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Thorald

Military Strategist von Clausewitz

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Born to a middle-class family of professional background, Clausewitz entered the Prussian Army in 1792. His efforts enabled him to gain admission to the Kriegsakademie in 1801.

 

During his formative years, Clausewitz learned military science, studied philosophy and literature to develop his basic strategic concepts. He served in the campaign of Jena (1806), was captured by the French at Prenzlau and returned to Prussia in 1808. One of the leaders of Prussian Army reform, he resigned his commission on the eve of Napoleon's invasion of Russia (1812) and entered Russian service.

 

In the campaign of 1812, he distinguished himself as a Russian staff officer. He was partially responsible for the Russians' successful strategic retreat and for negotiating the Convention of Tauroggen, which marked the beginning of Prussia's abandonment of the French cause.

 

After having served in various capacities during the campaigns of 1813-14, he returned to Prussian service and served as chief of staff of an army corps during the Waterloo campaign. In 1818 he became a general and was appointed administrative head of the Kriegsakademie. During the following years, Clausewitz spend much of the leisure that this position provided in writing his historical studies and his major work on strategy "vom Kriege". Drawing on the experiences of Frederick the Great and Napoleon, Clausewitz tried to analyze the workings of military genius by isolating the factors that decide success in war. His conclusions have remained generally applicable and since his work contains a minimum of technical discussion, it has retained a wide appeal. Clausewitz emphasized the importance of psychological and accidental factors that elude exact calculation and the necessity of a critical approach to strategic problems. By means of a lengthy discussion of a variety of situations likely to confront the military leader, Clausewitz developed in his reader a theoretically founded military judgment, capable of weighing all pertinent factors in a given situation. He stated that strategy should aim at three main targets :

 

. the enemy's forces,

. his resources,

. his will to fight.

 

Defensive warfare, he argued, is both militarily and politically the stronger position.

 

Before he completed "vom Kriege", Clausewitz was transferred to Breslau and then assigned to observe the Polish revolution of 1830. He contracted cholera and died on 16 November 1831. His papers were edited and published by his devoted widow.

 

Clausewitz' personality reflected not only his relatively humble origins but also the strong influence of contemporary German literature and philosophy. Shy and sensitive by nature, he often kept his ideas to himself, however, he distinguishing himself through his sound advice and bravery in combat.

 

While Clausewitz' extensive histories of the various Napoleonic campaigns are only of technical interest, "vom Kriege" has had a profound influence on modern strategic concepts. Its most significant single contribution is the doctrine of political direction in military matters. In maintaining that "war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with the admixture of different means", he denied that war is an end in itself.

 

Clausewitz was read extensively outside of Germany. Foreign officers took an early interest in his doctrines, and most of his works were translated into French. An English translation of "vom Kriege" appeared in 1873 and other editions exist in Russian, Italian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Serbian and Spanish. By 1900 his doctrines were known in the United States and Japan. Marx and Engels discussed Clausewitz' work and Lenin studied the political doctrines during his exile in Switzerland. Communist theory on the nature of war, including such concepts as that of "imperialistic war", was largely derived from Clausewitz. By the middle of the 20th century, when new long-range weapons systems had appeared, the significance of Clausewitz' strategic concepts relating exclusively to land warfare declined, although many of his basic ideas remained as valid as ever.

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