As someone with a reputation for adhering to the teachings of Carl von Clausewitz it would seem odd if I were to do anything but commend the writing contained in this Military Strategy Magazine Special Edition to our readers, so please take that as a given.
My introduction to Clausewitz came via the late Colin Gray and his work Another Bloody Century. To that point I had been deeply skeptical of Clausewitz and his academic fan club, never having set foot in a university, attended any lectures and left school at 16. Thus it speaks in Clausewitz’s immense favor that when I actually engaged with the text and the more commonsense commentaries about it, On War immediately began to answer questions that had so far left me confused and bewildered as to the unedifying, confused and clown infested swamp which is modern military thought – and if you think that harsh, Clausewitz would probably not argue with that description because he wrote to clarify and inform his peers, not confuse them further with reputational writing intended to show how clever he was. Clausewitz may not live in the Corporals club, but he should be more of a welcome visitor than many think.
Clausewitz really lives and dies in Professional Military Education (PME). Romping through On War next to other works is a miserable introduction yet that is how many come to meet Clausewitz’s work, yet why should anyone bother? To quote Colin Gray, “if not Clausewitz, then who?”
Ironically, if PME was as practice and evidence based, as some claim, no one would need to teach or even read Clausewitz because a 189-year-old book should have been surpassed by clearer and better work found in modern curricula but barring this somewhat nugatory observation it is fair to state that both reading and understanding On War will never set you wrong or harm your understanding of War and Warfare.
In well over a decade as Editor of Infinity Journal, now Military Strategy Magazine (MSM), and many, many email exchanges and ‘blog’ posts, I have seen all the critiques of Clausewitz flounder, mostly on the simple fault of not having read the book, or not understood the words on the page.
As I have said many times before, Clausewitz is not beyond criticism. There are things he did not say, and things he did not say clearly or well. He was prone to overstatement and using analogies that were perhaps not the best. He didn’t mention naval forces. He didn’t deal as well as he might with Logistics or Intelligence, but very few have, and no other military theorist is held to same semantic standards or levels of rigor as Clausewitz, mainly due to the efforts of more failure prone theorists such as Fuller and Liddell-Hart, post 1918.
Read Clausewitz. Read On War. Everything and anything Clausewitz ever wrote, and make sure to read it more than once. If you don’t get it or think it’s turgid and boring, try and speak to those who don’t and ask for clarity and insights. No soldier or officer was worse at his job for having engaged with Clausewitz.
William F. Owen
Editor, Military Strategy Magazine