The Clausewitz Homepage

INTERPRETING CLAUSEWITZ’S
MIRACULOUS TRINITY

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

A Study of the Essential Intellectual Content
and Didactic Purpose
of the Trinitarian Model

CDR David R. Gillie, USN
December 2009
Contact: DRGillie (at) hotmail (dot) com

Adapted from an Independent Research Project
completed April 2009
for the United States Naval War College
Professor Charles Chadbourn, Faculty Advisor


I. Introduction

Since the end of World War II and, particularly, since the end of the Vietnam War, the Prussian general, military historian, and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz has garnered increasing renown—initially, within the American Military Establishment, subsequently, in diverse circles around the rest of the world—as one of history’s greatest military thinkers. His magnum opus On War[1] is widely regarded as one of the most important books on the subject. Professor Bernard Brodie has called it the only truly great book to have been written on the subject.[2] His growing renown notwithstanding, the Prussian Preceptor’s effectual intellectual influence as yet lags his happily growing authority. Some of his foremost proponents rightly regret that he is still more widely cited than read,[3] and that some of his most central ideas are more widely read than understood.

This latter case applies most unfortunately to one of Clausewitz’s most brilliant formulations: his representation of War as a Miraculous Trinity.[4] This Trinitarian Model attempts to make comprehensible certain vital truths about the nature of War—truths central to much else that Clausewitz would teach us. The student of War who appropriately uses the Model as the prism through which to view and digest Clausewitzian doctrines, equally with the military practitioner who seeks deeper understanding of his art by examining his own experience of War through that prism, is richly rewarded by the Model’s explanatory fruitfulness. Naturally, just what the student or practitioner sees through the Model’s prism depends upon his understanding and application of the Model’s essential intellectual content. Regrettably, leading Clausewitzians in both the English and German-speaking worlds, together with the American Military Establishment’s graduate educational institutions, propound at least two distinct understandings of the Model’s intellectual content and correct application. The essay that follows will justify the reader’s patient attention to the extent that it contributes to clarity—perhaps even points the way to consensus—on this fundamentally important subject.

What has long been the received understanding of the Trinitarian Model’s conceptual content and didactic purpose is fairly represented in the United States Naval War College’s Strategy and Policy curriculum.[5] In this curriculum’s presentation, the Model consists of

three interrelated aspects of war: the people, the commander and his army, and
the government, (each representing respectively primordial violence, hatred and
passion...the play of chance and probability, courage, talent, and the character of the
commander and the army
, and the political aims expressed as a rational
calculation
. [Emphasis and color coding mine, DRG.][6]

Here the Model comprises three societal entities, each of which, in its participation in War, is paired with or wedded to one of three elemental principles of War.

In this presentation, it is Clausewitz’s instructive intent that the Trinitarian Model advise the statesman or commander to pursue a war strategy that “balance[s] the triangular relationship between the people, government, and army”[7] and/or that the Model indicate to him how best to maintain this elusive balance.

For at least a decade and a half, a quite different understanding of the Trinitarian Model and of Clausewitz’s intended use for it has insistently and persuasively challenged the hitherto dominant view. This understanding is principally associated with Professor Christopher Bassford.[8] I encountered this understanding for the first time while consulting with Professor Bassford on research that I was then conducting for another project. Professor Bassford’s abrupt challenge to my then unconsciously (rather than deliberately) adopted understanding of the Trinitarian Model went something like this:

You’ve got the Trinity all wrong. What do you think it is, people, army, government? That may be the Summersian[9] Trinity, but it’s not very Clausewitzian. Clausewitz’s Model consists of three elemental principles or tendencies: primordial violence, hate, and enmity; the interplay of chance and probabilities with creative genius, and the rational subordination of an instrument to higher policy. That’s it. The three incarnations: the people, the commander and his army, and the state or prince, are at most an after-thought of Clausewitz, nowhere developed further by him, nor (in all likelihood) intended for further development.[10]

The centrality of the Trinitarian Model to Clausewitz’s magnum opus, together with the clear and substantive divergence between the long predominant understanding of it and the more recent understanding propounded most saliently by Professor Bassford, makes a careful examination of the Model’s actual conceptual content and instructive intent a matter of fundamental importance. This paper undertakes such an examination and propounds a view of the Model that is a synthesis of the hitherto predominant understanding and the “Bassfordian” view.

II. Assumptions, Sources, Methodology, Limitations

In preparing this paper, I have proceeded on the basis of the following assumptions:

  • Considerable intellectual weight has accumulated over several decades behind the received understanding of the intellectual content and intended use of the Trinitarian Model.
  • Bassford’s manifestly extensive and close reading, thinking, and writing on all things Clausewitzian carry an authority that demands our earnest consideration of his understanding of the Model’s content and intended use.
  • The received understanding of the Trinitarian Model is starkly incompatible with the Bassfordian understanding.
  • By force of all this, one can no longer write responsibly on any subject bearing directly upon the Trinitarian Model without first forming deliberately one’s own view of the Model. Such a deliberately adopted view must directly address the specific questions
    • Whether the Model properly consists solely in the elemental principles of war, in the principles paired with their respective societal entities/personifications/manifestations, or in something else altogether, and
    • What Clausewitz intends the student or practitioner of War to do with the Model. 

I have relied primarily upon the following sources:

  • Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, 2002.
  • Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Internet HTML text.
  • Clausewitz, On War, Howard/Paret Translation, Everyman Edition, 1993.
  • Various English and German language histories and commentaries on Clausewitz and On War.

My method has been to closely read Clausewitz’s description and use of the Model in the original German text in search of evidence to support, first, the Bassfordian understanding, then the received understanding. Next I have consulted the treatments given to the Model at the graduate educational institutions of the American Military Establishment and in the writings of certain German and English-speaking Clausewitzians, in search of arguments and/or evidence to support, first, the Bassfordian, then the received, view.

I began my own examination with the recognition of inherent limitations confronting any effort of this kind. Having completed the examination, I am constrained to report up front that these limitations have proved even more telling than I had first imagined and to concede the necessary implications for my conclusions below.

While a close reading of the original German text is sufficient to make quite clear Clausewitz’s intended instructive use of the Trinitarian Model, and to discountenance an unfortunately prevalent misunderstanding of that intent, it may be impossible to arrive at the “correct” understanding of the Model’s conceptual content.

Why might this be the case? 

Because Clausewitz’s magnum opus is an unfinished work.[11] Clausewitz tells us that his work is incomplete. Granted, he tells us also that his first chapter of Book I is complete, and that precisely this finished portion—in which is found his most complete presentation of the Trinitarian Model—

“will perform the service for the whole [during a still future reworking of the whole work, DRG] to give the line, to which I will hew throughout.”[12]

We might feel justified in the assumption that, under the guidance of the key concepts apparently perfected in Book I, Chapter One, we can perform virtually, by our own mental effort, the reworking of the whole that Clausewitz did not live to conduct. However, in this assumption, we would likely deceive ourselves. Clausewitz is a “trained professional.” It is hardly an exaggeration to state that, in his field, he has no methodological equals. His method was neither purely deductive, nor purely inductive, neither all abstractly theoretical, nor all empirical, neither wholly linear, nor wholly alinear. Alone among the great Masters of War, he combined the fruits of condensed command and staff experience, obtained during a period of epochal wars for national survival or conquest, with an intensive study of theory, and with deep reading of history. His profound epistemological advantage over all his predecessors and successors lies, firstly, in the fact that he is so richly credentialed in all three approaches to knowledge, secondly, in his grasp of the utility and soundness of working and testing one approach against the others. In his foreword—itself a monument to the highest ethos of humble, earnest, responsible intellectual workmanship—he asserts that

“[t]he notion of scientific method consists not alone in a finished systematization.”

Rather,

The [author’s] claim to science lies in the effort to go after the Essence of War’s phenomena, to demonstrate their connection with the Nature of their component parts. Nowhere does [the author] evade philosophical consequence; however, where it runs out into too thin a strand, the author has preferred to break off the strand and to weave it afresh into the manifestations of Experience; for, just as many plants will bear fruit only if not allowed to shoot too long in the stalk, so, in all practical arts, the theoretical leaves and flowers must not be raised too high, but kept close to their own peculiar soil: Experience.[13]

It is probable that no one today is both willing and in a position to replicate Clausewitz’s remarkable intellectual method. This fact argues against our placing anything but cautious confidence in our ability to “do this at home” and get a “Clausewitzian” solution.

It is even conceivable that a completed On War would have surprised Clausewitz. In light of his multidimensional, multidirectional, reciprocal epistemology, it cannot be completely ruled out that his projected final reworking of the whole would have effected some further modification of his own understanding of the Model. In such a case, the modification might have taken either of at least two directions. Clausewitz might have decided to excise his references to the societal entities/personifications/manifestations: people; general and army; and prince or state, as these revealed themselves more clearly to be an inorganic conceptual superfluity, leaving us with a Miraculous Trinity consisting unambiguously of only three elemental principles of War. Or he might have further developed the connection that is apparent at the end of Book I, Chapter One, between elemental principles of War and correlative societal entities, identifying and developing further important implications for the connection.

III. Clausewitz’s Trinitarian Model: Toward a “Correct” Interpretation

First, A Thorough Reading of Clausewitz’s Primary Presentation of the Miraculous Trinity

Clausewitz’s first and pivotal presentation of the Miraculous Trinity occurs at the conclusion (Section 28) of Book I, Chapter One. It may be that previous commentators on the Trinitarian Model have erred in not quoting for their readers the five paragraphs of this Section in extenso. By doing so now, I hope to correctly orient the reader at the outset. This should make it possible with comparatively little effort to clear up the misapprehension of Clausewitz’s intended instructive use for the Trinitarian Model that seems to inhere in and reinforce the received understanding of the Model’s conceptual content, particularly (as will become clear below) as that understanding has been long and influentially propounded by Colonel Harry Summers.

Der Krieg ist also nicht nur ein wahres Chamäleon, weil er in jedem konkreten Falle seine Natur etwas ändert, sondern er ist auch seinen Gesamterscheinungen nach, in Beziehung auf die in ihm herrschenden Tendenzen eine wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit, zusammengesetzt aus der ursprünglichen Gewaltsamkeit seines Elementes, dem Haß und der Feindschaft, die wie ein blinder Naturtrieb anzusehen sind, aus dem Spiel der Wahrscheinlichkeiten und des Zufalls, die ihn zu einer freien Seelentätigkeit machen, und aus der untergeordneten Natur eines politischen Werkzeuges, wodurch er dem bloßen Verstande anheimfällt.

Die erste dieser drei Seiten ist mehr dem Volke, die zweite mehr dem Feldherrn und seinem Heer, die dritte mehr der Regierung zugewendet. Die Leidenschaften, welche im Kriege entbrennen sollen, müssen schon in den Völkern vorhanden sein; der Umfang, welchen das Spiel des Mutes und Talents im Reiche der Wahrscheinlichkeiten des Zufalls bekommen wird, hängt von der Eigentümlichkeit des Feldherrn und des Heeres ab, die politischen Zwecke aber gehören der Regierung allein an.

Diese drei Tendenzen, die als ebenso viele verschiedene Gesetzgebungen erscheinen, sind tief in der Natur des Gegenstandes gegründet und zugleich von veränderlicher Größe. Eine Theorie, welche eine derselben unberücksichtigt lassen oder zwischen ihnen ein willkürliches Verhältnis feststellen wollte, würde augenblicklich mit der Wirklichkeit in solchen Widerspruch geraten, daß sie dadurch allein schon wie vernichtet betrachtet werden müßte.

Die Aufgabe ist also, daß sich die Theorie zwischen diesen drei Tendenzen wie zwischen drei Anziehungspunkten schwebend erhalte.

Auf welchem Wege dieser schwierigen Aufgabe noch am ersten genügt werden könnte, wollen wir in dem Buche von der Theorie des Krieges untersuchen. In jedem Fall wird die hier geschehene Feststellung des Begriffs vom Kriege der erste Lichtstrahl, der für uns in den Fundamentalbau der Theorie fällt, der zuerst die großen Massen sondern und sie uns unterscheiden lassen wird.[14]
______________________________________________________________________________

War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. In the totality of its phenomena, with respect to its dominant tendencies, it is a miraculous 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.

The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government. The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of government alone.

These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.

Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets.

What lines might best be followed to achieve this difficult task will be explored in the book on the theory of war [Book Two]. At any rate, the preliminary concept of war which we have formulated casts a first ray of light on the basic structure of theory, and enables us to make an initial differentiation and identification of its major components.[15]

Instructive Intent, or What Clausewitz Intends Us To Do With The Trinitarian Model

The reader may think I’m putting the cart before the horse at this point. However, from the nature of the intellectual difficulties involved, it seems to me most economical to dispense right here with the received understanding’s misapprehension of Clausewitz’s instructive intent for the Model. I begin with a closer rendering of the German text in the penultimate paragraph of Book I, Chapter One, Section 28, than Howard and Paret provide.

The task for theory, then, is to float [wander/oscillate, DRG] freely in suspension between these three tendencies as between three points of attraction.

In the Howard/Paret translation above, the task at hand is our task. This rendering elicits the subconscious question in the reader’s mind who the unnamed we is to which our points. More often than not, the reader supplies his own answer to this question subconsciously, mistakenly supposing that our and its implicit we refer to some person charged with either the strategic projection, the employment, or the execution of War: a statesman or a commander.

If the reader is himself such a person, or studies his Clausewitz with the view of becoming such at some future point, he all too easily assumes that what Clausewitz intends should be done with this Model is directly connected to what he himself routinely does, or will someday do, by virtue of his vocation: project, employ, or execute war. From the perspective induced by this natural presupposition, and with the further assistance of Howard’s and Paret’s unfortunate rendering of “maintains a balance between these three tendencies” instead of the more accurate “float [wander/oscillate] freely in suspension between these three tendencies,” the reader easily, but mistakenly, supposes that Clausewitz’s instructive intent for the Model is that it should teach him (the reader) so to project, to employ, or to execute War as to preserve at all times the “correct” balance between the three elements of the Miraculous Trinity.[16]

In Clausewitz’s original German text, there is no room for such a confusion; the task under consideration is plainly the task of theory. More to the point, it is clear the nature of the task that Clausewitz assigns to theory is entirely descriptive, not prescriptive. His instructive intent for the Model is that it should enable him as theorist to develop a theory—and help his readers to grasp a theory—that describes what War is and why, not that it should directly indicate to War’s practitioner how he should project, employ, or execute War.

The task for theory, then, is to float (wander/oscillate) freely in suspension between these three tendencies as between three points of attraction.

These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.

…[T]he preliminary concept of war which we have formulated casts a first ray of light on the basic structure of theory, and enables us to make an initial differentiation and identification of its major components.[17]

Intellectual Content of the Trinitarian Model: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

What are we to understand conceptually under the Trinitarian Model? Is it merely a construct of three elemental principles of War? Or does it properly include also the societal entities that Clausewitz appears to pair with these principles in his Book I, Chapter One, Section 28, presentation of the Model? Is there a third alternative understanding?

Thesis: The Unwedded Trinity Interpretation

The Trinitarian Model consists entirely of the three elemental principles of War and their relationship to and mutual operation on each other. The discussion of correlative societal entities and what appears to be a pairing of them with their respective elemental principle mates in the first two paragraphs of Section 28, of Book I, Chapter One, are at most an undeveloped afterthought of Clausewitz not integrated into (and not intended by Clausewitz as essential to) his Trinitarian Model or his larger theories and doctrines of War.

This thesis, which, in a clumsy attempt at simplicity and clarity of reference, I have labeled the Unwedded Trinity interpretation, is propounded most consistently and effectively by Christopher Bassford. In probably the lead article to highlight the ground of controversy, published with then Capt (USA) Edward J. Villacres, Bassford stated the following:

The problem appears in Jablonsky’s discussion of “what Clausewitz had referred to as the ‘remarkable trinity’: the military, the government, and the people.” There is a serious discrepancy between this definition of the “remarkable trinity” and the definition given by Clausewitz himself in On War: Clausewitz defines the components of the trinity as (1) primordial violence, hatred and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war’s element of subordination to rational policy.[18]

Another sample of many available is Bassford’s explanation from a January 2003 paper intended
to be read by academic and military instructors in the doctrines of Clausewitz.

Clausewitz’s trinity comprises three specific elements. The identity of those elements is readily evident to anyone who actually reads the first paragraph of his description: It is “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....”[19]

There is no mention in either description (or in other similar Bassfordian descriptions) of the societal elements. Effectively, these remain outside discussion. By his exhortation that one simply read the first and pivotal paragraph of Section 28, Bassford dismantles at least the Summersian description of the hitherto received understanding, which, for reasons outlined below, sets itself up as somewhat of an easy straw man. He graciously lays some of the blame for what he sees as the confusion of the adherents of the received view on the Howard/Paret translation’s choice of the word mainly to represent the word mehr in Clausewitz’s second paragraph of the pivotal Section 28. In place of this unfortunate word choice, he prefers the literal translation more.

Bassford’s counsel that the student read the Trinity strictly as Clausewitz described it (not read anything else into it) remains pretty constant—and insistent—through a series of presentations and papers for a decade and a half of championing and elucidating Clausewitz. This consistent interpretation extends to a presentation that he delivered at a March 2005 Oxford University conference on Clausewitz in the Twenty-first Century.

That brings us to the list of actual elements in the Trinity. Their identity will be readily evident to anyone who actually reads the first paragraph of his description: It is composed of: 1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; 2) the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and 3) its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason.[20]

However, in a lengthier paper that would later grow out of Bassford’s Oxford presentation, Bassford opens the way (in my view) for a synthesis of interpretations by acknowledging the set of societal entities as a “secondary trinity,” though still not without adding an important caution.[21] I delineate and propound such a synthetic interpretation below.

Sir Michael Howard, editor and prime mover behind the Howard/Paret translation of Clausewitz’s magnum opus (through which a preponderance of today’s English- and even many German-speaking military, political, academic, and business students of Clausewitz have encountered On War), refers to the Trinitarian Model in his essay “The Influence of Clausewitz” straightforwardly as

the three elements of his [Clausewitz’ss, DRG] theory: the intrinsic violence of war; the dominant role of rational policy in shaping and controlling it; and the all-important dimension of chance.[22]

However, this apparently unambiguous vote in the direction of thesis (The Unwedded Trinity) is somewhat undermined in the final paragraph of the foreword that Howard penned for the recently published report of the above-mentioned Clausewitz conference at Oxford, in which the preeminent Clausewitz amanuensis refers blithely to Clausewitz’s “famous ‘trinity’ of government, military, and people.”[23] Has Howard been subconsciously imbibing Summers?

The official National War College syllabus and related graphic and textual explications of Clausewitz and On War, present the remarkable trinity as composed entirely

of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, of the play of chance and probability, and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy.

There is simply no mention in any of these presentations of the Trinitarian Model of societal entities, let alone of any connection that they might have with the elemental principles/tendencies of the Trinity.[24]

The primary textual evidence for the Unwedded Trinity thesis is found in the pivotal passages comprising Section 28 of Book I, Chapter One. As Bassfords points out, Clausewitz straightforwardly identifies the Trinity in the lead paragraph of Section 28 as consisting of three elemental principles. He identifies them again as these same three principles—this time aspects—in the second paragraph, and again—now tendencies or codes of law deep-rooted in their subject—in the third and fourth paragraphs. This is good, so far as it takes us. In reading the original text of On War in a frame of mind presupposing the thesis interpretation of the Trinitarian Model, I have identified passages that seem to bear out that interpretation (of a Trinitarian Model consisting exclusively of the three elemental principles). However, the limitations that I acknowledged at the outset as inherent in an attempt at hermeneutics on an unfinished work caution that such passages may, by themselves, be less than dispositive.

Antithesis: The Wedded Trinity Interpretation

The Trinitarian Model consists of the three elemental principles of war with (and linked individually to) their respective correlative societal entities, the relationship between the components of each elemental principle/societal entity pair, and the relationships and mutual operations that subsist between each pair and each other pair. To consider any of the three elemental principles in isolation from its respectively mated societal entity, or to consider all three in their relationships to and operation upon each other, without considering the relationship to each and to all three of the correlative societal entities is to consider only half a doctrine and to miss an essential part of the Trinitarian Model’s instructive value.

The interpreter most prominently associated in many Clausewitzians’ minds with the antithetic Wedded Trinity interpretation is the late Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. Unfortunately, Summers is not as convincing an exponent of this reading of the Trinitarian Model as he might be. For, if one encounters Colonel Summers’ book On Strategy for the first time with the benefit of having previously read Professor Bassford’s bracing correctives, one easily understands Bassford’s suggestion that my own all too easily-adopted original Wedded Trinity understanding was more “Summersian” than Clausewitzian, and why Bassford has been so ready and adept in skewering it. In Summers’ most directly relevant passage—his first reference to the Trinitarian Model in his own seminal book—the Colonel does more than assume a set of three logical pairings of elemental principle with societal entity (the essence of the Wedded Trinity understanding of the conceptual content of the Miraculous Trinity). In his description, rather than wedding each of the elemental principles of War to its presumptive societal mate, he replaces the elemental principles with the societal entities!

The task of the military theorist, Clausewitz said, is to develop a theory that maintains a balance among what he calls the trinity of war—the people, the government, and the Army. “These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another,” he says. “A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.”[25]

The problem with this passage, considered as evidence that Clausewitz intended the societal entities as essential to his Trinitarian Model, and intended, as well, to posit an essential and organic connection between each of the elemental principles of War and its presumptively paired societal entity, is that Summers’ passage proves too much. More correctly, it assumes too much, since it makes no attempt—either by direct reference to the text in Section 28 or elsewhere in On War or by logical argument—to prove what it merely assumes: namely, that the triad of societal entities—People, Army, State/Prince—is the Trinitarian Model, without any reference whatsoever to the elemental principles of War. In making this unsupportable assumption, Summers’ passage sets up the most vulnerable of straw men, which a lesser intellect than Professor Bassford’s is capable of dispatching after a moment’s attentive reading of the original text.[26] 

To grasp the degree of the assumption’s insupportability, consider that Colonel Summers launches his first reference to the Trinitarian Model by completely misquoting Clausewitz.  Clausewitz never calls the people, the government, and the Army the “trinity of war.” On the contrary, the introductory and defining passage reads thus:

War is thus not merely a true chameleon, since it varies its nature to some degree in every concrete instance, but, rather, considered in the totality of its manifestations, with reference to its immanent tendencies, a miraculous trinity, consisting of the primordial violence, hate and enmity of its element, which are to be viewed as a blind force of nature; of the interplay of probabilities with chance, which make it an activity of the free and creative spirit; and of the subordinate nature of a political instrument, in which nature it is subject to pure reason.[27]

Consider next that Colonel Summers doubly misstates the purpose that Clausewitz assigns to the theory on War’s nature, which his Trinitarian Model is meant to illustrate, and to the general theory of War that is the quest of his magnum opus.

First, as I have noted above, the Prussian’s desideratum is not an operational (prescriptive) theory of War at all, but a descriptive one. Indeed, from his first theoretical writings to and including On War, Clausewitz devotes many colorful and memorable passages to debunking the futile reductionism of most attempts at general “cook book” theories of war: most famously, those of Jomini and von Bülow.

Second, in urging an adequately descriptive theory of the nature of War, Clausewitz intones most earnestly, not that it should inhabit some fixed point between the three elemental principles that make War what it is, but, rather, that it should float freely between them, as the force of one or the other of these principles becomes stronger, and as the three principles operate and reciprocate against each other, in an infinitude of possible Real War scenarios, as well as in dynamic flux during the course of any particular conflict. The task that Clausewitz sets for theory is rather illumination of War, in all the dimensions and relations of its abstracted “Warness,” as well as of the apparent “Unwarness” of its concrete instantiations, and the physical, metaphysical, and moral factors that account for both war’s protean mutability and the place on the spectrum from “Warness” to “Unwarness” occupied by any given instantiation of war at any given moment. He intends this illumination to lead to understanding, to organize and reveal to the statesman or commander the experiential knowledge of war for which no theoretical speculation can substitute, and, in the most gifted statesmen and commanders, to lead to judgment and mastery of a human (not merely plastic) art form. As far as descriptive illumination goes, then, Clausewitz allows no fixing of a balance. Rather, he posits that a useful theory (one that describes the shifting nature of War) will “float” (schweben) suspended between the gravitational pulls exerted (in fluctuating relative force) by each of these three elemental principles.

Now, Colonel Summers is by no means alone in misreading Clausewitz’s intent for theory. Other eminences such as Professor Alan Beyerchen make the same error.[28] The misreading is nearly general with adherents of the Wedded Trinity interpretation. I believe it may contribute to their intellectual predisposition or susceptibility to the Wedded Trinity understanding.

Moreover, the misreading of intent is by no means unaccountable, since direct reading of a key passage in the Howard/Paret translation,[29] which is here unfortunately ambiguous, suggests just what Summers and adherents of the Wedded Trinity seem to describe: a theory that will tell us how successfully to wage war, at least at the grand strategic level, and central to whose prescription is the striking of a balance between three of war’s natural tendencies. To cite once more the relevant passage in the Howard/Paret translation:

Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnets.[30]

By a few substitutions, and as demonstrated in a previous section of this essay, a deliberately more careful translation yields something quite different:

The task then is that the theory [descriptive theory of war, not prescriptive theory of how to wage war, DRG] should float freely in suspension between these three tendencies, as between three points of [gravitational, DRG] attraction.[31]

Note that, from an apparent abundance of caution, Clausewitz specifically warns his readers against any attempt of theory to fix an arbitrary relationship between the “tendencies.” Not only are the three principles deeply rooted in the nature of War, but each is forever variable, so that not only the error of leaving any one of them out of consideration, but also the foolish attempt to “discover” an arbitrary relationship between them, would immediately shatter one’s theory upon the rocks of reality.

Eine Theorie, welche eine derselben unberücksichtigt lassen oder zwischen ihnen ein willkürliches Verhältnis feststellen wollte, würde augenblicklich mit der Wirklichkeit in solchen Widerspruch geraten, daß sie dadurch allein schon wie vernichtet betrachtet werden müßte.[32]

Finally, consider the grammar inherent in the meaning of the words tendency and aspect. Since Clausewitz calls each of the components of his Miraculous Trinity a tendency or (in one instance) an aspect (German Seite), and since neither the people, nor a commander with his army, nor a government, can logically be a tendency or an aspect, Summers and others should take notice of the error in laying claim to such extreme “straw man” ground.

As I intimated at the outset, the United States Naval War College propounds the antithesis or Wedded Trinity interpretation of the Model. The most recent draft syllabus and teaching material for Clausewitz from the former Strategy and Policy (now Strategy and War) curriculum states that Clausewitz’s Trinitarian Model

provides a useful tool in both formulating and reassessing strategic options.  The fragility of the relationship between each of the elements of the “Trinity”—according to Clausewitz, the people … characterized by primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; the military … characterized by the play of chance and probability, the character of the commander and the army, courage, talent within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and the government … characterized by the element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone—as it develops and evolves over time may limit or expand available strategic alternatives.[33]

Referring to both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, in a comparative analysis of their respective theories, the Naval War College curriculum explains that

They consider the nature of war to be a reflection of the dynamic relationship among the political authorities, the people, the military and the physical environment within which the conflict is taking place.[34]

As with the thesis, I find it difficult to establish the antithetic Wedded Trinity interpretation of Clausewitz’s Model on the basis alone of the text in Section 28 or in the balance of On War.

However, there certainly are passages—and, indeed, whole segments—of the book in which it is difficult not to see a natural connection between the elemental principles and the societal entities people, commander with his army, and government, and thus to see the societal entities as at least essential to the Trinitarian Model, if not also essentially wedded individually to their respective elemental principle mates. Such a segment is found in Book IV, Chapters Nine and Ten, in which Clausewitz describes the organic effect of a lost main battle as it passes from the spirit of the commander and his army, spreading disillusionment, then fear and panic, through the population, and giving rise to a reciprocation against the government and its (putatively) controlling policy objectives, now themselves at the mercy of war’s uncontrollable realities. First the inkling, then the certainty, of defeat works its way up and down the chain in the reports and orders that pass between senior and subordinate commanders.[35] Then the geometric collapse of confidence spreads to the coordinate societal entities:

The effect of all this outside the army—on the people and on the government—is a sudden collapse of the most anxious expectations, and  a complete crushing of self-confidence. This leaves a vacuum that is filled by a corrosively expanding fear which completes the paralysis.[36]

Certainly these and similar passages leave the impression that the secondary triad of societal entities is no haphazard afterthought devoid of organic connection to Clausewitz’s conception of the War’s three elemental principles.

Finally, however, as with the attempt to find evidence to sustain the Unwedded Trinity interpretation, attempts to demonstrate the correctness of the antithesis on the basis of text in Books Two through Eight are undercut by any challenger’s all-too supportable objection that one is reading too much into the text and, in virtually conducting Clausewitz’s thorough reworking for him, stepping beyond the bounds of responsible analysis/interpretation.

Synthesis: The Loosely Wedded Double Trinity Interpretation

The American Professor Alan D. Beyerchen, of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Ohio State University, whose essay on nonlinearity and unpredictability in war may be one of the most profoundly fruitful contributions to Clausewitz studies, conveys a synthetic understanding of the Trinitarian Model. For him the first and second paragraphs of Clausewitz’s problematic Section 28 are not problematic at all. The connection between elemental principles and their paired societal entities is self-evident, though the former are the components of the Trinity, the latter merely their respective probabilistic natural environments or domains. By probabilistic is meant that one societal entity naturally has more (at least presumptive) relation to a given elemental principle, but that no relationship is exclusive, and that the relative strength of each societal entity’s connection with each elemental principle is mutable.

In the last section of Chapter 1, Book One, he [Clausewitz, DRG] claims that war is “a remarkable trinity” [eine wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit] composed of (a) the blind, natural force of violence, hatred, and enmity among the people; (b) chance and probability, faced or generated by the commander and his army; and (c) war’s rational subordination to the policy of the government.[37]

Carsten Gissel invites, if he does not explicitly propound, a similar interpretation.

In every war the three elements of Violence, probability and chance and the subordination to a political purpose are present in varying proportions, but none can be completely absent. The war assumes a different form according to the degree in which one of these elements predominates.[38]

By Clausewitz’s observation (in the second paragraph of Section 28) that “[d]ie Gewalt liegt eher[39] beim Volk, das Spiel mit der Wahrscheinlichkeit und Zufall beim Feldherr und die Politik bei der Regierung,” Gissel understands that Clausewitz is assigning or relegating each of his elements to the respective societal entity, but as a matter only of probability, rather than of absolute necessity. [Emphasis mine, DRG]

The writing of Herfried Münkler supports a synthetic view very similar to this. He unambiguously identifies the Trinity as consisting of only the elemental principles or tendencies. Nevertheless, he recognizes the presence of the secondary set of three societal entities and considers Clausewitz’s apparent assignment of each principle as the province more of the people, the commander and his army, and the government, respectively, as both significant and explanatorily productive in describing the reciprocal relations between, among other things, the casus belli for one party to a war, that party’s political and military objectives, and the locus between the three elemental principles occupied by the nature of the particular war as likely to be experienced by that party in that case.[40]

In short, primordial violence, hate, enmity exists more naturally in the people, the realm of probabilities and chance, in which creative genius can work its artful mastery, is more naturally the province of the commander and his army, and the rational subordination of War to the attainment of political objectives is more naturally the province of the government. However, nothing is set in stone. According to the organic peculiarities of a given state as contending party; the salient historic, economic, environmental, and other factors at play (in the given war); the particular casus belli for each contending party, etc., the relative degree to which each societal entity experiences, generates, or takes the leading role in the domain of each of the elemental principles of War shifts from one war to the next, and even during the course of a particular conflict. This truth, with his development of its implications, is everywhere present in Clausewitz’s masterpiece, and forms one of his signal contributions to our understanding of War.

I believe a synthetic view, such as I have just outlined, is the correct understanding of the intellectual content that Clausewitz means to convey by his Trinitarian Model. The components of the Trinity proper are, indeed, the elemental principles of War. Like souls, however, they have meaning only as they inhabit bodies. The bodies in this case—the societal entities that Clausewitz lists in the second paragraph of the pivotal Section 28—are no mere accident. Moreover, it seems clear that Clausewitz intends these particular three groupings/definitions, since it is these that find consistent reference throughout the remaining books of On War. However, the assignment of a given element of War to the one or the other societal entity as more its proper province is rather a matter of probabilistics than of necessity. Of course, each societal entity shares somewhat in each of the elemental principles. Of course, the strength of connections between societal entity and elemental principle in each instance—as also the relative importance of each principle for one contending party at a given phase of a given war—is one-of-a-kind.

IV. Conclusion

Correctly apprehending the intellectual content which Carl von Clausewitz conveys in his genial description of the Miraculous Trinity of War, and correctly apprehending the didactic intent of his Trinitarian Model, is a prerequisite for the student or practitioner of War who would properly use the Model as a prism through which to view much of what the Prussian Preceptor would teach about War and through which to examine the student’s or practitioner’s own experience of War, either in libraries, in cabinets, or on the battlefield.

Considerable intellectual weight has accumulated behind the long prevailing view of the Trinitarian Model’s intellectual content and the prescriptive understanding of Clausewitz’s use for it that is commonly associated with this view. However, the undoubted authority of the close reading and writing of Professor Christopher Bassford on all things Clausewitzian demands our serious attention to his view of both intellectual content and didactic intent of the Model. What I have called the Bassfordian view is starkly incompatible with the long established view. The serious student of Clausewitz is thus obliged to come to a deliberate conclusion as to the correct understanding of the Model’s intellectual content and of Clausewitz’s intended use for it.

Close reading of the original text, particularly, of the entire five paragraphs of Book I, Chapter One, Section 28, makes clear that Clausewitz’s intent in erecting the Model is not to instruct anyone directly in how best to project, employ, or execute war. It is not prescriptive. Rather, it is descriptive. Clausewitz intends his Model to illuminate War in all its dimensions, relations, complexity, and mutability. He intends this illumination to lead to understanding, to organize and reveal to the statesman or commander the experiential knowledge of war for which no theoretical speculation can substitute. In the heart, mind, and fingers of the most gifted statesmen and commanders, he intends this understanding to contribute to the development of judgment and to mastery of a human (not merely plastic) art form.

To state that the intellectual content of Clausewitz’s Trinitarian Model is exhausted in three elemental principles of War, and to dismiss the set of three societal entities/manifestations that Clausewitz names in apparent close connection with these elemental principles as a mere afterthought, not intended to have wider implications for Clausewitz’s theory, is, I believe, to assert what it is difficult to defend. Contrarily, to state that, for Clausewitz, the Trinitarian Model consists of two sets of three components, that each set is equally important and intrinsic to the Model, and that the connections apparently made between them in Book I, Chapter One, Section 28, are a matter of exclusive necessity, is clearly falsifiable by much else that Clausewitz teaches. I propound the synthetic interpretation of a Loosely Wedded Double Trinity: a Primary Trinity of three elemental principles of War loosely wedded to a Secondary Trinity of societal elements, each component of the former trinity loosely wedded to a presumptive mate in the latter, the relationship within each pair a matter of probabalistics, not necessity, and mutable, not constant.

I reiterate my consciousness of the limitations inherent in a study of this kind, particularly as they stem from the incompleteness of On War. These limitations necessitate my own and the reader’s acceptance of a more than usual degree of tentativeness in my proffered conclusion.


Bibliography

Bassford, Christopher, Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America 1815-1945, New York, Oxford, Oxford University press, 1994.

Bassford, Christopher, “Musings on Bruce Fleming: A Response to ‘Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?’,” ClausewitzStudies.org, March 2004. Accessed at http://www.clausewitzstudies.org/readings/Bassford/MusingsOnBruceFleming.htm.

Bassford, Christopher, “The Primacy of Policy and the ‘Trinity’ in Clausewitz’s Mature Thought,” in Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Bassford, Christopher, “Tip-Toe Through the Trinity” (working draft), Version 6, ClausewitzStudies.org, October 2007. Accessed at http://www.clausewitzstudies.org/readings/Bassford/Trinity/Trinity8.htm#Prob.

Bassford, Christopher, “To the Editor,” (response to Bruce Fleming, “Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?”), Parameters, Summer 2004.

Beyerchen, Alan, D. “Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War,” International Security, 17:3 (Winter, 1992), pp. 59-90. Acessed at http://www.clausewitzstudies.org/readings/Beyerchen/CWZandNonlinearity.htm#1.

Clausewitz, Carl von, Vom Kriege. Hinterlassenes Werk des Generals, usw., new Ullstein edition of the 1832 Ferdinand Dümmier, Berlin, second printing, München, Econ Ullstein List Verlag GmbH / Co. KG., 2002.

Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editor and translator, resp., New York, Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf (Everyman’s Library), 1976.

Clausewitz, Carl von Vom Kriege, complete searchable German text, hosted at Carl von Clausewitz – Theorie des Krieges (an international online German language Clausewitz forum) and accessed at http://www.carlvonclausewitz.de/reflexionen.php.

Echevarria, Lieutenant Colonel Antulio, J., II, “To the Editor” (Response to Bruce Fleming, “Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?”), Parameters, Summer 2004.

Fleming, Bruce, “Can Reading Clausewitz Save us from Future Mistakes,” Parameters, Spring 2004, pp. 62-76, accessed at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/USAWC/Parameters/Articles/04spring/fleming.htm.

Fleming, Bruce, “I Replies” (Response critics of “Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?”), Parameters, Summer 2004.

Gissel, Carsten, “Carl von Clausewitz, ‘Über die Natur des Krieges’ Interpretation und Frage nach der aktuellen Relevanz,” Paper produced uder the auspices of the Main Seminar Krieg (1) – Theorie des Krieges, University at Köln, 20 November 2002, published in Carl von Clausewitz – Theorie des Krieges (an international online German language Clausewitz forum) and accessed at http://www.politik.uni-koeln.de/index.php.

Howard, Michael, “A History of the Howard-Paret Translation,” Foreword to Strachan, Hew, and Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds. Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. v-vii.

Howard, Michael, “The Influence of Clausewitz,” prefatory essay published in Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editors and translators, New York, Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf (Everyman’s Library), 1976., pp. 29-49.

Münkler, Herfried, “Clausewitz Über Den Charakter Des Krieges,” in Hols, Rüdiger; Schröder, Iris; Siegrist, Hannes (Publishers), Europa und die Europäer: Quellen und Essays zur modernen europäischen Geschichte, Stutgart, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005, pp. 385-390, electronic version posted 12 April 2005 on the online European history portal Themenportal Europäische Geschichte, and accessed at www.europa.clio-online.de.

Oxford Leverhuulme Programmed on the Changing Character of War, Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century (official imprint of papers delivered at an Oxford Leverhulme Program conference in 2005), Hew Strachan and Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds., Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Rohr, David Michael, “To the Editor” (Response to Bruce Fleming, “Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?”), Parameters, Summer 2004.

Schwarz, Christoph, “Politische Theorie des Krieges bei Carl von Clausewitz,” scholarly paper published by the Institut für Politische Wissenschaft of the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, December 2003. Accessed at http://www.ipw.rwth-aachen.de/for_select.html.

Summers, Harry G., Jr., On Strategy: The Vietnam War In Context, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1981.
United States Naval War College, College of Distance Education, Draft Syllabus, Strategy and War Course, Academic Year 2008/2009.

United States National War College, Syllabus and Course Material, Strategy and Policy, Academic Year 2008/2009.

United States Naval War College, Syllabus and Course Material (Draft), Strategy and Policy, Academic Year 2008-2009.

Villacres, Edward, J., and Christopher Bassford, “Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity,” Parameters, Carlisle Barracks, PA, Autumn 1995.

Weland, Karl Friedrich, “Strategie und Taktik in der Kriegstheorie Carl von Clausewitz’s” (scholarly paper published in Carl von Clausewitz – Theorie des Krieges (an international online German language Clausewitz forum), and accessed at http://www.carlvonclausewitz.de/weiland.php.


NOTES

[1] Except where otherwise noted, I rely on the Ullstein edition for Clausewitz’s original German text and on the Howard/Paret edition for the English translation. (Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege: Hinterlassenes Werk, Ebner Ulm, Ullstein Taschenbuchverlag, 2002), (Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, New York, Toronto, Everyman’s Library-Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)

[2]  “His is not simply the greatest but the only truly great book on war.” Bernard Brodie, “The Continuing Relevance of On War,” an Introductory Essay accompanying the text in the Howard/Paret edition, p. 58.

[3] “One way to avoid [underestimating Clausewitz], naturally, is to avoid reading Clausewitz, which has been the way chosen by all but a minute proportion of literate people, including the great majority of those who have not hesitated to cite or quote him.” Bernard Brodie, “The Continuing Relevance of On War,” an Introductory Essay accompanying the text in the Howard Paret edition, p. 51.

[4] Clausewitz’s chosen adjective, wunderlich, admits a number of valid translations. From a variety of etymological and contextual considerations, Clausewitz’s translators and commentators have employed remarkable, fascinating, mystical, strange, singular, peculiar, and curious. Howard and Paret prefer paradoxical. Next to my own choice, which risks conveying too much, I favor curious, which conveys too little.

[5] Unfortunately diluted, beginning with Academic Year 2008/2009, to the Strategy and War curriculum.

[6] United States Naval War College (College of Distance Education), Draft Syllabus, Strategy and War Course, Academic Year 2008-2009. This presentation of the Model matches precisely the presentation in the Strategy and Policy curriculum as I encountered it during Academic Year 2002-2003. Thus, despite the transformation from Strategy and Policy to Strategy and War, the presentation of Clausewitz’s Trinitarian Model, its intellectual content, and its instructive purpose remains the same.

[7] United States Naval War College (College of Distance Education), Draft Syllabus, Strategy and War Course, Academic Year 2008-2009.

[8] A Professor of Strategy at the United States National War College, and one of the day’s leading Clausewitzians, Christopher Bassford edits the online portal www.clausewitzstudies.org, the leading international forum for all things related to the Prussian General and Preceptor.

[9] A reference to Harry G. Summers’ On Strategy: The Vietnam War In Context, 1981. Originally completed as a United States Army War College dissertation, Summers’ work has profoundly influenced American military thinking for more than a generation. It may have played a key role in the ground-up reconstruction of the entire program of instruction at the United States Naval War College inaugurated by ADM Stansfield Turner between 1972 and 1974 and completed over a number of years. This revolutionized program of instruction is grounded in Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Thucydides. Key elements of the program have been adopted by graduate institutions of the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, as well as by the United States National War College.  

[10] Initial conversation with Professor Christopher Bassford, 2004 or 2005. The initial challenge came as a bowshot across the course that I had charted for my research. Professor Bassford is generous with his time, so the discussion continued through several telephonic and email exchanges. Since recovering from the initial discomfiture, I have felt only gratitude for his invaluable corrective. To it I am indebted for my own recognition of the intellectual necessity which produced the present essay, for a fundamental improvement in the project on which I was then working, and for a fundamental enhancement in what I have since learned, and will likely learn in the future, from my study of Clausewitz.

[11] Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, from the Author’s Notice (in the opinion of his widow, penned sometime after July 1827), p. 22.

[12] Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, from the Author’s Notice (in the opinion of his widow, penned sometime after July 1827), p. 22.

[13] Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, Author’s Preface, p. 22, translation mine.

[14] Clausewitz, Carl von, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, pp. 46, 47.

[15] Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Howard/Paret translation, p. 101 (Book I, Chapter One, Section 28). Note that here I have taken deliberate liberties with Howard’s and Paret’s translation of the first paragraph and added emphasis to a phrase in the fourth paragraph to which I will draw attention below.

[16] The power of a translator, by a careless or intentional choice of an alternative rendering—even one that appears only immaterially imprecise—to divert our apprehension of some communication into one channel or to freeze it within another is too little appreciated by those who have not served as interpreters or translators.

[17] Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Howard/Paret translation (with my improvements), p. 101 (Book I, Chapter One, Section 28). Emphasis mine.

[18] Villacres, Edward, J., and Christopher Bassford, “Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity,” Parameters, Carlisle Barracks, PA, Autumn 1995.

[19] Bassford, Christopher, “Teaching the Clausewitzian Trinity,” ClausewitzStudies.org, 3 January 2003. Accessed at http://www.clausewitzstudies.org/readings/Bassford/MusingsOnBruceFleming.htm.

[20] Bassford, Christopher, “The Primacy of Policy and the ‘Trinity’ in Clausewitz’s Mature Thought,” in Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century, pp. 74-90, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.

[21] Bassford’s caution regarding this “secondary trinity” consists of two notices: that “Clausewitz did not apply that term to it” and that “[t]hose elements appear in the second paragraph of section 28, where they are used to illustrate and clarify the primary concept, not to define it.” (Emphasis DRG.) In my view, the second of these two caveats is by far the more significant. See Bassford, Christopher, “Tip-Toe Through the Trinity” (working draft), Version 6, ClausewitzStudies.org, October 2007.

[22] Howard, Michael, “The Influence of Clausewitz,” essay accompanying the 1976 Howard/Paret English language translation of On War, New York, Toronto, Alfred A. Knopf (Everyman’s Library), 1976.

[23] Howard, Michael, “A History of the Howard-Paret Translation,” Foreword to Strachan, Hew, and Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds. Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. v-vii.

[24] United States National War College, Syllabus and Course Material, Strategy and Policy, Academic Year 2008/2009.

[25] Summers, Harry, G., Jr., On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context, pp. 3, 4.

[26] My assertion admittedly begs the question why, if Summers’ representation of the Wedded Trinity interpretation is such a vulnerable strawman, nobody else did dispatch it before Bassford took up his lance, and why no one challenged other, less extreme representations of the Wedded Trinity interpretation before Professor Bassford. To this question I have no satisfactory answer. Perhaps the power of first readings to control what should be our subsequent, more careful readings supplies a part of the answer. Another part may lie in the powerful and fruitful use which Summers made of his own novel reading of the Miraculous Trinity during an intellectual career that spanned two decades after the appearance of On Strategy.

[27] Clausewitz, Carl von, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, p. 46. Here I have substituted my own closer, if wooden, translation for Howard’s and Paret’s. Emphasis mine.

[28] See Professor Alan D. Beyerchen’s path breaking “Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War,” International Security, 17:3 (Winter, 1992), pp. 59-90.

[29] As noted above, the primary form in which most readers, even many German-language readers, encounter Clausewitz today.

[30] Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Howard/Paret translation, p. 101 (Book I, Chapter One, Section 28, penultimate paragraph). Emphasis mine.

[31] Clausewitz, Carl von, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition [DRG translation], p. 47 (Book I, Chapter One, Section 28, penultimate paragraph).

[32] Clausewitz, Carl von, Vom Kriege, Ullstein edition, pp. 46, 47.

[33] United States Naval War College (College of Distance Education), Draft Syllabus, Strategy and War Course, Academic Year 2008/2009. Note, here, the misreading of Clausewitz’s didactic intent so common to expressions of the hitherto received understanding of the Trinitarian Model, indicated by the phrase in both formulating and reassessing strategic options. Emphasis and color-coding mine.

[34] United States Naval War College (College of Distance Education), Draft Syllabus, Strategy and War Course, Academic Year 2008/2009.

[35] See Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editor and translator, pp. 295-299, particularly Clausewitz’s description of the spirit and moral force extending from the commander downward.

[36] See Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editor and translator, p. 303.

[37] Beyerchen, Alan, D. “Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War.” International Security, 17:3 (Winter, 1992), pp. 59-90.

[38] Gissel, Carsten, “Carl von Clausewitz, ‘Über die Natur des Krieges’ Interpretation und Frage nach der aktuellen Relevanz,” graduate paper, University at Köln, 20 November 2002.

[39] Note that here Gissel quotes Clausewitz using the word eher, (here, preponderantly) rather than the mehr (more) that appears in the Ullstein edition. The Ullstein editors, who are admirably thorough in this regard, make no note here of an alternate word choice in earlier editions. It is possible that Gissel unconsciously substituted a word in this position that makes sense, that Clausewitz likely intended, and that, had Clausewitz employed it, would have lent strength to the synthetic interpretation that Gissel invites.

[40] Münkler, Herfried, “Clausewitz Über Den Charakter Des Krieges,” in Hols, Rüdiger; Schröder, Iris; Siegrist, Hannes (Publishers), Europa und die Europäer: Quellen und Essays zur modernen europäischen Geschichte, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005, pp. 385-390.

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