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Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction (Very…
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Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (udgave 2002)

af Michael Howard

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Karl von Clausewitz's study On War was described by the American strategic thinker Bernard Brodie as 'not simply the greatest, but the only great book about war'. It is hard to disagree. Even though he wrote his only major work at a time when the range of firearms was fifty yards, much of whathe had to say remains relevant today. Michael Howard explains Clausewitz's ideas in terms both of his experiences as a professional soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, and of the intellectual background of his time.… (mere)
Medlem:My-ebooks-haven
Titel:Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Forfattere:Michael Howard
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2002), Paperback, 96 pages
Samlinger:My collection
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Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction af Michael Howard

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Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction is your eighty-ish-page guide to one of the world's most lauded strategic thinkers, Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, best known for his straightforwardly-titled On War. The book is written by Sir Michael Howard, a British historian (best?) known for the 1977 translation of On War that remains the standard English-language edition. The book consists of a short biographical and contextual overview of Clausewitz's life and world, followed by a concise and succinct summary of his major theoretical developments.

It is not easy, however, to give a fair and comprehensive summary of Clausewitz’s strategic doctrine, since it is presented with infuriating incoherence. Key passages relating to it are scattered almost at random throughout On War, fully bearing out his gloomy prophecy that his readers would find in the book only ‘a collection of material from which a theory of war was to have been distilled’.

If you've ever tried reading On War, you know that it's a bit of a rough ride. As Howard describes, On War was never actually finished (indeed, only one chapter seems to have been properly edited before the author's untimely demise from cholera), and Clausewitz was not exactly writing with readability in mind. This is one of those cases where the Very Short Introduction series does wonderful work, extracting and distilling the points Clausewitz was trying to make them far clearer than the man himself ever could.

With regards Clausewitz's teachings, in the Anglophonic world he is remembered, if at all, for the saying that "war is a continuation of politics by other means", which nowadays is usually quoted as a way of insulting the political class. This is a rather unfortunate misunderstanding of On War, which instead argues that wars must be propagated for political purposes:

War cannot be divorced from political life; and whenever this occurs in our thinking about war, the many links that connect the two elements are destroyed and we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense. (p. 605)

This is to say that nobody starts a war for the sole purpose of destroying an opposing army. Destroying the enemy's fighting force is merely a means to a fundamentally political end - a transfer of land, an unconditional surrender, a change in the ruling class, etc., etc. As George Clemenceau would say a few decades later: "War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men". One cannot help but draw comparisons to American military engagements in Vietnam and Afghanistan as at least supporting Clausewitz's conclusion. The Vietnam-era obsession with body counts and the never-ending succession of strikes against 'senior Taliban commanders' show the futility of a war fought without a proper policy objective. (It's also the reason the Secretary of Defense is supposed to be a civilian, something the current Administration is rather willfully ignoring.) And that's not even touching on the importance of popular support to actually winning a war.

Clausewitz is often paired or contrasted with Swiss scholar of war Antoine-Henri Jomini, of whom both Clausewitz and Howard are rather hostile to. Jomini's conception of war was as an almost geometric exercise, the elegant maneuvering of forces in a way that was almost mathematical. Clausewitz strongly disagreed with the Enlightenment-era belief that war could be reduced to something scientific. His conception of friction - a.k.a. 'no plan survives contact with the enemy' - is certainly something that is still grossly under-appreciated to this day.

Taken out of their context, such passages as these give a horrifying impression of Clausewitz’s teaching, but no one who had experienced Napoleonic warfare could have quarrelled with his statement ‘the character of battle is slaughter, and its price is blood’ (p. 259). He was determined not to let his readers ever lose sight of the horrible reality that lay at the centre of the urbane, abstract, or technical treatises in which every strategic analyst before him, and all too many of them since, dealt with the subject of war. This was not the least of the services he rendered to soldiers and civilians alike.

Howard doesn't brush Clausewitz's shortcomings under the rug, thankfully. Clausewitz remained strangely disinterested in the role of maritime power and economics, despite the relevance of both to his body of work. More understandably, Clausewitz made basically no consideration of the role of technological developments in war, primarily because the actual means by which wars were fought in Europe hadn't changed all that much in centuries. That said, Clausewitzian theory remains weirdly applicable to nuclear war, due to his understanding of the role of political leadership and the importance of posturing, the 'unfought engagements'.

If you're looking to brush up on some classic military theory, it's a light and easy read, and much clearer than anything you'll get from von Clausewitz himself.
( )
  pvoberstein | Dec 14, 2020 |
The Platonic form of the VSI: a short essay on the subject's life, a slightly longer essay on the subject's thought, all very well written, clear and interesting without being needlessly condescending. Clausewitz seems more interesting to me now than he did before I read this (in part because Howard shows how C is influenced by German idealism; in part because Howard shows how C's thought might be relevant in the nuclear era, without denying that we have to make some adjustments to that thought). Highly recommended if you want to know i) a bit about the difference between absolute and limited war; ii) the relation between war and politics; iii) a few neat Clausewitz quotes without having to get through the 700 pages of 'On War.' ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Some of these "short introduction" books are pretty weak but you certainly can't complain about a short introduction to Clausewitz written by Michael Howard. Hits all the high points in a few pages. ( )
  SPQR2755 | Oct 13, 2013 |
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About Karl von Clausewitz's study On War the American strategic thinker Bernard Brodie has made the bold statement 'His is not simply the greatest, but the only great book about war.'
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Karl von Clausewitz's study On War was described by the American strategic thinker Bernard Brodie as 'not simply the greatest, but the only great book about war'. It is hard to disagree. Even though he wrote his only major work at a time when the range of firearms was fifty yards, much of whathe had to say remains relevant today. Michael Howard explains Clausewitz's ideas in terms both of his experiences as a professional soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, and of the intellectual background of his time.

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