HISTORY 419MSpecial Topics in History
Colloquium in Military History for Advanced Undergraduates

Classical Military Strategic Theory: Clausewitz

Fall Semester 2002
Instructor: Professor Jon Sumida

1. Course Description

The main subject of this course is Carl von Clausewitz’s On War, which was published posthumously in 1832.  This work is widely regarded as the most important book written on major conflict between nation-states, and for this reason is the starting point for the study of strategic theory in many war colleges.  That being said, On War is a notoriously difficult read: elusive, hard to follow, apparently incomplete, and much of it seemingly obsolete or otherwise inapplicable.  Many readers confine their attention to the first of eight sections, or consider only a few isolated fragments. The purpose of this course is to make Clausewitz’s great book comprehensible as a whole.  Students will be prepared to approach On War by reading a study of human cognitive function and its relationship to volition, two of the instructor’s studies of strategic theory that were informed by consideration of the central importance of these matters, and a short history of Napoleon’s Prussian campaign of 1806.  The second half of the course will be devoted to reading On War in its entirety. The reading will be discussed in one-hour classes that will meet twice each week.  Students will be expected to read the assigned text several times, produce a two-  to three-sentence written statement on each sub-section of the week’s reading, and be prepared to explain the meaning of the text and to explore its ramifications freely in discussion. The semester will be divided into two seven week sections.  Evaluations of student performance will be based on class-participation and two take-home essay examinations.

This course will consider the following major questions:

What is the relationship between strategic theory and strategic practice? [Or, put another way, What is the difference between planning and the execution of plans?]

Are there such things as immutable principles of strategy, or is the validity of even classic strategic theory affected by changing times and circumstances?

What is the significance of the historical context of classical strategic theory?

What is the relevance of On War to current military education and practice?

How might the uses of strategic theory by academics and military professionals differ?

2. Reading List


Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976/84).

Guy Claxton, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less (New York: Harper Collins, 1997).

Jon Sumida, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command: The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan Reconsidered (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997; paperback 1999).

Jon Sumida, “The Relationship between History and Theory in On War: the Clausewitzian Ideal and Its Implications,” Journal of Military History, 65 (April 2001): 333-54.

3. Schedule [subject to modification during the semester]

Week 1 (Sept. 3/5)
Introduction to Claxton, Chapters 1-3.

Week 2 (Sept. 10/12)
Claxton, Chapters 4-7.
Claxton, Chapters 8-10.

Week 3 (Sept. 17/19)
Claxton, Chapters 11-13.
Sumida, Chapters 1-2.

Week 4 (Sept. 24/26)
Sumida, Chapters 3-4.
Sumida, Chapters 4-6.

Week 5 (Oct 1/3)
Sumida, JMH article.
Any short account of Napoleon’s campaign against Prussia in 1806.

Week 6 (Oct. 8/10) No class
On War, Introductory essay by Paret and Howard.

Week 7 (Oct. 15/17) No class
Mid-term due.
Exam discussion (schedule individual meetings).

Week 8 (Oct. 22/24)
Clausewitz, On War, Author’s Preface and Notes.
Brodie's concluding "Commentary" to On War.
On War, Bk. 1 "On the Nature of War," Chapter 1.

Week 9 (Oct. 29/31)
On War, Bk. 1, Chapters 2-3.
On War, Bk. 1, Chapters 4-8.

Week 10 (Nov. 5/7)
On War, Bk. 2 "On the Theory of War," Chapters 1-4.
On War, Bk. 2, Chapters 5-6.

Week 11 (Nov. 12/14)
On War, Bk. 3 "On Strategy in General," Chapters 1-8.
On War, Bk. 3, Chapters 9-18.

Week 12 (Nov. 19/21)
On War, Bk. 4 "The Engagement."
On War, Bk. 5 "Military Forces."

Week 13 (Nov. 26)
On War, Bk. 6 "Defense."

Week 14 (Dec.3/5)
On War, Bks 7-8 "The Attack" & "War Plans."
Course Conclusions.

Week 15 (Dec. 10/12) No class
Take-home Final Exam [due 17 December].


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