Reflections on Clausewitz: Book II Chapter 1

Book II: On the Theory of War

Chapter 1: Branches of the Art of War

Although war is a physical contest, the moral component cannot be omitted for “…the condition of the mind has always the most decisive influence on the forces employed in War.”  It ain’t the size of the dog in the fight…

He points out that there’s a reciprocal relationship between arms and fighting; one influences the other, and vice versa.  But they remain different; excellence in arms is not excellence in fighting, in other words “Polishing is fun, but learn to run your gun.”

“The Art of War is making use of the means at hand.” (Paraphrased – German is not a pithy language.) He defines tactics as “the theory of the use of military forces in combat,” and strategy as “the theory of the use of combats for the object of the war,” for which he points towards the combination of different units which naturally differentiate on the battlefield, as pointed out in Book I chapter 1 (I always found it risible that Civ V put the Combined Arms tech in the Atomic Era).

Tactics and strategy cover only the use of the military force; there are the secondary activities to consider, the maintenance of the military force.  Along with creation and preparation, these activities should be excluded from the Art of War proper, so as to excise heterogeneous elements.  That is, they are a distraction from the practice of arms.  Activities such as marches, camps, and cantonments (outposts), should be included in the Art of War, because they only occur when there is a focus towards battle.  Subsistence, care of the sick, the supply and repair of arms and equipment belong to the maintenance area; in the present day we denote this difference by referring to certain trades (Infanteer or Pilot versus Cook) as “Combat Arms”.  Nonetheless, he warns of speaking of only marches and not combat; many armchair Generals speak of maneuvering as if that were the entirety of battle, as if it were some sort of non-violent method of achieving the objective.  The contest of arms is the firstborn son of war, after all. (Book I Chapter 2)

Camps and cantonments are both tactical and strategic in their nature, but the methods of construction are not part of the conduct of War.  As vital as Administration is, supplying the troops is an utterly different activity than making use of the troops.

He finishes off this chapter by arguing against the critic who considers his delineation of tactics and strategy on the one hand, and conduct of war versus preparation for war on the other, as mere pedantry.  I can’t imagine a modern person dismissing these concepts so readily – if anything, a modern person would roll their eyes at the obviousness of it.

It’s not just in military affairs that we’ve created a division of labour, it’s become a universal distinction in business, as well.  Even our schools are no longer a single building with a headmistress; we have the teachers, the administrators, and the maintenance staff.  I believe what we’re seeing here is a case of Seinfeld” Is Unfunny: the ideas which Clausewitz delineated were counterintuitive at the time, but proved to be so effective that they’ve now become ubiquitous.



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Davis M.J. Aurini

Trained as a Historian at McMaster University, and as an Infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces, I'm a Scholar, Author, Film Maker, and a God fearing Catholic, who loves women for their illogical nature.

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