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Do the Writings of Clausewitz have contemporary relevance?

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Introduction

Do the Writings of Clausewitz have contemporary relevance? Carl Von Clausewitz has long been considered one of the most important writers in the field of military strategy and tactics. Born in 1780 he first saw action in 1793 when he was a Lance Corporal in the Prussian Army.1 He was to serve throughout the Napoleonic wars working for both the Prussians and the Russians. However: "throughout his military career he never held a command and was probably unsuited for such. He was essentially a student of war..."2 However, despite this lack of command, Clausewitz had certainly gained enough experience during the Napoleonic wars to have a fairly comprehensive idea about what war was: "Before he was forty, he had taken part in some of the greatest battles in the history of warfare and had seen the armies of Napoleon storm their way across Europe to Moscow... Alls this had been the result of military operations, but it was clear to Clausewitz as a young man that the explanation for the success or failure of these operations was not to be sought on the battlefield alone".3 As a result of this, during his career he came up with many ideas of views on the nature and conduct of war, writing literally thousands of pages of manuscripts on a wide range of areas ranging from politics to tactics.4 After the wars end, he set about trying to write a comprehensive eight part 'guide' on his ideas. This collection of essays and manuscripts became known as "Vom Kriege" (On War). Clausewitz died in 1831 having only completed six of the eight parts.5 Indeed it is important to realise that despite the importance of his work, it is still unfinished and does not cover a number of areas: "On War contains a comprehensive analysis of the strategy operations and tactics of Napoleonic War, and of their 18th Century background. ...read more.

Middle

violence: "How are we to counter the highly sophisticated theory that supposes it is possible for a particularly ingenious method of inflicting minor direct damage on the enemy's forces to lead to major indirect destruction; or that claims to produce by means of limited but skilfully applied blows, such paralysis of the enemy's forces and control of his willpower as to constitute a significant shortcut to victory"23 This argument clearly shows that not all of Clausewitz has aged well - obviously during the Napoleonic era the idea of information warfare did not exist - so it would have been next to impossible to win a war using non violent means - however as has been shown in this age it is at least technically possible to achieve such a victory. It suggests that some parts of Clausewitz's work should perhaps be seen as less relevant to certain situations than others. One area which appears to still be relevant is Clausewitz's comments on the application of force. In the West today public opinion seems to favour engagements with minimal casualties - the public seem to want intervention when scenes of suffering are on TV (the so called CNN effect), but at the same time seem unwilling to tolerate the idea of people dying to stop the suffering24. This is a situation where Clausewitz noted that: "If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by the bloodshed it involves while the other side refrain, the first will gain the upper hand".25 This idea seems to have been taken onboard by a number of third world leaders who have engaged in some form of conflict with Western Countries (primarily the USA). A good example of this is the conflicts in Somalia - when the USA sent in troops to help restore order to the country they were hampered by restrictive rules of engagement and limited amounts of equipment - for example tanks as these were felt inappropriate.26On the other hand, the opposition led by self styled Warlord ...read more.

Conclusion

18 Even then Clausewitz did not attempt to write on maritime operations - concentrating solely on land warfare. 19 The Next World War,p14, James Adams, 1998 Hutchinson. 20 A good example of this prediction was seen with the terrorist attack on the 11th of September. 21 Quote taken from www.gov.au/lwsc/publications/CA%eEssays/RMA 22 Flashpoint World War Three, p153-154, Andrew Murray, 1997, Pluto Press 23 On War, p228, Carl Von Clausewitz, (edited by Michael Howard & Peter Paret), 1984, Princeton University Press 24 Given the current situation in the USA it will be interesting to see whether the so called 'body bag' syndrome has ended or whether once US troops are killed, public opinion will change to demand a more peaceful solution. 25 On War, p75-76, Carl Von Clausewitz, (edited by Michael Howard & Peter Paret), 1984, Princeton University Press 26 Information taken from Deliver us From Evil, (Chapter 4), William Shawcross,2000, Bloomsbury. 27 Total American losses in Somalia were 30 dead, 175 wounded, the UN lost 72 killed and 87 wounded (Source World Conflicts, Patrick Brogan, 1998, Bloomsbury) 28 Deliver us from evil, p103, William Shawcross, 2000 Bloomsbury. 29 On War, p596, Carl Von Clausewitz, (edited by Michael Howard & Peter Paret), 1984, Princeton University Press 30 Clausewitz, Michael Howard, p39, 1983, Oxford University Press. (Professor Howard incorporates a quote from On War, p596, Carl Von Clausewitz, (edited by Michael Howard & Peter Paret), 1984, Princeton University Press) 31 One Hundred Days, p100, Admiral Sandy Woodward, 1992, Harper Collins 32 However - given the overwhelming amount of Western military power in the region and the political willpower to fight the war, it seems likely that Iraq would still have lost the war - whether Israel was a centre of gravity in the sense that it could remove the coalition from the war seems dubious. 33 Quote taken from www.Clausewitz.com, however text is from an article originally published in Joint Forces Quarterly, Winter 1995-1996 which is reproduced on the website. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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