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Thread: Attrition: The flaws of On War and modern strategic thought

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    Default Attrition: The flaws of On War and modern strategic thought

    Alright, first and foremost, Carl von Clausewitz may have been a Great Commander in eventual practice, and is probably the rank below this in his short but very distinguished career. I do not suggest that On War itself was flawed, but that the future interpretations of it certainly were. I respect Clause's attempt at making a strict way of committing warfare with all folds enclosed in his theorum, however he died before he completed it fully, and there is so much to cover that it is probably impossible to write a full irrefutable text on the subject of war. The two Great Commanders (GC) he cites often are Frederick the Great and Napoleon, but he doesn't have more than a circumstansial reference to the rest. (For my personal interpretation of GC's and a relatively complete list, PM me) Whether it is a case of misinterpretation or not, On War cannot be thought of too highly, though it certainly has its virtues.
    Clausewitz did see himself fit to condemn and judge Napoleon when he never achieved a major feat to parallel him, though he does exalt him at the same time, I personally think that one cannot fully judge a GC unless one is a GC. Napoleon's field record is around 50 victories to 2 losses, with enough skirmishes that it could be counted as high as 200 victories, and still only 2 losses. The vast majority of his victories are ingenius with outmaneuvering and successful strikes that led to the whole of Europe being terrified by his mere presence on a battlefield. Borodino is the only notable exception to this rule where Napoleon won with the now every day practice of frontal attack attrition. The eventual allied plan to destroy france was to avoid fighting him in battles and to go after his marshals, the plan worked. However, in 6 days while retreating on the Eastern French border Napoleon caused 120,000 casualties while suffering only 10,000 himself. Given that Paris didn't surrender easily he may have been able to stage a comeback against all of Europe, despite the 1812 campaign and the loss at Leipzig. Clausewitz isn't really Napoleon's successor.

    I'll add more about WW1 and WW2 later, this is an incomplete argument but I suppose anyone can reply if they wish, and it may be better that you do but let's try not to get enmeshed in a pointless back and forth debate.
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    yo...thats deep



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    First of all, paragraphs. Master them and more people will be able to read your text.

    Secondly, what is this thread about anyways? What's the matter to discuss? This sort of belongs in your blog if anywhere...

  4. #4
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    Actually I had a very similar view about this not too long ago.

    Carl von Clausewitz has never been labeled or seen as a great commander. Judging his treatise, On War, on the pretense that Clausewitz saw himself as a great commander, or even others saw him as such is misleading and will lead to a biased conclusion of the work. Clausewitz was at best an above-average commander of men in battle and he conducted himself during the campaigns against Napoleon pretty admirably. Clausewitz, when not chosen to lead men into battle, was more of a military aide than a true commander. Clausewitz's observations as an aide-de-camp to the Prussian high command has more impact to his treories on military tactics and military strategies than him actually leading men into combat. Clausewitz was a military philosopher who had the fortunate experience of actually leading men into battle. But he is first and foremost a teacher of military theories and philosophy. Really, Clausewitz's treatise, despite being unfinished due to his death, expands on the teachings of Sun-Tzu in the Art of War. Both deal heavily on not just tactics and strategies but also in a commander being adept at dealing with the politics that always follows all military campaigns.

    Since Clausewitz's death and the subsequent publication of his observations and theories, better commanders have led men and won battles with their own interpretation of On War. That's the beauty and curse of Cluaewitz's treatise. They're observations and conclusions that are wholly flexible in how its implemented. Clausewitz wasn't a heavy follower of formulas and set diagrams to show how a commander can better advantage of his opponent. Clausewitz knew that such a way to conduct war had its place and should be taught to young officers to ingraine in them how to move men and materiel around the battlefield, but he also knew that such strict adherence to rigid procedures and diagrammed tactics loses much effectiveness during the chaotic and oft-times, confusing period of a battle that he termed "the fog of war".

    Clausewitz's rival at the time, Baron Antoine Henri Jomini, was a firm believer in strict and rigid theories on military teachings. His works were actually more popular with commanders of that era and even up to the Crimean War, but they soon began to lose favor once technology caught up to tactics. I'm a firm believer that Jomini's work lent alot to the massive casualties incurred by both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Clausewitz saw this happening and knew that such teachings needed to be adjusted to the changing times as technology raced too quickly to affect military warfare and tactics. Too quickly for commanders to adapt to it. This was a flaw in all the commanders from the late 1700's all the way up to the lat 1880's. Rigid adherence to strict teachings didn't allow many commanders the insight to adapt and try new tactics in the face of overwhelming military tech. This is a major reason why Baron de Jomini's military works has fallen in favor in most Western military academies and why Clausewitz is still taught by military scholars and instructors to young officers from West Point and Annapolis all the way to Sandhurst and Wiener Neustadt.

    A little tid bit on Napoleon. There's no argument that he's one of histories greatest conquerors on par with Alexander of Macedonia, Genghis Khan and Atilla the Hun, but as a commander of an officer corp that followed him, Napoleon's ego was his downfall. Napoleon's many defeats could be attributed to the the lesser quality of captains and commanders that led some of his army. Napoleon made it a point to teach his officer corps just enough, but not too much that some of them could rise in stature and skill to one day oppose him. The Prussian and English commanders arrayed against Napoleon had no such compunction against teaching their officer corps all they know. Something Clausewitz made a point in his treatise. What's good about being a great commander if one was surrounded by inferior stock of subordinates

  5. #5
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    I did say that he may have been with eventual practice, which he never had. I also said that any flaws derived afterward may have been misinterpretations, as what Shad appears to be talking about. You can’t really dictate that he was better or worse based on his experiences, and he himself never reached the point of commander of an army in enough situations to the point that he could have shown mastery of tactics and strategy. I suppose one of the major flaws with any military organization is that there is no way to train a Great Commander, it is completely derived from their personal interest, inherent thought, and in depth study of the commanders before them, not to mention a ridiculous amount of talent. GCs simply aren’t produced by military colleges, the “best and brightest” that they can possibly train are, at their very best, Wellington or Lee type characters, who aren’t quite as good as the GCs. Those types are still only produced a few times every several hundred years. Further still, most Great Commanders come into their own at a very young age, a la Napoleon and Alexander the Great, before they could have learned everything there is to learn about the flawed system of whatever time they were in.
    Napoleon attributed his success to his own study of the “Great Captains” as he called them, and told his followers to study them in depth as well. That being so, there is not much chance that Napoleon could have made his officers better by training them exclusively. He said that war was about “seizing moments” at points in the battle where you can turn the tide, and such a thing cannot be taught but merely experienced. It is also the reason that military texts have to be flexible or they cannot be applicable in any situation, because the skills put forth in the greatest battles with the greatest commanders are completely undefined. Napoleon, himself, only lost 2 battles, as I said before. He didn’t have “many losses,” but had many victories. For about 15 years he completely dominated Europe without losing a single battle. Napoleon’s downfall was, perhaps, caused by overconfidence, but not in the way that you suggest. He did invade Russia without a needed set up for his massive supply chain for a massive army and lost his men to the winter. But, he didn’t actually lose a battle in the entire campaign.
    The “Battle of Nations” is the first time he was ever defeated in battle, and even then the way the opponents won wasn’t because of some grand strategy or ability. Waterloo is just the same, with Wellington only prevailing because he held better defensive ground and Napoleon was unable to make any use of his artillery in the horrible weather. Napoleon’s marshals Davout, Lannes, Murat and Desaix are all just about on par with Wellington, showing that Napoleon could train his marshals. Beyond that, one can hardly hang around a Great Commander and not learn his ways or his teachings. He said enough that Napoleon on the Art of War has many things with which a young student can learn the tactics and strategies involved in war. Unfortunately for Napoleon, Lannes died shortly after Friedland and Desaix died leading a charge at Marengo. Davout won the battle of Auerstadt, which was the “other” half of Jena-Auerstadt which supposedly inspired Clausewitz to write his book. The one thing that Napoleon did to deter that was to ensure that Jena gained more fame than Auerstadt, but he still commended him for the victory. The reason that Russia and Great Britain were able to win was their distance from France, Britain’s Nelson massacred the French navy at Trafalgar and the Battle of the Nile and effectively made Britain secure from France. A Great Commander theoretically has so much ability that he can simply tell his subordinates what to do and how to do it with the latter never having to be personally inspired to act differently then those instructions and that solitary act of planning is enough for the GC to decisively win the battle. Napoleon showed this at Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, and Eckmuhl.
    In contrast to Clausewitz, perhaps, Sun Zi (Tzu) was one of the GCs of the ancient world, he did lead his City-State to dominance over most of China in his tenure. In fact, the other readily identifiable Great Commanders in China also wrote the strategic books that are still around today, such as Wu Chi and the T’ai Kung, shows how they did show a link between the inspiration of military thought and the raw military ability of the author. Wu Chi never lost a battle (84 wins and 16 draws) and the T’ai Kung led the miniscule nation of Chou to dominate over the gargantuan state of Shang. Now, I wish to differentiate that a commander who never loses isn’t necessarily a Great Commander. Wu Chi is merely an example of one who is. The vast majority of the allied forces commanders in World War 2 were no where near GC status but several of them did lead undefeated careers, but that was because of their incredible numerical superiority over the Germans in the end. Scipio Africanus, the famous rival of Hannibal, was also not quite a GC, despite never losing a battle. He was however, about as good as Wellington or Lee. He simply used more troops more efficiently and was better than Hannibal’s officers who were in charge of Carthage’s satelleite nations. Hannibal, in contrast, acted against a superior force and won many a victory (though he was unable to lay siege to Rome), including the Battle of Cannae, one of the first examples of a tactical plan and organization overcoming numerical superiority and technological superiority.
    Back to the original point now…
    Clausewitz has been linked to the modern theories of war, but such theories are so ill advised that we have embraced attrition as one of the best ways to win wars. World War I is often called upon to use as an example of one of these wars, but its static nature is somewhat different than the mobile sort of attrition that was more prevalent in World War II. The Eastern campaign in World War I involving Tannenberg was somewhat in contrast to this. With less men and less weaponry the gallant Germans were able to overcome a superior enemy. At Tannenberg, the last great tactical battle ever fought, a small German force was able to overcome a much larger opponent by encircling them. It is ridiculous to think of such a thing being possible in the long continuous drawn out lines on simplistic maps, and even conceptually it is hard to think of how a smaller force could encircle a larger one. With their support from Silesian veterans the Germans did accomplish this feat because of Russia’s poor organization. The Russians capitulated and their commander wound up committing suicide. Less than 100,000 men defeated 200,000, with about 200,000 more as potential reinforcement for the Russians. However, the trench warfare that had become common on the Western Front forced a war of attrition that swung back and forth, with the allies eventually winning because of superior numbers. Clausewitz’s theory of “Total War” and one country using all of its resources to defeat another (which he himself spoke against) and vice versa, forced this attrition and the subsequent massive loss of life.
    World War II was also a war of attrition. The Germans were able to advance, at first, by quick and powerful blitzkrieg strikes. The Manstein plan effectively took France out of the war, but Russia and America were so large that it had little affect on the end outcome. The invasion of Russia had initial success, but because of Hitler’s insistent disturbance of the Germans’ sound war plans with his own somewhat mad ideas led this to fail. The Russians were able to win by sheer force of numbers and eventually defeat Germany. Manstein’s counteroffensive after Stalingrad is one of the few tactically intelligent campaigns in the war, which led to a reversal in fortune. However, the attrition bogged down the Germans at Kursk and effectively sealed Germany’s fate. Two of the African campaigns are also worth highlighting. O’Connor’s invasion of Italian Africa with much less men than his opponent almost led to an easy campaign victory. However, he was captured by Rommel, who was appointed to assist Italy, and Rommel was then able to lead a very similar campaign into Egypt and another “almost” victorious moment. However, Montgomery was appointed and promptly used his vastly superior numbers against Rommel’s under-supported men which led to the allied victory. It was attrition which led to Rommel’s failure along with the rest of the Axis powers. The Allies were able to invade Italy from Africa, however Albert Kesselring’s steadfast defense prevented them from ever taking the northern regions of the “boot.” The Americans were so incessant in their complaints for an attack to secure France that the D-Day invasion occurred. There was no need for such an invasion, as more pressure would have broken Kesselring and the allies wouldn’t have to make a difficult amphibious landing. However, the landing took place and the allies proceeded to overpower Germany with more attrition. The Sherman tank was a mediocre tank that had a single virtue in the plains of Europe – numbers. The Tiger II was superior in every manner, but failed due to the fact that there weren’t quite enough of them to stop several tens of thousands of the Shermans. All of this attrition led to incredibly massive casualties, which were completely unnecessary. This is the hidden genocide of World War 2. The battle of Tannenberg could be duplicated in this war, especially with mobile weaponry, but it was left to fools to decide upon the overusage of men rather than a more prudent strategy. This is directly derived, again, from the idea of Total War.
    Schools of Thought in military strategy are often times completely wrong. The Great Commanders arise not from these schools, but from personal intelligence and thoughts. The 1600s-present have all had such incorrect schools which force countries into excessively bloody warfare and attrition victories. The present school of thought is directly derived form World War 2, and armies tend to win based on the superiority of technology and the superiority of numbers (which does prevent casualties against regular foes, but certainly not against a GC, when one does arise), not the superiority of tactical or strategic thought.
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    You make good points in regards to the implementation of Clausewitz's concept of "total war" during a military campaign, but you only seem to want to point out the flaws in regards to how the concept was implemented. On War, if I have to repeat again, was never a book that taught specific tactics, maneuvers, and battle strategy. As a whole, Clausewitz's treatise was an unfinished work trying to teach military philisophy. He tried to put together a work of study not about movements and battle plans but a way of thought that went beyond numbers and diagrammed plans. You also can't seem to get past the part that Clausewitz might have become a great commander if given time. There's actually ample proof both in forewords and essays about the life of Clausewitz that make a mention of his not wanting to become a lilfelong military commander. He was put into the situation of becoming a leader of men not by choice but by circumstance. Young men from aristocratic families in Prussia and the Germanic states around that time were expected to join the many prestigious military academies and become part of the officer corps. Clausewitz excelled not in the implementation of what he learned while a student of war in these academies, but in breaking dowm complex manuevers and strategies to their most basic points for junior officers of the Prussian high command. Clausewitz saw himself more of a teacher than a commander. One cannot become a great commander if they do not wish or take the reins of military success. Clausewitz was never going to be a great commander and his personality and ambitions led him to teaching instead of leading.

    As for Sun Tzu, there's been a growing thought that the person many cite as the writer of one of the best books on military philosophy was never a specific individual, but a series of Chinese writers and chroniclers writing down observations and conclusions from a divergent sources of past commanders and military scholars. This doesn't diminish the book by any means, but actually puts the book into a different light. That the art of war cannot be attributed to one single individual, but a collection of insights and theories passed down through the decades, if not centuries.

    Now going back to the concept of "total war". You make a good point in showing how the use of the concept of total war led to the defeat of Germany in both world wars, but the type of war conducted by Germany's opponents and Germany at the latter half of the Second World War cannot be termed "total war" for politics was never fully subjugated to become part of the war effort. Even in the two totalitarian nations such as Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, both governments kept political channels open through intermediaries to try and maneuver their way into an aggreable political solution to what had turned out to be the most devastation conflict in human history. Even in the latter months of the war, some of Hitler's most trusted lieutenants tried to broker a separate peace with the Western allies in order to save as much of Germany from the advancing Red Army. One such individual who tried to broker such a peace was none other than Reichfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. An act which permanently lost him favor with Hitler, but whose reputation as one of the architects of a rumored "Final Solution" kept him from being believed by Western diplomats. Total war was never achieved if one was to follow the strict definition of what Clausewitz was teaching. Clausewitz actually taught the concept of "absolute war" which always gets confused with "total war". Total war as fought in both world wars was nothing but the mobilization of men and material to include not just military resources but those of civilian nature as well. This is fully evident in the war-time footing of the American population and industry. But the US and its allies never conducted absolute war on Germany. There was a conduct of honor and conscience in how war was conducted against German forces as they continued to retreat in the latter stages of the war. All chances of surrender were accorded to German units in the Western Front. If there was an ally against Germany who could be seen as conducting absolute war at its most basic it would be the Red Army, but even they took prisoners and saved German towns if resistance was minimal. Clausewitz's concept of absolute war was a concept that didn't include moral and political factors in how it was implemented. This is why Clausewitz thought that such a concept would be doomed to failure since war, in reality, was just an extension of a nation's ability to exert its political will not just on the enemy but on its own people. But he included the concept in his writings to point out that conducting such a war may be nigh impossible to conduct and achieve success in, but it was still doable if all factors and criteria were met.

    As for the present school of thought being directly derived from World War II, to a certain point it is. But then military thinkers, just like scholars of other fields, always use the most recent events as examples to get their points across. But speaking to individuals who have attended military academies and become officers in the US military (cousins actually), the teachings of past military scholars before the 20th century still taught heavily. Whether its Clausewitz's On War and Principles of War to Sun-Tzu's Art of War all the way to Julius Caesar's Commentaries. These books are still used as the basis for most military philosophy taught in academies, but with emphasis to using the most recent events of the last 100-200 years to illustrate their points. The technology of war may change with time, but the philosophy on how to conduct war never wavers from the most basic principles observed and concluded by past scholars. Now, how it's implemented by students of such philosophy is a different matter. As the military saying goes, "battle plans are only as good until the first volley is loosed." Mind you I'm only paraphrasing that quote.

  7. #7
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    I suppose it’s a misnomer on my part that I said “Total War,” but I was mainly only referring to the process leading to attrition. Since Clausewitz’s work is often cited as the reason for Sherman’s March to the Sea and from then on the modern theory implemented in World War I and World War II, its just the first part of a chain. The other point was that you have to be a Great Commander to publish a truly insightful work on the Art of War, and Clausewitz’s work is only useful for coming up to his understanding of war, as any author’s life and experience reflects his writing, and presumably only a GC can understand war in its entirety, since they are the great practitioners, albeit that they sometimes have fortunate situations. (sorry for the Run-on) I realize that Sun Tzu’s specific identity is often mysterious and hard to identify (with the suggested possible authors ranging over several hundred years in their different life spans), but the point of a GC writing the most insightful works still retains truth for both the T’ai Kung and Wu Chi. The T’ai Kung’s work is arguably better in coverage than The Art of War. Beyond that, many of the points in Sun Tzu’s work are much more helpful to a person wanting to learn war rather than someone trying to improve their understanding. It does work remarkably well for both, but much more so for the former. It is but one of many works that need to be studied in depth for development of strategic thought.
    Attrition is what I condemn in the implementing of supposedly superior strategies to adjust to new technology, not necessarily the inception of Total War. This is also what worries me in the campaigns of World War 2. Though it’s a part of “War” in general, the political parts of war, such as treatment of POWs or trying to reach a diplomatic solution, do not concern directly the affairs of attrition. That’s what I condemn in the war’s usage in the most recent wars. From there I perhaps draw a somewhat assumption based conclusion that the same thing would likely occur in another major war. Simply based on the usage of more men and more technology in the wars in Iraq to defeat an inferior opponent I draw that it would likely become such a competition, with either country (given that they both are relatively equal, with any advantage on one side being mostly countermanded by an advantage on the other) producing more and better weaponry along with drafting more soldiers. This would either bring force a situation where attrition would occur, or one side could be tactically superior and totally dominate the other side for virtue of intellect. Of course, I can’t really prove this but it seems more likely than a reincursion of the sort of battles that occurred from 1600s – mid 1800s, which typically resulted in the tactically superior force winning battles, while lightening the load on the common soldier and his numbers. In my view, massive casualties can never be deemed “acceptable” because of attrition. Attrition doesn’t often make wars occur faster, it just causes more men to die and cripples one side in the very end. Of course that crippling is the ideal goal, but exploitation of a tactical advantage can cause the same crippling without such a loss of life (for the side that implements tactics).
    I am aware of West Point / ROTC / VMI’s military education program, which should theoretically improve the abilities of the officers. The flaw is more with the way in which it is taught, how much is covered (equally), and the time frame between when it is taught and when the students will command armies. The system is approached too much like a regular class, so a future officer would learn it and generally forget it before he could ever get to a high enough rank to implement the theory. Even the most astute student will still be limited by his instructor’s experience and interpretation of whichever book or battle he has analyzed. While theories are open ended, they can’t realistically be applied to every single situation in warfare, there’s too much randomization as well as the confusion that comes on the battlefield.
    Usually the main thing that officers use to guide them is their previous experience, when such experience is virtually guaranteed to not be the most logical or the best for whatever situation it affects. The only situation where experience and theories can be used equally is the command of an independent army, or in some situations an advance force consisting of at the minimum a division, but again the officers are generally 15 or more years out of their learning days and are much more influenced by experiences than by that which was taught to them. The promotion system to get to that point is riddled with flaws and exclusively merit based promotion is rare. The methods of generals are also too hands-off, so that a commander only orders the units directly below him and only takes orders from those directly above him, when all of the officers involved in such a scheme (given that an excess of men is used) are bound to not have equal talent. This is another one of the problems that arises with the usage of hundreds of thousands of men on the battlefield, where war becomes a generic mindless practice of ordering your men to the front and hoping for the best, since there are far too many men to command directly and cohesively.
    In actuality, the point you make about technology not affecting basic thoughts about war is one of my chief arguments. Humans are still humans, they still have the same basic flaws to be used against them on the battlefield, such as the ever-common trait of impulsiveness. Technology generally only affects unit formations which it can cause to be obsolete, it doesn’t affect the tactics or strategies which one can implement. I’m still a firm believer in the standard cross formation for an army to use while preparing for battle, with the Vanguard, Left, Right, Center, and Rear/Reserves, this situation allows for the most opportunity and coordination of attacks or defenses, but such can only be effectively used with a relatively small (by today’s standards) army. The continuous line which is used for the largest wars tends to favor only frontal assaults and causes attrition. We’re {US} certainly using too many men and too much money just to crush inferior opposition, so it may be much more overpriced to stand on even ground with an equal foe. Its an advantage to the smaller army to be able to have much better organization and through that be able to execute more complicated maneuvers and tactics.

    Note: Unit formations are made obsolete, not necessarily army formations

    My grammar is shot :/
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  8. #8
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    Ok, it is difficult to even take into account what points you are trying to make now. You seem to only want to take parts and piecemeal of what Clausewaitz's observations and conclusion was published in On War to suit what you think are inherent flaws in his theories. I will admit that as theories, even Clausewitz's teachings has flaws like everything else taught, but the flaws in his teachings comes less from Clausewitz himself but how others have interpreted and implemented them. I could hardly blame the teacher if the students generations after failed in their own endeavors due to misinterpretation or incomplete understanding of what they were being taught.

    As for your point that only great commanders could truly be the only ones who could write and publish books on military thought and strategy is abit narrow-minded. As there's been great commanders who have been prescient enough to put their experiences and thoughts onto paper to be shared with the world (Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Erwin Rommel, Heinz Guderian, etc.) there's even more great commanders who never wrote a single piece of published work to express their observations and conclusions in regards to the study of war (Alexander, Genghis Khan, Subedai, Belisarius, Atilla, Robert E. Lee, etc.). Most published works taught universally in military academies have come from individuals who did well on the battlefield but were more well-known for their work off it. Clausewitz was one as has been pointed out. Others whose work has gained in prominence --- whose military experience I would doubt ever came to the level of them being a great commander --- were B.H. Liddell Hart and Helmuth von Moltke (the father and not the son).

    The rest of your current post is abit harder to read and gauge just exactly what you're trying to point out. I know its about your dislike for the concept of attrition, but as to how it reflects on Clausewitz's theories on war I can't pin down. Clausewitz never espoused the idea of attrition in warfare. Attrition as a practice has never been attributed to Clausewaitz's teachings. The closest thing attrition as a concept has ever been mentioned in On War was Clausewitz's observation that casualties in battle and, in a larger sense, war will always affect how the political leadership prosecute their plans in ensuring victory. A military commander cannot look at the casualties, military and civilian both, and have it affect how he makes his decision in implementing strategy and tactics. Casualties is a fact of war and Clausewitz tries to explain that in his book.

    The latter part of your post seems a whole different matter altogether and more of your own personally beliefs rather than practiced and accepted modes of military thought. I would point out that your standard cross formation is very basic in concept which is great if every part of it was commanded by individuals in the level of a great commander. As Alexander, Julius Caesar and Subedai have porven in battle time and time again, there was no such thing as a standard formation in battle. Each battle prepared for will determine how men and material should be placed and moved about on the battlefield. And to my knowledge those three individuals never lost a battle in their whole military career, especially Subedai who is considered one, if not the greatest military commander who ever lived.

  9. #9
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    Let me try!

    -copies from Wikipedia, without stating it, or posting a link-

    Wait... what are we talking about again...? OH. I see.

    By the way... his name is Clausewitz. There is only one a in there.


    Carl von Clausewitz was born in Burg bei Magdeburg, Prussia in June 1, 1780 to a poor but middle-class family. His grandfather, himself the son of a Lutheran Pastor, had been a professor of theology. Clausewitz's father was once a lieutenant in the Prussian army and held a minor post in the Prussian internal revenue service. Carl was the fourth and youngest son. Carl entered the Prussian military service at the age of twelve years as a Lance-Corporal, eventually attaining the rank of Major-General. [1]

    He served in the Rhine Campaigns (1793–1794) e.g. the Siege of Mainz, when the Prussian army invaded France during the French Revolution, and later served in the Napoleonic Wars from 1806 to 1815. Clausewitz entered the Kriegsakademie in Berlin (also cited variously as "The German War School," the "Military Academy in Berlin," and the "Prussian Military Academy") in 1801 (age 21 years), studied the philosopher Kant and won the regard of General Gerhard von Scharnhorst, the future first chief of staff of the new Prussian Army (appointed 1809). Clausewitz, along with Hermann von Boyen (1771–1848) and Karl von Grolman (1777–1843), were Scharnhorst's primary allies in his efforts to reform the Prussian army, between 1807 and 1814.

    Both Clausewitz and Hermann von Boyen served during the Jena Campaign. Clausewitz, serving as Aide-de-Camp to Prince August, was captured in October of 1806 when Napoleon invaded Prussia and defeated the massed Prussian-Saxon army commanded by Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick (who was mortally wounded), in twin battles at Jena and Auerstedt (see Battle of Jena-Auerstedt) on October 14, 1806. Carl von Clausewitz, at the age of twenty-six years, became one of the 25,000 prisoners captured that day as the Prussian army disintegrated.

    Clausewitz was held prisoner in France from 1807 to 1808. Returning to Prussia, he assisted in the reform of the Prussian army and state. He also married the socially prominent Countess Marie von Brühl and socialized with Berlin's literary and intellectual elites. Opposed to Prussia's enforced alliance to Napoleon, he left the Prussian army and subsequently served in the Russian army from 1812 to 1813 during the Russian Campaign. Like many Prussian officers living in Russia, he joined the Russo-German Legion in 1813. In the service of the Russian Empire, Clausewitz helped negotiate the Convention of Tauroggen (1812), which prepared the way for the coalition of Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom that ultimately defeated Napoleon I of France and his allies.

    In 1815, the Russo-German Legion was integrated into the Prussian Army and Clausewitz thus re-entered Prussian service. He was soon appointed chief of staff to Johann von Thielmann's III Corps. In that capacity, he served at the Battle of Ligny and the Battle of Wavre during the Waterloo Campaign in 1815. The Prussians were defeated at Ligny (south of Mount St. Jean and the village of Waterloo) by an army led personally by Napoleon, but Napoleon's failure to actually destroy the Prussian forces led to his eventual defeat a few days later at the Battle of Waterloo when the Prussian forces arrived on his right flank late in the afternoon and joined the Anglo-Dutch forces pressing Napoleon's front. At Wavre, Thielmann's corps, greatly outnumbered, prevented Marshall Grouchy from reinforcing Napoleon with his corps.

    Clausewitz was promoted to Major-General in 1818 and appointed director of the Kriegsakademie, where he served until 1830. In the latter year, the outbreak of several revolutions around Europe and a crisis in Poland appeared to presage another major European war. Clausewitz was appointed chief-of-staff to the only army Prussia was able to mobilize, which was sent to the Polish border. He subsequently died in a cholera outbreak in 1831. His magnum opus on the philosophy of war was written during this period, and was published posthumously by his widow in 1832.

    Although Carl von Clausewitz participated in many military campaigns, he was primarily a military theorist interested in the examination of war. He wrote a careful, systematic, philosophical examination of war in all its aspects, as he saw it and taught it. The result was his principal work, On War, the West's premier work on the philosophy of war. His examination was so carefully considered that it was only partially completed by the time of his death. Other soldiers before this time had written treatises on various military subjects, but none undertook a great philosophical examination of war on the scale of Clausewitz's and Tolstoy's, both of which were inspired by the events of the Napoleonic Era.

    Clausewitz's work is still studied today, demonstrating its continued relevance. Lynn Montross writing on that topic in War Through the Ages said; "This outcome...may be explained by the fact that Jomini produced a system of war, Clausewitz a philosophy. The one has been outdated by new weapons, the other still influences the strategy behind those weapons."

    Clausewitz introduced systematic philosophical contemplation into Western military thinking, with powerful implications not only for historical and analytical writing but for practical policy, military instruction, and operational planning.

    Vom Kriege (On War) is a long and intricate investigation of Clausewitz's observations based on his own experience in the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon and on considerable historical research into those wars and others. It is shaped not only by purely military and political considerations but by Clausewitz's strong interests in art, science, and education. Clausewitz did not believe that Napoleonic Wars should be studied in order to further the development of military theories, due to its lack of technological innovations and a new form of warfare.

    Some of the key ideas discussed in On War include:

    * the dialectical approach to military analysis
    * the methods of "critical analysis"
    * the nature of the balance-of-power mechanism
    * the relationship between political objectives and military objectives in war
    * the asymmetrical relationship between attack and defense
    * the nature of "military genius" (involving matters of personality and character, beyond intellect)
    * the "fascinating trinity" (wunderliche dreifaltigkeit) of war
    * philosophical distinctions between "absolute or ideal war," and "real war"
    * in "real war," the distinctive poles of a) limited war and b) war to "render the enemy helpless"
    * "war" belongs fundamentally to the social realm—rather than the realms of art or science
    * "strategy" belongs primarily to the realm of art
    * "tactics" belongs primarily to the realm of science
    * the importance of "moral forces" (more than simply "morale") as opposed to quantifiable physical elements
    * the "military virtues" of professional armies (which do not necessarily trump the rather different virtues of other kinds of fighting forces)
    * conversely, the very real effects of a superiority in numbers and "mass"
    * the essential unpredictability of war
    * the "fog" of war
    * "friction"
    * strategic and operational "centers of gravity"
    * the "culminating point of the offensive"
    * the "culminating point of victory"

    Clausewitz used a dialectical method to construct his argument, leading to frequent modern misinterpretation. As described by Christopher Bassford, professor of strategy at the National War College:

    One of the main sources of confusion about Clausewitz's approach lies in his dialectical method of presentation. For example, Clausewitz's famous line that "War is merely a continuation of politics," while accurate as far as it goes, was not intended as a statement of fact. It is the antithesis in a dialectical argument whose thesis is the point—made earlier in the analysis—that "war is nothing but a duel [or wrestling match, a better translation of the German Zweikampf] on a larger scale." His synthesis, which resolves the deficiencies of these two bold statements, says that war is neither "nothing but" an act of brute force nor "merely" a rational act of politics or policy. This synthesis lies in his "fascinating trinity" [wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit]: a dynamic, inherently unstable interaction of the forces of violent emotion, chance, and rational calculation.[1]

    Another example of this confusion is the idea that Clausewitz was a proponent of total war as used in the Third Reich's propaganda in the 1940s. He did not coin the phrase as an ideological ideal--indeed, Clausewitz does not use the term "total war" at all. Rather, he discussed "absolute war" or "ideal war" as the purely logical result of the forces underlying a "pure," Platonic "ideal" of war. In what Clausewitz called a "logical fantasy," war cannot be waged in a limited way: the rules of competition will force participants to use all means at their disposal to achieve victory. But in the real world, such rigid logic is unrealistic and dangerous. As a practical matter, the military objectives in real war that support one's political objectives generally fall into two broad types: "war to achieve limited aims" and war to "disarm” the enemy--i.e., “to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent." Thus the complete defeat of one's enemies may be neither necessary, desirable, nor even possible.

    Despite his death before almost finishing On War, Clausewitz' ideas have been widely influential in military theory. Later Prussian and German generals such as Helmuth Graf von Moltke were clearly influenced by Clausewitz: Moltke's famous statement that "No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy" is a classic reflection of Clausewitz's insistence on the roles of chance, friction, "fog," and uncertainty in war. The idea that actual war includes "friction" which deranges, to a greater or lesser degree, all prior arrangements, has become common currency in other fields as well (e.g., business strategy, sports).

    Some claim that nuclear proliferation makes Clausewitzian concepts obsolescent after a period--i.e., the 20th century--in which they dominated the world.[2] John E. Sheppard, Jr., argues that, by developing nuclear weapons, state-based conventional armies simultaneously both perfected their original purpose (to destroy a mirror image of themselves) and made themselves obsolete. No two nuclear powers have ever fought, if they did, there would be few survivors, who would most probably live excruciatingly painful and miserable existences in post-apocalyptic technological dystopias (see the fictionalized account of post-nuclear survival and attempt to rebuild the state covered in the film Threads). Thus, the beginning of the 21st century found many instances of state armies trying to suppress terrorism, bloody feuds, raids and other intra/supra-state conflict.

    Others, however, argue that the essentials of Clausewitz's theoretical approach remain valid, but that our thinking must adjust to changed realities. Knowing that "war is an expression of politics" does us no good unless we have a valid definition of "politics" and an understanding of how it is reflected in a specific situation. The latter may well turn on religious passions, private interests and armies, etc. While many commentators are quick to dismiss Clausewitz's political context as obsolete, it seems worthwhile to note that the states of the twentieth century were very different from Clausewitz's Prussia, and yet the World Wars are generally seen as "Clausewitzian warfare"; similarly, North and South Vietnam, and the United States as well, were quite unlike 18th-century European states, yet it was the war in Indochina that brought the importance of Clausewitzian theory forcefully home to American thinkers. Clausewitz himself was well aware of the politics that drove the Thirty Years' War, a conflict that bears a great deal of similarity to the current struggle in Iraq. The idea that states cannot suppress rebellions or terrorism in a nuclear-armed world does not bear up well in the light of experience: Just as some rebellions and revolutions succeeded and some failed before 1945, some rebellions and revolutions have succeeded and some have failed in the years since. Insurgencies were successfully suppressed in the Philippines, Yemen, and Malaysia--just a few of many examples. Successful revolutions may destroy some states, but the revolutionaries simply establish new and stronger states--e.g., China, Vietnam, Iran--which seem to be quite capable of handling threats of renewed insurgency.

    The real problem in determining Clausewitz's continuing relevance lies not with his own theoretical approach, which has stood up well over nearly two centuries of intense military and political change. Rather, the problem lies in the way that thinkers with more immediate concerns have adapted Clausewitzian theory to their own narrowly defined eras. When times change, people familiar only with Clausewitz's most recent interpreters, rather than with the original works, assume that the passing of cavalry, or Communism, or the USSR's Strategic Rocket Forces, means that Clausewitz is passé. Yet we always seem to be comfortable describing the age of warfare just past as "Clausewitzian"--even though Clausewitz never saw a rifled musket, a machinegun, a tank, a Viet Cong, or a nuclear weapon.

    The phrase fog of war derives from Clausewitz's stress on how confused warfare can seem while one is immersed within it. [3]. The term Center of gravity, used in a specifically militaristic context, is still used by today's military planners, and was also first used by Clausewitz, and represents (in the simplified form in which it appears in official doctrine) the source from which an opponent derives its strength.

    Another influence lies within the most famous couple in the history of marketing: Al Ries and Jack Trout. In their bestseller Marketing Warfare they used a good quantity of Carl Von Clausewitz's ideas. In fact, his quotes appear all over the text.

    Clausewitz's Christian name is sometimes given in non-German sources as Carl Philipp Gottlieb, Carl Maria, or misspelled Karl due to reliance on mistaken source material, conflations with his wife's name, Marie, or mistaken assumptions about German orthography. Carl Philipp Gottfried appears on Clausewitz's tombstone and is thus most likely to be the correct version. The tombstone reads:

    Hier ruht in Gott
    Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz
    koenigl. General-Major u. Inspecteur der Artillerie
    geboren 1 Juni 1780
    gestorben 16 Nov 1831

    Which translates as:

    Here rests with God
    Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz
    In the royal service, Major General and Inspector of the Artillery
    Born 1 June 1780
    Died 16 November 1831

    Notable Quotes

    * "The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan."
    * "No one starts a war--or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so--without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it."
    * "War is a continuation of politics by other means." (quoted and discussed in the submarine movie Crimson Tide and in the World War II Eastern Front movie Cross of Iron)
    * "To secure peace is to prepare for war." - actually from Vegetius c. 390 AD, not Clausewitz.
    * "“It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.”


    Awh heck. I'm just kidding guys! Here is the Wiki Link.
    For those of use that don't believe in plagiarism.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_von_Clausewitz

  10. #10
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    Gil
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    Sorry for the delay, a mixture of Scrubs, Seinfeld, NBA Live, Dragon Quest VIII, and homework prevented me from concocting another debate. I am not embellishing On War specifically (despite the thread title) but merely the evolution of attrition from the misconceptions associated with On War, as I may have said before. I am also not embellishing Clausewitz, despite his harsh treatment of Napoleon in his analysis of the 1812 campaign. Now the ability to be successful in war, as we know it, is still undefined in the tactical sense (thus dooming my argument). While the thought processes behind war have become more and more complicated as time goes on they have actually devolved rather than evolved into a superior chain of thought. As you said before, tactics and strategy are not affected by technology, so the evolution of technology should not have affected the evolution of tactics and strategy (except for a mild accordance and an increase of potentialities). Being that they have devolved we must assume that all works discussing military strategy are flawed, and the ones that are the least flawed are works by Great Commanders.

    To prove the point of devolution: War, when it first originated, was merely a scattered group of people engaging another scattered group of people in combat. The victor would be dictated by whichever force was superior in numbers or weapons or physical superiority. In essence attrition is what dictated the victory, as the destruction of the enemy was the foremost object, more so than the protection of one’s men. I imagine it eventually came to some one to change this, and thus we have strategies and tactics. Now their existence is purely for one of two purposes, sometimes both, the increase of casualties of the enemy and the decrease of casualties of your own men. In the case of the increase or the decrease alone the affect on the opposite casualties is generally intended to stay the same. However, attrition is an increase of casualties on both sides, with considerably less regard to the army that one is using. Such use of men leads to a decrease in morale, and a scorn between the commanding officers and the soldiers, who are effectively made into fodder with which to destroy the enemy. While attrition doesn’t necessarily not use strategies and tactics, the overall effect is the same, as in the absence of those strategies and tactics attrition occurs, regardless. Having spoken directly to combat veterans (from Iraq), almost all of them have the same scorn for their commanders seemingly arbitrarily sending them into battle. The resulting decrease of morale creates a decrease in the Force of Will (a Clausewitz concept) which is only compensated for with an increase in the number of soldiers. Now, admittedly, every soldier in the army can’t know the specific plan for the whole battle, but every Great Commander has always had most of their original men (men originating from their country) love them because they didn’t use the men so arbitrarily. Every GC has avoided and oftentimes overcome attrition and thus prevented unnecessary casualties. Napoleon was so beloved that he was able to regain power merely because the military loved his presence and his ability (“Napoleon’s presence on the battlefield was worth 10,000 men”). Attrition tends to destroy this relationship (as do, incidentally, excessively large numbers). Before the same Napoleon invaded Russia he had an estimated 800,000 men, of which only perhaps 300,000 were French, the foreign troops he had did not move so vigorously and effectively and he was unable to procure a total victory in the campaign. The resulting loss of men (many from the occupied Germanic territories) led to the uprising of their countries and Napoleon’s first and most decisive downfall. Of course, he was in a completely unique situation, one which no GC that he studied had ever faced, with dominance already secured in Europe. Thus he can’t really be blamed too harshly for not bringing forth the best strategy for the campaign or for not consolidating. The famous “Not a step back” ultimatum sent to the soviet soldiers in Stalingrad gave them the choice of whose weapons to die upon, which certainly prevents the preserving of good relations between officers and soldiers.

    It is not a prerequisite that all Great Commanders write a work of strategy, it is their decision, and their works can be studied in full without much scorn, whereas the non-GC works still have that ever present scorn. Liddell-Hart, to his credit, actually did speak to the best commanders of his day and could thus presumably come up with the best strategy put forth by them. However, Manstein and others’ inability to overcome attrition does limit them from procuring that status, at least in my book. Of course without the presence of Hitler in their country they may have been able to over come it (given that their great depression was still reversed and World War 2 still occurred), so I could be completely wrong, but it still deserves at least some circumspection.

    Formations, as you say, are never perfect. However, there are always the first troops into battle (Vanguard), the last troops into battle (Rear), and barring an encirclement there is always the Left portion of the line and the Right portion of the line and the focal point of the line (Center). The center can shift to the left or the right (and even embody either, in extreme cases (Leuthen)). The cross I specify doesn’t necessarily have to be a cross, as the Left can be miles and miles away from the Right or the Center and vice versa for all parts (as in the vanguard and center can be miles away from each other). However, the separation of the army into these portions allows for their specific distributions of different types of troops is important for whatever point. The first troops into battle always need to provide a foundation with which the rest of the troops can work from and it should create weaknesses to be later exploited. Therefore the Vanguard needs to be composed of powerful and mobile troops with a courageous (but still somewhat circumspect, in the ideal situation) commander. The Left and Right change with every battle as the landscape changes, so whatever the landscape favors determines their makeup, but they usually have the purpose of outflanking or outmaneuvering the opponent to gain advantages. Of course the Rear needs a flexible commander to set ambushes or reinforce any part of the line. The tactical situation always favors the cross because it is always the cross. It may seem like I'm pointing out nothing in saying this, but to form a cross emphasizes the points, which are always extent in battle. The distribution of troops through these points can determine the outcome of a battle and a good distribution always improves the tactical situation. But it is only a way to approach battle, not a way to engage in the battle, that is dictated entirely by the situation (as ATG, Caesar, and Subotai used different maneuvers in most every battle). As the formation is more a matter of strategy and the maneuvers are more a matter of tactics. But, there is even an exception to that rule. Frederick the Great approached almost every one of his battles the same way. The objective was always to outflank the opponent and to thus favor his troops in the assault, where the outflank occurred always changed but not the base strategy. The battles of Leuthen and Rossbach both used this tactic to supreme effect and remain as two of the most perfectly executed battles in history. He led Prussia to dominate over several superior countries (in the Seven Years’ War he was completely surrounded by them) in two seven year long wars that led to the future dominance of Prussia and the eventual foundation of Germany. This shows that although there is no specific way to approach battles, mastery of tactics by their repetition is just as effective as using a different approach to every battle.
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