Review: On War

Von Clausewitz’s On War is a classic work on war, its ramifications, strategies, and tactics.  It was written in the 1830’s (and technically unfinished), so it is easy to imagine that it is from another age and largely irrelevant.  There are certainly parts that are of their time, but there’s a surprising amount of thinking that is fresh.

All the discussion of the lines between and interdependence of strategy and tactics is relevant, even when the specific examples are from battles of another time fought with old weapons.  Every bit as compelling are discussions of politics and strategy.  Clausewitz is unambiguous that those are never separable and to understand that is to have a hope of understanding a a war.  It makes our current adventures in Asia even less comprehensible to me, probably because I don’t want to think about what our political goals are.

While there are many interesting ideas here, the text – translated from 19th century German – is often opaque.  It doesn’t help that all the examples are drawn from the time as well.  While there are some Napoleonic battles that I have some inkling of, overall I don’t know many details.  The combination of the syntax and obscurity makes for difficult reading.

Worth it if you’re interested enough to penetrate the fog.

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