical existence of armies, but only of the theoretical relations between them-a sort of algebra of action.

Theory was already beginning to move in chis direction when the events of the last war 1 caught us better. lf war is an act of force, the emo­ tions are ,also necessarily involved in it. lf war does not originate from chem, ic still more or less reacts upon them, and che degree of chis depends not upon the stage of civilization, but upon the importance and duration of the hostile interests.

If, therefore, we find that civilized peoples do not put prisoners co death or sack cities and lay countries waste, this is because intelligence plays a greater part in their conduct of war and has caught chem more ef­ fective ways of applying force than these crude manifestations of instinct.

The invention of gunpowder and che advances continually being made in the developmenc of firearms, in themselves show clearly enough that the demand for the destruction of che enemy, inherent in the theoretical conception of war, has been in no way actually weakened or diverted by the advance of civilization.

So we repeat our statement: War is an act of force, and to the applica­ tion of rhat force there is no limit. Each of the adversaries forces the hand of the other, and a reciprocal action results which in theory can have no limit. This is the first reciprocal action char we meet and the first extreme.

(First reciprocal action)


We have said that the disarming of the enemy is the aim of military ac­ tion, and we shall now show that, theorecically, ac all events, this is neces- sarily so.

‘The war with Napoleon.

On War • 267

If our opponent is ro do our will, we nrnst put him in a �tio more disadvantageous to him than the sacrifice would be that we eman . The disadvantages of his position should naturally, however, not be nsicory, or, at least, should not appear to be so, or our opponent would waic for a more favorable moment and refuse co yield. Every change in his position that will result from the continuance of military activity, muse thus, at all events in theory, lead to a position still less advantageous. The worst posi- 1 ion in which a belligerent can be placed is char of being completely dis­ nrmed. If, therefore, our opponem is co be forced by military action to do m1r will, we must either actually disarm him or put him in such a condi­ Lion that he is threatened with che probability of our doing so. From this it follows char the disarming or che overthrow of the enemy-whichever we choose co call it-muse always be the aim of military accion.

Now war is nor che action of a live force upon a dead mass-absolute non-resistance would be no sort of war ac all-bm always che collision of rwo live forces with each ocher, and whac we have said of the ultimate aim of military action muse be assumed co apply co both sides. Here, then, is again reciprocal action. So long as I have not overthrown my adversary I must fear that he may overthrow me. f am no longer my own master, but he forces my hand as I force his. This is the second reciprocal action, which leads co the second extreme.

(Second recij,rocai action)


If we want to overthrow our opponent, we muse proportion our effort co his power of resistance. This power is expressed as a product of two in­ separable factors: the extent of the meam· at his disposal and the strength of his will. The excent of the means at his disposal would be capable of estima­ tion, as it rem (though not entirely) on f igures, but the strength of che will is much less so and only approximately to be measured by the strength of the motive behind it. Assuming that in this way we have got a reasonably probable estimate of our opponent’s power of resistance, we can propor­ tion our efforts accordingly and increase chem so as co secure a prepon­ derance or, if our means do nor suffice for this, as much as we can. Bue our opponent does the same; and chus a fresh competition arises between us which in pure theory once more involves pushing to an extreme. This is the third reciprocal action we meet and a third extreme.

(Third reciprocal action)


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268 · Karl von Clausewitz


In the abstract realm of pure conceptions the reflective mind nowhere finds rest till it has reached the extreme, because it is with an extreme that it has to do-a conflict of powers left to themselves and obeying no law but their own. ff, therefore, we wanted from the me1:e theoretical concep­ tion of war to deduce an absolute aim which we are to set before ourselves and the means we are to employ, these continuous reciprocal actions would land us in extremes which would be nothing but a play of fancies produced by a scarcely visible train of logical hair-splitting. If, adhering closely to the absolute, we proposed to get round all difficulties with a stroke of the pen and insist with logical strictness that on every occasion we must be prepared for the extreme of resistance and meet it with the extreme of effort, such a stroke of the pen wou Id be a mere paper law with no application to the real world.

Assuming, too, that this extreme of effort were an absolute quantity that could easily be discovered, we must nevertheless admit that the human mind would hardly submit to be ruled by such logical fantasies. In many cases the result would be a futile expenditure of strength which would be bound to find a restriction in other principles of statesmanship. An effort of will would be required disproportionate to the object in view and impossible to call forth. For the will of man never derives its strength from logical hair-splitting.

Everything, however, assumes a different shape if we pass from the ab­ stract world to that of reality. In the former everything had to remain sub­ ject to optimism and we had to conceive both one side and the other as nor merely striving toward perfection but also attaining it. Will this ever be so in practice? It would if:

1. war were a wholly isolated act, which arose q·uite suddenly and had no connection with the previous course of events,

2. if it consisted of a single decision or of several simultaneous decisions, 3. if its decision were complete in itself and the ensuing political sirn­

ation were not already being taken into account and reacting upon it.


With reference to the first of these three points we must remember that neither of the two opponents is for the other an abstract person, even as regards that factor in the power of resistance which does not depend on external things, namely, the will. This will is no wholly unknown quantity:

On War • 2flV

what it has been today tells us what it will be tomorrow. War never breaks out quite suddenly, and its spreading is not the work of a moment. Each of the two opponents can thus to a great extent form an opinion of the other from what he actually is and does, not from what, theoretically, he should be and should do. With his imperfect organization, however, man always remains below the level of the absolute best, and thus these deficiencies, operative on both sides, become a modifying influence.



The second of the three points gives occasion for the f ollowing observa­ tions:

If the issue in war depended on a single decision or several simultane­ ous decisions, the preparations for that decision or those several decisions would namrally have co be carried to the last extreme. A lost opportunity could never be recalled; the only standard the real world could give us for the preparations we must make would, at best, be those of our adversary, so far as they are known to us, and everything else would once more be relegated to dle realm of abstraction. But if the decision consists of sev­ eral successive acts, each of these with all its attendant circumstances can provide a measure for those which follow, and thus here, too, the real world takes the place of the abstract, and modifies, accordingly, the trend to the extreme.

Every war, however, would necessarily be confined to a single decision or several simultaneous decisions if the means available for the conflict were all brought into operation together or could be so brought into op­ eration. For an adverse decision necessarily climinishes these means, and if they have all been used up in the first decision, a second really becomes unthinkable. All acts of war which could follow would be essentially part of the first and really only constitute its duration.

But we have seen that in the preparations for war the real world has al­ ready taken the place of the mere abstract idea, and an actual standard that of a hypothetical extreme. Each of the two opponents, if for no other reason, will therefore in their reciprocal action stop short of the extreme effort, and their resources will thus not aU be called up together.

But the very nature of these resources and of their employment makes it impossible to put them all into operation at one and the same moment. They consist of the military forces proper, the country with its superficial ex­ tent and its population, and the ailies.

2 70 · Karl von Clausewitz

The country with its superficial extent and its population, as well as being the source of all military forces proper, is also in itself an integral part of the factors operative in war, if only with that pare which provides the theater of war or has a marked influence upon it.

Now all movable military resources can very well be put into operation simultaneously, but not all the fortresses, rivers, mountains, inhabitants, and so forth-in a word, the whole country, unless it is so small as to be wholly embraced by the first act of war. Furthermore, the co-operation of the allies does not depend upon the will of the belligerents, and from the very nature of political relations, it frequently does not come into effect or become active till later, for the purpose of restoring a balance of forces chat has been upset.

That this part of the means of resistance, which cannot be brought into operation all at once, in many cases is a much larger part of the whole than at first sight we should think; and that consequently it is capable of restoring the balance of forces even when the first decision has been made with great violence and chat balance has thus been seriously disturbed, will be more Ii.illy explained lacer. At chis point it is enough to show chat co make all our resources available ac one and the same moment is con­ trary to tbe nature of war. Now in itself chis could furnish no ground for relaxing the intensity of our efforts for the first decision, because an unfa­ vorable issue is always a disadvantage to which no one will purposely ex­ pose himself, because even if the first decision is followed by others, the more decisive it has been, the greater will be its influence upon them. But the possibility of a subsequent decis.ion is something in which man’s shrinking from excessive effort causes him to seek refuge, and thus for the first decision his resources are not concentrated and strained co che same degree as they would otherwise have been. What either of the two oppo­ nents omits from weakness becomes for che other a real, objective ground for relaxing his own efforts, and thus, through this reciprocal action, the trend to the extreme is once more reduced to a limited measure of effort.


Lastly, the final decision of a whole war is not always to be regarded as an absolute one. The defeated srace often sees in it only a transitory evil, for which a remedy can yet be found in the political circumstances of a later day. How greatly this also must modify the violence of the strain and the intensity of the effort is obvious.

II I .. ,.


011 11·,1,



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In this way the whole field of war ceases to be subject to the strict law of forces pushed to the extreme. If the extreme is no longer shunned and no longer sought, it is left to the judgment to determine the limits of effort, and this can only be done by deduction according to th�__p� from the data supplied by the phenomena of the real world. If the two ad­ versaries are no longer mere abstractions but individual states and gov­ ernments, if the course of events is no longer theoretical but one that is determined according co its own laws, then the actual situation supplies th:_�_!!.ra�scerraining what is to be exe_ecced, the unknown chat has to be discovered.

From the character, the institutions, the situation and the circum­ stances of the adversary, each side will draw its conclusions, in accordance with the laws of probability, as to what the action of the other will be and determine its own accordingly.


At this point a subject, which in Section 2 we had dismissed, now once more insists on claiming our consideration: namely, the politicnl object of the war. The law of the extreme, the intention of disarming the enemy and overthrowing him, had up co now, so to speak, more or less swallowed it ,, up. As th.is law loses its force, and this intention falls short of its aim, the I ‘ r political object of the war once more comes to the front. If all we have to (i-• h ,1.,-� consider is a calculation of{pro_2.abi�•starting from defin.ite persons .J; and circumstances, the political object as the original motive must be an •e , essential factor in this process. The smaller the sacrifice we demand from 1 , 1- our adversary, the slighter we may expect his efforts to be to refuse it co us. ),. The slighter, however, his effort, the smaller need our own be. Further- more, the less important our political object, the less will be the value we attach to it and the readier we shall be to abandon it. For chis reason also our own efforts will be the slighter.

Thus the political object as the original motive of the war wiB be the standard alike for the aim to be attained by military action and for the ef­ forts required for this purpose. Jc cannot be in itself an absolute standard,

272 • Karl von Clau;ewitz

but, as we are dealing with real things and nor with mere ideas, it will bt· the standard relative to the two contending states. One and the same po lirical object can in different nations, and even in one and the same nation at different rimes, produce different reactions. We can therefore allow the political object to serve as a standard only in so far as we bear in mind it� influence on the masses which it is to affect. So the character of these masses must be considered. It is easy to see that the result may be quire different, according as the action is strengthened or weakened by the feel ing of the masses. In two nations and states such tensions, and such a mass of hostile feelings, may exist that a motive for war, very trifling in itself, still can produce a wholly disproportionate effe�t-a positive explosion.

This holds good for the efforrs which the political object can call forth in the two states, and for the aim it can assign to military action. Some rimes it can itself become this aim, for example, if it is the conquest of a certain provi.nce. Sometimes the political object will not itself be suited to

( provide the aim for military action, and in such cases one must be chosen

‘- of such a kind as will serve as an equivalent for it and can take its place in ,’, –…….{he conclusion of peace. But in this case also due consideration for the

y..-‘ 1 r character of the states concerned is always presupposed. There are cir-

� 1 cumscances in which the equivalent must be much more considerable than the political object, if the latter is to be attained by it. The greater the in-

.,J, I difference of the masses and the less serious the tensions that on other / grounds also exist in the two states and their relations, the more dominant

as a standard, and decisive in itself, will the political object be. There are cases in which it is, almost by itself, the deciding factor.


Now if the aim of the military action is an equivalent for the politi.cal object, that action will in general diminish as the political object dimin­ ishes. The more this object comes to the front, the more will this be so. This explains how, without self-contradiction, there can be wars of all de­ grees of impo�d…en�g

r , from a war of extermination down co a

mere stan;:..of 1’rmed observation But this leads us to a question of another kiod,wl1ich we have still to analyze and answer.



However insignificant the political claims made on either side, however weak the means employed and however trifling the aim to which military action is directed, can this action ever for a moment be suspended? This is a question that goes deep into the essence of the matter.


The post We propose tO consider, first, the several elements of our subject, then .irs several parts or divisions, and, finally, the whole in its internal connecti on. appeared first on Versed Writers.


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