Clausewitz as Educator

Photo_1225_landscape_large Willis G. Regier in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Vegetius, a Roman writer of the fourth century AD, said, “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.” Carl von Clausewitz sharpened the point: “The fact that slaughter is a horrifying spectacle must make us take war more seriously, but not provide an excuse for gradually blunting our swords in the name of humanity. Sooner or later someone will come along with a sharp sword and hack off our arms.” Darfur has made clear that that is not just a metaphor.

Clausewitz (1780-1831) studied total war. Although he knew nothing of tanks, air forces, or satellite communications, he knew from combat how wars kill, confuse, and terrify. In war studies, expertise matters enormously; he had plenty.

At the age of 12, Clausewitz joined two brothers as cadets in the Prussian army. (Eventually all three became generals.) He fought for Prussia against Napoleon at Jena, was captured, taken to Paris, exchanged, and returned to duty. When Prussia was intimidated into joining Napoleon for his disastrous 1812 campaign, Clausewitz resigned his commission and fought for the czar. In 1815, again with the Prussian army, he fought at Ligny. In 1818 he became director of the Military Academy in Berlin, where he devoted the last 15 years of his life to scholarship. His major work, On War (three volumes of Vom Kriege were published, from 1832 to 1843), was left unfinished at his death.

On War has become something of a classic, often cited, discussed in numerous recent books, seen in the company of Sun Tzu’s Art of War (thought to be circa fourth century BC), and studied in military academies. On War appeals to anyone who wants to see how a general thinks, and to all who suppose that warcraft applies to an office, company, college, or team. Clausewitz himself compared war with commerce and alliances with “a business deal.”