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Unformatted text preview: von Clausewitz formulated his first reflections on the nature
of war in a treaty of 1812 known in English as The Principles of War
which he wrote for the crown prince of Prussia, to whom he was a tutor.
As Bassford (1993) notes, this treatise was heavily influenced by another
great soldier and theoretician of warfare, the Swiss, Henri Jomini. The
mature version of Clausewitz’s views: On war (the original German version appeared in 1831, the first English translation in 1873), however, is
highly critical of the early writings of Jomini (Traite de grande tactique
of 1806). Ironically, Jomini, who also knew Clausewitz’s works, revised
much of his position in accord with Clausewitzian critique and published Chapter III 76 it as Precis de l’Art de la Guerre (1836, translated into English as The Art
of War, and published in 1854). Unfortunately, Clausewitz could not
comment on this work and retaliate against Jomini’s criticisms of his own
military thought, as he died in 1831.
What were then their observations on war?1 Clausewitz saw war as a
dynamic process, whose nature and understanding changes with each change
of policy and according to the societies that fight these wars. He advocated
civilian control over the military. He believed that political objectives are the
main causes of war, but they may be enhanced by traditional stereotyping of
the opponent or historical aversion between two nations.
In an endeavour to define war Clausewitz starts with a simple
definition relating war to any use of force, as he writes: “War is nothing
but a duel on an extensive scale. (…) [it] is an act of violence to compel
our opponent to fulfil our will” (1873: Book I, Chapter 1, part 22). He develops the definition further, by adding the human factor, i.e. “Theory
must also take into account the human element; it must accord a place to
courage, to boldness, even to rashness. The art of war has to deal with living and moral forces…” (1873: Book I, Chapter 1, part 22). Moreover,
Clausewitz does not hesitate to include uncontrollable elements, such as
chance, into his theory of war and phrases it in the following way:
We see from the foregoing how much the objective nature of war makes it
a calculation of probabilities; now there is only one single element still
wanting to make it a game, and that element it certainly is not without: it
(1873, Book I, chapter 1, part 20).
We see therefore how from the commencement, the absolute, the mathematical as it is called, no where finds any sure basis in the calculations in
the art of war; and that from the outset there is a play of possibilities,
probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads about with all the coarse
and fine threads of its web, and makes war of all branches of human activity the most like a game of cards
(1873, Book I, Chapter 1, part 21). As we can see the WAR IS A GAME metaphor is by no means novel.
1 This discussion is based on Bassford (1993) and Clausewitz, Carl. 1873 On war.
Trans. by J.J. Graham. Now available from www.clausew...
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