Clausewitz and his works

Por • 12 sep, 2021 • Sección: sociologia

by Christopher Bassford

Since the close of the Vietnam War, the ideas expounded by the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) have come—very often in twisted, garbled, or mutated form—to thoroughly permeate American military writing (doctrinal, theoretical, and historical). His book On War (published posthumously in Prussia as Vom Kriege in 1832), was adopted as a key text at the Naval War College in 1976, the Air War College in 1978, and the Army War College in 1981. It has always been central at the U.S. Army’s School for Advanced Military Studies at Leavenworth (founded in 1983). The U.S. Marine Corps’s brilliant little philosophical field manual FMFM 1: Warfighting (1989) was essentially a distillation of On War (with a heavy maneuverist flavoring from Sun Tzu), and the more recent Marine Corps Doctrinal Publications (MCDPs, c.1997) equally reflect many of Clausewitz’s basic concepts.*2

The late 1970s to the end of the First Gulf War were not the first time Clausewitz has been in fashion. Indeed, On War has been the bible of many thoughtful soldiers ever since Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke attributed to its guidance his stunning victories in the wars of German unification (1864, 1866, 1870-71). Nor is it the first time that individual American soldiers and military thinkers have been attracted by his ideas: George Patton, Albert Wedemeyer, and—especially—Dwight Eisenhower were intensely interested in what he had to say.

It was, however, the first time that the American armed forces as institutions had turned to Clausewitz. While the philosopher had insisted that war was «simply the expression of politics by other means,» the traditional attitude of American soldiers had been that «politics and strategy are radically and fundamentally things apart. Strategy begins where politics end. All that soldiers ask is that once the policy is settled, strategy and command shall be regarded as being in a sphere apart from politics.»*3  sigue en…

The original version of this paper was published as Chapter 2 of Christopher Bassford, Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). The present version was written as courseware for the Army War College in 1996 and has been periodically updated since. ©Christopher Bassford. v.JULY2019

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