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Military History Carl von Clausewitz
by
Christopher Bassford

Introduction

The Prussian-German soldier and military philosopher Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz (b. 1780–d. 1831) served as a practical field soldier with extensive combat experience against the armies of revolutionary and Napoleonic France, as a staff officer with political/military responsibilities at the very center of the Prussian state, and as a prominent military educator. Clausewitz first entered combat as a cadet at the age of 13; rose to the rank of major-general at 38; married into the high nobility; moved in rarefied intellectual circles in Berlin; and wrote a book, Vom Kriege (On war; Berlin: Dümmlers Verlag, 1832), that has become the most influential work of military philosophy in the Western world and beyond. The text has been translated into virtually every major language and remains a living influence on historians and modern strategists in many fields. There is, however, a great deal of confusion and disagreement as to the motivations for Clausewitz’s actions and writings; the content, meaning, and implications of his arguments; the nature and validity of his methodology; the impact of his arguments on other thinkers and actors and on events; and how to make practical military, political, historical, and educational use of his ideas. As with the work of any great intellect, Clausewitz’s book functions both as a provocative window into reality and as a mirror for the times, prejudices, concepts, and concerns of his readers. Indeed, even though the focus of Clausewitz’s magnum opus is narrowly on the conduct of military operations in wartime, not policy, politics, the state, human nature, the nature of historical processes, or the nature of reality itself, it is a mark of the book’s profundity that these subjects arise almost immediately in any serious discussion of it. Accordingly, Clausewitz’s own writings and the large and varied literature they have provoked or helped shape encompass the entire range of human thinking about war and politics. But even the most serious writers on Clausewitz tend to produce distinct, idiosyncratic, and mutually incompatible interpretations. There is also a large tertiary literature, much of which has been created by a cottage industry of encyclopedists and “crammers,” providing shallow summaries for the temporary enlightenment of generations of harried undergraduates and soldier students. At the same time, Clausewitz and his ideas (directly, indirectly, and sometimes by mere reputation) have long provoked a hostile response, often energized by ideology, national prejudice, the personal ambitions of competing writers, and the peculiar character of military problems in any given era as well as by genuine disagreement. All these aspects of the literature on Clausewitz are revealing of the difficulties—emotional, intellectual, conceptual, organizational, political, psychological, and so on—inherent in developing any coherent philosophy of war.

Anthologies

Anthologies and conference proceedings offer good vehicles for tracing the range of issues involving or derived from Clausewitz’s work in any given period. The first of these, Earle 1943, appeared during World War II and brought together a range of British, American, and various continental (including German) scholars. Handel 1986 and Paret 1986, near-simultaneous collections, capture much of the scope of discussion during Clausewitz’s post-Vietnam heyday in the United States. Duyvesteyn and Angstrom 2005 assembles a group of European scholars focused on the perceived “new warfare” of the post–Cold War era, whereas Strachan and Herberg-Rothe 2007 draws from a set of scholars focused on Clausewitz and covers a much broader range of issues in the proceedings of a 2005 conference at Oxford. Herberg-Rothe, et al. 2011 is a collection focused exclusively on the relationship between Clausewitzian concepts and the ever-evolving state. Pommerin 2011 offers a valuable window into Clausewitz’s global reception, with essays by scholars in eighteen countries (including China and Japan).

  • Duyvesteyn, Isabelle, and Jan Angstrom, eds. Rethinking the Nature of War. Cass Contemporary Security Studies. London and New York: Frank Cass, 2005.

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    Eleven rather uneven essays focused on the “new wars” of the post–Cold War era, all in English, but including many continental European scholars. Much of the new warfare literature finds Clausewitz irrelevant to these purportedly apolitical or private wars, but here there is a range of interpretations.

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  • Earle, Edward Mead, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1943.

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    This was a seminal work for civilian strategic academics in the United States, especially because it included the influential German Clausewitz scholar Hans Rothfels’s only major essay on the subject in English. Look not only at the essays on Clausewitz and on Germany, but also at those on Jomini, Delbrück, the Marxists, and so on.

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  • Handel, Michael I., ed. Clausewitz and Modern Strategy. Papers presented at an international conference on Clausewitz held at the US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, April 1985. London and Totowa, NJ: Frank Cass, 1986.

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    Contains fourteen military-historical and -theoretical essays reflecting the intense fashion for Clausewitz in the 1980s. Of particular interest are the papers comparing the reception of Clausewitz in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, and the essay “The Eternal Clausewitz” by Martin van Creveld—an author generally considered antagonistic to Clausewitz. These essays also appeared in a special issue of Journal of Strategic Studies (9.2–3 [1986]) titled “Clausewitz and Modern Strategy.” This journal continues to produce strong work on Clausewitz.

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  • Herberg-Rothe, Andreas, Jan Willem Honig, and Daniel Moran, eds. Clausewitz: The State and War. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2011.

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    Eight essays concerning Clausewitz’s views on the state and the adaptations required to fit his ideas to changes in the nature and role of the state over time—including the present and future. This subject has been a major source of the many controversies concerning Clausewitz.

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  • Paret, Peter, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    This update of Edward Mead Earle’s similarly titled collection (Earle 1943) offers several articles relevant to Clausewitz. Look not only at the essays on Clausewitz, but also at those on Jomini, Delbrück, the Marxists, and so on, some of which were revised for this edition by the original authors, exemplifying the evolution in interpretation and attitude over this rather dynamic period.

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  • Pommerin, Reiner, ed. Clausewitz Goes Global: Carl von Clausewitz in the 21st Century. Berlin: Miles Verlag, 2011.

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    This is a Festschrift commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Clausewitz Society in Germany. An uneven but extremely useful survey of Clausewitz’s reception globally, including essays (often in rather difficult English) from scholars in Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Uwe Hartmann’s and Claus von Rosen’s article on Germany (see Rosen and Hartmann 2011, cited under Military Doctrine) is of particular interest, as is Yu Tiejun’s on China.

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  • Strachan, Hew, and Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds. Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century. Papers presented at a conference held at Oxford University, March 2005. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199232024.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Seventeen high-quality and very wide-ranging essays by Clausewitz scholars based in a wide number of disciplines.

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Bibliographies

Most modern works on Clausewitz offer extensive bibliographies. Those listed here focus almost exclusively on works by or about Clausewitz. Werner Hahlweg (b. 1912–d. 1989) was Clausewitz’s modern German editor and amassed a huge set of references in many languages, but the treatment in Hahlweg 1980 has become quite dated. Paret 2007 (originally published in 1976), by Clausewitz’s biographer in English and the most active translator to date, is authoritative, but its work is also becoming dated. The Clausewitz.com bibliography English-Language Works by or about Clausewitz receives input from many contributors and is frequently updated, but entries are only erratically annotated. Durieux 2008 provides a rich discussion of Clausewitz’s problematic history in France and rich background for its massive bibliography.

  • Durieux, Benoît. Clausewitz en France: Deux siècles de réflexion sur la guerre, 1807–2007. Paris: Economica, 2008.

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    Contains a comprehensive, up-to-date, annotated bibliography of works on Clausewitz in French (including works translated into French), in a text that is itself a majestic survey of its topic (see pp. 785–841).

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  • English-Language Works by or about Clausewitz. Clausewitz.com.

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    Very large, comprehensive, but unselective and only sporadically annotated. Includes many online links and occasionally book reviews. Accompanied by similar though generally less comprehensive bibliographies in French, Japanese, Spanish-Portuguese, and other languages as well as a bibliography of scientific nonlinearity. The German bibliography includes detailed publication data on Clausewitz’s original works, from Vom Kriege and major campaign studies to articles, papers, and correspondence.

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  • Hahlweg, Werner. “Schriftum zur Geschichte und zum Studium des Werkes Vom Kriege.” In Carl von Clausewitz: Vom Kriege. 19th ed. Edited by Werner Hahlweg, 1341–1367. Bonn, Germany: Dümmlers Verlag, 1980.

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    Massive, international, but now badly dated; naturally very rich on German sources.

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  • Paret, Peter. Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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    Originally published in 1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Bibliography is somewhat dated but is selective and usefully annotated; Paret’s dating of Clausewitz’s own writings is well informed and useful, albeit often speculative (see pp. 441–459). The best biography of Clausewitz currently available in English.

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Biography and Background

There are numerous biographies of Clausewitz in German, which often include excerpts and transcriptions of letters, minor writings, and so on, that have been destroyed or lost. Of the German works, Schwartz 1878 underlies most subsequent biographies. Clausewitz and Clausewitz 1916 focuses on Clausewitz’s rich intellectual relationship with his wife and editor, Marie, and is of particular interest. A number of the later biographies and collections (most notably, Schering 1935, whose author controlled Clausewitz’s papers at the University of Berlin) reflect efforts made during the Nazi era to bring Clausewitz into line with National Socialism. There are only two useful full biographies available in English, Paret 2007 and Parkinson 1971, which have very different strengths (see also, however, the chapter-length biographical treatment in Aron 1985, cited under General Studies). Paret 1966 and White 1989 describe the military-intellectual environment in Prussia during Clausewitz’s era. Gat 1989, on the broad evolution of military thought, helps place Clausewitz’s thinking in a much broader and richer context but is problematic in important respects.

  • Clausewitz, Karl von, and Marie von Clausewitz. Karl und Marie von Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen und Tagebuchblättern. Edited by Karl Linnebach. Berlin: Martin Warneck, 1916.

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    Immensely revealing of the important intellectual relationship between Clausewitz and his wife and editor, Marie.

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  • Gat, Azar. The Origins of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to Clausewitz. Oxford Historical Monographs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    Gat’s works (including several other books on the evolution of military thought) do a lot to place Clausewitz’s concepts into a larger military-intellectual context. Gat’s interpretations (particularly concerning Clausewitz’s intellectual evolution) are idiosyncratic, however, and widely disputed.

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  • Paret, Peter. Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807–1815. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.

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    A valuable treatment of the domestic political context within which Clausewitz operated during the Napoleonic Wars.

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  • Paret, Peter. Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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    Originally published in 1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press). This is a work of careful scholarship and a superior biography (certainly the best available in English to date), but tends to be rather aridly intellectual in character.

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  • Parkinson, Roger. Clausewitz: A Biography. New York: Stein and Day, 1971.

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    Paret accurately characterizes this as “a poor specimen of popular biography, full of factual errors, howlers, and references to nonexistent works” (Paret 2007, p. 443). Parkinson’s grasp of Clausewitz’s concepts is poor. Nonetheless, this biography, based largely on Clausewitz’s extensive correspondence, often conveys more of the flavor of Clausewitz’s personal experiences in the real world than does Paret’s hyper-intellectual treatment.

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  • Schering, Walther Malmsten. Die Kriegsphilosophie von Clausewitz. Hamburg, Germany: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1935.

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    Schering, a capable scholar but a committed Nazi, curated Clausewitz’s papers at the University of Berlin under the Third Reich and published two other books on Clausewitz, Wehrphilosophie (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1939) and Geist und Tat: Das Vermächtnis des Soldaten und Denkers (Stuttgart: Kröner Verlag, 1942). His versions and analyses of Clausewitz’s works are untrustworthy but interesting, particularly as a reflection of the Nazi era.

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  • Schwartz, Karl. Leben des Generals Carl von Clausewitz und der frau Marie von Clausewitz geb. Gräfin von Brühl: Mit Briefen, Aufsätzen, Tagebüchern und anderen Schriftstücken. 2 vols. Berlin: Dümmlers Verlag, 1878.

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    A key source for most subsequent biographers, this is dated and nonanalytical but contains original sources unavailable elsewhere.

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  • White, Charles Edward. The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801–1805. New York: Praeger, 1989.

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    An important discussion of Clausewitz’s primary mentor, General Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst (b. 1755–d. 1813), and the military-intellectual context of Clausewitz’s personal evolution.

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Original Writings

Most of the attention Clausewitz has received outside Germany has focused on his magnum opus, Vom Kriege (On war). That important work, however, makes up only three of his ten volumes of collected works, Hinterlassene Werke des Generals Carl von Clausewitz über Krieg und Kriegführung (Clausewitz 1832–1837), which in turn leave out most of his shorter works, lectures, notes, and so on. He also conducted a voluminous correspondence with many interesting and renowned figures. These other works are of considerable significance for various reasons, not least because of the light they shed on the evolution of his ideas, which may be crucial to understanding their actual meaning. But Clausewitz was also an unusually perceptive observer of his era, providing eyewitness discussions of many key events and personalities. His campaign studies of the Napoleonic era (written not for publication, but as studies in preparation for Vom Kriege) are particularly important, not only as analytical histories, but sometimes as eyewitness accounts as well. His deep intellectual relationship with his wife, Marie, is of interest for reasons quite apart from his political and military concerns. Much of his extensive correspondence with important political, military, and cultural figures in Prussia has also been published. A number of the German biographies (e.g., Clausewitz and Clausewitz 1916) focus on Clausewitz’s voluminous correspondence with Marie, who edited his collected works. Many of Clausewitz’s papers disappeared at the end of World War II. Fortunately, many had been published in various forms, particularly in biographies of Clausewitz and his contemporaries. Scholarly researchers are best directed to the versions of Clausewitz’s work edited by Werner Hahlweg (Clausewitz 1979, Clausewitz 1990; see also, especially, Vom Kriege, 19th ed. [Bonn, Germany: Dümmlers Verlag, 1980] and his edited collections of other documents), but Rothfels (Rothfels 1922) and Kessel (Clausewitz 1937) are also considered important commentators as well as editors.

  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Hinterlassene Werke des Generals Carl von Clausewitz über Krieg und Kriegführung. 10 vols. Berlin: Dümmlers Verlag, 1832–1837.

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    These ten volumes contain Clausewitz’s magnum opus, Vom Kriege (On war), and a series of military campaign studies, ranging from the Thirty Years’ War and the War of the Spanish Succession to the campaigns of Frederick the Great and Napoleon. Vom Kriege in particular has appeared in numerous editions and reprints, some significantly modified by their editors. A full list of the volumes and their contents is available online.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Strategie aus dem Jahr 1804, mit Zusätzen von 1808 und 1809. Edited by Eberhard Kessel. Hamburg, Germany: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1937.

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    This is one of Clausewitz’s more important early essays on strategy. Kessel’s introduction has been influential on later theorists and biographers.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Verstreute kleine Schriften. Edited by Werner Hahlweg. Bibliotheca Rerum Militarium 45. Osnabrück, West Germany: Biblio Verlag, 1979.

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    Includes a considerable number of Clausewitz’s various shorter writings. A full list of the contents is available online.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Carl von Clausewitz, Schriften—Aufsätze—Studien—Briefe: Dokumente aus dem Clausewitz-, Scharnhorst- und Gneisenau-Nachlass sowie aus offentlichen und privaten Sammlungen. 2 vols. Edited by Werner Hahlweg. Deutsche Geschichtsquellen des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts 49. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990.

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    Contains, among other things, early notes and drafts from 1816–1830 showing the evolution of Vom Kriege as well as various military-political memoranda, essays, and material on the campaigns of 1812 and 1815.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von, and Marie von Clausewitz. Karl und Marie von Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen und Tagebuchblättern. Edited by Karl Linnebach. Berlin: Martin Warneck, 1916.

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    Covers Clausewitz’s voluminous correspondence with his wife, née Countess Marie von Brühl, with whom Clausewitz shared a deep intellectual life and who edited and introduced his collected works.

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  • Rothfels, Hans, ed. Carl von Clausewitz: Politische, Schriften und Briefe. Bücherei für Politik und Geschichte des Drei Masken Verlages. Munich: Drei Masken Verlag, 1922.

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    Rothfels (b. 1891–d. 1976) was a nationalist-conservative German and Bismarck scholar who might have tended toward Nazism had he not been born Jewish. As it was, he was forced to flee Germany (despite his World War I Iron Cross, loss of a leg at Soissons, and conversion to Christianity) during the Nazi era. These are important considerations in his scholarly reputation, which is somewhat controversial. Rothfels wrote and published a great deal in German on Clausewitz and strongly influenced later interpreters, including Peter Paret. His English-language essay in Makers of Modern Strategy (Earle 1943, cited under Anthologies) was among the first to bring a sophisticated German academic view of Clausewitz to the Anglophone audience.

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English Translations

Nearly all of the attention Clausewitz has received in English has been directed at the content and influence of Vom Kriege (On war). There are three major translations done by Howard and Paret, Jolles, and Graham (Clausewitz 1984a, Clausewitz 1943b, and Clausewitz 1873, respectively), which differ significantly and which are widely available in many different editions (that often do not clearly identify which translation has been used). Researchers need to be aware of the existence and the varied origins, strengths, and weaknesses of these different versions of On War. However, Clausewitz’s letters, articles, campaign studies, and other works are of considerable significance for various reasons, not least because of the light they shed on the evolution of the ideas presented in On War, which may be crucial to understanding their actual meaning. Clausewitz was also an unusually perceptive observer of his era, providing eyewitness discussions of many key events and personalities. His campaign studies of the Napoleonic era are particularly important, not only as analytical histories, but sometimes as eyewitness accounts as well. His deep intellectual relationship with his wife, Marie, is of interest for reasons beyond his political and military concerns. Only two of Clausewitz’s campaign studies (those on 1812 and 1815) may be found in complete English translations (Clausewitz 1943a and Clausewitz and Wellesley 2010), though a few additional items are available, often as fragments or excerpts. The best sources of the latter come from Paret and Moran (Clausewitz 1984b and Clausewitz 1992). Unfortunately, Paret is generally uninterested in operational military history, so most operational discussions have been left out. Clausewitz’s Die wichtigsten Grundsätze des Kriegfuhrens zur Ergänzung meines Unterrichts bei Sr. Koniglichen Hoheit dem Kronprinzen, usually referred to in English as the Principles of War (translated by Hans Gatzke; see Clausewitz 1942), is interesting in its own right as a reflection of Prussian military thinking at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, but it should not be mistaken (as it frequently has been) for a summary of the much later and far more sophisticated On War.

  • Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated by J. J. Graham. London: N. Trübner, 1873.

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    The Graham translation is most frequently encountered in the three-volume version edited by F. N. Maude (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1908) and is often republished in full or in abridgements, especially in e-books, because it is now out of copyright. The various editions of the Graham translation are thoroughly obsolete, but Maude’s imperialist, social Darwinist commentary and notes (misleading in terms of Clausewitz’s meaning and intent) are of historical interest for what they reveal of the pre–World War I era. English-speaking writers and thinkers whose understanding of Clausewitz would have derived from the Graham/Maude editions should not be interpreted in terms of the Howard and Paret text (Clausewitz 1984a).

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Principles of War. Translated by Hans W. Gatzke. Harrisburg, PA: Military Service Publishing, 1942.

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    Originally published as Die wichtigsten Grundsätze des Kriegfuhrens zur Ergänzung meines Unterrichts bei Sr. Koniglichen Hoheit dem Kronprinzen, Clausewitz’s 1812 instructional memorandum for his student, the Crown Prince of Prussia. A distant precursor to On War, but by no means a précis of the latter work. Written for the sixteen-year-old crown prince just prior to Clausewitz’s departure in 1812 to join the Russian army to fight Napoleon. Translated in 1942 by a German expatriate, but one evidently unfamiliar with Clausewitz’s later work.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. The Campaign of 1812 in Russia. Translated by Anonymous. London: John Murray, 1943a.

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    A dated, friendly, but rather casual translation actually done by Francis Egerton (later Lord Ellesmere), a British aristocrat in Wellington’s inner circle. Serious readers should compare Egerton’s rather casual language with the modern, scholarly, but partial translation by Paret and Moran (Clausewitz 1992).

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated by O. J. Matthijs Jolles. New York: Modern Library, 1943b.

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    The 1943 Jolles translation (done by a German literary scholar with no particular military interests or biases) is subtler, more accurate, and less inclined to impose interpretations on the original than Howard and Paret’s translation (Clausewitz 1984a).

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Rev. ed. Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984a.

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    Originally published as Volumes 1–3 of Clausewitz’s Hinterlassene Werke des Generals Carl von Clausewitz über Krieg und Kriegführung (Berlin: Dummlers Verlag, 1832–1835). The standard translation of Vom Kriege since 1976 (the translation’s original publication date) has been this Howard and Paret translation, though it is coming under increasing criticism from Clausewitz scholars for its pursuit of readability at the expense of accuracy. The text does, however, include important introductions by Paret, Howard, and Bernard Brodie. Also issued in a superior edition by Knopf’s Everyman’s Library series, but, unfortunately, with a different pagination.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Two Letters on Strategy. Edited and translated by Peter Paret and Daniel Moran. Carlisle, PA: Army War College Foundation, 1984b.

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    Enlightening correspondence between Clausewitz and the General Staff officer Major (later Lieutenant-General) Carl von Roeder, concerning the planning and conduct of a campaign based on problems set out by Lieutenant-General Friedrich von Müffling, chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1827.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Historical and Political Writings. Edited and translated by Peter Paret and Daniel Moran. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    The best single source in English for writings by Clausewitz other than On War. Many of the most interesting documents, unfortunately, are excerpts rather than complete translations. A full list of the contents is available online.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von, and Arthur Wellesley. On Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Translated and edited by Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow. Charleston, SC: Clausewitz.com, 2010.

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    Built around a full modern translation of Clausewitz’s Der Feldzug von 1815 and Wellington’s 1842 response to it. Also includes two letters by Clausewitz to his wife, Marie, considerable correspondence among Wellington’s circle concerning Clausewitz, and exploratory essays by the editors. Of particular interest because this campaign study was written very late in Clausewitz’s life; its findings were never incorporated into On War. Thus, the text represents Clausewitz’s mature thinking but is not redundant to his magnum opus.

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Influence and Impact

Although most broad treatments of Clausewitz include some assessment or explanation of Clausewitz’s own arguments, much of the discussion focuses on how his ideas have influenced subsequent thinkers and actors. Bucholz 1985 provides an excellent introduction to Hans Delbrück, a historian rather than a soldier, who was perhaps Clausewitz’s most faithful and creative successor in Germany. Delbrück was frequently at odds with the German General Staff (especially regarding the conduct of World War I), and his views were prominent in the findings of Germany’s postwar inquiry into the defeat. Those views therefore present an interesting counterpoint to the influential argument of Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart (b. 1895–d. 1970) that Clausewitz’s ideas (or their misinterpretation by less perspicacious disciples, such as those more positively discussed by Echevarria 2000) contributed heavily to the destructive errors of the war. Strachan, whose evolution as a Clausewitz scholar grows out of Strachen’s work on the “Great War,” has had an uphill climb to overcome Liddell Hart’s negative influence (see Strachen 2007). Wallach 1986 examines Clausewitz’s impact on German military behavior through the eyes of a professional Israeli soldier, this time taking the story through World War II. Hahlweg 1980, authored by Clausewitz’s modern German editor, presents a dated but still useful German view of the Anglophone literature on Clausewitz. Bassford 1994 surveys Clausewitz’s reception in the English language, exploring, among other things, the more positive 19th-century British view of Clausewitz, the sources and impact of Liddell Hart’s critique, and the early nuclear era and then carries the story well beyond 1945 (though it is due for an update). Heuser 2002 does the same but looks beyond the Anglophone world. Gallie 1978 places Clausewitz’s arguments on war among those of a number of other major figures in Western thought, including Kant, Marx, Engels, and Tolstoy.

  • Bassford, Christopher. Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America, 1815–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    A survey of the reception of Clausewitz (vice his influence or impact, which Bassford argues is inherently unknowable), which pushes the Anglophone study of Clausewitz back to the Napoleonic era itself—and forward as well, into the 1990s.

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  • Bucholz, Arden. Hans Delbrück and the German Military Establishment: War Images in Conflict. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1985.

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    Delbrück (b. 1848–d. 1929) is not well known in the English-speaking world (though there is a four-volume translation of his works), but he was extremely influential in Germany and is widely regarded as the founder of modern, “scientific” military history. As both historian and strategic analyst, Delbrück was very heavily influenced by Clausewitz.

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  • Echevarria, Antulio J., II. After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers before the Great War. Modern War Studies. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

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    Discusses Clausewitz’s intellectual successors in Prussia/Germany, focusing on Boguslawski, Goltz, Schlieffen, Hoenig, and so on, but inevitably shedding a lot of light on Clausewitz (and his historian disciple, Hans Delbrück) in the process.

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  • Gallie, W. B. Philosophers of Peace and War: Kant, Clausewitz, Marx, Engels, and Tolstoy. The Wiles Lectures. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558450Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential though flawed juxtaposition of a number of important thinkers on the human phenomenon of war by a British philosopher and social and political theorist. Oddly for a philosophical examination, it treats Clausewitz’s purely logical exercise of “ideal war” as if it represents a practical ideal.

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  • Hahlweg, Werner. “Clausewitz und die angelsächsische Welt.” In Carl von Clausewitz: Vom Kriege. 19th ed. Edited by Werner Hahlweg, 138–153. Bonn, Germany: Dümmlers Verlag, 1980.

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    Now seriously dated, this remains an important survey by the most important German scholar of Clausewitz since World War II.

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  • Heuser, Beatrice. Reading Clausewitz. London: Pimlico, 2002.

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    Another survey of Clausewitz’s ideas, reception, and impact, not limited to the English-speaking world. Heuser herself is a sophisticated commentator, and the book covers much ground, but its depth and usefulness are limited by its target audience: younger students, particularly military.

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  • Strachan, Hew. Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography. Books That Changed the World. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007.

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    A biography of the book On War, not of Clausewitz himself. Despite a certain ambivalence toward the subject, Strachan has done more to energize the study of Clausewitz in Britain than any scholar since Sir Michael Howard.

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  • Wallach, Jehuda Lothar. The Dogma of the Battle of Annihilation: The Theories of Clausewitz and Schlieffen and Their Impact on the German Conduct of Two World Wars. Contributions in Military Studies 45. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

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    An Israeli officer interested in the relationship between theory and practice in war takes a careful, balanced look at the impact of the ideas of Clausewitz and Alfred von Schlieffen on the German army’s doctrinal thinking and operational behavior during the two world wars.

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Antagonistic Treatments

There is a long tradition of Anglophone antagonism toward Clausewitz, dating primarily to the national antagonisms of the early 20th century. But it is also traceable to Wellington’s 1842 essay (see Clausewitz and Wellesley 2010, cited under English Translations), written in annoyed response to Clausewitz’s study of the campaign of 1815, and to Antoine-Henri Jomini’s hostile response (Jomini 1838) to the criticisms Clausewitz had made of Jomini’s early theoretical work. This antagonistic literature is problematic in that the actual target of much of it (though not Jomini’s work or Keegan 1993) is not Clausewitz himself or the ideas he actually expressed; rather, much of the criticism is aimed at the German military model in general or, more often, the perceived misinterpretation or misapplication of Clausewitz’s concepts by his later disciples—whether the European generals of World War I; the Nazis; the “neo-Clausewitzians,” exemplified by Henry Kissinger during the Vietnam era (see Clausewitz 1968); the various alleged “Clausewitz nuts” who “prostituted” Clausewitz in the post-Vietnam American doctrinal debates of the 1980s; or the neo-“neo-Clausewitzians” who led the United States into Iraq in 2003 (Melton 2009). It often takes a close reading to determine precisely who or what is the target and what is the author’s actual knowledge of and attitude toward Clausewitz himself. In many cases, the latter turns out to be very positive, as was the case with Captain Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart. Nonetheless, Liddell Hart is widely seen as the bête noire of Clausewitz studies, whose impact on Clausewitz’s reputation was uniformly negative (see Liddell Hart 1980). Liddell Hart 1946 is a good example of that writer’s habit of taking key ideas—unattributed—from Clausewitz while simultaneously criticizing him overtly. Van Creveld 1991 offers an alternative to a “Clausewitzian” concept that seems unrelated to Clausewitz’s actual argument. Fleming 2004 typifies a strain of modern complaints about Clausewitz that seem to be better informed about Clausewitz’s work than earlier such treatments but that offer a critique that, like Liddell Hart’s, does not clearly distinguish between Clausewitz and his original thoughts and the modern disciples who are somehow misusing or misinterpreting them.

  • Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Edited by Anatol Rapoport. Pelican Classics. Baltimore: Penguin, 1968.

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    A severe abridgement based on the Maude edition of the 1873 Graham translation, cutting much of Clausewitz’s own discussion for space, but retaining Maude’s Victorian-era imperialist and social Darwinist insertions. Rapoport’s long, hostile introduction and notes are important sources for understanding Clausewitz’s subsequent reception and reputation.

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  • Fleming, Bruce. “Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?Parameters 34.1 (2004): 62–76.

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    Typifies hostile treatments by such writers as Tony Corn, Phillip S. Meilinger, and Stephen Melton (Melton 2009). Fleming is a professor of English, and his critique mixes literary and military-theoretical elements. This article, like Corn’s and Meilinger’s, prompted energetic rebuttals by pro-Clausewitz scholars, such as Christopher Bassford, Antulio Echevarria, and Nikolas Gardner.

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  • Jomini, Antoine-Henri, baron de. Précis de l’Art de la Guerre: Des principales combinaisons de la stratégie, de la grande tactique et de la politique militaire. Brussels: Meline, Cans et Copagnie, 1838.

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    Jomini, often taken as Clausewitz’s foil, offers not only overt insults to Clausewitz but also very many adaptations to On War’s arguments. The insults are most prominent in Jomini’s prefatory essay, the adaptations in the body of the work. The essay appears in English translation as “The Present Theory of War and Its Utility” in The Art of War, translated by O. F. Winship and E. E. McLean (New York: Putnam, 1854), available online, but is unfortunately missing from the later, otherwise better and more widely available translation by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971).

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  • Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Knopf, 1993.

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    By a popular military historian whose views on the subject are shaped by Liddell Hart, Rapoport (Clausewitz 1968), and van Creveld (van Creveld 1991). Mounts a sustained and hostile treatment of Clausewitz, portrayed as a proto-fascist and exemplar of the views and methods of Frederick the Great, modified only somewhat by the experience of Napoleonic “total war.”

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  • Liddell Hart, Basil H. “War, Limited.” Harper’s Magazine, March 1946, 193–203.

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    This was an important early discussion of the concept of limited war, prompted by the new prospect of nuclear warfare. The argument is derived from Clausewitz, who, however, is portrayed solely as a proponent of the “total” variety.

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  • Liddell Hart, Basil H. The Ghost of Napoleon. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980.

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    Originally published in 1933 (London: Faber & Faber). An early example of Liddell Hart’s critique of Clausewitz, the essence of which did not change before Liddell Hart’s death in 1970. These views fundamentally shaped the popular British and American views of Clausewitz until the 1970s and remain influential.

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  • Melton, Stephen L. The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (A Way Forward). Minneapolis: Zenith, 2009.

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    Melton’s critique is essentially of the neo-Clausewitzians (primarily in the US military, rather than civilian leaders) who have misapplied Clausewitz to political-military problems.

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  • van Creveld, Martin. The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict since Clausewitz. New York: Free Press, 1991.

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    Argues that the theories of Karl von Clausewitz are largely irrelevant to “nonpolitical” wars, such as the Islamic jihad, and wars for existence, such as Israel’s Six-Day War. Influential among nonspecialists, though eliciting much criticism from Clausewitz scholars.

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General Studies

There are a great many aspects to Clausewitz’s discussion, and a number of these have given rise to differing interpretations. This plasticity is well explored by Aron 1985. For example, Clausewitz’s famous dictum, “[W]ar is merely the continuation of Politik [variously translated as ‘policy,’ ‘politics,’ ‘statecraft,’ and so on, with important implications for meaning] by other means,” is often cited as Clausewitz’s key argument, or “bottom line.” That argument, however, is only the antithesis in a dialectical discussion that culminates in a synthesis that Clausewitz labeled the “fascinating Trinity” of war. Controversy over the nature of that synthesis typifies the multifaceted debate over Clausewitz’s concepts. The actual term (wunderliche Dreifaltigkeit) is used only once in On War, but the idea can be seen as the central organizing concept of the book. The lists presented of its actual components vary markedly, however. In some interpretations (positive in Summers 1982, cited under Military Doctrine; negative in van Creveld 1991, cited under Antagonistic Treatments), it is a rigid social construct of concrete social entities (people, army, and government) wedded exclusively to the Weberian state. It is thus alternately the bedrock of human political organization (Summers 1982) or a moribund relic irrelevant to modern war (van Creveld 1991). For other interpretations (Beyerchen 1992, cited under Nonmilitary Treatments; Bassford 2006; Echevarria 2007), the Trinity comprises a dynamic interaction of variously characterized abstractions or psychological forces. The implications and entailments of these different formulations lie at the heart of many debates about Clausewitz’s intent, meaning, and relevance—especially in terms of Clausewitz’s applicability to state and nonstate warfare. In this debate, Clausewitz’s conceptualizations are either confined to warfare between modern, Weberian states within a Western cultural construct (van Creveld 1991 and Keegan 1993, both cited under Antagonistic Treatments) or are of universal applicability (Bassford 1994, cited under Influence and Impact; Echevarria 2007). He is portrayed as focused purely on conventional warfare (van Creveld 1991, Keegan 1993) or concerned primarily with revolutionary struggles or wars of national liberation (Sumida 2008; writings of Marxists such as Mao Tse-tung and Vo Nguyen Giap). His concept of absolute war is either a pure abstraction serving a number of theoretical purposes (Bassford 1994), a practical prescription for total war (Liddell Hart from the 1920s to 1970; Gallie 1978, cited under Influence and Impact), or even a model for nuclear war (for Brodie’s views, see Zellen 2009; Cimbala 1991). He is a relentless advocate of the offensive, the “Mahdi of Mass” and “Apostle of Total War” (Liddell Hart 1980 and Liddell Hart 1946, both cited under Antagonistic Treatments) or, conversely, a believer in the balance-of-power system (Paret 2007, cited under Biography and Background), proponent of the inherent superiority of the strategic defense (Sumida 2008), analyst and advocate of “small war” (Derbent 2006, Daase 2007), and, as Robert E. Osgood stated, the “preeminent military and political strategist of limited war in modern times.”

Military Doctrine

Because Clausewitz’s actual, rather narrow focus was the conduct of military operations during wartime, much of the relevant literature is forward-looking and focused on how to apply his ideas to contemporary military problems. There was a great deal of this in various European languages on the eve of World War I (see Bassford 1994 and Echevarria 2000, both cited under Influence and Impact). Corbett 1988 (originally published in 1911), a work that attracted Winston Churchill, was unusual in many respects, partly because Corbett—almost alone of the era’s authors—was interested in the possibilities of limited war, but also because he applied Clausewitz’s precepts primarily to maritime warfare. The preeminent British Clausewitzian of the era was Spenser Wilkinson (b. 1853–d. 1937); it is hard, however, to point to any one concentrated discussion of Clausewitz in his work. Typifying the range of interpretation of Clausewitz in any one period, Corbett and Wilkinson took opposing sides in most practical strategic debates. Wallach 1986 (cited under Influence and Impact) examines Clausewitz’s (and Schlieffen’s) impact on 20th-century German thinking, while Strachan 2011 looks at the approach of all sides to Clausewitz in the era of World War I. Most of the other works listed in this section focus on the American doctrinal debate that began at the close of the Vietnam War era and continues in the early 21st century, albeit rather altered since the dramatic events of 2001. US Army Colonel Harry Summers (Summers 1982) read Clausewitz through a lens shaped by the Indochina War. Echevarria 2003 and Strange 1996 focus on one particular aspect of the debate, Clausewitz’s term (perhaps more accurately characterized as a verbal tic) center of gravity. That debate assumed near-theological proportions in the 1980s and 1990s. The eclectic US Marine Corps doctrinal effort of the 1990s (e.g., United States Marine Corps 1997) produced a marriage of the ideas of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu—though it was an “open marriage” that flirted with many other concepts. The overall evolution of American doctrinal thought over this period is explored in minute detail by Kinross 2008. Rosen and Hartmann 2011 offers a useful survey and critique of German approaches to Clausewitz over time, concluding that the German army developed a truly comprehensive understanding of his approach only in the late 20th century.

  • Corbett, Julian S. Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. Classics of Sea Power. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988.

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    Originally published in 1911 (London: Longmans, Green). This is a systematic and influential effort to apply Clausewitz’s ideas to maritime warfare. Of great interest to Churchill and others, Corbett’s ideas may have greatly shaped British naval strategy in World War I.

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  • Echevarria, Antulio J., II. “Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity: It’s Not What We Thought.” Naval War College Review 56.1 (Winter 2003): 108–123.

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    Demonstrates the continuing dynamics (or drift) in the effort to apply specific nuggets from On War to prescriptive American doctrine.

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  • Kinross, Stuart. Clausewitz and America: Strategic Thought and Practice from Vietnam to Iraq. Strategy and History 23. London: Routledge, 2008.

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    A very broad and detailed treatment of American military thought and action over this period.

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  • Rosen, Claus von, and Uwe Hartmann. “The Reception of Clausewitz in Germany.” In Clausewitz Goes Global: Carl von Clausewitz in the 21st Century. Edited by Reiner Pommerin, 122–149. Berlin: Miles Verlag, 2011.

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    This excellent survey of the German reception of Clausewitz (appearing in a Festschrift commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Clausewitz Society) covers the changing focus on and perceptions of Clausewitz among German soldiers, scholars, and political leaders from the Napoleonic era to today.

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  • Strachan, Hew. “Clausewitz and the First World War.” Journal of Military History 75.2 (April 2011): 367–391.

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    Strachan examines in great detail the approach that military thinkers and writers took to Clausewitz in the era before and during World War I, which differed considerably from more recent approaches.

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  • Strange, Joe. Centers of Gravity and Critical Vulnerabilities: Building on the Clausewitzian Foundation So That We Can All Speak the Same Language. 2d ed. Perspectives on Warfighting 4. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University, 1996.

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    Strange takes a fundamentally Jominian approach, but his discussion of the range of incompatible definitions of the Clausewitzian term center of gravity among the various service and joint doctrines is insightful and illustrative (and often humorous).

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  • Summers, Harry G., Jr. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1982.

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    Summers, a Vietnam veteran, wrote this while a student at the United States Army War College c. 1980, and the work did much to propel the army’s doctrinal fascination with Clausewitz. Summers’s interpretations both of the war and of Clausewitz are, however, idiosyncratic and controversial.

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  • United States Marine Corps. MCDP 1-1: Strategy. Washington, DC: United States Government, 1997.

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    A highly Clausewitzian discussion, but part of the very eclectic United States Marine Corps doctrinal effort of the 1990s, which hitched Clausewitz to a maneuverist approach redolent of Sun Tzu.

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Nonmilitary Treatments

Clausewitz is of interest to many writers whose focus is not primarily military or even strategic, and their work can often provide useful insights to the military historian or analyst. Peter Paret, for example, a German expatriate who is well known for his role in translating a number of Clausewitz’s works into English and who has in fact written a number of works on military-intellectual history, considers himself to be primarily a historian of aesthetics. That focus is by no means unrelated to his work on Clausewitz. Alan D. Beyerchen is a historian of science; his writing on Clausewitz (Beyerchen 1992–1993) is of extreme importance to anyone seeking to understand Clausewitz’s worldview, but it is rooted in modern scientific and mathematical concepts, not military, political, or strategic issues per se. Business treatments examine strategic issues, but the two business-oriented works listed here (Clausewitz 2001, Bungay 2011) specifically stress that “business is not war.” Strachan and Herberg-Rothe 2007 contains a number of articles written from a nonmilitary perspective.

  • Beyerchen, Alan. “Clausewitz, Nonlinearity, and the Unpredictability of War.” International Security 17.3 (1992–1993): 59–90.

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    By a historian of science who actually understands the nonlinear mathematics that underlie much of modern science. His insights do much to explain the frequent failure of communication between various schools in their discussions (pro and con) of Clausewitz. Available online for purchase.

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  • Bungay, Stephen. The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results. Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2011.

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    This is a business treatment that draws heavily on Clausewitz and Moltke. Bungay has real credentials as a businessman, as a business strategic consultant, and as a military historian.

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  • Clausewitz, Carl von. Clausewitz on Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist. Edited by Tiha von Ghyczy, Bolko von Oetinger, and Christopher Bassford. Translated by William Skinner. New York: Wiley, 2001.

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    A sophisticated condensation of On War (using new translations commissioned expressly for this work) aimed at successful business CEOs. The text does not attempt to translate Clausewitz’s ideas into business terms, but it does focus fairly narrowly on strategy rather than on war.

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  • Strachan, Hew, and Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds. Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century. Papers presented at a conference held at Oxford University, March 2005. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199232024.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This collection contains seventeen eclectic, high-quality, wide-ranging essays by Clausewitz scholars from various disciplines. See especially the articles by the historian of science Alan D. Beyerchen and by the aestheticist José Fernández Vega.

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LAST MODIFIED: 02/06/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791279-0026

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