Strategic Thought: The Relevance of Clausewitz

Authored by: Antulio J. Echevarria

The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Warfare

Print publication date:  February  2010
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754674108
eBook ISBN: 9781315613284
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042495


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Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) developed his theories some 200 years ago, after witnessing first-hand the effectiveness of Napoleon’s way of waging war. Nonetheless, they have proven remarkably resilient. One reason for this durability is undoubtedly, as historian Hew Strachan suggests, that the ideas expressed in Clausewitz’s masterwork, On War (Vom Kriege), are ambiguous enough to lend themselves to reinterpretation when new circumstances emerge. 1 1

Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007). The edition of On War used throughout this essay is Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege. Hinterlassenes Werk des Generals Carl von Clausewitz, 19th edn, ed. by Werner Hahlweg (Bonn: Dümmlers, 1991); hereafter, Vom Kriege. Due to its popularity, references will also be made to Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University, 1976); hereafter, On War.

Yet, there is another, equally valid reason. As the late American strategic theorist Bernard Brodie once argued, the analyses underpinning the Prussian’s ideas penetrate to the very fundamentals of war. 2 2

Bernard Brodie, ‘The Continuing Relevance of On War,’ in On War, pp. 45–50.

It is the desire to understand those fundamentals that draws serious readers to On War, whether or not what they ultimately see is largely a reflection of the assumptions and concerns of their times. Brodie went on to say that On War was the only military text to have plumbed war’s depths so thoroughly. That is still true today, and it makes the earnest study of On War all the more rewarding.

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