Purpose and Means in War;Strategy; Attack & Defence; The Military Genius

Purpose and Means in War

If for a start we inquire into the objective of any particular war, which must guide any military action if the political purpose is to be properly served, we find that the object of any war can vary just as much as its political purpose and its actual circumstances. If for the moment we consider the pure concept of war, we should have to say that the political purpose of war had no connection with war itself; for if war is an act of violence meant to force the enemy to do our will, its aim would have always and solely to be to overcome the enemy and disarm him. That aim is derived from the theoretical concept of war, but since many wars do actually come very close to fulfilling it, let us examine this kind of war first of all.

Later, when we are dealing with the subject of war plans, we shall investigate in greater detail what is meant by disarming a country. But we should at once distinguish between three things, three broad objectives, which between them cover everything: the armed forces, the country, and the enemy’s will.

The fighting forces must be destroyed: that is, they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight. Whenever we use the phrase destruction of the enemy’s forces,’ this alone is what we mean.

The country must be occupied; otherwise the enemy could raise fresh military forces. Yet both these things may be done and the war, that is the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken: in other words, so long as the enemy government and its allies have not been driven to ask for peace, or the population made to submit. We may occupy a country completely, but the hostilities can be renewed again in the interior, or perhaps with allied help. This of course can also happen after the peace treaty, but this only shows that not every war necessarily leads to a final decision and settlement. But even if hostilities should occur again, a peace treaty will always extinguish a mass of sparks that might have gone on quietly smouldering. Further, tensions are slackened, for lovers of peace (and they abound among every people under all circumstances) will then abandon any thought of further action. Be that as it may, we must always consider that with the conclusion of peace, the purpose of the war has been achieved and its business is at an end.

Since of the three objectives named, it is the fighting forces that assure the safety of the country, the natural sequence would be to destroy them first, and then subdue the country. Having achieved these two goals and exploiting our own position of strength, we can bring the enemy to the peace table. As a rule, destroying the enemy’s forces tends to be a gradual process, as does the ensuing subjugation of the country. Normally, the one reacts on the other, in that loss of territory weakens the fighting forces, but that particular sequence of events is not essential and therefore does not always take place. Before they suffer seriously, the enemy’s forces may retire to remote areas, or even withdraw to other countries. In that event, of course, most of all of the country will be occupied. But the aim of disarming the enemy (the object of war in the abstract, the ultimate means of accomplishing the war’s political purpose, which should incorporate all the rest) is in fact not always encountered in reality, and need not be fully achieved as a condition of peace. On no account should theory raise it to the level of law. Many treaties have been concluded before one of the antagonists could be called powerless–even before the balance of power had been seriously altered. What is more, a review of actual cases shows a whole category of wars in which the very idea of defeating the enemy is unreal: those in which the enemy is substantially the stronger power.

The reason why the object of war that emerges in theory is sometimes inappropriate to actual conflict is that war can be of two very different kinds. If war were what pure theory postulates, a war between states of markedly unequal strengths would be absurd, and so impossible. At most, material disparity could not go beyond the amount that moral factors could replace; and social conditions being what they are in Europe today, moral forces would not go far. But wars in fact been fought between states of very unequal strength, for actual war is often far removed from the pure concept postulated by theory. Inability to carry on the struggle can, in practice, be replaced by two other grounds for making peace: the first is the improbability of victory; the second is its unacceptable cost.

War, if taken as a whole, is bound to move from the strict law of inherent necessity towards probabilities. The more the circumstances that gave rise to the conflict cause it to do so, the slighter will be its motives and the tensions which it occasions. And this makes it understandable how an analysis of probabilities may lead to peace itself. Not every war need to be fought  until one side collapses. When the motives and tensions of war are slight we can imagine that the very faintest prospect of defeat might be enough to cause one side to yield. If from the very start the other side feels that this is probable, it will obviously concentrate on bringing about this probability rather than take the long way round and totally defeat the enemy. Or even greater influence on the decision to make peace is the consciousness of all the effort that has already been made and of the efforts yet to come. Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow.

We see that if one side cannot completely disarm the other, the desire for peace on either side will rise and fall with the probability of further successes and the amount of effort these would require. If such incentives were of equal strength on both sides, the two would resolve their political disputes by meeting half way. If the incentive grows on one side, it should diminish on the other. Peace will result so long as their sum total is sufficient–though the side that feels the lesser urge for peace will naturally get the better bargain. One point is purposely ignored for the moment–the difference that the positive or negative character of the political ends is bound to produce in practice. As we shall see, the difference is important, but at this stage, we must take a broader view because the original political objects can greatly alter during the course of the war and may finally change entirely since they are influenced by events and their possible consequences.

The question now arises how success can be made more likely. One way, of course, is to choose objectives that will incidentally bring upon the enemy’s collapse–the destruction of his armed forces and the conquest of his territory; but neither is quite what it would be, if our real object were the total defeat of the enemy. When we attack the enemy, it is one thing if we mean our first operation to be followed by others until all resistance has been broken; it is quite another if our aim is only to obtain a single victory, in order to make the enemy insecure, to impress our greater strength upon him, and to give him doubts about his future. If that is the extent of our aim, we will employ no more strength than is absolutely necessary. In the same way, conquest of territory is a different matter if the enemy’s collapse is not the object. If we wish to gain total victory, then the destruction of his armed forces is the most appropriate action and the occupation of his territory only a consequence. To occupy land before his armies are defeated should be considered at best a necessary evil. If on the other hand we do not aim at destroying the opposing army, and if we are convinced that the enemy does not seek a brutal decision, but rather fears it, then the seizure of a lightly held or undefended province is an advantage in itself; and should this advantage be enough to make the enemy fear for the final outcome, it can be considered as a short cut on the road to peace. But there is another way. It is possible to increase the likelihood of success without defeating the enemy’s forces. I refer to operations that have direct political repercussions, that are designed in the first place to disrupt the opposing alliance, or to paralyze it, that gain us new allies, favourable affect the political scene, etc. If such operations are possible, it is obvious that they can greatly improve our prospects, and that they can form a much shorter route to the goal than the destruction of the opposing armies.

The second question is how to influence the enemy’s expenditure of effort; in other words, how to make the war costly to him. The enemy’s expenditure of effort consists in the wastage of his forces—our destruction of them; and in his loss of territory—our conquest. Closer study will make it obvious that both of these factors can vary in their significance with the variation in objectives. As a rule the difference will be slight, but that should not mislead us, for in practice, when strong motives are not present, the slightest nuances often decide between the different uses of force. For the moment all that matters is to show that, given certain conditions, different ways of reaching the objective are possible and that they are neither inconsistent, absurd, not even mistaken. In addition, there are three other methods directly aimed at increasing the enemy’s expenditure of effort. The first of these is invasion that is the seizure of enemy territory; not with the object of retaining it but in order to exact financial contributions, or even to lay it waste. The immediate object here is neither to conquer the enemy country nor to destroy its army, but simply to cause personal damage. The second method is to give priority to operations that will increase the enemy’s suffering. It is easy to imagine two alternatives: one operation is far more advantageous if the purpose is to defeat the enemy; the other is more profitable if that cannot be done. The first tends to be described as the more military, the second the more political alternative. From the highest point of view, however, one is as military as the other, and neither is appropriate unless it suits the particular conditions. The third, and far the most the most important method, judging from the frequency of its use, is to wear down the enemy. That expression is more than a label; it describes the process precisely, and is not as metamorphic as it may seem at first. Wearing down the enemy in a conflict means using the duration of the war to bring about a gradual exhaustion of his physical and moral resistance. If we intend to hold out longer than our opponent we must be content with the smallest possible objects, for obviously a major object requires more effort than a minor one. The minimum object is pure self-defence; in other words, fighting without a positive purpose. With such a policy our relative strength will be at its height, and thus the prospects for a favourable outcome will be greatest. But how far can this negativity be pushed? Obviously not to the point of absolute passivity, for sheer endurance would not be fighting at all. But resistance is a form of action, aimed at destroying enough of the enemy’s power to force him to renounce his intentions. Every single act of our resistance is directed to act alone, and that is what makes our policy negative.

Undoubtedly a single action, assuming it succeeds, would do less for a negative aim than it would for a positive one. But that is just the difference; the former is more likely to succeed and so to give you more security. What it lacks in immediate effectiveness it must make up for it in use of time that is by prolonging the war. Thus the negative aim, which lies at the heart of pure resistance, is also the natural formula for outlasting the enemy, for wearing him down.

Here lies the origin of the distinction that dominates the whole of war: the difference between attack and defence. We shall not pursue the matter now, but let us just say this: that from the negative purpose derive all the advantages, all the more effective forms of fighting, and that in it is expressed the dynamic relationship between the magnitude and likelihood of success. All this will be gone into later.

If the negative aim—that is, the use of every means available for pure resistance—gives an advantage in war, the advantage need only be enough to balance any superiority the opponent may possess.: in the end his political object will not seem worth the effort it costs. He must then renounce his policy. It is evident that this method, wearing down the enemy, applies to the greater number of cases where the weak endeavor to resist the strong,

Frederick the Great* would never have able to defeat Austria* in the Seven Year War*: and had he tried to fight in the manner of Charles XII* he would unfailingly have been destroyed himself. But for seven years he skillfully husbanded his strength and finally convinced the allies that far greater efforts were needed than they had foreseen. Consequently they made peace.

*Frederick the Great: Frederick II Hohenzollern, king of Prussia (1712-86) who used a series of wars, mainly against Austria, but also against France and Russia, to increase the Hohenzollern possessions, notably to include Silesia and large parts of Prussia.

*Austria: the Holy Roman Empire until 1806, uniting many territories including Austria, Hungary, and Croatia under the rule of the Habsburg dynasty. The emperor was also, in personal union, king of Hungary. Napoleon forced Emperor Francis Joseph II to resign the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, which was dissolved; henceforth the Habsburgs were reduced to being emperors of Austria and kings of Hungary.

*Seven Years War: this war (1756-63) pitted Prussia, Britain, and Hanover against Austria, France, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Spain. Britain fought France for supremacy overseas and the British captured French Canada and ousted the French from India. Prussia, under Frederick the Great, fought Austria for domination of Germany the war ended in 1763 by the treaties of Paris and Hubertusburg, leaving Britain the supreme European naval and colonial power and Prussia in a much stronger position in central Europe..

Charles XII: king of Sweden (1682-1718), Charles fought various wars against Denmark, Poland, and Russia, and was defeated by Russia at the famous battle of Poltava that ended Swedish predominance in the Baltic, replacing it with an ascendant Russia (1790).

We can now see that in war many roads lead to success, and that they do not all involve the opponent’s outright defeat. The range from the destruction of the enemy’s forces, the conquest of his territory, to a temporary occupation or invasion, to projects with an immediate political purpose, and finally to passively awaiting the enemy’s attacks. Any one of these may be used to overcome the enemy’s will: the choice depends on circumstances. One further kind of action, of shortcuts to the goal needs mention: one could call them arguments.is there a field of human affairs where personal relations do not count, where the sparks they strike do not leap across all practical considerations? The personalities of statesmen and soldiers are such important factors that in war above all it is vital not to underrate them. It is enough to mention this point: it would be pedantic to attempt a systematic classification. It can be said, however, that these questions of personality and personal relations raise the number of possible ways of achieving the goal of policy to infinity. To think of these shortcuts as rare exceptions, or to minimize the difference they can make to the conduct of war, would be to underrate them. To avoid that error we need only bear in mind how wide a range of political interests can lead to war, or think for a moment of the gulf that separates a war of annihilation, a struggle for political existence, from a war reluctantly declared in consequence of political pressure or of an alliance that no longer seems to reflect the state’s true interests. Between these two extremes lie numerous gradations. If we reject a single one of them on theoretical grounds, we may as well reject them all, and lose contact with the real world.

So much then for the ends to be pursued in war, let us now turn to the means.

There is only one: combat. However many forms combat takes, however far it may be removed from the brute discharge of hatred and enmity of a physical encounter, however many forces may intrude which themselves are not part of fighting, it is inherent in the very concept of war that everything that occurs must originally derive from combat. It is easy to show that this is always so, however many forms reality takes. Everything that occurs in war results from the existence of armed forces; but whenever armed forces that are armed individuals are used, the idea of combat must be present. Warfare comprises everything related to the fighting forces—everything to do with their creation, maintenance, and use. Creation and maintenance are obviously only means; their use constitutes the end.

Combat in war is not a contest between individuals. It is a whole made up of many parts, and in that whole two elements may be distinguished, one determined by the subject, the other by the objective. The mass of combatants in an army endlessly form fresh elements, which themselves are parts of a greater structure. The fighting of each of these parts constitutes a more or less clearly defined element. Moreover, combat itself is made an element of war by its very purpose, by its objective. Each of these elements which become distinct in the course of fighting is named an engagement.

If the idea of fighting underlies every use of the fighting forces, then their employment means simply the planning and organizing of a series of engagements. The whole of military activity must therefore directly or indirectly to the engagement. The end for which a soldier is recruited, clothed, armed, and trained, the whole object of his sleeping, eating, drinking, and marching is simply that he should fight at the right place and the right time.

If all threads of military activity lead to the engagement, then if we control the engagement, we comprehend them all. Their results are produced by our orders and by the execution of those orders never directly by other conditions. Since in the engagement everything is concentrated on the destruction of the enemy, or rather of his armed forces, which is inherent in its very concept, it follows that the destruction of the enemy’s forces is always the means by which the purpose of the engagement is achieved. The purpose in question may be the destruction of the enemy’s forces, but not necessarily so; it may be quite different. As we have shown, the destruction of the enemy is not the only means of attaining the political object, when there are other objectives for which the war is waged. It follows that those other objectives can also become the purpose of particular military operations, and thus also the purpose of engagements. Even when our subordinate engagements are directly intended to destroy the opposing forces, that destruction still need not be their first, immediate concern.

Bearing in mind the elaborate structure of an army, and the numerous factors that determine its employment, one can see that that the fighting activity of such a force is also subject to complete organization, division of functions and combinations. The separate units t obviously must often be assigned tasks that are not in themselves concerned with the destruction of the enemy’s forces, which may indeed increase their losses but do so only indirectly. If a battalion is ordered to drive the enemy from a hill, a bridge, etc., the true purpose is normally to occupy the point. Destruction of the enemy’s force is only a means to an end, a secondary matter. If a mere demonstration is enough to cause the enemy to abandon his position, the objective has been achieved; but as a rule the hill or bridge is captured only so that even more damage can be inflicted on the enemy. If this is the case of the battlefield, it will be even more so in the theatre of operations, where it not merely two armies that are facing each other, but two states, two [peoples, two nations. The range of possible circumstances, and therefore of options, is greatly increased, as is the variety of dispositions; and the gradation of objects at various levels of command will further separate the first means from the ultimate purpose.

Thus there are many reasons why the purpose of an engagement may not be the destruction of the enemy’s forces, the forces immediately confronting us. Destruction may be merely a means to some other end. In such a case, total destruction has ceased to be the point; the engagement is nothing but a trial of strength. In itself it is of no value; its significance lies in the outcome of the trial.

When one force is a great deal stronger than the other, an estimate may be enough. There will be no fighting: the weaker side will yield at once. The fact that engagements do not always aim at the destruction of the opposing forces, that their objectives can often be attained without any fighting at all but merely by an evaluation of the situation, explain why entire campaigns can be conducted with great energy even though actual fighting plays an unimportant part in them. This is demonstrated by hundreds of examples in the history of war. Here we are only concerned to show that it is possible; we need not ask how often it was appropriate; in other words consistent with the overall purpose, to avoid the test of battle, or whether all the reputations made in such campaigns would stand the test of critical examination.

There is only one means in war: combat. But the multiplicity of forms that combat assumes leads us in as many directions as are created by the multiplicity of aims, so that our analysis does not seem to have made any progress. But that is not so: the fact that only one means exists constitutes a strand that runs through the entire web of military activity and really holds it together.

We have shown that the destruction of the enemy’s forces is one of the many objects that can be pursued in war, and we have left aside the question of its importance relative to other purposes. In any given case the answer will depend on circumstances; its importance to war in general remains to be clarified. We shall now go into this question, and we shall see what value must necessarily be attributed to this object of destruction.

Combat is only effective force in war; its aim is to destroy the enemy’s forces as a means to a further end. That holds good even if no actual fighting occurs, because the outcome rests on the assumption that if it came to fighting, the enemy would be destroyed. It follows that the destruction of the enemy’s force underlies all military actions; all plans are ultimately based on it, resting on it like an arch on its abutment. Consequently, all action is undertaken in the belief that if the ultimate test of arms should actually occur, the outcome would be favourable. The decision by arms is for all major and minor operations in war what cash payment is in commerce. Regardless how complex the relationship between the two parties, regardless how rarely settlements actually occur, they can never be entirely absent.

If the decision by fighting is the basis of all plans and operations, it follows that the enemy can frustrate everything through a successful battle. This occurs not only when the encounter affects an essential factor in our plans, but when any victory that is won is of sufficient scope. For every important victory—that is, destruction of opposing forces—reacts on all other probabilities. Like liquid, they will settle at a new level.

Thus it is evident that destruction of enemy forces is always the superior, more effective means, with which others cannot compete. But of course, we can only say destruction of the enemy is more effective if we can assume that all other conditions are equal. It would be a great mistake to deduce from this argument that a headlong rush must always triumph

Our discussion has shown that while in war many different roads can lead to the goal, to the attainment of the political object, fighting is the only possible means. Everything is governed by a supreme law, the decision by force of arms. If the opponent does seek battle, this recourse can never be denied him. A commander who prefers a different strategy must first be sure that his opponent either will not appeal to the supreme tribunal–force–or that he will the verdict if he does. To sum up: of all possible aims in war, the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces always appears as the highest.

At a later stage and by degrees, we shall see what other kinds of strategies can achieve in war. All we need to do for the moment is to admit the general possibility of their existence, the possibility of deviating from the basic concept of war under the pressure of special circumstances. But even at this point we must not fail to emphasize that the violent resolution of the crisis, the wish to annihilate the enemy’s forces, is the first-born son of war. If the political aims are small, the motives slight and tensions low, a prudent general may look for any way to avoid major crises and decisive actions, exploit any weaknesses in the opponent’s military and political strategy, and finally reach a peaceful settlement. If his assumptions are sound and promise success we are not entitled to criticize him. But he must never forget that he moving on devious paths where the god of war may catch him unawares. He must always keep an eye on his opponent so that he does not, if the latter has taken up a sharp sword, approach him armed only with an ornamental rapier.

These conclusions concerning the nature of war and the function of its purposes and means; the manner in which war in practice deviates in varying degrees from its basic, rigorous concept, taking this form or that, but always remaining subject to that basic concept, as to a supreme law; all these points must be kept in mind in our subsequent analyses if we are to perceive the real connections between all aspects of war, and the true significance of each; and if we wish to avoid constantly falling into the wildest inconsistency and even with our own arguments with reality.

Attack and Defence

The Concept of Defence
What is the concept of defence? The parrying of a blow; what is its characteristic feature? Awaiting the blow.
It is this feature that turns any action into a defensive one; it is the only test by which defence can be distinguished from attack in war. Pure defence, however, would be completely contrary to the idea of war, since it would mean that only one side was waging it. Therefore, defence in war can only be relative, and the characteristic feature of waiting should be applied only to the basic concept, not to all its components. A partial engagement is defensive if we await the advance, the charge of the enemy. A battle is defensive if we await the attack–await, that is, the appearance of the enemy in front of our lines and within range. A campaign is defensive if we wait for our theatre of operations to be invaded. In each of these cases the characteristic of waiting and parrying is germane to the general idea without being in conflict with the concept of war; for we may find it advantageous to await the charge against our bayonets and the attack on our position and theatre of operations. But if we are really waging war, we must return the enemy’s blows; and these offensive acts in a defensive war come under the heading of ‘defence’– in other words, our offensive takes place within our own positions or theatre of operations. Thus, a defensive campaign can be fought with offensive battles, and in a defensive battle, we can employ our divisions offensively. Even in a defensive position, awaiting the enemy assault, our bullets take the offensive. So the defensive form of war is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well-directed blows.

Advantages of Defence
What is the object of defence? Preservation. It is easier to hold ground than take it. It follows that defence is easier than attack, assuming both sides have equal means. Just what is it that makes preservation and protection so much easier? It is the fact that time which is allowed to pass unused accumulates to the credit of the defender. He reaps where he did not sow. Any omission of attack- whether from bad judgement, fear, or indolence–accrues to the defender’s benefit. This saved Prussia from disaster more than once during the Seven Years War. It is a benefit rooted in the concept and object of defence: it is the nature of all defensive action. In daily life, and especially in litigation (which so closely resembles war) it is summed up by the Latin proverb beati sunt possidentes. Another benefit, one that arises solely from the nature of war, derives from the advantage of position, which tends to favour the defence.

Having outlined these general concepts, we now turn to the substance.

Tactically, every engagement, large or small, is defensive if we leave the initiative to our opponent and await his appearance before our lines. From that moment on we can employ all offensive means without losing the advantages of the defensive- that is to say the advantages of waiting and the advantages of position. At the strategic level the campaign replaces the engagement, and the theatre of operations takes the place of the position. At the next stage, the war as a whole replaces the campaign, and the whole country the theatre of operations. In both cases, defence remains the same as at the tactical level.

We have already indicated in general terms that defence is easier than attack. But defence has a passive purpose: preservation; and attack a positive one: conquest. The latter increases one’s own capacity to wage war; the former does not. So in order to state the relationship precisely, we must say that the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive. This is the point we have been trying to make, for although it is implicit in the nature of the matter and experience has confirmed it again and again, it is at odds with prevalent opinion, which proves how ideas can be confused by superficial writers.

If defence is the stronger form of war, yet it has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object. When one has used defensive measures successfully, a more favourable balance of strength is usually created; thus, the natural course in war is to begin defensively and end by attacking. It would therefore contradict the very idea of war to regard defence as its final purpose, just as it would to regard the passive nature of defence not only as inherent in the whole but also in all its parts. In other words, a war in which victories were used only defensively without the intention of counterattacking would be as absurd as a battle in which the principle of absolute defence- passivity, that is- were to dictate every action.

The soundness of this general idea could be challenged by citing many examples of wars in which the ultimate purpose of defence was purely defensive, without any thought being given to a counteroffensive. This line of argument would be possible if one forgot that a general concept is under discussion. The examples that could be cited to prove the opposite must all be classed as cases in which the possibility of a counteroffensive had not yet arisen.

In the Seven Years War, for instance, Frederick the Great had no thought of taking the offensive, at least not in the final three years. Indeed, we believe that in this war he always regarded offensives solely as a better means of defence. This attitude was dictated by the general situation; and it is natural for a commander to concentrate only on his immediate needs. Nevertheless one cannot look at this example of defence on a grand scale without speculating that the idea of a possible counteroffensive against Austria may have been at the root of it, and conclude that the time of such a move had not yet come. The peace that was concluded proves that his was not an empty assumption: what else could have induced the Austrians to make peace but the thought that their forces could not on their own outweigh the genius of the King; that in any case they would have to increase their efforts; and that any relaxation was almost bound to cost them further territory? And, indeed, is there any doubt that Frederick would have tried to crush the Austrians in Bohemia and Moravia, again in Russia, Sweden, and the Army of the Empire had not diverted his energies?

Now that we have defined the concept of defence and have indicated its limits, we return once more to our claim that the defence is the stronger form of waging war.

Close analysis and comparison of attack and defence will prove the point beyond all doubt. For the present, we shall merely indicate the inconsistencies the opposite view involves when tested by experience. If attack were the stronger form, there would be no case for using the defensive, since its purpose is only passive. No one would want to do anything but attack: defence would be pointless. Conversely, it is natural that the greater object is bought by greater sacrifice. Anyone who believes himself strong enough to employ the weaker form, attack, can have the higher aim in mind; the lower aim can only be chosen by those who need to take advantage of the stronger form, defence. Experience shows that, given two theatres of operations, it is practically unknown for the weaker army to attack and the stronger stay on the defensive. The opposite has always happened everywhere, and amply proves that commanders accept defence as the stronger form, even when they personally would rather attack.

The Military Genius

“Determination in a single instance is an expression of courage; if it becomes characteristic, a mental habit. But here we are referring not to physical courage but to the courage to accept responsibility, courage in the face of a moral danger. This has often been called courage d’espirit, because it is created by the intellect. That, however, does not make it an act of the intellect: it is an act of temperament. Intelligence alone is not courage; we often see that most intelligent people are irresolute. Since in the rush of events a man is governed by feelings rather than by thought, the intellect needs to arouse the quality of courage, which then supports and sustains it in action.

Looked at in this way, the role of determination is to limit the agonies of doubt and the perils of hesitation when the motives for action are inadequate. Colloquially, to be sure, the term ‘determination’ also applies to a propensity for daring, pugnacity, boldness, or temerity. But when a man has adequate grounds for action—whether subjective or objective, valid or false—he cannot properly be called be called ‘determined’. This would amount to putting oneself in his position and weighing the scale with a doubt that he never felt. In such a case it is only a question of strength or weakness.

Determination, which dispels doubt, is a quality that can be aroused only by intellect, and by a specific cast of mind at that. More is required to create determination than a mere conjunction of superior insight with the appropriate emotions. Some may bring the keenest brains to the most formidable problems, and may possess the courage to accept serious responsibilities, but when faced with a difficult situation they still find themselves unable to reach a decision. Their courage and their intellect work in different compartments, not together, determination, therefore, does not result. It is engendered only by a mental act; the mind tells man that boldness is required, and thus gives direction his will. This particular cast of mind, which employs the fear of wavering and hesitating to suppress all other fears, is the force that makes strong men determined. Men of low intelligence, therefore, cannot possess determination in the sense in which we use the word. They may act without hesitation in a crisis, but if they do, they act without reflection; and the man who acts without reflection cannot, of course, be torn by doubt. From time to time action of this type may even be appropriate; but as I have said before, it is the average result that indicates the presence of military genius. The statement may surprise the reader who knows some determined cavalry officers who are little given to deep thought: but he must remember that we are talking about a special kind of intelligence, not about great powers of meditation.

In short, we believe that determination proceeds from a special type of mind, from a strong rather than a brilliant one. We can give further proof of this interpretation by pointing to the many examples of men who show great determination as junior officers, but lose it as they rise in rank. Conscious of the need to be decisive, they also recognize the risks entailed by a wrong decision; since they are unfamiliar with the problem now facing them; their mind loses the former incisiveness. The more used they had been to instant action, the more their timidity increases as they realize the dangers of the vacillation that ensnares them.

Inflammable emotions, feelings that are easily roused, are in general of little value in practical life, and therefore of little value in war. Their impulses are strong but brief. If the energy of such men is joined to courage and ambition they will often prove most useful at a modest level of command, simply because the action controlled by junior officers is of short duration. Often a single brave decision, a burst of emotional force, will be enough. A daring assault is the work of a few minutes, while a hard-fought battle may last a day, and a campaign an entire year.

Their volatile emotions make it doubly hard for such men to preserve their balance; they often lose their heads, and nothing is worse on active service. All the same, it would be untrue to say that highly excitable minds could never be strong—that is, could never keep their balance even under the greatest strain. Why should they not have a sense of their own dignity, since as a rule they are among the finer natures? In fact, they usually have such a sense but there is not time for it to take effect. Once the crisis is past they tend to ashamed of their behaviour. If training, self- awareness, and experience sooner or later teaches them how to be on guard against themselves, then in times of great excitement an internal counterweight will assert itself so that they too can draw on great strength of character.

Lastly, we come to men who are difficult to move but have strong feelings—men who are to the previous type like heat to a shower of sparks. These are men who are best able to summon the titanic strength it takes to clear away the enormous burden that obstructs activity in war. Their emotions move as great masses do—slowly but irresistibly. These men are not swept away by their emotions so often as in the third group, but experience shows that they too can lose their balance and be overcome by blind passion. This can happen whenever they lack the noble pride of self-control, or whenever it’s inadequate. We find this condition mostly among great men in primitive societies where passion tends to rule for lack of intellectual discipline. Yet even among educated peoples and civilized societies men are often swept away by passion, just as in the Middle Ages poachers chained to stags were carried off to into the forest.

We repeat again: strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea.

We say a man has strength of character, or simply character if he sticks to his convictions, whether they derive from his own opinions or someone else’s, whether they represent principles, attitudes, sudden insights, or any other mental force. Such firmness cannot show itself, of course, if a man keeps changing his mind. This need not be the consequence of external influence, the cause may be workings of his own intelligence, but this would suggest a peculiarly insecure mind. Obviously,  a man whose opinions are constantly changing, even though this is in response to his own reflections would not be called a man of character. The term is applied only to men whose views are stable and constant. This may be because they are well thought-out, clear, and scarcely open to revision; or in the case of indolent men, because such people are not in the habit of mental effort and therefore have no reason for altering their views, and finally because a firm decision, based on fundamental principle derived from reflection, is relatively immune to changes of opinion. With its mass of vivid impressions and the doubts which characterize all information and opinion, there is no activity like war to rob men of confidence in themselves and in others, and to divert them from their original course of action.

In the dreadful presence of suffering and danger, emotion can easily overwhelm intellectual conviction, and in this psychological fog it is so hard to form clear and complete insights that changes of view become more understandable and excusable. Action can never be based on anything firmer than instinct, a sensing of the truth. Nowhere, in consequence, are differences of opinion so acute as in war, and fresh opinions never cease to batter one’s convictions. No degree of calm can provide enough protection: new impressions are too powerful, too vivid, and always assault the emotions as well as the intellect.

Only those general principles and attitudes that result from clear and deep understanding can provide a comprehensive guide to action. It is to these that opinions on specific problems should be anchored. The difficulty is to hold fast to these results of contemplation in the torrents of events and new opinions. Often there is a gap between principles and actual events that cannot always be bridged by sa succession of logical deductions. Then a measure of self-confidence is needed, and a degree of skepticism is also salutary. Frequently nothing short of an imperative principle will suffice, which is not part of the immediate thought-process, but dominates it: the principle is in all doubtful cases to stick to one’s first opinion and to refuse to change unless forced to do so by a clear conviction. A strong faith in the overriding truth of tested principles is needed; the vividness of transient must not make us forget that such truth as they contain is of a lesser stamp. By giving precedence, in case of doubt, to our earlier convictions, by holding to them stubbornly, our actions acquire that quality of steadiness and consistency which is termed strength of character. It is evident how strength of character depends on balanced temperament; most men of emotional strength and stability are therefore men of powerful character as well.

Strength of character can degenerate into obstinacy. The line between them is often hard to draw in a specific case; but surely it is easy to distinguish them in theory. Obstinacy is not an intellectual defect; it comes from reluctance to admit that one is wrong. To impute this to the mind would be illogical, for the mind is the seat of judgment. Obstinacy is a fault temperament. Stubbornness and intolerance of contradiction result from a special kind of egotism, which elevates before everything else the pleasure of its autonomous intellect, to which others must bow. It might also be called vanity, if it were not something superior: vanity is content with the appearance alone; obstinacy demands the material reality.

We would therefore argue that strength of character turns to obstinacy as soon as a man resists another point of view not from superior insight or attachment to some higher principle, but because he objects instinctively. Admittedly, this definition may not be of much practical use; but it will nevertheless help us avoid the interpretation that obstinacy is simply a more intense form of strong character. There is a basic difference between the two. They are closely related, but one is so far from being a higher degree of the other that we can even find extremely obstinate men who are too dense to have much strength of character.”


“The art of war in the narrower sense must now in its turn be broken down into tactics and strategy. The first is concerned with the form of the individual engagement, the second with its use. Both affect the conduct of marches, camps, and billets only through the engagement; they become tactical or strategic questions in so far as they concern either the engagement’s form or its significance. The primary purpose of any theory is to clarify concepts and ideas that have become, as it were, confused and entangled. Tactics and strategy are two activities that permeate one another in time and space but are nevertheless essentially different.

Strategy is the use of an engagement for the purpose of war. The strategist must therefore define an aim for the entire operational side of the war that will be in accordance with its purpose. In other words, he will draft he plan of the war, and the aim will determine the series of actions intended to achieve it: he will, in fact shape the individual campaigns and , within these decide, decide on the individual engagements. Since most of these matters have to be based on assumptions that may not prove correct, while other, more detailed orders cannot be determined in advance at all, it follows that the strategist must go on campaign himself. Detailed orders can then be given on the spot, allowing the general plan to be adjusted to the modifications that are continuously required. The strategist in short, must maintain control throughout.  This has not always been the accepted view, at least so far as the general principle is concerned. It used to be the custom to settle strategy in the capital, and not in the field—a practice that is acceptable only if the government stays so close to the army as to function as general headquarters.

Strategic theory, therefore deals with planning; or rather, it attempts to shed light on the components of war and their inter-relationships, stressing those few principles or rules that can be demonstrated. A prince or a general can best demonstrate his genius by managing a campaign exactly to suit his objectives and his resources, doing neither too much nor too little. But the effects of genius show not so much in novel forms of action as in the ultimate success of the whole. What we should admire is the accurate fulfillment of the unspoken assumptions, the smooth harmony of the whole activity, which only becomes evident in final success.

The student who cannot discover this harmony in actions that lead up to a final success may be tempted to look for genius in places where it does not exist and cannot exist. In fact, the means and forms that the strategist employs are so very simple, so familiar from constant repetition that it seems ridiculous in the light of common sense when critics discuss them, as they do so often, with ponderous solemnity. Thus, such a common place maneuver as turning an opponent’s flank may be hailed by critics as a stroke of genius, of deepest insight, or even of all-inclusive knowledge. Can one imagine anything more absurd?

It is even more ridiculous when we consider that these very critics usually exclude all moral qualities from strategic theory, and only examine material factors. They reduce everything to a few mathematical formulas of equilibrium and superiority, of time and space, limited by a few angles and lines. If that were really all, it would hardly provide a scientific problem for a school boy. But we should admit that scientific formulas and problems are not under discussions. The relationship between material factors is all very simple; what are more difficult to grasp are the intellectual factors involved. Even so, it is only the highest realms of strategy that intellectual complications and extreme diversity of factors and relationships occur. At that level, there is little or no difference between strategy, policy and statesmanship, and there, as we have already said, their influence is greater in questions of quantity and scale than in forms of execution. Where execution is dominant, as it is in the individual events of a war whether great or small, then intellectual factors are reduced to a minimum.

Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean that everything is very easy. Once it has been determined, from the political conditions, what a war is meant to achieve and what it can achieve, it is easy to chart the course. But great strength of character, as well as great lucidity and firmness of mind, is required in order to follow through steadily, to carry out the plan, and not to be thrown off course by thousands of diversions. Take any number of outstanding men, some noted for intellect, others for their acumen, still others for boldness or tenacity of will: not one may possess the combination of qualities needed to make him a greater than average commander.

It sounds odd, but everyone who is familiar with this aspect of warfare will agree that it takes more strength of will to make an important decision in strategy than in tactics. In the latter, one is carried away by the pressures of the moment, caught up in a maelstrom where resistance would be fatal, and, suppressing incipient scruples, one presses boldly on. In strategy, the pace is much slower. There is ample room for apprehension, one’s own and those of others, for objections and remonstrations and, in consequence, for premature regrets. In a tactical situation one is able to see at least half the problem with the naked eye, whereas in strategy everything has to be guessed at and presumed. Conviction is therefore weaker. Consequently most generals, when they ought to act, are paralyzed by unnecessary doubts.

Now a glance at history. Let us consider the campaign that Frederick the Great fought in 1760, famous for its dazzling marches and maneuvers, praised by critics as a work of art—indeed a masterpiece. Are we to be beside ourselves with admiration at the fact that the King wanted first to turn Daun’s right flank, then his left, then his right again, and so forth? Are we to consider this profound wisdom? Certainly not, if we are to judge without affectation. What is really admirable is the King’s wisdom: pursuing a major objective with limited resources, he did not try to undertake anything beyond his strength, but always just enough to get him what he wanted. This campaign was not the only one in which he demonstrated his judgment as a general. It is evident in all the three wars fought by the great King.

His object was to bring Silesia into the safe harbor of a fully guaranteed peace.

As the head of a small state resembling other states in most respects, and distinguished from them only by the efficiency of some branches of its administration, Frederick could not be Alexander*. Had he acted like Charles XII*, he too would have ended in disaster. His whole conduct of war, therefore, shows an element of restrained strength, which was always in balance, never lacking in vigour, rising to remarkable heights in moments of crisis, but immediately afterward reverting to a state oscillation, always ready to adjust the smallest shift in the political situation. Neither vanity, nor ambition or vindictiveness could move him from this course; and it was this course alone that brought him success.

*Alexander: Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia (356-323BC), conqueror of Greece, Asia Minor, Persia, and the regions up to India, held up by successive generations as a great military example.

*Lacy: Franz Moritz, count of Lacy (1725-1801), Imperial field marshal who had fought Frederick the Great in the Seven Years War.

*Liegnitz: at the battle of Liegnitz in Silesia on 15 August 1760 during the Seven Years War, Frederick II managed to avoid encirclement by Austrian and Russian forces under Daun and Laudon along the Katzbach River.

*Frederick the Great: Frederick II Hohenzollern, king of Prussia (1712-86) who used a series of wars, mainly against Austria, but also against France and Russia, to increase the Hohenzollern possessions, notably to include Silesia and large parts of Prussia.

*Austria: the Holy Roman Empire until 1806, uniting many territories including Austria, Hungary, and Croatia under the rule of the Habsburg dynasty. The emperor was also, in personal union, king of Hungary. Napoleon forced Emperor Francis Joseph II to resign the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, which was dissolved; henceforth the Habsburgs were reduced to being emperors of Austria and kings of Hungary.

*Seven Years War: this war (1756-63) pitted Prussia, Britain, and Hanover against Austria, France, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Spain. Britain fought France for supremacy overseas and the British captured French Canada and ousted the French from India. Prussia, under Frederick the Great, fought Austria for domination of Germany the war ended in 1763 by the treaties of Paris and Hubertusburg, leaving Britain the supreme European naval and colonial power and Prussia in a much stronger position in central Europe..

Charles XII: king of Sweden (1682-1718), Charles fought various wars against Denmark, Poland, and Russia, and was defeated by Russia at the famous battle of Poltava that ended Swedish predominance in the Baltic, replacing it with an ascendant Russia (1790).

How little these few words can do to appreciate that characteristic of the great general! One only has to examine carefully the causes and the miraculous outcome of this struggle to realize that it was only the King’s acute intelligence that led him safely through all hazards. This is the characteristic we admire in all his campaigns, but especially the campaign of 1760. At no other time was he able to hold off such a superior enemy at so little cost.

The other aspect to be admired concerns the difficulties of execution. Maneuvers designed to turn a flank are easily planned. It is equally easy to conceive a plan for keeping a small force concentrated so that it can meet a scattered enemy on equal terms at any post, and to multiply its strength by rapid movement. There is nothing admirable about the ideas themselves. Faced with such simple concepts, we have to admit they are simple. But let a general try to imitate Frederick! After many years eye-witnesses still wrote about the risk, indeed the imprudence, of the king’s position; and there can be no doubt that the danger appeared three times as threatening at the time as afterward.

It was the same with the marches undertaken under the eyes, frequently under the very guns, of the enemy. Frederick chose these positions and made these marches, confident in the knowledge that Daun’s methods, his dispositions, his sense of responsibility and his character would make such maneuvers risky but not reckless. But it required the King’s boldness, resolution, and strength of will to see things in this way, and not be confused and intimated by the danger that was still being talked and written about thirty years later. Few generals in such a situation would have believed such simple means of strategy feasible.

Another difficulty of execution lay in the fact that throughout this campaign the King’s army was constantly on the move. Twice in early July and early August, it followed Daun while itself pursued by Lacy*, from the Elbe into Silesia over wretched country roads. The army had to be ready for battle at any time, and its marches had to be organized with a degree of ingenuity that required a proportionate amount of exertion. Though the army was accompanied, and delayed, by thousands of wagons, it was always short of supplies. For a week before the battle of Liegnitz* in Silesia, the troops marched day and night, alternatively deploying and withdrawing along the enemy’s front. This cost enormous exertions and great hardship.

Could this be done without subjecting the military machine to serious friction? Is a general, by sheer force of intellect, able to produce such mobility with the ease of a surveyor manipulating an astrolabe? Are the generals and supreme commander not moved by the sight of the misery suffered by their pitiful, hungry, and thirsty comrade in arms? Are complaints and misgivings about such conditions not reported to high command? Would an ordinary man dare to ask for such sacrifices, and would these not automatically lower the morale of the troops, corrupt their discipline, in short undermine their fighting spirit unless an overwhelming belief in the greatness and infallibility of their commander outweighed all other considerations? It is this which commands our respect; it is these miracles of execution that we have to admire. But to appreciate all this in full measure one has to have had a taste of it through actual experience. Those who know war only from books or the parade ground cannot recognize the existence of these impediments to action, and we must ask them to accept on faith what they lack in experience. In itself, the deployment of forces at a certain point merely makes an engagement possible; it does not necessarily take place. Should one treat this possibility as a reality, as an actual occurrence? Certainly. It becomes real because of its consequences, and consequences of some kind will always follow.

Possible engagements are to be regarded as real ones because of their consequences

If troops are sent to cut off a retreating enemy and he thereupon surrenders without further fight, hus decision is caused solely by the threat of a fight posed by those troops. If part of our army occupies an undefended enemy province and thus denies the enemy substantial increments to his strength, the factor making it possible for our force to hold the province is the engagement that the enemy expects to fight if he endeavors to retake it. In both cases results have been produced by the possibility of an engagement; the possibility has acquired reality. But let us suppose that in each case the enemy has brought superior forces against our troops, causing them to abandon their goal without fighting. This would mean that we had fallen short of our objective, but still the engagement that we offered the enemy was not without effect—it did draw off his forces. Even if the whole enterprise leaves us worse than before, we cannot say that no effects resulted from using  troops in this way, by producing the ; the effects were similar to those of a lost engagement.

This shows that the destruction of the enemy’s forces and the overthrow of enemy’s power can be accomplished only as the result of an engagement, no matter whether it really took place or was merely offered bot not accepted.

The twofold object of the engagement

These results are of two kinds: direct and indirect. They are indirect if other things intrude and become the object of the engagement—things which cannot in themselves be considered to involve the destruction of the enemy’s forces, but which lead up to it. They may do so by a circuitous route, but all the more powerful for that. The possession of provinces, cities, fortresses, roads, bridges, munitions dumps, etc., may be the immediate object of an engagement, but can never be the final one. Such acquisitions should always be regarded merely as means of gaining greater superiority, so that in the end w are able to offer an engagement to the enemy when he is in  no position to accept it. These actions should be considered as intermediate links, as steps leading to the operative principle, never as the operative principle itself.


With the occupation of Bonaparte’s capital in 1814, the objective of the war had been achieved. The political cleavages rooted in Paris came to the surface, and that enormous split caused the Emperor’s power to collapse. Still, all this should be considered in the light of the military implications. The occupation caused a substantial diminution in in Bonaparte’s military strength and his capacity to resist, and a corresponding increase in the superiority of the allies. Further resistance became impossible, and it was this which led to peace with France. Suppose the allied strength had suddenly been similarly reduced by some external cause: their superiority would have vanished, and with it the whole effect and significance of their occupation of Paris.

We have pursued this argument to show that this is the natural and only sound view to take, and this is what makes it important. We are constantly brought back to the question: what, at any given stage of the war or campaign, will be the likely outcome of all the major and minor engagements that the two sides can offer one another? In the planning of a campaign or a war, this alone will decide the measures that have to be taken from the outset.

If this view is not adopted, other matters will be inaccurately assessed

If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits. In so doing, and in ignoring the fact that they are links in a continuous chain of events, we also ignore the possibility that their possession may later lead to definite disadvantages. This mistake is illustrated again and again in military history. One could almost put the matter this way: just as a businessman cannot take the profit from a single transaction and put it into a separate account, so an isolated advantage gained in war cannot be assessed separately from the overall result. A businessman must work on the basis his total assets, and in war the advantages and disadvantages of a single action could only be determined by the final balance.

By looking on each engagement as part of a series, at least in so far as events are predictable, the commander is always on the high road to his goal. The forces gather momentum, and intentions and actions develop with a vigour that is commensurate with the occasion, and impervious to outside influences.”

Courtesy of : On War-Carl Von Clausewitz, Oxford University Press Oxford, New York 1976