Matt Domsalla

SAASS 600/1, 5, 6, & 7

On War Precis

In the 10 July 1827 “Notice,” Clausewitz described the first six books as “a rather formless mass that must be thoroughly revised again.”

In On War (Book I), Clausewitz explores the nature of war, purpose and means in war, military genius, danger in war, physical effort in war, intelligence in war, and friction in war. War is an act of force to compel the enemy to do your will. The political objective is the goal, and war is the means to achieve it. Therefore, the means cannot be considered in isolation from the purpose. The destruction of the enemy’s armed forces appears to be the highest aim in war. Military genius consists of all those gifts of mind and temperament that in combination bear on military activity. Danger is part of the friction of war. Physical effort is the most important factor that cannot be measured in war. Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain. Friction is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.

In On War (Book VI, Defense), Clausewitz addresses defense, which he argues is the stronger form of war. Clausewitz asserts awaiting the enemy’s blow characterizes the defensive. The object of the defensive is to preserve (a negative object), so the defensive should only be used as long as weakness compels and should be abandoned once strong enough to pursue a positive object. A commander chooses the defensive because the inherent strengths offset the weaknesses of the commander’s army. The defensive is stronger because of the optimum lines of communication for the defender, while the attacker is extending his lines and expending strength during the attack. For Clausewitz, if the defensive were not the stronger form then there would never be any reason for resorting to it. The defensive is a temporary expedient while preparing an improved basis for attack. Contrary to many of his contemporaries, Clausewitz does not want the defensive posture to be despised. The defensive enables the use of militia. Additionally, allies may come to the aid of the country on the defensive because the rulers desire to maintain the status quo. (The experience of Poland is an exception to this example.) War takes its form and character from the defender’s denying the assailant possession of something that the latter would normally be content to have without war, thus the defender actually commits the first act to fit the concept of war. Waiting is a distinct principle of the defense. The benefits of waiting do not accrue without the actual or threatened action. Clausewitz sites four ways the defender can execute the defense. The first three are at the frontier. The fourth is a withdrawal to the interior of the country (1812). Clausewitz argues, in theory, the side on the tactical defensive is not inherently less likely to win a decisive victory than the side that initiates the attack. However, this situation rarely occurs because the defender is usually (1) markedly weaker than the attack, or (2) thinks he is markedly weaker. In “Retreat to the Interior of the Country” argues the attacker’s strength always diminishes as he advances, provided the retreat of the defender, which both invites and obliges that advance, can be sufficiently deep. This type of defense has two main drawbacks: (1) loss of territory to the invader and (2) psychological effects. Invasion of a large country requires not only numerical superiority over the defender but a large force in absolute numbers. Clausewitz proffers five situations under which a general uprising can be effective. The last four chapters deal with defense of a theater of operations. It is always more important to preserve one’s armed forces and to destroy the enemy’s than to hold on to territory.

In Book II Chapter 2, Clausewitz asserts that strategic studies prior to On War were unsatisfactory because the ideas were confining. He urges the reader to eschew doctrines that provide a manual for action. For Clausewitz, theory is a means to promoting insights by organizing experience in one’s mind. Clausewitz begins his theory of war by studying the relationship of means and ends, first in tactics and then in strategy. In Chapter 3, Clausewitz examines the question whether war is an art or a science. While he believes that war is more art than science, he also believes that it is neither. War is an exercise of will directed at an animate object that reacts. In Chapter 4, Clausewitz states that there are no formulas general enough to be laws in the theory of war, but principles and rules do apply, though more for tactics than to strategy. Routines are useful, particularly for junior officers. In Chapter 5, Clausewitz addresses the difficulty in determining cause and effect, which is necessary for criticism. For Clausewitz, criticism is worthless unless based on an accurate and comprehensive narrative of the events under study. The critic must avoid implying that he would have done better than the commander. Clausewitz asserts that the difference between Bonaparte’s disastrous failure in Moscow (1812) and his success at Austerlitz (1805), Friedland (1807), and Wagram (1809) was less a matter of varying strategies but more a result of the fact that in the earlier campaigns he had gauged his enemy correctly while in that of 1812 he had not. Clausewitz proves this by the outcomes. For Clausewitz, in war all action is aimed at probably rather than at certain success, and there are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom. Clausewitz points to three errors of critics: (1) see scientific guidelines as a truth machine, (2) overuse of jargon, technicalities, and metaphors, and (3) the misuse and abuse of historical examples. In Chapter 6, Clausewitz proposes to demonstrate the correct use of historical examples. Clausewitz states there are four different uses for historical examples: (1) to explain an ideal, (2) to show the appreciation of an idea, (3) prove the possibility of some phenomenon, or (4) to deduce a rule or doctrine. Clausewitz cautions authors to master the events they cite and recommends using recent examples rather than remote military history.

In On War (Book III, On Strategy in General), Clausewitz examines the meaning of strategy and military genius. Everything in strategy is simple, but not easy. The 1760 campaign of Frederick the Great was notable not for the King’s maneuvers but for pursuing a major objective with limited resources and for not trying to undertake something beyond his strength. The importance of taking a town is not its isolated advantage but the final balance. The two sources of military spirit are a series of victorious campaigns and frequent exertions of an army to the utmost limits of its strength. Boldness is desired in the lower ranks, but in the higher ranks boldness should be disciplined by reflection. A limit exists to which brilliance of leadership can compensate for inferiority in numbers. One should operate with the largest forces possible, and the forces available must be employed with such skill that even in the absence of absolute superiority, relative superiority is attained at the decisive point. Achieving surprise is desirable but it is more likely at the tactical level. On a strategic level, troops should not be kept in reserve because all available forces should be put in motion toward the strategic goal from the onset of the war. The only reason for a strategic reserve is when emergencies are conceivable. Economy of force strives for the effective use of force. The chapter on the geometrical factor is a reject of Buelow, who wanted to make strategy more scientific by discussing it in terms of geometry. For Clausewitz, this idea held some truth at the tactical level but not at the strategic level. The suspension of action in war has to do with fear and indecision associate with risk and the greater strength of the defensive.

In On War (Book VII, The Attack), Clausewitz addresses issues about the attack, much of which was covered or implied in the book on defense. Where counterattack is an inherent part of the defense, the offensive thrust is complete in itself. Clausewitz sees defense as an impending burden to the attack, “its original sin, its mortal disease.” While the defense can be implemented by elements other than the fighting forces (fortresses, terrain, allies), the offense must rely on its fighting forces alone. Destruction of the enemy’s forces is the means to the end. It is possible to (1) destroy only what is needed to achieve the object of the attack, (2) destroy as much as possible, (3) preserve one’s own fighting force as the dominant consideration, or (4) attempt destructive action only under favorable circumstances. In the offensive battle, the attacker is not aware of the enemy’s position, which makes it important to concentrate one’s forces, leading to an outflanking maneuver rather than envelopment. An army gains an advantage from knowing that it is on the offensive, but it is modest. In some instances, armies may accomplish a temporary seizure of territory or fortress for glory, honor, trophies, ambition, etc. Unless an offensive results in the defender’s collapse, there will be a “culminating point” at which the attacker is about to lose effective superiority. To push beyond this point without a good chance of an imminent favorable decision is dangerous. Napoleon’s disaster was not going beyond the “culminating point” but due to some basic miscalculations.

In On War (Book VIII, War Plans), Clausewitz returns to the crucial area “on which all other threads converge.” Theory is necessary to equip the mind, not with formulas, but to provide insight in the phenomena and their relationships. “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Clausewitz addresse why there is so great a gap between the pure concept of war and the concrete shape which war generally assumes. The more war approaches the absolute, the more the only outcome that matters is victory. Both sides, for a variety of reasons, do not exert themselves to the same degree. “The aims a belligerent adopts, and the resources he employs, must be governed by the particular characteristics of his own position; but they will also conform to the spirit of the age and to its general character. Finally, they must always be governed by the general conclusions to be drawn from the nature of war itself.” The state must consider in advance whether it can accomplish the defeat of the enemy. If circumstances rule out defeat of the enemy, then the state may seize a portion of the enemy’s territory and hold it, or attempt to hold on to one’s own until more favorable circumstances arise. A third option is when the future in not definite for either side, thus providing no grounds for a decision. Again, the military point of view must always be subordinated to the political. Clausewitz does enunciate two principles in chapter nine – act with the utmost concentration of aim and force and act with the utmost speed. This chapter provides the framework for the Schlieffen Plan. There is never only one reason for success or for failure, and good critical judgment must take account of the several imports reasons for each. Judging an event by its outcome is the most sound criterion.

Data: Clausewitz, Carl von. On War, Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University, 1976)

Author: Carl von Clausewitz, translated and edited by Michael Howard and Pater Paret. Clausewitz (1780 – 1831) was a Prussian military officer, who first saw combat as a twelve-year old in the 1793 campaign that drove the French out of the Rhineland. Clausewitz attended the military school in Berlin and graduated at the top of his class in 1804. He then became the adjutant to Prince August of Prussia. In 1805, he published a refutation of the theories of Dietrich von Buelow, who was the leading German interpreter of Napoleonic warfare. Clausewitz argued Buelow’s method was flawed, his view of war was unrealistic by ignoring the actions of the enemy and physical/psychological effects of battle, and the theory did not accommodate all elements pertaining to its subject. Clausewitz and Prince August lost the battle of Auerstedt in 1806 and were taken to France following the battle. Following his return to Prussia, Clausewitz joined Scharnhorst as a reformer of the Prussian military. Clausewitz was appointed to the faculty of the war college and became the military tutor to the crown prince in 1810. Clausewitz resigned his commission in 1811 when Napoleon forced Prussia to make its land available in preparation for the invasion of Russia and to contribute 20,000 troops to the Grande Armee. During the war of 1812, Clausewitz served as a colonel/advisor in the Russian army, which caused Prussian conservatives to hold him in suspicion upon his return. Clausewitz served as the chief of staff of Prussian forces in the Rhineland and became the director of the war college in 1818. He began writing On War in 1819. In 1830, he received a new assignment in the artillery inspectorate. With the threat of war due to the French Revolution and the Polish revolt against Russia, Prussia mobilized for war and made Clausewitz the chief of staff. He died during the cholera epidemic of 1831.

Context: Buelow was a late-Enlightenment theorist who strove to turn war into applied mathematics, while Clausewitz attempted to apply a realistic, methodologically rigorous approach to war. The French Revolution demonstrated that states must become more efficient in tapping the energies of their population. Following the defeat at Auerstedt, Clausewitz attributed the Prussian defeat to the policies and attitudes of the government, which had not used war as an instrument of foreign policy, but allowed itself to be isolated from prospective allies, and then gave its soldiers an impossible task. Clausewitz joined Scharnhorst, who was a significant influence on his thinking, in the Prussian military reform movement to help modernize the Prussian military from manpower policies, to weapons technology, and to the development of new operational and tactical doctrines. Clausewitz maintained an interest in the scientific analysis of war. Clausewitz believed theory needed to be comprehensive – able to accommodate all aspects of its subject, whether of the present or other times. Clausewitz thought Buelow and Jomini constructed definitive doctrines around thoughts and recognitions arrive at haphazardly, from ideas with limited, temporary validity.

Context from Paret’s article on Napoleon. In 1805, Napoleon changed his military objective, swinging forces from the Channel coast to Austria. Napoleon personified, and profited from, the unique fusion of social, political, and military elements brought about by the overthrow o the Old Regime in France. The most important innovation was the adoption of what approached universal conscription. Another important development was the breaking up of the formerly unitary army into permanent divisions and corps, combining infantry, cavalry, artillery, and support services. Also, the expansion of the staff and creation of subordinate staffs made the control of larger and more widely dispersed force possible. It was not so much what Napoleon did or tried to do in a campaign or battle that made the difference, as how he did it, and how he used battle as the focus and climax of the simple but far-reaching strategic schemes that the revolution in war enabled him to carry out. Napoleon always strove to be as strong for battle as possible. War was the central element of Napoleon’s foreign policy. The aim of Napoleonic strategy was to bring about the threat or reality of the decisive battle. Napoleon knew the value of initiative and strove to keep it. It was difficult for his adversaries to study his methods objectively because to adopt them meant changing one’s social and political system. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia reveals the misery of the unity of political and military command. For many soldiers, Napoleon is seen as the exponent o mass and mobility. Napoleon more accurately than others recognized the military potential of the changes taking place and brought them together into a system of unexcelled destructive power.

Scope: On War contains 128 chapters, grouped into eight books.

1. One the Nature of War – general characteristics of war in the social and political world along with elements always present

2. On the Theory of War – possibilities and limits of theory

3. On Strategy in General – force, time and space along with psychological elements, which make up the operative elements in war.

4. The Engagement – essential military activity, fighting.

5. Military Forces – elaboration

6. Defense – elaboration

7. The Attack – elaboration

8. War Plan – explores relationship between “absolute” war in theory and real war and analyzes the political character of war and the interaction of politics and strategy.

Evidence: The work is built upon the author’s experiences and historical studies.

Central Proposition: War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means. War can be of two kinds – to overthrow the enemy, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please; or to occupy land for annexation or for bargaining at peace negotiations.

Other Major Propositions: War is composed of three elements (trinity) – violence and passion; uncertainty, chance, and probability; and political purpose and effect. Friction (uncertainty, errors, accidents, technical difficulties, the unforeseen) is always present in war.


· Internal Consistency and Comprehensiveness – As a limitation, it excludes naval warfare and air warfare. The theory addresses guerrilla warfare but not when the resistance is worthwhile. defined, categorized, explain, connect, complete?

· External Validity – Two reasons why Clausewitz continues to be worth the most careful study: first, he was striving always to get to the fundamentals of each issue he examined, beginning with the fundamental nature of war itself; and second, he is virtually along in his accomplishment. His is not simply the greatest but the only truly great book on was. However, the work is dated, particularly by Clausewitz’s own standards. Furthermore, he is disinclined to provide formulas for action. Regarding the attack reaching the culminating point, today’s issues of supply, particularly fuel, may be more important that in the past. Clausewitz attributed pauses to fatigue rather than supply. Today, supply is the larger issue.

Comparison and Synthesis:

Importance: Clausewitz’s theories influenced Moltke’s thinking. Moltke’s role in the German wars of unification drew attention to Clausewitz’s work. Moltke and his disciples did not follow Clausewitz’s insistence that military means be subordinate to political ends. Count von Schlieffen wrote the commendatory introduction to the fifth edition of On War. His teachings about the defense being the stronger form were also ignored. Clausewitz was admired in the German army for turning strategic thought away from a mechanistic concern with geometrical relations “to man and man’s actions in the midst of all the uncertainties which are the proper element of war.” Clausewitz was also studied because of his emphasis on the preeminence of moral forces in war. The Germans emphasized the destruction of enemy forces in battle. The French seized on Clausewitz’s views on morale, about the battle, and about the offensive spirit. The American experience in Korea led to more study of Clausewitz in the US because of his teachings on the relationship between the civil and military powers in the conduct of a war and the conduct of a war for limited aims.

Personal Significance:


· “Instead of a complete theory [the present work] offers only material for one.” (61)


· “I regard the first six books…merely as a rather formless mass that must be thoroughly reworked once more.” (69)

· “War can be of two kinds, in the sense that either the objective is to overthrow the enemy – to render him politically helpless or militarily impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please; or merely to occupy some of his frontier-districts so that we can annex them or use them for bargaining at the peace negotiation.” (69)

· “War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means.” (69)

· “It is a very difficult task to construct a scientific theory for the art of war, and so many attempts have failed that most people say it is impossible, since it deals with matters that no permanent law can provide for.” (71)

Book I – On the Nature of War

What is War?

· “War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” (75)

· “War is…always the collision of two living forces… Thus I am not in control: he dictates to me as much as I dictate to him.” (77)

· “The principle of polarity is valid only in relation to one and the same object, in which positive and negative interests exactly cancel one another out.” (83)

· “Defense is a stronger form of fighting than attack.” (84)

· “The objective nature of war makes it a matter of assessing probabilities.” (85)

· “War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.” (87)

· “As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity – composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” (89)

Purpose and Means in War

· “Given certain conditions, different ways of reaching the objective are possible and that they are neither inconsistent, absurd, nor even mistaken.” (93

· “Of all the possible aims in war, the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces always appears as the highest.” (99)

On Military Genius

· “All those gifts of mind and temperament that in combination bear on military activity… constitute the essence of military genius.” (100)

· “Obstinacy is not an intellectual defect; it comes from reluctance to admit that one is wrong.” (108)

On Danger in War

· “Danger is part of the friction of war.” (114)

On Physical Effort in War

· “Among the many factors in war that cannot be measured, physical effort is the most important.” (115)

· “Like danger, [physical effort] is one of the great sources of friction in war.” (115)

Intelligence in War

· “Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain.” (145)

Friction in War

· “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.” (119)

· “Friction is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.” (121)

Concluding Observations on Book One

· “We have identified danger, physical exertion, intelligence, and friction as the elements that coalesce to form the atmosphere of war, and turn it into a medium that impedes activity.” (122)

Classifications of the Art of War

· “The art of war is the art of using the given means in combat; there is no better term for it than the conduct of war…. The art of war includes all activities that exist for the sake of war, such as the creation of the fighting forces, their raising, armament, equipment, and training.” (127)

· “Tactics teaches the use of armed forces in the engagement; strategy, the use of engagements for the object of the war.” (128)

Book II – On the Theory of War

Chapter Two – On the Theory of War

· “In war everything is uncertain, and calculations have to be made with variable quantities.” (136)

· “Anything that could not be reached by the meager wisdom of such one-sided points of view was held to be beyond scientific control: it lay in the realm of genius, which rises above all rules.” (136)

· “Theory becomes infinitely more difficult as soon as it touches the realm of moral values.” (136)

· “Military activity is never directed against material force alone; it is always aimed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be separated.” (137)

· “Essentially combat is an expression of hostile feelings.” (137)

· “In addition to his emotional qualities, the intellectual qualities of the commander are of major importance.” (139)

· Second attribute is positive reactions. Not concerned with the problem of calculating such reactions but rather “with the fact that the very nature of interaction is bound to make it unpredictable.” (139)

· Third attribute is the generally unreliability of all information. (140)

· “Theory will have fulfilled its main task when it is used to analyze the constituent elements of war, to distinguish precisely what at first sight seems fused, to explain in full the properties of the means employed and to show their probably effects, to define clearly the nature of the ends in view, and to illuminate all phases of warfare in a thorough critical inquiry. Theory then becomes a guide to anyone who wants to learn about war from books; it will light his way, ease his progress, train his judgment, and help him to avoid pitfalls.” (141)

· “The original means of strategy is victory – that is, tactical success; its ends, in the final analysis, are those objects which will lead directly to peace.” (143)

· “Strategy, in connecting these factors [terrain, time of day, weather], with the outcome of an engagement, confers a special significance on that outcome and thereby on the engagement: it assigns a particular aim to it.” (143)

· “Knowledge in war is very simple, being concerned with so few subjects, and only with their final results at that.” (146)

Chapter Three – Art of War or Science of War

· “War does not belong in the realm of arts and sciences; rather it is part of man’s social existence.” (149)

· “In war, the will is directed at an animate object that reacts.” (149)

Chapter Four – Method and Routine

· ”War consists of single, great decisive actions, each of which needs to be handled individually.” (153)

Chapter Five – Critical Analysis

· Intellectual activities involved in critical approach: (1) discovery and interpretation of equivocal facts, (2) tracking of effects back to their causes (critical analysis proper), and (3) investigation and evaluation of means employed. (156)

· “When theory has established that an enveloping attack leads to greater, if less certain, success, we have to ask whether the general who used this envelopment was primarily concerned with the magnitude of success. If so, he chose the right way to go about it. But if he used it in order to make more certain of success, basing his action not so much on individual circumstances as on the general nature of enveloping attacks, as has happened innumerable times, then he misunderstood the nature of the means he chose and committed an error.” (158)

· “War is not waged against an abstract enemy, but against a real one who must always be kept in mind.” (161)

· “A critic should therefore not check a great commander’s solution to a problem as if it were a sum in arithmetic. Rather, he must recognize with admiration the commander’s success, the smooth unfolding of events, the higher working of his genius. The essential interconnections that genius had divined, the critic has to reduce to factual knowledge.” (165)

· “In war…all action is aimed at probably rather than at certain success. The degree of certainty that is lacking must in every case be left to fate, chance, or whatever you like to call it.” (167)

· “The first common error is an awkward and quite impermissible use of certain narrow systems as formal bodies of laws…A far more serious menace is the retinue of jargon, technicalities, and metaphors that attends these systems…Critics have yet a third failing: showing off their erudition, and the misuse of historical examples.” (168 – 169)

Chapter Six – On Historical Examples

· “Historical examples clarify everything and also provide the best kind of proof in the empirical sciences. This is particularly true of the art of war…Historical examples are, however, seldom used to such good effect.” (170)

· Uses of historical examples: (1) explanation, (2) show the application of an idea, (3) support a statement, and (4) deduce doctrine. (171)

· “Another disadvantage of merely touching on historical events lies in the fact that some readers do not know enough about them, or do not remember them well enough to grasp what the author has in mind.” (173)

· “Examples should be drawn from modern military history, insofar as it is properly known and evaluated.” (173)

Book III – On Strategy in General


· “Strategy is the use of an engagement for the purpose of the war.” (177)

· “Strategic theory deals with planning; or rather, it attempts to shed light on the components of war and their interrelationships, stressing those few principles or rules that can be demonstrated.” (177)

· “Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean that everything is very easy.” (178)

· “What is really admirable is the King’s wisdom: pursuing a major objective with limited resources, he did not try to undertake anything beyond his strength, but always just enough to get him what he wanted.” (179)

Elements of Strategy

· “The strategic elements... moral, physical, mathematical, geographical, and statistical.” (183)

Moral Factors

· “[Moral elements] constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole, and at an early stage they establish a close affinity with the will that moves and leads the whole mass of force, practically merging with it, since the will is itself a moral quantity.” (184)

Principal Moral Elements

· “They are: the skill of the commander, the experience and courage of the troops, and their patriot spirit.” (186)

Military Virtues of the Army

· “There are only two sources for this [military] spirit…The first is a series of victories in wars; the second, frequent exertions of the army to the utmost limits of its strength.” (189)


· “Boldness governed by superior intellect is the mark of a hero.” (192)


· “In war more than anywhere else things do not turn out as we expect.” (193)

Superiority of Numbers

· “The first rule should be: put the largest possible army into the field.” (195)

· “The forces available must be employed with such skill that even in the absence of absolute superiority, relative superiority is attained at the decisive point.” (196)


· “It would be a mistake, therefore, to regard surprise as a key element of success in war.” (198)


· “The strategist’s chessmen do not have the kind of mobility that is essential for stratagem and cunning.” (203)

Concentration of Forces in Space

· “There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated.” (204)

Unification of Forces in Time

· “We can never use too great a force, and all available force must be used simultaneously.” (207)

· “The rule that we have tried to develop is this: all forces intended and available for a strategic purpose should be applied simultaneously; their employment will be the more effective the more everything can be concentrated a single action at a single moment.” (209)

Strategic Reserve

· “There can be such a thing as a strategic reserve, but only when emergencies are conceivable.” (210)

Economy of Force

· “[If forces are idle] they are being wasted, which is even worse than using them inappropriately.” (213)

The Geometrical Factor

· “In strategy, therefore, the effect of such combinations, that is of the geometric pattern, is much smaller.” (215)

The Suspension of Action in War

· “Three determinants that function as inherent counterweights and prevent the clockwork from running down rapidly or without interruption”: fear and indecision native to the human mind, imperfection of human perception and judgment, which is more pronounced in war than anywhere else, and greater strength of defensive. (217)

Character of Contemporary Warfare

· “Wars waged by both sides to the full extent of their national strength must be conducted on different principles from wars in which policy was based on the comparative size of the regular armies.” (220)

Tension and Rest

· “The state of crisis is the real war; the equilibrium is nothing but its reflex.” (222)

Book VI – Defense

Attack and Defense

· The concept of defense is the parrying of a blow and its characteristic is awaiting the blow. (357)

· “The defensive form of war is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well-directed blows.” (357)

· “Defense is easier than attack.” (357)

· “The defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive.” (358)

· “If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that is should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object.” (358)

The Relationship between Attack and Defense in Tactics

· “Only three things seem to us to produce decisive advantages: surprise, the benefit of terrain, and concentric attack.” (360)

· “The attacker is favored by only a small part of the first and third factors while their larger part, and the second factor exclusively, are available to the defender.” (360)

The Relationship between Attack and Defense in Strategy

· Main factors in strategic effectiveness: advantage of terrain; surprise; concentric attack; strengthening the theater of operations by fortresses; popular support; and the exploitation of moral factors. (363)

· “If all elements of defense that occur during an offensive are weakened by the very fact that they are part of the offensive, then we must regard this as another general liability pertaining to it…this is the greatest disadvantage of all offensive action. Hence when a strategic attack is being planned one should from the start give very close attention to this point – namely, the defensive that will follow.” (365)

Convergence of Attack and Divergence of Defense

· “Forces operating on convergent lines direct their effectiveness toward a common destination, while divergent lines do not.” (368)

Character of Strategic Defense

· “[Defense is] simply the more effective form of war: a means to win a victory that enables one to take the offensive after superiority has been gained; that is, to proceed to the active object of the war.” (370)

· “It is the weak, those likely to need defense, who should always be armed in order not to be overwhelmed. Thus decrees the art of war.” (370)

Scope of the Means of Defense

· Other resources available to the defender – militia, fortresses, the people, people in arms, allies. (373)

· “The sum total of relations between states thus serves to maintain the stability of the while rather than to promote change; at least, that tendency will generally be present.” (373)

· “As a rule the defender can count on outside assistance more than can the attacker and the more his survival matters to the rest – that is, the sounder and more vigorous his political and military condition – the more certain he can be of their help.” (376)

Interaction between Attack and Defense

· “It is this in the nature of the case that the side that first introduces the element of war, whose point of view brings two parties into existence, is also the side that established the initial laws of war. That side is the defense.” (377)

Types of Resistance

· “Defense is thus composed of two distinct parts, waiting and acting… it will alternate between these two conditions, so that waiting may run like a continuous thread through the whole period of defense.” (379)

· “Defense will be able to reap the benefits of the stronger form of war only if it is willing to be satisfied with this more modest goal.” (380)

· Ways to defend – attack the enemy the moment he invades; take up position near the frontier, wait until the enemy appears and is about to attack, and then attack him first; wait for the actual attack; or withdraw to the interior. (381)

· “In a strategic attack, every advance reduces the attacker’s strength, partly as an absolute loss and partly because of the division of forces which becomes necessary.” (381)

· “In the first three stages of defense the very lack of a decision constitutes a success for the defense.” (383)

· “The real reason [for the defender being successful in many cases] is the faintness of the attacker’s determination, which makes him hesitate and fear to move.” (387)

The Defensive Battle

· “In an offensive battle the attacker does the turning and then converges on the center, while in a defensive battle the movement is more likely to fan out from the center toward the periphery.” (391)

· “If the attacker can use the convergent form, which is natural for him, to enhance his victory, the defender has in the divergent for, which is natural for him, a means of making his victory more effective than it would be in the simple case of parallel positions and vertical operations.” (392)

Retreat to the Interior of the Country

· “A voluntary withdrawal to the interior of the country is a special form of indirect resistance – a form that destroys the enemy not so much by the sword as by his own exertions.” (469)

· “When the distances involved are long, and the strength of the belligerents not too unequal, a relative state of forces will result that offers the defender far greater prospects of success than a decisive battle on the frontier.” (470)

· “The great advantages of this method of defense are counterbalanced by two drawbacks. The first consists of the losses the country suffers as a consequence of the enemy invasion; the second is the moral impact.” (470)

· “These consequences of retreat should not be underrated.” (471)

· “Every case must be decided on its own merits in the light of all the circumstances.” (475)

· “The only purpose that justifies a retreat along divergent lines is one in which it serves to protect provinces that would otherwise be occupied by the enemy.” (476)

The People in Arms

· “A popular uprising should be considered as an outgrowth of the way in which the conventional barriers have been swept away in our lifetime by the elemental violence of war.” (479)

· “A general uprising… should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners.” (481)

· ”Insurgent actions are similar in character to all others fought by second-rate troops: they start out full of vigor and enthusiasm, but there is little level-headedness and tenacity in the long run.” (482)

· “A government must never assume that its country’s fate, its whole existence, hangs on the outcome of a single battle, no matter how decisive.” (483)

Defense of a Theater of Operations

· “The possession of territory will become an end in itself only where those means are not enough in themselves.” (485)

· “A center of gravity is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely.” (485)

· “A theater of war, be it large or small, and the forces stationed there, no matter what their size, represent the sort of unity in which a single center of gravity can be identified. That is the place where the decision should be reached; a victory at that point is in its fullest sense identical with the defense of the theater of operations.” (487)

Defense of a Theater of Operations – Continued

· “A great majority of wars and campaigns are more a state of observation than a struggle of life and death.” (488)

· “Any partial use of force not directed toward an objective that either cannot be attained by the victory itself or that does not bring about the victory should be condemned.” (489)

· “Operating against the enemy’s line of communication presupposes the superiority of our own line of communication, which, indeed, is one of the basic elements of a good defensive position.” (491)

· “Sound preparation, composure, confidence, unity, and simplicity will mark his conduct of the action.” (493)

Defense of a Theater of Operations – Continued

· “[In the utilization of a theater of war, as in everything else, strategy calls for economy of strength.” (500)

Defense of a Theater of Operations – Concluded

· “History records numerous cases that do not lack for an aggressor pronounced enough to be relentlessly pursued until it leads to the inevitable decision.” (501)

· “Because of the limits of human insight, the dread that things might go wrong, and accidents that change the course of action, many possible options are never chosen, even thought circumstances would have favored them.” (502)

· “A general cannot always count on his corps commanders all having the sense and good intentions, courage and strength of character that would ideally be desirable.” (510)

· “The more the attacker relinquishes his active advance, the less the defender feels threatened and the less he is narrowly confined to resistance by the urgent need for safety, the more the situation will balance out on both sides. The activity of each will be aimed at gaining an advantage from the other, while avoiding any disadvantage to himself. This is a phase of true strategic maneuver, and is certainly more or less characteristic of all campaigns where a major decision is precluded by political motives or the general state of affairs.” (513)

Book VII – The Attack

Attack in Relation to Defense

· “Every method of defense leads to a method of attack, but this is often so obvious that we do not need to discuss both in order to perceive it: one follows automatically from the other.” (523)

Nature of Strategic Attack

· “One cannot think of the defense without that necessary component of the concept, the counterattack. This does not apply to the attack. The offensive thrust or action is complete in itself.” (524)

Object of Strategic Attack

· “In war, the subjugation of the enemy is the end, and the destruction of his fighting forces the means.” (526)

· “The object of strategic attack, therefore, may be thought of in numerous gradations, from the conquest of a whole country to that of an insignificant hamlet.” (526)

Diminishing Force of Attack

· Overall strength is depleted: (1) object is to occupy the enemy’s country, (2) need to occupy the area in their rear, (3) losses, (4) distance from source of replacements, (5) sieges, (6) relaxation of effort, and (7) defection of allies. (527)

Culminating Point of the Attack

· “If the superior strength of the attack – which diminishes day by day – leads to peace, the object will have been attained. There are strategic attacks that have led directly to peace, but these are the minority. Most of them only lead up to the point where their remaining strength is just enough to maintain a defensive and wait for peace. Beyond that point the scale turns and the reaction follows with a force that is usually much stronger than that of the original attack. This is what we mean by the culminating point of the attack.” (528)

Destruction of the Enemy’s Forces

· “Destruction of the enemy’s forces is the means to the end.” (529)

· Different points of view that are possible: (1) destroy only what is needed to achieve the objective, (2) destroy as much as possible, (3) preservation of one’s own fighting forces as the dominant consideration, and (4) attempt destructive action only under favorable circumstances. (529)

The Offensive Battle

· “The main feature of an offensive battle is the outflanking or by-passing of the defender – that is, taking the initiative.” (530)

· “Just as the commander’s aim in a defensive battle is to postpone the decision as long as possible in order to gain time, the aim of the commander in an offensive battle is to expedite the decision.” (531)

Attack on a Theater of War: Seeking a Decision

· “The immediate object of an attack is victory… Prudence is the true spirit of defense, courage and confidence the true spirit of attack... Victory presupposes a clash of the two main forces… An attacker bent on a major decision has no reason whatever to divide his forces… attack also requires caution: the attacker himself has a rear and communications to protect.” (545 – 547)

Attack on a Theater of War: Not Seeking a Decision

· “One may still want to mount a strategic attack against a minor objective.” (548)

· Objectives of such an offensive may be: stretch of territory, depot, fortress, engagement for trophies or honor or ambition. (548 – 549)


· “Diversions can obviously be useful but this is not by any means invariably so. Sometimes they can actually do harm. The main requirement is that the enemy should withdraw more men from the main scene of operations than are used for the diversion.” (562)

Culminating Point of Victory

· “It is not possible in every war for the victor to overthrow his enemy completely.” (566)

· “The natural goal of all campaign plans, therefore, is the turning point at which attack becomes defense.” (570)

· “If one were to go beyond that point, it would not merely be a useless effort which could not add to success. It would in fact be a damaging one, which would lead to a reaction; and experience goes to show that such reactions usually have completely disproportionate effects.” (570)

· “It is thus defense itself that weakens the attack. Far from this being idle sophistry, we consider it to be the greatest disadvantage of the attack that one is eventually left in a most awkward defensive position.” (572)

· “When we realize that he must hit upon all this and much more by means of his discreet judgment, as a marksman hits a target, we must admit that such an accomplishment of the human mind is no small achievement. Thousands of wrong turns running in all directions tempt his perception; and if the range, confusion and complexity of the issues are not enough to overwhelm him, the dangers and responsibilities may.” (573)

· “That is why the great majority of generals will prefer to stop well short of their objective rather than risk approaching it too closely, and who those with high courage and an enterprising spirit will often overshoot it and so fail to attain their purpose. Only the man who can achieve great results with limited means has really hit the mark.” (573)

Book VIII – War Plans


· “Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and of their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action. There the mind can use its innate talent to capacity, combining them all so as to seize on what is right and true as though this were a single idea formed by their concentrated pressure – as though it were a response to the immediate challenge rather than a product of thought.” (578)

Absolute War

· “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The former is it political purpose; the later its operational objective.” (579)

Interdependence of the Elements of War

· “Theory, therefore, demands that at the outset of a war its character and scope should be determined on the basis of the political probabilities.” (584)

Scale of the Military Objective and of the Effort to be Made

· “The degree of force that must be used against the enemy depends on the scale of political demands on either side.” (585)

· “[With the French Revolution] The people became a participant in war; instead of governments and armies as heretofore, the full weight of the nation was thrown into the balance. The resources and efforts now available for use surpassed all conventional limits; nothing now impeded the vigor with which war could be waged, and consequently the opponents of France faced the utmost peril.” (592)

· “Once barriers – which in a sense consist only in man’s ignorance of what is possible – are torn down, they are not so easily set up again.” (593)

Closer Definition of the Military Objective: The Defeat of the Enemy

· “One must keep the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hum of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.” (596)

Closer Definition of the Military Objective: The Defeat of the Enemy

· “Seizing a small or larger piece of enemy territory, or holding one’s own until things take a better turn.” (601)

The Effect of the Political Aim on the Military Objective

· “At the highest level the art of war turns into policy – but a policy conducted by fighting battles rather than by sending diplomatic notes.” (607)

The Limited Aim: Offensive War

· “The question whether one should aim at such a conquest, then, turns on whether one can be sure of holding it or, if not, whether a temporary occupation will really be worth the cost of the operation and, especially, whether there is any risk of being strongly counter-attacked and thrown off balance.” (612)

The Limited Aim: Defensive War

· “The defensive is the more effective form of war, and because of this effectiveness, it can also be employed to execute a counteroffensive on whatever scale.” (613)

The Plan of a War Designed to Lead to the Total Defeat of the Enemy

· “The first principle is: act with the utmost concentration. The second principle is: act with the utmost speed.” (617)

· “It is advisable to operate offensively only in this main theater and to stay on the defensive elsewhere.” (623)

· “It is legitimate to judge an event by its outcome, for this is its soundest criterion.” (627)

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