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BOOK I. ON THE NATURE OF WAR
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CHAPTER I. WHAT IS WAR?
WE propose to consider first the single elements of our subject, then each
branch or part, and, last of all, the whole, in all its relations—therefore
to advance from the simple to the complex. But it is necessary for us to
commence with a glance at the nature of the whole, because it is
particularly necessary that in the consideration of any of the parts their
relation to the whole should be kept constantly in view.
We shall not enter into any of the abstruse definitions of War used by
publicists. We shall keep to the element of the thing itself, to a duel.
War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a
unit the countless number of duels which make up a War, we shall do so
best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical
force to compel the other to submit to his will: each endeavours to throw
his adversary, and thus render him incapable of further resistance.
WAR THEREFORE IS AN ACT OF VIOLENCE INTENDED TO COMPEL OUR OPPONENT TO
FULFIL OUR WILL.
Violence arms itself with the inventions of Art and Science in order to
contend against violence. Self-imposed restrictions, almost imperceptible
and hardly worth mentioning, termed usages of International Law, accompany
it without essentially impairing its power. Violence, that is to say,
physical force (for there is no moral force without the conception of
States and Law), is therefore the MEANS; the compulsory submission of the
enemy to our will is the ultimate object. In order to attain this object
fully, the enemy must be disarmed, and disarmament becomes therefore the
immediate OBJECT of hostilities in theory. It takes the place of the final
object, and puts it aside as something we can eliminate from our
3. UTMOST USE OF FORCE.
Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skilful method of
disarming and overcoming an enemy without great bloodshed, and that this
is the proper tendency of the Art of War. However plausible this may
appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such
dangerous things as War, the errors which proceed from a spirit of
benevolence are the worst. As the use of physical power to the utmost
extent by no means excludes the co-operation of the intelligence, it
follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the
bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less
vigour in its application. The former then dictates the law to the latter,
and both proceed to extremities to which the only limitations are those
imposed by the amount of counter-acting force on each side.
This is the way in which the matter must be viewed and it is to no
purpose, it is even against one's own interest, to turn away from the
consideration of the real nature of the affair because the horror of its
elements excites repugnance.
If the Wars of civilised people are less cruel and destructive than those
of savages, the difference arises from the social condition both of States
in themselves and in their relations to each other. Out of this social
condition and its relations War arises, and by it War is subjected to
conditions, is controlled and modified. But these things do not belong to
War itself; they are only given conditions; and to introduce into the
philosophy of War itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.
Two motives lead men to War: instinctive hostility and hostile intention.
In our definition of War, we have chosen as its characteristic the latter
of these elements, because it is the most general. It is impossible to
conceive the passion of hatred of the wildest description, bordering on
mere instinct, without combining with it the idea of a hostile intention.
On the other hand, hostile intentions may often exist without being
accompanied by any, or at all events by any extreme, hostility of feeling.
Amongst savages views emanating from the feelings, amongst civilised
nations those emanating from the understanding, have the predominance; but
this difference arises from attendant circumstances, existing
institutions, &c., and, therefore, is not to be found necessarily in
all cases, although it prevails in the majority. In short, even the most
civilised nations may burn with passionate hatred of each other.
We may see from this what a fallacy it would be to refer the War of a
civilised nation entirely to an intelligent act on the part of the
Government, and to imagine it as continually freeing itself more and more
from all feeling of passion in such a way that at last the physical masses
of combatants would no longer be required; in reality, their mere
relations would suffice—a kind of algebraic action.
Theory was beginning to drift in this direction until the facts of the
last War(*) taught it better. If War is an ACT of force, it belongs
necessarily also to the feelings. If it does not originate in the
feelings, it REACTS, more or less, upon them, and the extent of this
reaction depends not on the degree of civilisation, but upon the
importance and duration of the interests involved.
(*) Clausewitz alludes here to the "Wars of Liberation,"
Therefore, if we find civilised nations do not put their prisoners to
death, do not devastate towns and countries, this is because their
intelligence exercises greater influence on their mode of carrying on War,
and has taught them more effectual means of applying force than these rude
acts of mere instinct. The invention of gunpowder, the constant progress
of improvements in the construction of firearms, are sufficient proofs
that the tendency to destroy the adversary which lies at the bottom of the
conception of War is in no way changed or modified through the progress of
We therefore repeat our proposition, that War is an act of violence pushed
to its utmost bounds; as one side dictates the law to the other, there
arises a sort of reciprocal action, which logically must lead to an
extreme. This is the first reciprocal action, and the first extreme with
which we meet (FIRST RECIPROCAL ACTION).
4. THE AIM IS TO DISARM THE ENEMY.
We have already said that the aim of all action in War is to disarm the
enemy, and we shall now show that this, theoretically at least, is
If our opponent is to be made to comply with our will, we must place him
in a situation which is more oppressive to him than the sacrifice which we
demand; but the disadvantages of this position must naturally not be of a
transitory nature, at least in appearance, otherwise the enemy, instead of
yielding, will hold out, in the prospect of a change for the better. Every
change in this position which is produced by a continuation of the War
should therefore be a change for the worse. The worst condition in which a
belligerent can be placed is that of being completely disarmed. If,
therefore, the enemy is to be reduced to submission by an act of War, he
must either be positively disarmed or placed in such a position that he is
threatened with it. From this it follows that the disarming or overthrow
of the enemy, whichever we call it, must always be the aim of Warfare. Now
War is always the shock of two hostile bodies in collision, not the action
of a living power upon an inanimate mass, because an absolute state of
endurance would not be making War; therefore, what we have just said as to
the aim of action in War applies to both parties. Here, then, is another
case of reciprocal action. As long as the enemy is not defeated, he may
defeat me; then I shall be no longer my own master; he will dictate the
law to me as I did to him. This is the second reciprocal action, and leads
to a second extreme (SECOND RECIPROCAL ACTION).
5. UTMOST EXERTION OF POWERS.
If we desire to defeat the enemy, we must proportion our efforts to his
powers of resistance. This is expressed by the product of two factors
which cannot be separated, namely, the sum of available means and the
strength of the Will. The sum of the available means may be estimated in a
measure, as it depends (although not entirely) upon numbers; but the
strength of volition is more difficult to determine, and can only be
estimated to a certain extent by the strength of the motives. Granted we
have obtained in this way an approximation to the strength of the power to
be contended with, we can then take of our own means, and either increase
them so as to obtain a preponderance, or, in case we have not the
resources to effect this, then do our best by increasing our means as far
as possible. But the adversary does the same; therefore, there is a new
mutual enhancement, which, in pure conception, must create a fresh effort
towards an extreme. This is the third case of reciprocal action, and a
third extreme with which we meet (THIRD RECIPROCAL ACTION).
6. MODIFICATION IN THE REALITY.
Thus reasoning in the abstract, the mind cannot stop short of an extreme,
because it has to deal with an extreme, with a conflict of forces left to
themselves, and obeying no other but their own inner laws. If we should
seek to deduce from the pure conception of War an absolute point for the
aim which we shall propose and for the means which we shall apply, this
constant reciprocal action would involve us in extremes, which would be
nothing but a play of ideas produced by an almost invisible train of
logical subtleties. If, adhering closely to the absolute, we try to avoid
all difficulties by a stroke of the pen, and insist with logical
strictness that in every case the extreme must be the object, and the
utmost effort must be exerted in that direction, such a stroke of the pen
would be a mere paper law, not by any means adapted to the real world.
Even supposing this extreme tension of forces was an absolute which could
easily be ascertained, still we must admit that the human mind would
hardly submit itself to this kind of logical chimera. There would be in
many cases an unnecessary waste of power, which would be in opposition to
other principles of statecraft; an effort of Will would be required
disproportioned to the proposed object, which therefore it would be
impossible to realise, for the human will does not derive its impulse from
But everything takes a different shape when we pass from abstractions to
reality. In the former, everything must be subject to optimism, and we
must imagine the one side as well as the other striving after perfection
and even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality? It will if,
(1) War becomes a completely isolated act, which arises suddenly, and is
in no way connected with the previous history of the combatant States.
(2) If it is limited to a single solution, or to several simultaneous
(3) If it contains within itself the solution perfect and complete, free
from any reaction upon it, through a calculation beforehand of the
political situation which will follow from it.
7. WAR IS NEVER AN ISOLATED ACT.
With regard to the first point, neither of the two opponents is an
abstract person to the other, not even as regards that factor in the sum
of resistance which does not depend on objective things, viz., the Will.
This Will is not an entirely unknown quantity; it indicates what it will
be to-morrow by what it is to-day. War does not spring up quite suddenly,
it does not spread to the full in a moment; each of the two opponents can,
therefore, form an opinion of the other, in a great measure, from what he
is and what he does, instead of judging of him according to what he,
strictly speaking, should be or should do. But, now, man with his
incomplete organisation is always below the line of absolute perfection,
and thus these deficiencies, having an influence on both sides, become a
8. WAR DOES NOT CONSIST OF A SINGLE INSTANTANEOUS BLOW.
The second point gives rise to the following considerations:—
If War ended in a single solution, or a number of simultaneous ones, then
naturally all the preparations for the same would have a tendency to the
extreme, for an omission could not in any way be repaired; the utmost,
then, that the world of reality could furnish as a guide for us would be
the preparations of the enemy, as far as they are known to us; all the
rest would fall into the domain of the abstract. But if the result is made
up from several successive acts, then naturally that which precedes with
all its phases may be taken as a measure for that which will follow, and
in this manner the world of reality again takes the place of the abstract,
and thus modifies the effort towards the extreme.
Yet every War would necessarily resolve itself into a single solution, or
a sum of simultaneous results, if all the means required for the struggle
were raised at once, or could be at once raised; for as one adverse result
necessarily diminishes the means, then if all the means have been applied
in the first, a second cannot properly be supposed. All hostile acts which
might follow would belong essentially to the first, and form, in reality
only its duration.
But we have already seen that even in the preparation for War the real
world steps into the place of mere abstract conception—a material
standard into the place of the hypotheses of an extreme: that therefore in
that way both parties, by the influence of the mutual reaction, remain
below the line of extreme effort, and therefore all forces are not at once
It lies also in the nature of these forces and their application that they
cannot all be brought into activity at the same time. These forces are THE
ARMIES ACTUALLY ON FOOT, THE COUNTRY, with its superficial extent and its
population, AND THE ALLIES.
In point of fact, the country, with its superficial area and the
population, besides being the source of all military force, constitutes in
itself an integral part of the efficient quantities in War, providing
either the theatre of war or exercising a considerable influence on the
Now, it is possible to bring all the movable military forces of a country
into operation at once, but not all fortresses, rivers, mountains, people,
&c.—in short, not the whole country, unless it is so small that
it may be completely embraced by the first act of the War. Further, the
co-operation of allies does not depend on the Will of the belligerents;
and from the nature of the political relations of states to each other,
this co-operation is frequently not afforded until after the War has
commenced, or it may be increased to restore the balance of power.
That this part of the means of resistance, which cannot at once be brought
into activity, in many cases, is a much greater part of the whole than
might at first be supposed, and that it often restores the balance of
power, seriously affected by the great force of the first decision, will
be more fully shown hereafter. Here it is sufficient to show that a
complete concentration of all available means in a moment of time is
contradictory to the nature of War.
Now this, in itself, furnishes no ground for relaxing our efforts to
accumulate strength to gain the first result, because an unfavourable
issue is always a disadvantage to which no one would purposely expose
himself, and also because the first decision, although not the only one,
still will have the more influence on subsequent events, the greater it is
But the possibility of gaining a later result causes men to take refuge in
that expectation, owing to the repugnance in the human mind to making
excessive efforts; and therefore forces are not concentrated and measures
are not taken for the first decision with that energy which would
otherwise be used. Whatever one belligerent omits from weakness, becomes
to the other a real objective ground for limiting his own efforts, and
thus again, through this reciprocal action, extreme tendencies are brought
down to efforts on a limited scale.
9. THE RESULT IN WAR IS NEVER ABSOLUTE.
Lastly, even the final decision of a whole War is not always to be
regarded as absolute. The conquered State often sees in it only a passing
evil, which may be repaired in after times by means of political
combinations. How much this must modify the degree of tension, and the
vigour of the efforts made, is evident in itself.
10. THE PROBABILITIES OF REAL LIFE TAKE THE PLACE OF THE CONCEPTIONS OF
THE EXTREME AND THE ABSOLUTE.
In this manner, the whole act of War is removed from the rigorous law of
forces exerted to the utmost. If the extreme is no longer to be
apprehended, and no longer to be sought for, it is left to the judgment to
determine the limits for the efforts to be made in place of it, and this
can only be done on the data furnished by the facts of the real world by
the LAWS OF PROBABILITY. Once the belligerents are no longer mere
conceptions, but individual States and Governments, once the War is no
longer an ideal, but a definite substantial procedure, then the reality
will furnish the data to compute the unknown quantities which are required
to be found.
From the character, the measures, the situation of the adversary, and the
relations with which he is surrounded, each side will draw conclusions by
the law of probability as to the designs of the other, and act
11. THE POLITICAL OBJECT NOW REAPPEARS.
Here the question which we had laid aside forces itself again into
consideration (see No. 2), viz., the political object of the War. The law
of the extreme, the view to disarm the adversary, to overthrow him, has
hitherto to a certain extent usurped the place of this end or object. Just
as this law loses its force, the political must again come forward. If the
whole consideration is a calculation of probability based on definite
persons and relations, then the political object, being the original
motive, must be an essential factor in the product. The smaller the
sacrifice we demand from ours, the smaller, it may be expected, will be
the means of resistance which he will employ; but the smaller his
preparation, the smaller will ours require to be. Further, the smaller our
political object, the less value shall we set upon it, and the more easily
shall we be induced to give it up altogether.
Thus, therefore, the political object, as the original motive of the War,
will be the standard for determining both the aim of the military force
and also the amount of effort to be made. This it cannot be in itself, but
it is so in relation to both the belligerent States, because we are
concerned with realities, not with mere abstractions. One and the same
political object may produce totally different effects upon different
people, or even upon the same people at different times; we can,
therefore, only admit the political object as the measure, by considering
it in its effects upon those masses which it is to move, and consequently
the nature of those masses also comes into consideration. It is easy to
see that thus the result may be very different according as these masses
are animated with a spirit which will infuse vigour into the action or
otherwise. It is quite possible for such a state of feeling to exist
between two States that a very trifling political motive for War may
produce an effect quite disproportionate—in fact, a perfect
This applies to the efforts which the political object will call forth in
the two States, and to the aim which the military action shall prescribe
for itself. At times it may itself be that aim, as, for example, the
conquest of a province. At other times the political object itself is not
suitable for the aim of military action; then such a one must be chosen as
will be an equivalent for it, and stand in its place as regards the
conclusion of peace. But also, in this, due attention to the peculiar
character of the States concerned is always supposed. There are
circumstances in which the equivalent must be much greater than the
political object, in order to secure the latter. The political object will
be so much the more the standard of aim and effort, and have more
influence in itself, the more the masses are indifferent, the less that
any mutual feeling of hostility prevails in the two States from other
causes, and therefore there are cases where the political object almost
alone will be decisive.
If the aim of the military action is an equivalent for the political
object, that action will in general diminish as the political object
diminishes, and in a greater degree the more the political object
dominates. Thus it is explained how, without any contradiction in itself,
there may be Wars of all degrees of importance and energy, from a War of
extermination down to the mere use of an army of observation. This,
however, leads to a question of another kind which we have hereafter to
develop and answer.
12. A SUSPENSION IN THE ACTION OF WAR UNEXPLAINED BY ANYTHING SAID AS YET.
However insignificant the political claims mutually advanced, however weak
the means put forth, however small the aim to which military action is
directed, can this action be suspended even for a moment? This is a
question which penetrates deeply into the nature of the subject.
Every transaction requires for its accomplishment a certain time which we
call its duration. This may be longer or shorter, according as the person
acting throws more or less despatch into his movements.
About this more or less we shall not trouble ourselves here. Each person
acts in his own fashion; but the slow person does not protract the thing
because he wishes to spend more time about it, but because by his nature
he requires more time, and if he made more haste would not do the thing so
well. This time, therefore, depends on subjective causes, and belongs to
the length, so called, of the action.
If we allow now to every action in War this, its length, then we must
assume, at first sight at least, that any expenditure of time beyond this
length, that is, every suspension of hostile action, appears an absurdity;
with respect to this it must not be forgotten that we now speak not of the
progress of one or other of the two opponents, but of the general progress
of the whole action of the War.
13. THERE IS ONLY ONE CAUSE WHICH CAN SUSPEND THE ACTION, AND THIS SEEMS
TO BE ONLY POSSIBLE ON ONE SIDE IN ANY CASE.
If two parties have armed themselves for strife, then a feeling of
animosity must have moved them to it; as long now as they continue armed,
that is, do not come to terms of peace, this feeling must exist; and it
can only be brought to a standstill by either side by one single motive
alone, which is, THAT HE WAITS FOR A MORE FAVOURABLE MOMENT FOR ACTION.
Now, at first sight, it appears that this motive can never exist except on
one side, because it, eo ipso, must be prejudicial to the other. If the
one has an interest in acting, then the other must have an interest in
A complete equilibrium of forces can never produce a suspension of action,
for during this suspension he who has the positive object (that is, the
assailant) must continue progressing; for if we should imagine an
equilibrium in this way, that he who has the positive object, therefore
the strongest motive, can at the same time only command the lesser means,
so that the equation is made up by the product of the motive and the
power, then we must say, if no alteration in this condition of equilibrium
is to be expected, the two parties must make peace; but if an alteration
is to be expected, then it can only be favourable to one side, and
therefore the other has a manifest interest to act without delay. We see
that the conception of an equilibrium cannot explain a suspension of arms,
but that it ends in the question of the EXPECTATION OF A MORE FAVOURABLE
Let us suppose, therefore, that one of two States has a positive object,
as, for instance, the conquest of one of the enemy's provinces—which
is to be utilised in the settlement of peace. After this conquest, his
political object is accomplished, the necessity for action ceases, and for
him a pause ensues. If the adversary is also contented with this solution,
he will make peace; if not, he must act. Now, if we suppose that in four
weeks he will be in a better condition to act, then he has sufficient
grounds for putting off the time of action.
But from that moment the logical course for the enemy appears to be to act
that he may not give the conquered party THE DESIRED time. Of course, in
this mode of reasoning a complete insight into the state of circumstances
on both sides is supposed.
14. THUS A CONTINUANCE OF ACTION WILL ENSUE WHICH WILL ADVANCE TOWARDS A
If this unbroken continuity of hostile operations really existed, the
effect would be that everything would again be driven towards the extreme;
for, irrespective of the effect of such incessant activity in inflaming
the feelings, and infusing into the whole a greater degree of passion, a
greater elementary force, there would also follow from this continuance of
action a stricter continuity, a closer connection between cause and
effect, and thus every single action would become of more importance, and
consequently more replete with danger.
But we know that the course of action in War has seldom or never this
unbroken continuity, and that there have been many Wars in which action
occupied by far the smallest portion of time employed, the whole of the
rest being consumed in inaction. It is impossible that this should be
always an anomaly; suspension of action in War must therefore be possible,
that is no contradiction in itself. We now proceed to show how this is.
15. HERE, THEREFORE, THE PRINCIPLE OF POLARITY IS BROUGHT INTO
As we have supposed the interests of one Commander to be always
antagonistic to those of the other, we have assumed a true POLARITY. We
reserve a fuller explanation of this for another chapter, merely making
the following observation on it at present.
The principle of polarity is only valid when it can be conceived in one
and the same thing, where the positive and its opposite the negative
completely destroy each other. In a battle both sides strive to conquer;
that is true polarity, for the victory of the one side destroys that of
the other. But when we speak of two different things which have a common
relation external to themselves, then it is not the things but their
relations which have the polarity.
16. ATTACK AND DEFENCE ARE THINGS DIFFERING IN KIND AND OF UNEQUAL FORCE.
POLARITY IS, THEREFORE, NOT APPLICABLE TO THEM.
If there was only one form of War, to wit, the attack of the enemy,
therefore no defence; or, in other words, if the attack was distinguished
from the defence merely by the positive motive, which the one has and the
other has not, but the methods of each were precisely one and the same:
then in this sort of fight every advantage gained on the one side would be
a corresponding disadvantage on the other, and true polarity would exist.
But action in War is divided into two forms, attack and defence, which, as
we shall hereafter explain more particularly, are very different and of
unequal strength. Polarity therefore lies in that to which both bear a
relation, in the decision, but not in the attack or defence itself.
If the one Commander wishes the solution put off, the other must wish to
hasten it, but only by the same form of action. If it is A's interest not
to attack his enemy at present, but four weeks hence, then it is B's
interest to be attacked, not four weeks hence, but at the present moment.
This is the direct antagonism of interests, but it by no means follows
that it would be for B's interest to attack A at once. That is plainly
something totally different.
17. THE EFFECT OF POLARITY IS OFTEN DESTROYED BY THE SUPERIORITY OF THE
DEFENCE OVER THE ATTACK, AND THUS THE SUSPENSION OF ACTION IN WAR IS
If the form of defence is stronger than that of offence, as we shall
hereafter show, the question arises, Is the advantage of a deferred
decision as great on the one side as the advantage of the defensive form
on the other? If it is not, then it cannot by its counter-weight
over-balance the latter, and thus influence the progress of the action of
the War. We see, therefore, that the impulsive force existing in the
polarity of interests may be lost in the difference between the strength
of the offensive and the defensive, and thereby become ineffectual.
If, therefore, that side for which the present is favourable, is too weak
to be able to dispense with the advantage of the defensive, he must put up
with the unfavourable prospects which the future holds out; for it may
still be better to fight a defensive battle in the unpromising future than
to assume the offensive or make peace at present. Now, being convinced
that the superiority of the defensive(*) (rightly understood) is very
great, and much greater than may appear at first sight, we conceive that
the greater number of those periods of inaction which occur in war are
thus explained without involving any contradiction. The weaker the motives
to action are, the more will those motives be absorbed and neutralised by
this difference between attack and defence, the more frequently,
therefore, will action in warfare be stopped, as indeed experience
(*) It must be remembered that all this antedates by some
years the introduction of long-range weapons.
18 A SECOND GROUND CONSISTS IN THE IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
But there is still another cause which may stop action in War, viz., an
incomplete view of the situation. Each Commander can only fully know his
own position; that of his opponent can only be known to him by reports,
which are uncertain; he may, therefore, form a wrong judgment with respect
to it upon data of this description, and, in consequence of that error, he
may suppose that the power of taking the initiative rests with his
adversary when it lies really with himself. This want of perfect insight
might certainly just as often occasion an untimely action as untimely
inaction, and hence it would in itself no more contribute to delay than to
accelerate action in War. Still, it must always be regarded as one of the
natural causes which may bring action in War to a standstill without
involving a contradiction. But if we reflect how much more we are inclined
and induced to estimate the power of our opponents too high than too low,
because it lies in human nature to do so, we shall admit that our
imperfect insight into facts in general must contribute very much to delay
action in War, and to modify the application of the principles pending our
The possibility of a standstill brings into the action of War a new
modification, inasmuch as it dilutes that action with the element of time,
checks the influence or sense of danger in its course, and increases the
means of reinstating a lost balance of force. The greater the tension of
feelings from which the War springs, the greater therefore the energy with
which it is carried on, so much the shorter will be the periods of
inaction; on the other hand, the weaker the principle of warlike activity,
the longer will be these periods: for powerful motives increase the force
of the will, and this, as we know, is always a factor in the product of
19. FREQUENT PERIODS OF INACTION IN WAR REMOVE IT FURTHER FROM THE
ABSOLUTE, AND MAKE IT STILL MORE A CALCULATION OF PROBABILITIES.
But the slower the action proceeds in War, the more frequent and longer
the periods of inaction, so much the more easily can an error be repaired;
therefore, so much the bolder a General will be in his calculations, so
much the more readily will he keep them below the line of the absolute,
and build everything upon probabilities and conjecture. Thus, according as
the course of the War is more or less slow, more or less time will be
allowed for that which the nature of a concrete case particularly
requires, calculation of probability based on given circumstances.
20. THEREFORE, THE ELEMENT OF CHANCE ONLY IS WANTING TO MAKE OF WAR A
GAME, AND IN THAT ELEMENT IT IS LEAST OF ALL DEFICIENT.
We see from the foregoing how much the objective nature of War makes it a
calculation of probabilities; now there is only one single element still
wanting to make it a game, and that element it certainly is not without:
it is chance. There is no human affair which stands so constantly and so
generally in close connection with chance as War. But together with
chance, the accidental, and along with it good luck, occupy a great place
21. WAR IS A GAME BOTH OBJECTIVELY AND SUBJECTIVELY.
If we now take a look at the subjective nature of War, that is to say, at
those conditions under which it is carried on, it will appear to us still
more like a game. Primarily the element in which the operations of War are
carried on is danger; but which of all the moral qualities is the first in
danger? COURAGE. Now certainly courage is quite compatible with prudent
calculation, but still they are things of quite a different kind,
essentially different qualities of the mind; on the other hand, daring
reliance on good fortune, boldness, rashness, are only expressions of
courage, and all these propensities of the mind look for the fortuitous
(or accidental), because it is their element.
We see, therefore, how, from the commencement, the absolute, the
mathematical as it is called, nowhere finds any sure basis in the
calculations in the Art of War; and that from the outset there is a play
of possibilities, probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads about
with all the coarse and fine threads of its web, and makes War of all
branches of human activity the most like a gambling game.
22. HOW THIS ACCORDS BEST WITH THE HUMAN MIND IN GENERAL.
Although our intellect always feels itself urged towards clearness and
certainty, still our mind often feels itself attracted by uncertainty.
Instead of threading its way with the understanding along the narrow path
of philosophical investigations and logical conclusions, in order, almost
unconscious of itself, to arrive in spaces where it feels itself a
stranger, and where it seems to part from all well-known objects, it
prefers to remain with the imagination in the realms of chance and luck.
Instead of living yonder on poor necessity, it revels here in the wealth
of possibilities; animated thereby, courage then takes wings to itself,
and daring and danger make the element into which it launches itself as a
fearless swimmer plunges into the stream.
Shall theory leave it here, and move on, self-satisfied with absolute
conclusions and rules? Then it is of no practical use. Theory must also
take into account the human element; it must accord a place to courage, to
boldness, even to rashness. The Art of War has to deal with living and
with moral forces, the consequence of which is that it can never attain
the absolute and positive. There is therefore everywhere a margin for the
accidental, and just as much in the greatest things as in the smallest. As
there is room for this accidental on the one hand, so on the other there
must be courage and self-reliance in proportion to the room available. If
these qualities are forthcoming in a high degree, the margin left may
likewise be great. Courage and self-reliance are, therefore, principles
quite essential to War; consequently, theory must only set up such rules
as allow ample scope for all degrees and varieties of these necessary and
noblest of military virtues. In daring there may still be wisdom, and
prudence as well, only they are estimated by a different standard of
23. WAR IS ALWAYS A SERIOUS MEANS FOR A SERIOUS OBJECT. ITS MORE
Such is War; such the Commander who conducts it; such the theory which
rules it. But War is no pastime; no mere passion for venturing and
winning; no work of a free enthusiasm: it is a serious means for a serious
object. All that appearance which it wears from the varying hues of
fortune, all that it assimilates into itself of the oscillations of
passion, of courage, of imagination, of enthusiasm, are only particular
properties of this means.
The War of a community—of whole Nations, and particularly of
civilised Nations—always starts from a political condition, and is
called forth by a political motive. It is, therefore, a political act. Now
if it was a perfect, unrestrained, and absolute expression of force, as we
had to deduct it from its mere conception, then the moment it is called
forth by policy it would step into the place of policy, and as something
quite independent of it would set it aside, and only follow its own laws,
just as a mine at the moment of explosion cannot be guided into any other
direction than that which has been given to it by preparatory
arrangements. This is how the thing has really been viewed hitherto,
whenever a want of harmony between policy and the conduct of a War has led
to theoretical distinctions of the kind. But it is not so, and the idea is
radically false. War in the real world, as we have already seen, is not an
extreme thing which expends itself at one single discharge; it is the
operation of powers which do not develop themselves completely in the same
manner and in the same measure, but which at one time expand sufficiently
to overcome the resistance opposed by inertia or friction, while at
another they are too weak to produce an effect; it is therefore, in a
certain measure, a pulsation of violent force more or less vehement,
consequently making its discharges and exhausting its powers more or less
quickly—in other words, conducting more or less quickly to the aim,
but always lasting long enough to admit of influence being exerted on it
in its course, so as to give it this or that direction, in short, to be
subject to the will of a guiding intelligence., if we reflect that War has
its root in a political object, then naturally this original motive which
called it into existence should also continue the first and highest
consideration in its conduct. Still, the political object is no despotic
lawgiver on that account; it must accommodate itself to the nature of the
means, and though changes in these means may involve modification in the
political objective, the latter always retains a prior right to
consideration. Policy, therefore, is interwoven with the whole action of
War, and must exercise a continuous influence upon it, as far as the
nature of the forces liberated by it will permit.
24. WAR IS A MERE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.
We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real
political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out
of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to
War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses. That
the tendencies and views of policy shall not be incompatible with these
means, the Art of War in general and the Commander in each particular case
may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling one. But however
powerfully this may react on political views in particular cases, still it
must always be regarded as only a modification of them; for the political
view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include
the object in our conception.
25. DIVERSITY IN THE NATURE OF WARS.
The greater and the more powerful the motives of a War, the more it
affects the whole existence of a people. The more violent the excitement
which precedes the War, by so much the nearer will the War approach to its
abstract form, so much the more will it be directed to the destruction of
the enemy, so much the nearer will the military and political ends
coincide, so much the more purely military and less political the War
appears to be; but the weaker the motives and the tensions, so much the
less will the natural direction of the military element—that is,
force—be coincident with the direction which the political element
indicates; so much the more must, therefore, the War become diverted from
its natural direction, the political object diverge from the aim of an
ideal War, and the War appear to become political.
But, that the reader may not form any false conceptions, we must here
observe that by this natural tendency of War we only mean the
philosophical, the strictly logical, and by no means the tendency of
forces actually engaged in conflict, by which would be supposed to be
included all the emotions and passions of the combatants. No doubt in some
cases these also might be excited to such a degree as to be with
difficulty restrained and confined to the political road; but in most
cases such a contradiction will not arise, because by the existence of
such strenuous exertions a great plan in harmony therewith would be
implied. If the plan is directed only upon a small object, then the
impulses of feeling amongst the masses will be also so weak that these
masses will require to be stimulated rather than repressed.
26. THEY MAY ALL BE REGARDED AS POLITICAL ACTS.
Returning now to the main subject, although it is true that in one kind of
War the political element seems almost to disappear, whilst in another
kind it occupies a very prominent place, we may still affirm that the one
is as political as the other; for if we regard the State policy as the
intelligence of the personified State, then amongst all the constellations
in the political sky whose movements it has to compute, those must be
included which arise when the nature of its relations imposes the
necessity of a great War. It is only if we understand by policy not a true
appreciation of affairs in general, but the conventional conception of a
cautious, subtle, also dishonest craftiness, averse from violence, that
the latter kind of War may belong more to policy than the first.
27. INFLUENCE OF THIS VIEW ON THE RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF MILITARY HISTORY,
AND ON THE FOUNDATIONS OF THEORY.
We see, therefore, in the first place, that under all circumstances War is
to be regarded not as an independent thing, but as a political instrument;
and it is only by taking this point of view that we can avoid finding
ourselves in opposition to all military history. This is the only means of
unlocking the great book and making it intelligible. Secondly, this view
shows us how Wars must differ in character according to the nature of the
motives and circumstances from which they proceed.
Now, the first, the grandest, and most decisive act of judgment which the
Statesman and General exercises is rightly to understand in this respect
the War in which he engages, not to take it for something, or to wish to
make of it something, which by the nature of its relations it is
impossible for it to be. This is, therefore, the first, the most
comprehensive, of all strategical questions. We shall enter into this more
fully in treating of the plan of a War.
For the present we content ourselves with having brought the subject up to
this point, and having thereby fixed the chief point of view from which
War and its theory are to be studied.
28. RESULT FOR THEORY.
War is, therefore, not only chameleon-like in character, because it
changes its colour in some degree in each particular case, but it is also,
as a whole, in relation to the predominant tendencies which are in it, a
wonderful trinity, composed of the original violence of its elements,
hatred and animosity, which may be looked upon as blind instinct; of the
play of probabilities and chance, which make it a free activity of the
soul; and of the subordinate nature of a political instrument, by which it
belongs purely to the reason.
The first of these three phases concerns more the people the second, more
the General and his Army; the third, more the Government. The passions
which break forth in War must already have a latent existence in the
peoples. The range which the display of courage and talents shall get in
the realm of probabilities and of chance depends on the particular
characteristics of the General and his Army, but the political objects
belong to the Government alone.
These three tendencies, which appear like so many different law-givers,
are deeply rooted in the nature of the subject, and at the same time
variable in degree. A theory which would leave any one of them out of
account, or set up any arbitrary relation between them, would immediately
become involved in such a contradiction with the reality, that it might be
regarded as destroyed at once by that alone.
The problem is, therefore, that theory shall keep itself poised in a
manner between these three tendencies, as between three points of
The way in which alone this difficult problem can be solved we shall
examine in the book on the "Theory of War." In every case the conception
of War, as here defined, will be the first ray of light which shows us the
true foundation of theory, and which first separates the great masses and
allows us to distinguish them from one another.