Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What is a Clausewitzian?

William F Owen has a very interesting article published in Infinity Journal's Special Edition on Carl von Clausewitz (free subscription required to view). In it he describes what distinguishes Clausewitzians from the rest. I agree with his view. I would only add that Clausewitzians think in terms of Clausewitz's general theory of war.

Clausewitz wrote:

The insights gained and garnered by the mind in its wanderings among basic concepts are benefits that theory can provide. Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and of their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action. There the mind can use its innate talents to capacity, combining them all so as to seize what is right and true as though this were a single idea formed by their concentrated pressure - as though it were a response to the immediate challenge rather than a product of thought.
On War, Book VIII, Chapter 1

It is very much a way of thinking, a way of conceiving social reality, something of a "yardstick", but more like an interlocking "system" of concepts that form Clausewitz's General Theory of war. The perspective is to view war in terms of political relations (essentially all questions concerning power). Over time and practice this way of thought becomes automatic, it is simply the way that a Clausewitzian views war, that is in terms of the general theory. By nature retrospective, the general theory is capable of being expanded through the interaction of praxis with theory (critical analysis), or simply praxis alone (the military genius).

The general theory forms the basis for strategic theory and much of strategic thought. It is the opposite of doctrinal speculation or the "dominance of tactics" which are sadly prevalent today in strategic thought.

Sun Tzu, if he even existed, wrote about 2,500 years ago and is still read today. He provided no general theory of war, but his thought was expanded by later writers through commentary. He provides an approach to warfare (that of the Taoist sage) and sees warfare "as the greatest affair of the state".

Clausewitz wrote 200 years ago and is also still read today. He did provide a general theory of war which forms the basis of Clausewitzian strategic theory. Later writers, much like the commentators of Sun Tzu, have been able to expand on the general theory. Also a whole series of various "arts of war" covering different political epochs is possible with the general theory, as long as they do not contradict the general theory (following Wylie here).

My guess is that in 2,300 years, if there is still need for strategic theory and strategy, Clausewitz will still be read and discussed.


  1. So my questions would be: can we think of an example where the knowledge and use of the Clausewitzian theory(ies) of war has been used in practice to successfully prosecute an armed conflict to a fully successful conclusion?

    I mean, in science that is the value of a "theory"; one that can be applied to an observation, or used to develop a set of tests to gather observations, to successfully explain that observation or compare the results of the tests to the predicted outcome, thereby testing and either supporting or falsifying the theory?

    My off-the-top-of-my-head reply is "I can't think of one", since in practice the actual conduct of wars seems to depend more on immediate political, economic, and military exigencies than strategic plans or theories. Which is not to way that there haven't been strategic plans and strategic planners...only that upon contact with the enemy their plans have often proved to have been based on faulty assumptions.

    So...can we take this from the general to the specific; can we think of a real-world situation where a war was planned and fought out based on an "...interlocking "system" of concepts that view war in terms of political relations..." and resulted in the achievement of the political solution the planner initially sought?

    To keep things from going crazy, let's stay this side of 1900, and let's try and and restrict ourselves to near-peer conflicts (since the imposition of war aims on a vastly inferior foe isn't really the result of superior strategic analysis as much as superior force...)

  2. Chief:

    The Russian Civil War springs to mind.

  3. Chief-

    You commented:

    --So my questions would be: can we think of an example where the knowledge and use of the Clausewitzian theory(ies) of war has been used in practice to successfully prosecute an armed conflict to a fully successful conclusion?--

    Please re-read the Clausewitz quote, especially where he writes:

    "Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side."

    Isn't that what you're asking for? What I referred to as "doctrinal speculation"? "Shock and Awe" was one of the last attempts at that, but there have been others.

    We're talking social science here, where theory is something different than in the physical sciences . . .

    While the General Theory can provide a framework for war planning, there are no guarantees due to the complex nature of the social interaction as to how the war will turn out.

    I think the great Clausewitzian Aleksandr Svechin puts it well:

    --Every question the strategist must resolve is extremely simple, but a correct answer requires a great depth of understanding of the situation of the war as a whole; theory can only emphasize the diversity of possible solutions as a function of different conditions. But a strategist cannot limit himself to correct answers for each question individually. The answer to one strategic question will only be correct when it is in harmony with the answers to other strategic questions. We have put harmony in the preparations of a nation for war at the forefront, but it is no less important in the leadership of a war, only the characteristics of harmony in this case are immeasurably more subtle. This coordination, this achievement of harmony, is the essence of strategy and it forces us to classify practical work on strategy as an art.--
    Strategy, p 306

    So, my answer to an example of a war where this harmony was achieved? The First Gulf War of 1990-91.

  4. So I was thinking about this on the way down to the coast today, and I came up with some examples.

    Pretty much nothing from 1900-1930; everybody involved gets WWI wrong, and everything else is just wog-bashing.


    1. Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) - Franco has a plan to seize power, executes his coup, wins his war, and gets the Spain he wants for the next fifty years.

    2. The US in WW2 (1941-1945) - Pretty much everyone else (including the other Allies) fuck up in some way - the French in 1940, the British in assuming that they get to keep their Empire after joining Roosevelt in the "Four Freedoms", the UN, and Bretton Woods, and the Soviets, though they are the only other player who comes out looking good, probably aren't "planning" where they end up in 1945 back in STAVKA in 1942...

    3. The Reds in China (1949); Mao gets it right, the rest of China gets the shaft, but we're talking politico-military strategizing, not winning the contest for the Queen of Nice.

    4. Ho and the PRVN (1946-1972); another long-term thinker and strategist. Beats the French, then beats us, then beats the South.

    5. The ANC in South Africa (1946-1990); I'd count Rhodesia/Zimbabawe, too, except that I'll bet that nobody fighting Ian Smith back in the Seventies would have traded him for Mugabe. But so far the ANC has managed to hang on to some kind of decent political outcome to the military struggle for the RSA.

    6. Israel in the Independence War (1948); Achieved all their military AND political aims. Haven't managed to that since, other than if you count the 1973 War and the Camp David Treaty, but that was only possible because 1) of Sadat's political savvy rather than the Begin government's planning and 2) the Egyptian Army's performance, which also wasn't in the Israeli "plan".

    7. The US/Western Allies in the Cold War (1947-1991)

    After that you get some sketchy cases. I wasn't sure whether Thatcher's Britain should get credit for the 1982 Falklands War, since though Galtieri's Argentina clearly lost, there's some indication that Argentina as a nation hasn't "given up", so the '82 conflict might have to go down as a successful grand tactic/minor strategy in an ongoing grand-strategic conflict...

    And I wouldn't consider ANY of the Gulf Wars to be "successful"; the First (Iran-Iraq, 1980-1988) led to a peace of exhaustion which left both combatants worse off than before, the Second (1991) was successful in its immediate military and political aims (restoring the Kuwaiti status quo ante) but I'd consider the "short hook" that failed to destroy the bulk of the Republican Guard, the failure to anticipate the Kurdish/Basra insurgencies, including the intemporate rhetoric with which GHWB fanned those insurgencies and kept the Gulf simmering until the Third (the failings of which we've discussed at length here and elsewhere) manage to rob the Second of much of it's political gains. To me it's the "First Sikh War" of the 20th Century; successful if you focus narrowly on its announced objectives, but not so much when you realize that it left behind a political situation that allowed a gang of greedy knaves to fight it all over again later...

  5. question would NOW be...which of these examples can be tied back to a genuine immersion in, understanding of, and implementation of this Art of War? Were Franco and his generals Clauswitzians? Did Mao carry a copy of Sun Tzu with him, and study its precepts?

    I honestly don't know the answers, but you can bet I'm going to check.

    Because, frankly, I'm a born sergeant. If it works, I want to know about it and I want my officers to know it, and I want my political masters to know about it, and USE it.

    But if it's just wallpaper; if it can't be used to prepare a plan that CAN provide "correct answers for each question individually" then I can't use it. It's just nice fireside reading.

  6. Ael: I was thinking about the Bolsheviks, too; they did successfully execute their politico-military plans. But the Whites were SO useless...I almost have to classify that as wog-bashing. At least the Sandinistas were enthusiastic!

    Oh, and I thought of another successful geopolitical example:

    8. Castro and the Reds in Cuba; still going strong after almost 60 years. But I'm willing to bet there wasn't a Clauswitzian in the whole gang. Maybe Raul...

  7. No answers from me, since I have never got the hang of dialectics I will pass. Some more questions though:

    1] Besides the Thirty Years War and the Napoleonic Wars (which he was witness to), what other historical events did Clauswitz consider in his opus?

    2] Why did he never publish it? Was it really his intent to publish but he ran out of time? Or was it just a collection of his dissertations from his decade(+) as head of the Kriegsakademie that his wife made some money on after his death?

    3] What other of his writings (other than On War and his critique of Wellington) have been published in English?

    4] Chief - Why restrict your exanples to after 1900? Wasn't his work published over 60 years prior to your cutoff? Not that I have any examples - I'm just saying! Oh wait, maybe the Franco-German War. Perhaps some of his students participated?

    5] Was Ike considered a disciple - or maybe one or two of his deputies? Marshall? Zhukov?

  8. I've been thinking about Ael's example of the Russian Civil War. Actually it's a good example of what Chief's looking for. Lenin had read and commented on Clausewitz extensively. He used Clausewitzian concepts to develop his own political concepts associated with revolutionary struggle. He knew that he didn't really have the support of the Russian masses at the onset and that he would be going against everything that he had promised up to that point. But he wanted absolute power and to achieve that would require a bloody civil war. So he signed a punitive peace with the German General Staff (who had been bankrolling him up to that point), waged war against the Whites and instituted the Red Terror in the areas he controlled. He had essentially no army since his agitators had been working to dissolve the Czarist Army up to that point, so this was perhaps his more radical shift. War as a political instrument to achieve a political purpose through the application of military means.

    Good example Ael.

  9. "Second (1991) was successful in its immediate military and political aims (restoring the Kuwaiti status quo ante) . . ."

    Yes, which is why I used it. It was very much a war of limited objectives and those objectives were met. The other points you mention were due to the political relations between/among the various parties involved which following Clausewitz was something separate from the war itself. How we dealt with Iraq throughout the rest of the 1990s could have been much different since Saddam had been disarmed (and we knew it). Instead the focus became regime change which was a radical policy goal.

    I would also point out that little Bush's 2003 fandango took place within a strategic theory vacuum based only on the unrestrained use of force to achieve radical political goals, an absurdity from this perspective. We see the results of that . . .

  10. "Did Mao carry a copy of Sun Tzu with him, and study its precepts?"

    Mao was a strategist, strategic theorist, political revolutionary and a Clausewitzian as well. He had read On War in translation and taught a seminar on Clausewitz to his officers in 1938. He praised Clausewitz to German Chancellor Schmitt when he visited China in the 1970s. His approach was very much influenced by Lenin as well, who had modified Clausewitz to form his theory of revolution. If we are talking Leninist, then we are talking Clausewitzian almost by default, since their whole approach is based on their way of thought once again from a political, although Marxist, perspective, so would that not include Castro as well?

    There are important distinctions though, such as Clausewitz would have never seen the state as an instrument of a political party . . .

  11. mike-

    Clausewitz also used the campaigns of Friedrich the Great and Louis XIV as well. On War constitutes only a small part of his total output. Much of it has not been translated into English. There is a book out on his political writings which I can recommend . . .

    Most of what he wrote is critical analysis of various military campaigns.

    While he did not see On War published, it contains the basis of the general theory and his overall approach, which is a conceptual whole, not bits and pieces of unrelated writings. There's more than enough there, although we don't know what added insights he could have added had he not died suddenly in the great cholera epidemic of 1831 . . .

  12. Chief, don't forget that Marx was a fan of Clausewitz. You can see it in his thinking. Thus, many ardent marxists have not only read Clauswitz, but are predisposed to believe him.

  13. So based on our historical examples, it DOES sound like the man's theories can be put into practice.

    But... sounds like they might be hard to adopt in a republican system, where every swinging richard has to stick his or her oar in, and domestic politics are dominated by short-term, election-cycle thinking rather than (as with Lenin and Mao) the ability of a single figure or small group to influence politico-military affairs over decades.

    I would continue to argue that the political problems in 1991 were a feature, not a bug. The same crusading rhetoric that GHWB had to use to form and hold his "coalition" together (and you note that said coalition was VERY careful to avoid using its Arab members' forces (outside the Saudis and Kuwaitis) against a fellow Muslim) made it nearly impossible to restrain the Basra uprising, while the insistence on the limitation of the political objectives to the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty made it impossible to utilize that uprising in any sort of constructive fashion.

    Add into that the previous decade's incoherent support of the regimes in the Gulf, both the Shah's and Saddam's, and the notion of simply drawing a "line in the sand" and walking away looks increasingly risible, especially with the exceptionally cautious tactical scheme of maneuver that allowed the ol' Tikriti to save most of his thugs and use them to smash the domestic insurrections.

    So...still not buying the notion of 1991-92 as the product of the Perfect Master., short of finding a benevolent American Lenin or Mao or George do you translate Clausewitzian principle into prudent and successful U.S. geopolitical planning? What does an American citizen such as myself write his senator and propose? Somehow I suspect that "THINK! You fathead!" probably won't produce the desired change...

  14. We were the Theater Aviation Brigade for Third Army, so I got to bump into GENs Schwarzkopf and Yeosock on a regular basis. There were three strategic objectives for Desert Storm:

    1. Liberate Kuwait
    2. Reduce Iraq's ability to pose a military threat to the region.
    3. Improve regional stability

    Both Generals not only knew this, but supported and articulated them as the only strategically prudent objectives that we could obtain by military means.

    Objectives 1 & 2 were clearly met. Objective 3 was being met before the first shot was fired. Look at the alignment of Muslim states in support of objectives 1 & 2 in the runup to the War. Those of us who had been Third Army/Centcom for any time were amazed at the near universal regional support for the Operation. In fact, as Yeosock, IIRC, commented after the fact, had we "Marched to Baghdad" as some folks longed to do, many of the local states that either supported or stood quietly by would have turned on us, undermining Objective 3.

    "Limited Objectives" can be strategic.

    What the Strategic Studies faculty at the Naval War College made painfully clear to us was that it is much easier to find strategic blunders than successes. The Morganthau Plan was indeed at the strategic level. It would have been a catastrophe.

    Clauswitz is not only valuable for applying a general theory to today and forward, but it also provides an excellent framework for understanding yesterday's failures. As a NWC classmate said to me a while back, they could build a whole semester around analyzing the strategic failures of OIF and the GWOT. That we are so reluctant to learn from historic mistakes is not Clauswitz's fault, nor a shortcoming is his work, but the fault of the goof balls.

  15. Al: I don't think that a "March on Baghdad" was any better an idea in '92 than it turned out to be in '03. But we had some better options than the ones we pursued.

    We could done some serious black ops including using all those local states to set up a "Free Iraqi" movement that genuinely WAS an alternative to Saddam. It would probably not have been what we wanted - what we "wanted" was the ridiculous joke that Chalabi turned up with in '03 - but it might have actually helped produce an "Arab Spring" in at least Basra and the south in the late Nineties.

    We could have put pressure on the Turks to make some sort of deal with the Iraqi Kurds in return for some sort of deal on their part to restrain the Turkish Kurd guerrillas, and that would have helped in the north.

    We could have paid more attention to the Saudi Wahhabi movement and headed off or tried to head off bin Laden.

    Or - in all honesty my preferred option - we could have stayed out of the whole mess starting back in the Eighties all the way up to April Glaspie more or less telling Saddam we didn't give a shit how he worked out his disagreements with the Kuwaitis and spent that time developing our strategic plan for alternatives to petroleum!

    Anyway, I'm not gonna die on this hill; if we want to remember Desert Storm/Desert Saber/The Third Gulf War as a strategic coup, I'm fine with that.

    And, again, it seems like there are strong indications that a firm grounding in, study of, and application to real-world situations of strategic theories such as Clausewitz's can produce good results.

    But so far the vast majority of the historical successes seem to involve authoritarians or dictators, and you can see why; it's a hell of a lot easier for a Fredrick or a Napoleon, a Mao or a Lenin, to apply their analyses over an extended period of time.

    But we're locked into our election-to-election cycle; the longest our Maos or Napoleons are gonna get is eight years, and they're gonna spend a huge portion of that time worrying about getting re-elected rather than either analyzing the failures to learn their lessons or planning ahead. do we change that - and can we? Or are the limitations of our system too great.

    Consider that, outside the local success of GW3 the only other U.S. examples are the Cold War, which was really more a question of global geopolitics holding the West together and steering around crises until the Soviets collapsed, and WW2, which came during a period of unprecedented political stability in the U.S.; a President who would have basically been reelected for life if he'd survived and the law remained unchanged, and what was effectively a one-party state, the GOP had been so beaten down by the Depression and agreed to act as Democrats for the Duration, something that no modern Republican would be willing to do...

  16. " sounds like they might be hard to adopt in a republican system, where every swinging richard has to stick his or her oar in, and domestic politics are dominated by short-term, election-cycle thinking rather than (as with Lenin and Mao) the ability of a single figure or small group to influence politico-military affairs over decades."

    There's a contradiction here. The first "oar" doesn't necessary go with "domestic politics" focusing on the "short term". You could have an oligarchy that only focusses on its own narrow interests and (ab)uses state policy in attempts to attain those "subjective" goals, using at the same time domestic information ops to mold mass opinion and confuse dissent. Which is conceivable with the General Theory . . .

    The General Theory is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. That we can apply the strategic theory concepts to war planning provides us with a framework, a way of tracking different potential outcomes, but it does not indicate what we must do. That is the job of the strategist/military/political leadership operating in the real world.

    Does the General Theory apply to war waged by democracies? I think so. Have there been democratic Clausewitzians? Sure. I would consider Dwight D. Eisenhower a Clausewitzian . . .

  17. Chief: I don't think that a "March on Baghdad" was any better an idea in '92 than it turned out to be in '03. But we had some better options than the ones we pursued.

    From a strategic standpoint, "better options" were and remain irrelevant. I did not offer what was set as the strategic objectives as a "coup". They were achievable with the military means available and politically sound, taken in light of Objective 3. Consequently sound strategic objectives, properly achieved.

    We have no earthly idea of what the continuance of the pre-GWB policy towards Iraq would have produced, but the direction in which it was going was no way as costly and unstable (not just within Iraq, but regionally and globally) as what the invasion produced.

  18. To all,
    Whether 1 is a immaterial.
    ISTM that the Principles of war that we give lip service are pure Claus.That's how i see it, whether limited or general war /objectives or whatever.
    We imo have lost the ability to apply these principles, and hence have not been successful on either the mil or pol side of the coin.No pun.
    The prin of war apply to the pol side also.
    In rvn and the pwot we have ignored these pow's and have paid for this mistake. Strangely we talk the talk , but don't walk the walk.

  19. jim-

    Culturally, I do think that the ability to apply these principles has either been lost, or presents to many obstacles to pursuing desired courses of action to allow "Clauswitzian Thinking". Virtually any model of successful decision making techniques, be it the classical 5 (or 6) Step model, or more recent intuitive models, leaves no room for ideological blinders.

    First, the real problem must be identified. The simplest statement of the problem possible, free from any and all implied solutions.

    If only solutions that pass an ideological litmus test are acceptable, then the realm of solutions is narrowed, and the definition of the problem will be off the mark. If all problems must be viewed in terms of ideological tenets, then the root problem may never be addressed, and the solutions that seem appropriate cannot be expected to provide optimal results.

    I shared a long exchange with an acquaintance about the Greek debt crisis. I made it clear that I was only referring to Greece. I said that the root problem was profligate spending coupled with low tax revenues. He responded with a rant about "European socialism", crushing tax burdens, and more cut and paste generalities from the Tea Party Handbook. When I pointed out that there was some 30 years of legislative provisions of tax loopholes for every level of society, along with a, by intent, low enforcement rate of the taxes that were on the book, resulting in a low effective revenue collection, something that both sides of the aisle did with orgiastic fervor, he responded with the evils of "socialized medicine" versus "free market medicine", and anecdotal references about the UK and Sweden. In short, rather than address the specific ills of Greece, which were both Right and Left side of the aisle products, he only wanted to quote his ideological mantra, even if what he quoted had nothing to do with Greece. He wanted to "show me where my socialist leanings were the road to collapse". Funny thing is I never lifted an ideological banner, but simply used my bookkeeping lessons from 7th grade. Spend more than you take in and you have debt. Hell, the GWB Administration is a classic example of that, as is Regan Administration. The debt problem in both cases was willfully cutting income while increasing expenses. Regardless of ideology, it fails the 7th Grade Math Test.

    Viet Nam and Iraq are prime examples of applying a solution to an ill defined problem. In Viet Nam, we totally misunderstood what was going on. The South was at war with the North, and the Viet Cong, while applying insurgent tactics, were simply agents of the North. Perhaps we simply wanted to believe it was an internal problem. In Iraq, we had to fabricate a problem in order to apply a desired solution. In Viet Nam, one might charitably say we were ignorant. In Iraq, we were deceitful. Either way, anti-Communist ideology swayed rational thinking in the former, and a host of other ideological biases swayed the latter. Objectivity cannot be allowed by an ideologue, lest an issue arise that is not ideological and might call for an other than ideologically correct solution.

  20. Al-

    Well put.

    It's difficult to separate US strategy in Vietnam in say 1966 from China, which was seen as the real threat, in effect all seen as the same massive threat.

  21. Speaking of Desert Storm, a young Greek fellow I know, Gregory, told me of watching a documentary on Gulf War Syndrome. He's a veteran of the Greek Army (national service), proud to have been selected for officer candidate school without a college degree (about 5% of all officer candidates), served one year on active duty after commissioning(Air Defense Arty) and is now a reserve officer, as non-college grads cannot remain on active duty.

    Many of the affected vets being interviewed were complaining about the slow response to their illness. What caught his attention was the vets who made statements like, "This is the treatment I get for defending America's freedom" or other allusions to their participation in DS being some direct defense of the freedom of those who won't provide responsive care.

    Gregory said, "I thought the First Gulf War was to specifically liberate Kuwait and also reduce Iraq's military capability. Where do protecting the freedom of Americans come into those political objective? I mean, war is a political tool to get political objectives. At least that's what I learned in the officer academy. Kuwait was liberated, and Iraq's military ability was seriously degraded. OK, I was only an infant at the time, but I have read about it. I found no threat to US freedom at play."

    Does Gregory qualify as a 23 year old Clauswitzian?

  22. Al-

    I would think so. He obviously has a better understanding of war being the pursuit of political goals through violent organized means than many in the US, including some service members.

    I got forwarded an email a couple of days ago from a friend of mine from the Berlin days. It lists all the US military cemeteries in France and Belgium and talks about arrogant Europeans and American sacrifice for European freedom and how we should constantly remind them of all we did for them . . .

    World War I? I think we would have all been better off with the US staying out of that one. There wasn't much that separated the Central from the Allied Powers and destroying the Central Powers only set the stage for a far bloodier conflict 20 years later.

    World War II? Hitler declared war on us, so what were we to do? And of course there are the millions of Russian dead whose sacrifice wore down the Wehrmacht to such an extent that the Germans were fielding "ear" and "stomach" battalions on the Western Front by June 1944. So maybe we ought to thank the Russians as well, but that brings up a whole lot of other issues, which we would rather ignore.

    In both wars the US fought due to our interests, and at least in 1917 some of them were rather sordid. We didn't fight for "freedom" or because we wished to save the world, but because it was in our interest to do so and/or we didn't have much of a choice. This is not of course saying that the defeat of Nazism was not a worthwhile goal, it was, but it was also in our interest . . .

  23. I always ask them where we were and what we were heroically doing from 1 Sep 1939 until 7 Dec 1942. Then I suggest they count the war dead in the French cemeteries as well - civilian and military. That's all.

  24. I think I was most impressed by the little marble dedication plaques in several of the French Catholic Churches I visited in central France about 10 years ago. Prior to 1914 there were some, but during the war you see a great number of new ones added through to 1918 and then a sharp drop off after the war . . . hardly any in the 1930s, even 40s . . . as if religion itself had been unable to explain or justify the loss . . .

  25. Took my 15 yr old grandson to France in 2005. Among the places on a list he put together was the Musée de l'Ordre de la Libération. Seems that he became interested in the French resistance when all the anti-French crap began circulating when France wouldn't join the invasion of Iraq. He was aware of the Resistance from History Channel documentaries, and began reading about it in earnest.

    He had read about the Army being on track to fall short of it's FY2005 recruiting goal by about 10%, yet his Texas buddies denigrated the French and championed American "patriotism". He said to me, "We pay $40,000 enlistment bonuses and can't fill the quotas. The Resistance was paid nothing, was much riskier, and tens of thousands participated." The kid had gone so far as to compare the % of the population that participated in the Resistance throughout the war versus the % of the US population that was willing to enlist for Iraq. Of course the French came out ahead. "Did you know, Papa, that Gen Eisenhower said the Resistance was worth about 15 divisions on D-Day?" The kid had been doing his homework.

    While touring rural France, he was amazed to see some of the lasting battle scars on buildings and the like. While in a small village south of Paris, he stopped to count the names on a monument to the village's war casualties, civilian and military, of the 20th Century. It was about 75% of the population shown on the sign entering the village. His comment: "I guess war has a different meaning to the French than Texans."

    We discussed the War at length during that trip. As a "homework assignment" I suggested he read up and compare the number of overt American Nazi sympathizers on 1 Sep 1939 to the number of French Resistance members two years later. He laughed and said, "I not sure I'm prepared to be that depressed."

    This was the fist time I actually discussed the Bacevich notion of "War is a Spectator Sport". I said to him, "For Americans, war is an away game. For most Europeans, as you see, it's been played on the home field, and that isn't pretty." With his amazing sense of humor, he said, "You mean war does not provide a 'home field advantage'?"

    We live in a "village" that is basically a cluster of houses arising from family farms in the area. Not a village as America would envision. 400 meters from our house is a monument to our "village's" war dead. They died here, on this island.

  26. "We didn't fight for "freedom" or because we wished to save the world, but because it was in our interest to do so and/or we didn't have much of a choice"

    But what's interesting about that is when you look at the "public" rationales for both wars and read the letters and memoirs of the U.S. participants you tend to get a LOT of that "freedom" rhetoric. DDE's account of the ETO was even titled "Crusade in Europe". FDR talked about the "Four Freedoms"...

    One of the things that seems to be consistent about U.S. war-making is that, short genuine cabinet wars, we seem to need to conflate what we're doing with "freedom" and Goodness. 1846 was all about Evil Meskins and not slavery in Texas, right? 1898 was about Evil Dagos and not grabbing a colony or two. WWI was the Huns and raped Belgians, WW2 Tojo and slant-eyed devils wanting white wimmens...

    Exaggeration aside, though, this whole "freedom" rhetoric pervades U.S. wars, and is just another of what I see as the consistent problems we face when trying to deal with war as a national policy matter and not some sort of gigantic PR exercise.

    IMO it's gotten worse during the Middle East Adventure Era, where the U.S. public is utterly disconnected to the actual military actions except as video game/talking point/partisan platform.

    So I guess my point is that I still see massive problems with the actual conduct of U.S. wars as in keeping with general theories (or special theories - Clausewitz, meet Einstein...) because of the need - driven by the frivolous nature of U.S. public politics - to shape the means of the conflict to the ends of whatever bullshite the political classes need/want to feed to the rubes who vote.

    And I can't see a way around this, except;

    1. to stay out of cabinet wars in general, or

    2. to make the oligarchy inherent in U.S. governance overt, and just tell the proles "Go watch some Hooters Girls Go Wild or something and the adults will make the decisions for you..." -

    ...except I don't see any real evidence that the "adults" are making better decisions. The so-called grown-ups seem to be making decisions based on ideology, too.

    WASF? Seems like the reasonable conclusion at this point.

  27. To illustrate my example:

    I'll buy that the U.S. entered WWI as a sort of "national interests" thing (and I'll agree with you, seydlitz, that many of them were pretty skeevy).

    But that wasn't how the farrago was sold to the U.S. public. Instead it was the "War to End War", it was the Goodness of the Entente versus the Huns, the Kaiser as the bloodsoaked enemy of Civilization.

    So when at Versailles the Entente does its sordid little political business the U.S. public goes south on the Wilsonian objectives of the League and a wider U.S. role in global policy. We get isolationism, and then the Depression kicks in...

    And I think that you get that to a certain extent in WW2; we've talked about the Morgenthau Plan, and that owed a great deal to the U.S. public's desire to "crush" Germany, having been whipped up by wartime propaganda.

    Vietnam and dominoes? Iraqi Freedom?

    It just seems that we tend to get captured by our own public rhetoric, and I'm not sure how, or if there is a way, to change that...

  28. FDChief-

    Disagree and I think what you are talking about is something that Clausewitz described well . . .

    --Since Bonaparte, then, war, first among the French and subsequently among their enemies, again became the concern of the people as a whole, took on an entirely different character, or rather closely approached its true character, its absolute perfection. There seemed no end to the resources mobilized; all limits disappeared in the vigor and enthusiasm shown by governments and their subjects. Various factors powerfully increased that vigor: the vastness of available resources, the ample field of opportunity, and the depth of feeling generally aroused. The sole aim of war was to overthrow the opponent. Not until he was prostrate was it considered possible to pause and try to reconcile the opposing interests.
    War, untrammeled by any conventional restraints, had broken loose in all its elemental fury. This was due to the peoples' new share in these great affairs of state; and their participation, in turn, resulted partly from the impact that the Revolution had on the internal conditions of every state and partly from the danger that France posed to everyone.--

    On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3B

  29. Chief-

    There was a bit more to it in WWII than "war time propaganda" saying we were fighting for "freedom".

    A review of history: Up until 11 Mar 41, the US was not a belligerent in the wars in Europe and Asia, nor did we provide aid other than "cash and carry" sales of arms and defense materials. 11 Mar was the day FDR signed "Lend - Lease" into law. Yet, even though we assisted "Allies" in defending themselves and their "freedom", we did not become a belligerent until 8 Dec 41, following the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor, when we declared war on Japan. I would accept this declaration as a "defense of sovereignty" more than "freedom", if you wish, as while the attack took place on US "soil", not the open seas, no expression of intent to suppress American domestic "freedom" was declared by Japan in conjunction with Pearl Harbor. It appeared, for a day, to be an act to maximize Japanese "freedom" in the Pacific.

    , on 8 Dec, that changed when Japan began the invasion of a US Commonwealth, The Philippines, which would make the war with Japan one of defending American "freedom". They were now, through an act of aggression, interfered in the internal affairs of the US, to include peoples of a commonwealth.

    FURTHERMORE, on 11 Dec, Hitler announced that Germany, Italy and Japan had signed an agreement which declared war on the US. In his speech to the Reichstag, Hitler read from the text of this agreement where the objectives of this declaration of war included:

    Germany, Italy and Japan will also work very closely together after a victorious conclusion of the war for the purpose of bringing about a just new order in accord with the Tripartite Pact concluded by them on September 27, 1940.

    The US immediately responded with a declaration of war against Germany.

    One would be hard pressed, after reading the text of Hitler's speech and the Axis Powers signed agreement, that the "new order" that would result from "a victorious conclusion of the war" would not entail imposition of The Axis Powers' will on the US to some degree, thereby presenting a threat to our "freedom". In short, 11 Dec 41 marks the addition of defense of US freedom from Japanese aggression to the freedom from the stated "new order" proposed by all three Axis Powers. That the "propaganda" flowed like wine does not diminish the freedom we were indeed fighting to protect.

    HOWEVER, in no way will I deny that the wars that followed pertained more to protecting alleged "national interest" than "freedom", and the "selling" of these wars with propaganda loaded with terms of questionable veracity, such as "freedom", is a subject that will take far more than the 4,000 or so character limitations of comments here. Let's just say that the Great Unwashed not only do not understand "national interest", but probably would ask too many embarrassing questions, most surely difficult to answer, if "national interest" was thrown out as justification. Besides, who, other than traitors and "surrender monkeys" ever speaks out against "freedom"? As they say in Show Biz, "Play to your audience". Propaganda for Goof Balls!

  30. Looking at the initial point and the Chief's question to it, as a scientist, I'd like to preach proper care for our theory of science here. The modern concept of science is pretty young, as it its terminology. While it is true that an actual theory of science should provide predictions that allow to confirm or falsify it, the more complex the system we deal with, the more trouble we have controlling for all factors that may confound the prediction. Which is why it's pretty easy to make predictions as to how an experiment in the lab will work, whereas social sciences - and in the end, the theory of war belongs into that area, as it deals with the interaction of people, have to look at very specific and isolated problems to be able to control for confounders.

    Nonetheless, Chief, you ask for examples how a war was successfully waged on Clausewitz' principles. But why only the positive case? You can easily also deduce from the theory that if you neglect Clausewitz' observations, you will NOT be successful - and we've seen plenty of examples for that. The problem with the other way round is precisely the problem I described above: There's plenty of confounders so it would be hard to say that a war has been fought strictly by Clausewitzian parameters. In the end, Clausewitz repeatedly describes how war should IDEALLY be fought. So it would be as difficult to state that a given war was one because of complete immersion in Clausewitzian concepts any more than success or failure of some economic measures can truly be attributed to Friedman or Keynes - for everyone following the teachings of one of them to the letter, there's 5000 who've never heard of them and who interpret orders, requests and the pressures of society within their own personal perspective. In the end, for all its chaos, war is even a more ideal environment there because there's infinitely less people involved than in a global economy with where floodings in Thailand can screw up the IT business everywhere on the planet...

    In the end, I think, the key point is that there more you manage to conduct a war along Clausewitz' ideals, the higher the chance you will a)achieve your goals and b)achieve them in a sustainable fashion, rather than simply preparing the next round in a viscious circle of aggression and counter-aggression.

    But in the end, Clausewitz does what modern science also does: He observes and strives to provide explanations for his observations. I always get quite exasperated if scientists - or people deeming themselves adherants of a scientific worldview - declare themselves to be in possession or pursuit of "truth". Anyone who has delved deeper into theory of science should know that concept to be a minefield. We only know what we have observed, and what we have not or even cannot observe can still hide plenty of pitfalls for our assumptions.

  31. @Aviator

    You say "One would be hard pressed, after reading the text of Hitler's speech and the Axis Powers signed agreement, that the "new order" that would result from "a victorious conclusion of the war" would not entail imposition of The Axis Powers' will on the US to some degree, thereby presenting a threat to our "freedom"."

    You're going down a very slippery slope there, because what you state is only true if you imply that a speech by Hitler corresponds with fact both in intent and in execution. An actual threat is only presented if there is a credible chance that such a threat is actually not just uttered, not just attempted but successfully executed. Given that even Operation Sealion was a no-go, the assumption that a third Reich invasion in the US was a credible threat is somewhat of a longshot. Speaking of propaganda, one should keep in mind that the Nazis used it extensively, and taking something Hitler said in a speech at face value is a dangerous thing to do. Which is not to say he wouldn't have loved to do such a thing, nor that it wasn't a good thing to oppose him. But when someone has already declared war on you, what further justification do you need to engage him? I mean, absent the speech, do you believe US ships would have freely presented themselves to be sunk?

  32. Clauswitz-

    Hitler AND Italy and Japan signed a declaration of war, a de jure act of aggression, coupled with de facto conduct of war (Pearl Harbor, Philippines, existing war with Allies in Europe). They stated a strategic political objective - albeit without a timeline. That objective was "a new order", which, whether or not it could be achieved, was a clear claim to the abridgement of America's freedom. Let's not confuse feasible objectives with expressly stated strategic objectives. On 11 Dec 1941, the US was in no condition to defend its Commonwealth of the Philippines, no less conduct offensive operations, so the long term feasibility of the "new order" was in no way impossible, be it by "victory" or "negotiated settlement". Hitler and the Axis Declaration did not mention "conquering" nor "invading" the US, just imposing a "new order" on the world. It is the political objective that is strategic, and "new order" qualifies in Clausewitzian terms.

    I would note here that the 8 Dec 41 US Declaration of War against Japan contained no strategic political objective, but simply stated:

    to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination

    You will find that the subsequent declarations of war with Germany and Italy have the same verbiage. The American entry into WWII as a belligerent was totally a reactive, defensive measure. "Strategic political objectives" didn't enter into Allied discourse until it began to appear that a "successful termination" was even possible.

    In responding to the express act of Japan invading a US Commonwealth, and Hitler's (And the Axis Powers') declaration of war and express geopolitical objective of a "new order", the US was indeed fighting for, amongst other things, American (and Americans') freedom.

    That the initial response and express objective failed to mention that is irrelevant. Of course the propaganda machines turned up the throttle. Does not CvC say that there must be the support of the people as an essential element in successful operations?

  33. Claus-

    Thanks for commenting.

    --I always get quite exasperated if scientists - or people deeming themselves adherants of a scientific worldview - declare themselves to be in possession or pursuit of "truth". Anyone who has delved deeper into theory of science should know that concept to be a minefield. We only know what we have observed, and what we have not or even cannot observe can still hide plenty of pitfalls for our assumptions.--

    How often did we have to deal with exactly that over at sonshi . . . ? Assumption blindly and obnoxiously claiming to be truth . . .

    Reading your comment also reminded me of a couple of things that Thomas Kuhn wrote in his famous "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" . . .

    "It remains an open question what parts of social science have yet acquired such paradigms at all. History suggests that the road to a firm research consensus is extraordinarily arduous." page 15

    "To be accepted as a paradigm, a theory must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted." pages 17-18


  34. Everyone should be required to read the text or view the video of Jacob Bronowski's Chapter 11 of The Ascent of Man, "Of Knowledge and Certainty"

    All knowledge – all information between human beings – can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance. And that is true whether the exchange is in science, or in literature, or in religion, or in politics, or in any form of thought that aspires to dogma. It's a major tragedy of my lifetime and yours that scientists were refining, to the most exquisite precision, the Principle of Tolerance – and turning their backs on the fact that all around them, tolerance was crashing to the ground beyond repair. The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase, the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once for all the realization that all knowledge is limited. It is an irony of history that at the very time when this was being worked out, there should rise, under Hitler in Germany and other tyrants elsewhere, a counter-conception: a principle of monstrous certainty. When the future looks back on the 1930s, it will think of them as a crucial confrontation of culture as I have been expounding it – the ascent of man against the throwback to the despots' belief that they have absolute certainty.

    Unfortunately, we are again witnessing an age of "absolute and monstrous certainty" - in science, in religion and in politics.

  35. @Aviator

    What you say may very well be true. But given that "Iron Sky" just came into movie theatres, if Hitler had threatened to bomb the US into oblivion with his flying saucers parked on the dark side of the moon, would reacting to such a ludicrous idea still be "defending freedom"?

    Again, my point is not that what was being said OR done was wrong - my point is solely that stylizing at as a "defense of freedom" was actually motivational propaganda. If "freedom" as a general principle would have been the issue, a far stronger stance would have had to be held against the Soviet Union. If, however, merely the concrete threat to _US_ freedom by _Germany_ was the issue, such a threat plain and simply didn't exist. Except in the eyes of some revisionists and maybe Hitler's wet dreams, Germany never had the capability to pose such a threat. In fact, as far as I know, there were even those within the German military who doubted they had the capability to pull off Operation Barbarossa. Of course, it would not have been very conducive to one's career to voice such doubts publicly....

    You state: "Does not CvC say that there must be the support of the people as an essential element in successful operations?"

    Indeed he does. But all that states is that doing so is necessary for a successful war effort, not that it is anything more than propaganda... Yes, propaganda to both sides is very much in line with Clausewitz, both in supporting one's own side's will to fight and breaking that of the other. But that doesn't elevate propaganda done in that line to anything more than propaganda. That's precisely what propaganda is there for: "Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position." (Wikipedia)

  36. Clauswitz-

    Yes, in hindsight it's easy to conclude that Hitler could not achieve his ambitions. However, my point is that the declaration was by the Axis Powers, announced by Hitler, and at the start of hostilities, none of your "obvious to see" points were so obviously nor confidently seen by the beleaguered Allies about the Axis Powers.

    Pearl Harbor had been successfully attacked, leaving the Pacific Fleet ineffective, the Philippines were overrun, and the US had little offensive capability. Japan's expansion in Asia was continuing unchecked, and Germany had not yet begun to slow down it's domination of Europe.

    The US declaration of war began as a defensive one, to include responding to the declared threat to our freedom, and while it finally evolved into an offensive war by the later days of 1942, that move to the offensive was rooted in the initial objectives of the war.

    A few of my childhood friends' parents were pretty responsible DC players in the pre-war and subsequent industrial and manpower mobilization efforts, and all said it was pretty "touch and go" for the first 12-16 months of the war. None was overly confident of the outcome. By the time of Guadalcanal and Torch in 1942, Army ground forces mobilization was about half of plan for that point in time. Industrial mobilization was equally lagging. Barbarossa had not yet fallen flat. Not only was no one in DC dancing in the streets, but they weren't even brushing up on their dance steps.

    Yes, by Jan 1943, the tide was turning and the strategic objective was no longer primarily the defense of "freedom", but what would one suggest, that FDR announce in a radio fireside chat:

    Other than the continuing occupation of the Philippines and Wake Island, America's freedom is assured and no longer threatened. We are now solely on the road to crushing those that threatened us and in the process, the Allies will make a new order of our own. Buy Bonds!

    The "slogans and mantras" of gaining the support of the people had been quite accurately set in 1941, and while the threat to freedom had seriously diminished by mid 1943, for practical reasons, we were "stuck" with the originally stated "threat".

    If the immediate response to the Axis did not include defense of American freedom, then we could have just as easily asked for the opportunity for a negotiated compromise with the Axis, surrendered some territory (Hell, they weren't "real Americans" on those islands) and saved many many lives. Let those non-whites in Asia, Rooskies, Brits and French surrender monkeys work it out for themselves.

    The Allied demand for "Total and unconditional surrender" at Casablanca, did indeed profoundly change the strategic objective, and as some would argue, reduced our long term "freedom of action". But even at that time, Comrade Stalin declined to attend, stating that the military situation in Russia was to fragile to leave his countrymen alone for a few days.

    I suspect you may be letting retrospective military assessment fog the geopolitical and sociological landscapes upon which war is conducted.

  37. @Aviator

    "Pearl Harbor had been successfully attacked, leaving the Pacific Fleet ineffective, the Philippines were overrun, and the US had little offensive capability. Japan's expansion in Asia was continuing unchecked, and Germany had not yet begun to slow down it's domination of Europe."

    And this is precisely where, as far as Germany is concerned, your analysis is flawed in my eyes. Germany HAD already slowed down - and I already pointed that out. Operation Sealion had been largely abandoned, even though not explicitly cancelled and Operation Barbarossa was stuck knee-deep in Russian mud. More, the Germans were ENTIRELY unequipped for winter warfare - the attack on Russia was critically dependent on succeeding QUICKLY.

    "Barbarossa had not yet fallen flat."

    Yes it had, the way it was originally planned. If Barbarossa had panned out, by the time your write about, 1942, the Soviet government would have already had to have surrendered. Operation Barbarossa fell flat with the battle of Moscow in December 1941. That Germany made a renewed effort in 1942 is notwithstanding - if it wanted to have any chance whatsoever at preserving at least the gains made, more resources were needed, precisely because Germany didn't have the resources for a protracted war within Russia - so they made an effort to get them once the conditions allowed them to actually move again. But already in December 41, Hitler commanded that no retreat whatsoever was to happen without his explicit order, fearing that the frontline would collapse if the soldiers did not fanatically hold their ground. And he fired a whole bunch of top and mid-ranked officers.

    If anything, the attack on Pearl Harbour showed one thing: Japan was focussing on the Pacific theater and as such, Russia wouldn't have any problems withdrawing further troups from the East and sending them against Germany. This had already been done before Pearl Harbour and allowed Russia to mount increased opposition around Moscow and launching a counteroffensive during the following 41/42 winter, based on intelligence suggesting the direction of Japanese attention.

    "I suspect you may be letting retrospective military assessment fog the geopolitical and sociological landscapes upon which war is conducted."

    Given that as I stated there are reports that such an assessment was made before Barbarossa, that is hardly the case. As I already pointed out, as far as Germany was concerned, your assessment of the situation in December 41 isn't quite accurate. And as for Casablanca, Stalin stayed home because he had the German 6th army holed up in STALINgrad. Of course, it was necessary for him to provide "personal leadership" for the liberation of that city. They had started their last counteroffensive just days before the conference started. We know how it ended.They had already demanded that General Paulus surrender on January 8th. At that point, he declined, so they moved in and carved up his troops into two groups and depriving General/Field Marshal Paulus of any airbase access, requiring supplies to be air dropped. This russian goal was achieved by January 25th. The two groups surrendered days later. In fact, "Operation Uranus" was in full swing by January 43.