Carl von Clausewitz

Carl von Clausewitz
(July 1, 1780 - November 16, 1831)
Carl von Clausewitz
Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz (July 1, 1780 November 16, 1831) was a Prussian Major-General and
military theorist who was most famous for his book “Vom
Kriege” or “On War”.
Von Clausewitz’s strategies of war influenced many leaders
after his time and still influence many nations today.
General Strategy
Von Clausewtiz stated in his general strategy that war has 3
– To conquer and destroy the armed power of the enemy.
– To take possession of his material and other sources of
– To gain public opinion.
His general strategy also dictated to “always direct the
principle operation against the main body of the enemy
army or at least against an important portion of his forces”,
and concluded by stating that “public opinion is won
through great victories and the occupation of the enemies
The 4 Rules
Von Clausewitz’s elaborated upon winning public opinion by
establishing 4 major rules towards creating a swift victory:
– The first and most important rule to observe in order to
accomplish these purposes, is to use forces with the
utmost energy. Any moderation shown would leave us
short of our aim. Even with everything in our favor, we
should be unwise not to make the greatest effort in
order to make the result perfectly certain. For such
effort can never produce negative results. Suppose the
country suffers greatly from this, no lasting
disadvantage will arise; for the greater the effort, the
sooner the suffering will cease. The moral impression
created by these actions is of infinite importance. They
make everyone confident of success, which is the best
means for suddenly raising the nation’s morale.
The 4 Rules
– The second rule is to concentrate our power as much as
possible against that section where the chief blows are
to be delivered and to incur disadvantages elsewhere, so
that our chances of success may increase at the decisive
point. This will compensate for all other disadvantages.
– The third rule is never to waste time. Unless important
advantages are to be gained from hesitation, it is
necessary to set to work at once. By this speed a
hundred enemy measures are nipped in the bud, and
public opinion is won most rapidly. Surprise plays a
much greater role in strategy than in tactics. It is the
most important element of victory. Napoleon, Frederick
II, Gustavus Adolphus, Caesar, Hannibal, and Alexander
owe the brightest rays of their fame to their swiftness.
– Finally, the fourth rule is to follow up our successes with
the utmost energy. Only pursuit of the beaten enemy
gives the fruits of victory.
Defensive Strategy
Von Clausewitz also established 4 main defensive and 2
main offensive rules for a successful campaign in wartime:
– Adopt a strategic defense mainly when the enemy is
– Disorganize the enemy and force it into a retreat, during
which it will necessarily suffer great losses.
– Fortifications are to keep the enemy occupied. It is best
to fight from behind it, but not stand by idly while it is
– If the defense wins and peace does not follow
immediately, we can gain further success only through
the offensive.
Offensive Strategy
Von Clausewitz also established 4 main defensive and 2
main offensive rules for a successful campaign in wartime:
– OFFENSIVE: Constant replacement of troops and arms.
The roads of our lines of operation must be covered
constantly with transports of soldiers and supplies, We
must establish military stations along these roads to
hasten this rapid transport.
– OFFENSIVE: The aggressor should foresee a possibility
of great disaster, by organizing strong points along the
lines to retreat to incase of a defeat, they should be
On War
In “On War”, Von Clausewitz also discusses the critical
analysis, tactics, unpredictability, fog, friction, and centre of
gravity in war.
Von Clausewitz was highlighted for discussing the
differences between “absolute” or “ideal war” as opposed to
“real war”.
Von Clausewitz clearly influenced leaders and nations after
his time and changed the way we think of war. After his
death, his influence was strong in World War I, World War
II, the Cold War and perhaps even today.
World War II
Cold War
Some argue that Clausewitzian theory is out of date in
today’s world of nuclear proliferation. The United States is
currently the world’s only superpower and they have never
used Clausewitzian theory, however many attribute this to
their failure in Vietnam and modern-day Iraq.
“War is just an extension of politics”.