Monday, November 2, 2020

Review of On War by Carl von Clausewitz

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Elaborate Description

War is represented as an extension of political decision, an extension of policies. Force, or the threat of force, is a means to make the opponent yield to conditions. Compelling the enemy to do what the other wants is the reason for war. Disarming the enemy becomes the aim of war and to achieve this, the enemy must face a higher opportunity cost of challenge than accepting the sacrifice. The situation must be made more difficult for the enemy than the conditions of the other.

A major portion of this book deals with epistemology. This is a book on the uncertainty of decisions. People always like clarity and certainty, but nature likes uncertainty. Chance and luck covered in unfamiliar circumstances make decisions of the generals and those who look to the general for guidance very unreliable. Not knowing the opponents’ true strength of physical numbers or technology pale in comparison to the moral characteristics of the opponents. Moral can make armies fight harder or give up quicker. The lower ranks look to their commanders for moral inspiration, putting the generals in a very precarious situation to keep the moral high.

A rarity among armies (and in general) is that of genius. To be a genius require a host of characteristics which hinge on a highly developed mental aptitude for particular occupation. Armies would be weak if every soldier required some military genius. Military genius is required to see the information that may lead to a truth while following that information in a field of uncertainty. Selecting data and using critical analysis is indispensable for generals. Providing the conceptual to the actual feel of a war, and requirements for good soldiers and good generals, Clausewitz generates a comprehensive guide of military activity.

Expectations become paramount as the attacker needs to expect probable chance of victory, much like the defended needs to expect a probable chance of the resistance working to make the attacker retreat. Expectations can create a standstill as neither side sees an opportunity of an advantage. While force may not be of physical contact, the expectation of force is required. Expectations can create a war without fighting as one side sees overwhelming odds and would prefer to give in without paying a human toll as well.

The book goes back and forth between attack and defense. Defense is taken to be the stronger as the defender has the ability to wait. The author stipulates the advantages and disadvantages to both defense and attack, while also stating what can cause each to get stronger or weaker. It is actually hard to differential between defense and attack, for the defender needs to counterattack to prevent further attacks. If the defender does not retaliate, the attacker would gain a higher advantage. Attack is needed for a good defense and vise versa, along side knowing how to identify when there is an advantageous time for attack or defense. A nation that does not have a good defense, with or without a pretension notion that disarmament leads to peace, creates an expectation that the nation will easily be compelled to the will of the attacker.

Winning or losing an attack or defense does not mean the war is lost or won as the circumstance can always change. A war is won or lost in the sum of all interactions, not just on a particular battle. A particular battle will influence the next battle and the conditions of potential surrender, but it will not represent a decisive moment of a loss or victory in war. A culminating point is needed to end the war, with the culminating point being highly uncertain. Should the defender’s nation be conquered, the invader cannot have a complete victory if the population does not accept them. The conquered antagonistic relations will cause them to continuously rebel and potentially drive the invaders back.

The writing of this books starts easier than it ends. This is partly because Clausewitz moves from general practice to military specifics, but also due to its incompleteness. Only the first part (book 1) was completely edited by the author, while the later parts were meant to be edited but could not be due to the death of Clausewitz. Nevertheless, the book is fairly decently written, but there are contradicts as they could not be revised. Contradictions exists because Clausewitz edited his work from real life experience, from external feedback.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780199540020
Pages to read:   293
Publication:     2008
1st Edition:      1832
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability     4
Content           4
Overall           4