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Video: Dr. Christopher Bassford discusses the ideas of Carl von Clausewitz.
Made for the US Army War College, July 2001.

2. "Types of War." This video discusses the terms "Absolute (or Ideal) War," "Real War," "Limited War," and "Unlimited War." The term "unlimited war" was chosen for convenience and to avoid excessive "hair-splitting" in a pretty basic course. In retrospect, this was an error. "Unlimited" is a problematic term in several ways—for one thing, Clausewitz didn't actually use that term (nor did he discuss "total war," which is often attributed to him). In fact, Clausewitz went out of his way to avoid creating a jargon or any convenient set of labels that people could sloppily substitute for actual thought. And nothing in the real world is "unlimited"—that term would be truly appropriate only in describing the ideal/absolute concept. In any case, it's important to understand that what is limited or "un"-limited is not the scale of violence or the scope of the means applied. Rather, it refers to the military and political objectives (and those are two different things). It would be closer to his purposes to say "war of limited objectives" and "war with the aim of rendering our opponent militarily helpless," with the understanding that these terms describe only one side's objectives in a war: the opponent's objectives may be quite different. When we try to apply such catch-all terms to a war overall, we seriously confuse ourselves. For example, we often call the Korean and Vietnam Wars "limited wars," but neither North Korea's nor North Vietnam's objectives (either political or military) regarding their southern counterparts were limited. The United States and probably China shifted their objectives in Korea significantly at points, and the North Vietnamese did not see US objectives in Indochina in at all the same terms as the Americans did.

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