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 Clausewitz's historiography, November is the saddest month. On the morning of 16 November 1831, the 51-year-old general and head of Prussia's II Artillery Inspectorate followed his usual routine: he sat writing in his wife Marie's salon, the sunniest and most beautiful room in their Breslau apartment. And, as had been their habit for over two decades, she herself kept him company, listening to his musings as he worked. Later that morning, the general felt under the weather, and Marie sent for the doctor. In the afternoon, the first symptoms of cholera appeared. Within a few short hours, the military theorist was dead.
This was a cruel and shocking death, for throughout the summer of 1831, as the chief of staff for Prussia's Army of Observation, Clausewitz had coordinated the operation to hold back the spread of the first European cholera epidemic, which terrorized Europe between 1831 and 1835. He had cared for and buried his closest friend and commanding officer, Prussian field marshal August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, but had come out physically unscathed from this terrible experience. Now in Breslau, a city relatively free of the disease, Clausewitz died in Marie's arms. Just weeks later, probably as a way to cope with her grief, she began arranging her beloved husband's remaining manuscripts for publishing. In a matter of months, in 1832, the first part of On War appeared.
In this issue of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter:
What we found interesting
Center of gravity is among the most famous—and most debated—Clausewitzian concepts. Now we have another round of discussions, kicked off by Dale Eikmeier's article "Let's Fix or Kill the Center of Gravity Concept" for Joint Force Quarterly (Link). The reactions, so far mostly in the social media, have been quite critical, best summarized by DeadCarl Clausewitz: "It is endlessly fascinating how we must intellectually lash down concepts with ropes of precise execution. The love of formula and sequence…. The agile thinker defeats the process slave every time."
If you haven't yet weighted on this debate or would like to add your two cents, just drop us a line!
Using Clausewitz's famous formula of war as continuation of politics by other means, Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at Carnegie Middle East Center, analyses the Assad regime's political and economic objectives in the ongoing conflict in Syria. The essay was originally published in the leading pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat, but here you can read it in English translation (Link). Writing from Beirut, Sayigh argues that once we start looking at the palpable objectives the regime pursues, the so-thick fog of war surrounding the Syrian conflict appears to lift.
Watch this video posted by The Institute of World Politics where Lt. Col Alexandre Vautravers, a member of the Swiss military and a senior strategic advisor in the Swiss government, lectures on the nature of modern warfare through a Clausewitzian prism (Link). This is a practitioner's view coming from an experienced soldier, well versed in military theory and history and now navigating the strategic level. From Sudan through Ukraine, Syria and the refugee crisis, to NATO's future, the UN's effectiveness, and what constitutes asymmetrical warfare, Col.Vautravers offers insight and engaging points of view.
As many times before, we would like to reiterate that we do not agree 100% with the opinions and ideas to which we link in this newsletter. Still, we find many of them interesting and thought-provoking, and surely broadeningof our understanding of the great Prussian's legacy, even if we often find ourselves indirectly arguing with the opinions we post.
What does Clausewitz have to do with the ongoing unrest in Kashmir? A lot, according to Shawn Snow. (Link)
Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) was a conservative German political theorist, most famous for his treatise The Concept of the Political. In a nutshell, to paraphrase Leo Strauss, Schmitt believes that humans are evil and need domination; the establishment of domination requires unity, which can be achieved only through separation from and enmity against other humans. For many scholars, Schmitt remains a contradictory figure—an exceptionally gifted intellectual, one of the most important critics of liberalism, who crossed the line in 1933 when he became a member of the Nazi Party and refused to repent afterwards. In our times Schmitt's idea that to be capable of decisive actions every government must embrace and employ some form of dictatorial means has been invoked in connection with the George W. Bush administration's controversial politics in the war on terror. Others see in Russian intellectuals' defense of Vladimir Putin's regime traces of Schmitt's conservative political theory.
For Schmitt, war had an existential function, for every political community must have a legally unrestricted right to wage war. In defense of this radical idea, he argued that the assumption that only one side has legitimate right to war, while the other not, actually leads to escalation and totalization of conflicts. If the other side is delegitimized and seen as utterly immoral, any means, no matter how brutal and immoral, can be applied against it. In a recent article for the journal History of European Ideas, Timo Pankakoski studies the political theorist's often inconsistent and conflicting relationship with Carl von Clausewitz's ideas. (Link, Paywall). Pankakoski argues that "Schmitt's view can be read as a radicalized version of the Clausewitzian political theory of war rather than a strict deviation from it." It is an interesting and provocative line of thought, and as usual with everything that has to do with Schmitt, not so easy to swallow.
A year ago The Strategy Bridge started its popular series #MondayMusings, in which authors, soldiers, and scholars shared experiences and ideas that have shaped their strategic thinking. Now the online publication has gathered all discussed works in #MondayMusings Book List, the ultimate collection for every emerging strategist. (Link)
It is almost impossible to talk about Clausewitz without mentioning Napoleon. For the broader public, however, what actually made the French Emperor such an effective commander remains a rather elusive issue. The British blog War History Online offers a short and accessible post about Napoleon as a military innovator. (Link) This text might provide insight to those of you reading Clausewitz's battlefield studies, in which long-forgotten terms like chasseurs and fusiliers and the tactics those units used are often discussed.
Old but Good
The debate surrounding Clausewitz's concept of 'center of gravity' has been raging for a long while, as ClausewitzStudies.org's extensive bibliography bears witness.
We would like to offer you links to some of these articles, many of which are already mentioned in Dale Eikmeier's article, for you should make up your own mind about the issues at hand:
• Antulio J. Echevarria, Clausewitz's Center of Gravity: It's Not What We Thought (Link)
• Also by Echevarria, Clausewitz's Center of Gravity: Changing Our Warfighting Doctrine—Again! (Link)
• And again by Echevarria, Clausewitz's Center of Gravity Legacy (Link, requires registration)
• Joseph L. Strange and Richard Iron, Center of Gravity: What Clausewitz Really Meant (Link)
• Rudolph M. Janiczek, A Concept at The Crossroads: Rethinking The Center Of Gravity (Link)
What in the World?
Who would have thought that Bob Dylan was a Clausewitz aficionado too? After the 75-year-old singer-songwriter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the Canadian Broadcasting Company CBC published on its side a list of his favorite authors. (Link) It compiles names Dylan has mentioned in interviews, songs and his memoir Chronicles. It includes Woody Guthrie, Jack Kerouac, Arthur Rimbaud, Allen Ginsberg and Leo Tolstoy. But then comes the really big surprise: Clausewitz's On War. As Dylan explains in Chronicles, he read it as a young man living in Greenwich Village and has developed "a morbid fascination with this stuff."
Random question: How long do you think it will take until we see a paper on Clausewitz's influence over Bob Dylan and the American folk music?
Bob, you can give us a call anytime. In particular, we would like to hear your thoughts on center of gravity.
The most peculiar—and creative—application of the great Prussian's legacy comes from a blog called Traughber Design. (Link) It studies Clausewitz's theory and its application when it comes to … woodworks and entrepreneurship: "Clausewitz says friction is like running in water. It's something that can be done very easily on land, but is not very easy in water…. After 27 years in the military, I have encountered friction many times, so there is no surprise at seeing some in my entrepreneurial ventures and woodworking; however, it is still frustrating to experience…. For example, the other day I was working a piece in cherry, which can change color depending on how much it's been exposed to sunlight… I had inadvertently sanded away too much of the face that had absorbed the sun so the color wasn't uniform any more. Clausewitz' friction had raised its ugly head because I was ready to press on with finishing, but had to stop and consider what to do…. After a good night's sleep, it was clear we needed to start over and resand…, then continue the finishing process. A calm, measured response is one way to respond to friction, and another is to just power through it, which Clausewitz addresses in some detail."
We are happy to see that all those long hours of professional military education (PME) are finally paying off for Traughber. Here is one more singular quote: "Another example of fog is starting a new business. When you are an entrepreneur, you are essentially jumping off a cliff into the unknown…. Every day you try to take steps to achieve that vision, but certain aspects don't work out and you need to pivot to where the promising opportunities are. Clausewitz said "Moreover, every war is rich in unique episodes. Each is an uncharted sea, full of trees. The commander may suspect the reefs' existence without every having seen them; now he has to steer past them in the dark." Likewise, an entrepreneur has to attempt to sense the business reefs approaching and steer away from them in the dark. One of the practical ways to do that is to identify risks and develop a mitigation strategy."
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.)
We are still looking for more volunteers! We are gathering a team of scholars well versed in both English and German who would like to collaborate on new translations of Clausewitz's works. Please let us know if you are interested and can volunteer your time and skills. Contact Vanya E. Bellinger or ClausewitzStudies.org.
Until December, Happy Reading!
With warmest regards,