War, Politics, and Power – Karl von Clausewitz

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Synopsis:

War, Politics, and Power is an abridgment of the well-known On War by Carl von Clausewitz. It takes from On War the critical abstractions, and presents them in an intellectually satisfying form. Although On War is seminal and without equal War, Politics, and Power offers the writings of Clausewitz in a tolerable way for those that have either never read Clausewitz before, or for those experienced readers that desire a quick reference book.

Excerpts:

“We are, instead, considering all the combined tendencies of the mind and soul toward military activity, and these we may regard as the essence of military genius. We say ‘combined,’ for military genius consists not of a single capacity for war, but rather of a harmonious combination of powers, in which one may predominate but none may be in opposition.

“War is the province of uncertainty; three-fourths of the things upon which action in war is calculated lie hidden in a fog of uncertainty. A fine penetrating intellect is thus required to feel out the truth with instinctive judgment.

“If we take a comprehensive view of the four components of the atmosphere of war – danger, physical effort, uncertainty, and chance – it is readily understood that a great moral and mental force is needed to cope with these baffling elements. We find historians and military chroniclers describing this force as energy, firmness, staunchness, strength of mind and character.

“A great part of the information in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is somewhat doubtful. This requires that an officer possess a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give. The law of probability must be his guide.

“Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction beyond the imagination of those who have not seen war.

*All excerpts have been taken from War, Politics, and Power, Regnery Publishing, Inc.

War by Timetable – AJP Taylor

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Synopsis:

One of the decisive components of the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was the rapidity of mobilization sustained by the Prussian Army. Following the war the mobilization timetables of the great European powers would come to dominate military doctrine. Ultimately, the competitive struggle over mobilization timetables would climax with the outbreak of the First World War.

In his book War by Timetable, A.J.P. Taylor sketches the evolution of the importance of the timetables, and advances the thesis that once the timetables had been initiated there was no reversing them.

Excerpts:

“The essential European balance was between the Franco-Russian or Dual Alliance on the one side and the Triple Alliance, or more realistically the Austro-German Alliance, on the other. Both sets of alliances were strictly defensive if taken literally: they were to operate only in case of attack, and since every great power declared that it was exclusively concerned with defence, war was theoretically impossible.

“It was universal doctrine that speed was essential. Whichever power completed its mobilisation first would strike first and might even win the war before the other side was ready. Hence the time-tables became ever more ingenious and ever more complicated.

“There was little consultation between military planners and civilian statesmen. The statesmen assumed that the general staffs were doing their best to ensure that they would win a war if one came, and there was no speculation on how policy could be seconded by military action. The dogma of the great Clausewitz that ‘war is a continuation of policy by other means’ had lost its hold. War had now become a theoretical operation conducted for its own sake.

“Certainly the Germans did not rely on the Austrians for the defence of German territory in the east. Instead they relied on time – that is to say, the superior speed of their own mobilisation. They assumed that they would have defeated France before the Russians were prepared to move against East Prussia on any great scale at all.

“…there was only one decision which turned the little Balkan conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia into a European war. That was the German decision to start general mobilisation on 31st July, and that was in its turn decisive because of the academic ingenuity with which Schlieffen, now in his grave, had attempted to solve the problem of a two-front war.

*All excerpts have been taken from War by Timetable, Endeavour Press Ltd.

A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind – Martin van Creveld

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Synopsis:

In A History of Strategy, celebrated military theorist Martin van Creveld charts the evolution of strategy throughout its checkered history from antiquity to the present epoch. The survey Creveld offers underscores the paramount ideas of strategy within each era, and pinpoints their ideological prime movers.

Excerpts:

“To restore the power of the offensive and save casualties, Liddell Hart went on to recommend ‘the indirect approach.’ Rather than attacking the enemy head on, he had to be weakened first by having his limbs cut off, his organization disrupted, and the mind of his commander unbalanced.

“Spurred by America’s failure in Vietnam, which was blamed on the strategy of attrition adopted by the US armed forces, the 1980s saw a revival of conventional warfare theory centering on such ideas as maneuver warfare and AirLand Battle. As their names imply, both focused on strategy and the operational art while all but ignoring strategy.

“With Fuller acting as the stimulant, mobility was married to mechanization. The outcome was something known as ‘the battle in depth’: meaning a highly offensive campaign which would be launched not merely along the front but against the enemy’s communications, depots, and command centers as well.

“Later the idea of ‘Massive Retaliation’ was adopted by the incoming Eisenhower Administration. As Secretary of State Alan Dulles declared in a famous speech, the US would not permit the other side to dictate the site and mode of the next war. Instead, any attempt by the Communists to engage in aggression anywhere in the world might be instantly met with means, and at a place, of America’s own choosing.

“…by 1990, at the latest, the Clausewitzian framework was beginning to show serious cracks. As has just been said, it proved incapable of incorporating warfare by, or against, non-state actors. To this point that Clausewitz himself, in the five pages he devoted to the subject, treated guerilla warfare solely as an extension of the struggle between states. At the same time, the question could not be avoided as to whether his insistence on the inherent tendency of war to escalate made him into a reasonable guide to nuclear-armed military establishments, one of whose objectives was deterrence rather than warfighting.

*All excerpts have been taken from A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind, Castalia House.