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Welcome to all subscribers of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter!
We hope you will enjoy this newsletter, which focuses on articles and news concerning the great Prussian's legacy.
In March 1812, Carl von Clausewitz left Berlin, Marie, and the Prussian army. What forced him to this radical step was the decision made by the Prussian king to become a reluctant ally in Napoleon’s Russian campaign. Between two equally terrible decisions—either to support the French emperor with troops and provisions or see the Grande Armée marching through Prussia as a foe—Friedrich Wilhelm III chose the first. Clausewitz, together with forty-some officers, could not imagine fighting and perhaps dying for Napoleon. He left for Russia.
Yet just a year later, Clausewitz was marching back toward Berlin as a lieutenant colonel in the victorious Russian army. For Marie, although away from bloody battles, frozen lands, hunger and the typhus epidemic raging throughout the 1812 campaign, this too was a very difficult year. She had left Berlin to avoid Friedrich Wilhelm’s displeasure and the court’s hostility after Carl’s defection. Living in the provinces, first in Mecklenburg then in Bohemia, she depended on the kindness and charity of her friends and family. Marie lived with very little money, in constant fear about the future and almost no news from Carl, for his letters from Russia came seldom and with a great delay. Yet in February 1813, when most residents of Berlin were fleeing the capital fearing that it would become a scene of bloody battle between the French and the Russian armies, she rushed to the city to meet her husband there. Finally, at the begining of March, the French garrison left without a fight. After almost a year's, separation Marie and Carl finally met in Berlin.
In this ssue of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter:
What we found interesting
In his new article Antulio J. Echevarria II takes a deep look into Clausewitz’s metaphor of war as a “not only a true chameleon because it alters its nature (Natur) somewhat in each concrete case, but rather it is also ... a wondrous trinity....” (Link)
Here is one excerpt: “Clausewitz seems to be saying war does not necessarily change only on its surface; it can also undergo major transformations—on the scale of the French Revolution, for instance—with respect to the relationship between its internal organs, the overarching institutions mentioned above. By extension, we must see war’s outward changes as either superficial, as they are in many cases, or as resulting from major shifts that might bring about new forms of government, new social institutions, and new military structures. When the latter happens, we may conclude that war’s entire nature, not just its character, has changed.“
Clausewitz’s concept of war’s enduring nature versus its changing character is one of his best known and often quoted. Yet how many of us have dwelt on the question what exactly ‘character of war’ means? Benjamin M. Jensen, from the Marine Corps University and the American University’s School of International Service, has written an eloquent article on the subject (Link). As Dr. Jensen writes, this is the first of a year-long series of texts that will survey emergent patterns and trends in political violence, strategic competition, and military innovation.
Again in War on The Rocks, and again using the concept of enduring nature vs. changing character, Mick Ryan, an Austrian Army officer, argues that “like war, the profession of arms reflects this duality. It is a profession that is constantly evolving as society and technology changes, while also being underpinned by enduring features” (Link). We award bonus points for the short but comprehensive overview of Gerhard von Scharnhorst’s crucial role in shaping the military profession as we know it today. (Scharnhorst, as Clausewitz famously wrote, was “the father and friend of my spirit”)
In their attempt to understand conflict, soldiers and law enforcement personnel typically grasp the minimalist understanding of “Bad Guys do Bad Things,” writes D. Stiegman in his article ‘Deconstructing Society: Clausewitz vs. Machiavelli,’ “There have been many conversations about insurgencies and the way that asymmetrical and hybrid warfare have a role in it [sic]; but where the construct of these types of conflict stemmed from is a much older problem set: Understanding society and how it relates to war and instability.” (Link)
This is a curious read but we still have to point out the error in it. Like many others before him, Stiegman cites Clausewitz’s trinity as people/military/government, while the correct short-hand is actually passion/chance/reason: Clausewitz is getting at the dynamic interaction of forces inherent in human nature, not building cloud-castles on some static conception of social organization. As Clausewitz clarifies further in On War, each of these sets of actors is somewhat "mainly" associated with one of the elements of the actual trinity, but the relationship is far more complex than a one-to-one match-up. For those of you who haven’t read it, we recommend once more Chris Bassford’s seminal article on the subject “Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity” (Link). Perhaps the most illuminating passage to dwell on is this:
“We stress the word "mainly" [elsewhere, Bassford argues that Clausewitz's word here, mehr, is more correctly translated as "more"] because it is clear that each of the three categories that constitute the actual trinity affects all of these human actors to some quite variable extent. The army's officers and men and the political leaders are also, to varying degrees in different societies, members of 'the people.' In democratic societies, at least, the people are expected to play a role in rational decision making, whereas political leaders are as often driven by personal needs as by rational calculation of their societies' practical requirements. Events on the army's battlefields have a tremendous influence both on the people and on the political leadership, while popular and political factors, in turn, affect the army's performance.”
Apart from this, we do agree with Stiegman’s main argument, namely that “the origins of why people choose certain behavior or make specific decisions, is the most important element of that warfighter’s toolbox.”
We would like to recommend to you not one but two episodes of The Dead Prussian Podcast. The first one is a conversation with Dr. Bleddyn Bowen about how Clausewitz’s theories relate to war in space and why passion/chance/reason still apply to actions taken to destroy or interfere with enemy space systems (Link).
The second episode is with Dr. Kori Schake, from Hoover institution. Together with Jim Mattis (yes, that Mattis), she co-edited Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military (2016). Dr. Schake discusses civil-military relations in the United States and why they do matter in the way war is conducted. Plus, you might want to check out the book Warriors and Citizens itself (Link). The Great Prussian is widely quoted there....
We absolutely love the many references to Clausewitz and On War in the mainstream media in connection with the appointment of Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. We only wish journalists and experts would go one step further than simply citing the political character of war. More analysis please—this is an important and complex idea but when packed as a short sentence between two biographical paragraphs, it’s easy for the broader public to miss it. Here is a link to Peter Bergen’s article for CNN (Link).
P.S. If you have an interesting article in mind, please send us a link, plus a short description if it is written in a language other than English, German, Russian, or Bulgarian. (Vanya's French works only for 1-2 page article.)
Please send us anything else you find relevant, interesting, and newsworthy to include in our next issue.
Until April, Happy Reading!
With warmest regards,