May 21, 2006

Better Get A Bitter While You’re At It

Filed under: — Chap @ 2:25 pm

Chinese food, eh? Maybe a best bitter and a weisse to go with it.

Charlie at OpFor has decided, upon ruminating with some Chinese food, that Clauzewitz was wrong and Sun Tzu was right in terms of the approach most properly to take with regard to Iran. Charlie makes some good points about Iran and strategy but appears to me to make the same mistake others have made in thinking about Clausewitz’ theory of warfare as being only shoot-’em-up warfare. I’m not quibbling with Charlie’s strategic analysis of Iran; I’m taking issue with flatly denying Clausewitz the ability to see past merely launching missiles. Clausewitz understood well that Politik has a place in warfare, and didn’t negate the possibility of methods of warfare that didn’t include the infantry.

The prime debunker of this fallacy is the fellow who invented the term “grand strategy”, whose Memoirs I happen to coincidentally be reading: Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart. Liddell Hart wrote in the March 1925 Empire Review:

The aim of a nation in war is, therefore, to subdue the enemy’s will to resist, with the least possible human and economic loss to itself.

If we realize that this is the true objective, we shall appreciate the fact that the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is but a means–and not necessarily an inevitable or infallible one–to the attainment of the real objective. It is clearly not, as is so often claimed, the sole, true objective in war. Once we have cleared the air of the fog of catchwords which surround the conduct of war, but grasping that in the human will lies the source and mainspring of all conflict, as of all other activities of life, it becomes transparently clear that our goal in war can only be attained by the subjugation of the opposing will. All acts, such as defeat in the field, propaganda, blockade, diplomacy, or attack on the centres of government and population, are seen to be but means to that end, and, instead of being tied to one fixed means, we are free to weigh the respective merits of each, and to choose whichever is most suitable and most economic, i.e. that which will gain the goal with the minimum disruption of our national life during and after the war. Of what use is decisive victory in battle if we bleed to death because of it?

War is subjugating the will of the enemy. Military force qua force isn’t the only, or even the best, way to do that. It is interesting to me that a guy who didn’t like Clausewitz all that much is defending him in this aspect.

Liddell Hart comments thirty years later about his article:

My essay then dealt with the way that the doctrine of ‘absolute war’ had developed from the teachings of Clausewitz after the Napoleonic Wars, and become established in the military thought of later generations by the success of the Prussian Army in the wars of 1866 and 1870. I pointed out that his disciples ‘as is the way of the followers of any great teacher’, had seized on to his [Clausewitz’] more vivid assertions while disregarding his reservations, and carried them to a fatal extreme in framing a doctrine of ‘unlimited war’ that was really a too narrowly limited concept–of destruction regardless of object and outcome.

I proceeded to summarise a number of cases in history in which the issue of war had been decided by striking at ‘the moral objective’ and paralysing ‘the enemy’s will to resist’ without first destroying the mass of his armed forces…

I think that last sentence there is worth some pause.

You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve taken issue with an OpFor analysis on Iran options. I don’t know if this is a trend or not. Thoughts?

4 Responses to “Better Get A Bitter While You’re At It”

  1. Bobby Says:


    Although numerous scholars have tried to claim otherwise, there’s really no evidence that Clausewitz advocated a system of total war. It’s usually just the product of historians/scholars who are misinterpreting some of the points he makes– often (though not always) because they (the historians/scholars) want to emphasize total war over low-intensity conflict in military tradition. In fact, Professor Adam Lowether presented a paper at the Fort Leavenworth last summer, in which he explitictly emphasized the multitude of “small war” concepts in Clausewitzean military tradition.

    As for Sun Tzu, Dr. Ralph Sawyer presented a paper in Calgary just a few weeks ago (will be available online at the CDFAI website) in which he noted that the historical tendency to view Sun Tzu and Asian warfare as the “asymmetric” to the Western “linear” tradition is just plain wrong. It’s true that historians tend to view Western/Clausewitzean warfare as being primarily conventional, and they similarly see Sun Tzu and Asian military history as being almost exclusively based on unconventional concepts (such as deception), but this distinction is very much artificial and mistaken. As Dr. Sawyer noted, in many instances, Asian military history was at times every bit as “total” as the West, and that there are aspects of Sun Tzu’s Art of War that are overlooked in order to perpetuate this claim.

    I’m not claiming, of course, that Western (and especially American) professional military officers haven’t tended to emphasize the conventional over the unconventional traditions of warfare. I am, however, nothing that those who cite Clausewitzean edicts as the reason for such thinking are, at best, mistaken and, at worst, downright misleading.

  2. John Says:

    I’ve got a trend for you right here, sucker

  3. chap Says:

    Double heh with a Triple Lindy twist.

    oh, how those OpFor guys get so much stinkin’ traffic….

  4. Military WebCOM News Says:

    A Veterans Day Salute

    The Departments of the Veterans of Foreign Wars salute all of our Veterans,Past, Present and Future. The piece below was written by by Marine Corp chaplain, Father Denis Edward O’Brian T

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