GRAND TRADITION OF TRASHING
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This article appeared originally in War and
, v.1, no.3 (November 1994). It is displayed here with
the permission of War in History
and its publisher, Edward Arnold.
Copyright Edward Arnold, 1994. All rights reserved.
Other Discussions of Keegan and Clausewitz
Rather like Cato the Elder,
ending every speech with his famous "delenda est Carthago," the British historian cum journalist Basil
Liddell Hart (1895-1970) routinely included in his many publications
a ringing denunciation of the Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz.
He occasionally deviated from this practice, e.g., after some authoritative
figure like Spenser Wilkinson had publicly pointed out the many
errors, inconsistencies, and blatant contradictions which Liddell Hart's
discussion on this subject always contained.*1 After World
War II's opening events failed to match his rather strident prognostications,
Liddell Hart was even apt to invoke the German philosopher's ideas in defense
of his own. As he painfully rebuilt his reputation after the war, however,
he returned to his old habits (often word-for-word) even though—as his personal
correspondence reveals—his privately held view of Clausewitz was a great
deal more complex and positive.
And Liddell Hart's sustained attacks bore fruit. For well over a generation,
Clausewitz's reputation in the West was the one that Liddell Hart had
conjured up: the "Mahdi of Mass," the "apostle of total war," the "evil
genius of military thought," the man whose "gospel" had been "accepted
everywhere as true" and was directly responsible for the pointless carnage
of the First World War. Reading Liddell Hart's own famous introduction
to the subject of limited war (1946),*2 it is difficult
to avoid the conclusion that his misrepresentation of Clausewitz was deliberate,
since he borrowed the term and the concept from the Prussian but referred
to him, yet again, only as a proponent of the total variety.*3
That Liddell Hart's published treatment of Clausewitz was nonsense is
not difficult to demonstrate, but his legacy was hard to overcome. Gradually
and painfully, beginning in the 1950s with writers like Samuel Huntington
and Henry Kissinger,*4 the truth about Clausewitz's ideas
and their historical role has been resurrected. In the last two decades,
in a process spearheaded by scholars like Sir Michael Howard and Peter
Paret, Clausewitz's theories and concepts have come, in one form or another,
to permeate Anglo-American military writing, theoretical, doctrinal,
It has in fact become difficult to find a recent book on any military
subject that does not make some, usually positive, reference to the philosopher.
"Clausewitzian analyses" of this and that military problem are omnipresent
(if not necessarily very Clausewitzian). Clausewitz's concepts underlie
the most authoritative discussions of America's "lessons learned" from
the Vietnam debacle (Harry Summers's On Strategy: A Critical Analysis
of the Vietnam War and the Weinberger Doctrine).*5 Indeed, Clausewitz has come to dominate the official American military
doctrinal debate: On War*6 was adopted as a key
text at the Naval War College in 1976, the Air War College in 1978, and
the Army War College in 1981. It has always been central at the U.S. Army's
School for Advanced Military Studies at Leavenworth (founded in 1983).
The U.S. Marine Corps's brilliant little philosophical field manual, FMFM
1: Warfighting (1989), is essentially a distillation (heavily
flavored by Sun Tzu).*7
Now, along comes John Keegan (1934- ), British historian cum journalist,
to turn back the clock. Keegan's Clausewitz, heavily discussed in the
author's widely reviewed A History of Warfare (1993),*8 is a narrow-minded regimental officer who typifies the Frederician tradition
of Cadavergehorsam, unthinking obedience to savage discipline.
He is the brutal philosopher of pitiless, aggressive, total war; an "unpromoted"
and "unhonoured"*9 but self-seeking sucker-up to authority
(and simultaneously a traitorous dog who willfully disobeyed his rightful
monarch) whose career was blighted by his own extremism; a saber-rattling
Prussian militarist who worshipped Napoleon and understood warfare only
through the Napoleonic lens; the intellectual cause of the pan-European
disaster of World War I;*10 and a theorist whose ideas
are obsolete, irrelevant, and actively dangerous. Clausewitz even seems
to have done in the poor Easter Islanders and inspired Shaka Zulu and
This seems rather an odd introduction to the shy, retiring Clausewitz,
a man of bourgeois social origins who nonetheless died, young at 51, as
a respected general in the Prussian service; who spent his free time going
to lectures on art, science, education, and philosophy; who suffered political
isolation for advocating the British parliamentary constitutional model
in Prussia and for lauding the virtues of citizen soldiers over mindless
Prussian discipline; who risked his career by resigning his Prussian commission
in principled protest over the aggressive alliance with Napoleon in 1812;*11 who maintained that conquerors like the French emperor would—and should—be
defeated by the European balance of power mechanism; whose arguments on
limited war and the superior power of the defense were roundly
condemned by most European military writers on the eve of the Great
War; and whose works, since the debacle in Vietnam, have provided much
of the intellectual basis for advanced officer education in America's
resurgent military institutions.
One would hope that Keegan's military-intellectual atavism would receive
the short shrift it deserves. Unfortunately, the history of Clausewitz's
reception over the past century and a half argues otherwise. Although
Clausewitz insisted that defense is the stronger form of war, it is the
attacker who has the easier job when it comes to assassinating ideas.
Most readers (and that includes, unfortunately, many professional writers
on military affairs and military history) take their understanding of
Clausewitz from secondary and tertiary works like Keegan's. The signs
of confusion stemming from Keegan's treatment are already evident. As
one example, Keegan's reviewer in The Economist provided its readers
with what is probably the first new misinterpretation of Clausewitz in
forty years: "Clausewitz defined two kinds of war; those run by states
with proper armies under full command, and the murderous pell-mell struggles
waged in his day by Cossacks, and nowadays by, say, Serbians."*12 This lame analysis will soon, no doubt, be appearing in the textbooks.*13
Were Keegan's disparagement of Clausewitz merely idle straw-man demolition
or absent-minded sniping, as many attacks on Clausewitz are, we could
write off his misrepresentations as mere ignorance. The discussion in A History of Warfare, however, is a sustained assault both on Clausewitzian
theory and on those who promulgate it, and Keegan has made that assault
(quite unnecessarily, I think) a central aspect of his own argument. Presumably,
therefore, Keegan has made some effort to understand the ideas he attacks
so vociferously. In this, he has clearly failed.
I am intrigued by two questions. The first is: Insofar as Keegan's treatment
represents an intellectual failure, what is it, exactly, that he
has failed to understand?
Keegan's treatment represents something more, however, than an intellectual
failure. More, that is, than a mere inability to comprehend Clausewitz's
arguments. Keegan is, after all, a very bright and creative fellow, and
an accomplished writer. The three core chapters of his 1976 book, The
Face of Battle, constitute one of the glories of English-language
military historical literature. And, for those who actually read On
War, Clausewitz is not all that difficult to fathom. Three minutes
thought is usually sufficient to clarify any one of Clausewitz's many
interesting propositions. Unfortunately, as A.E. Housman once said, "thought
is irksome and three minutes is a long time." It seems painfully apparent
that, at root, Keegan's problem with Clausewitz stems from irrational
sources. There is no logical thought process that could account for Keegan's
simultaneous arguments that, first, On War's ideas have thoroughly
determined the Western way of war and, second, that no real soldiers (at
least, none "of the thousands ... I have known")*14 have been able to make any sense or use of its arguments. (This paradox
is demonstrably wrong on both counts.) One must ask how, precisely, did
Clausewitz's efforts to subordinate war to rational policy teach the world
that "those who make war an end in itself are likely to be more successful
than those who seek to moderate its character for political purposes"?*15 No, Keegan is less unable than simply unwilling to grasp the ideas of On War. So my second question, inevitably a speculative venture,
The remainder of this article, therefore, will use Keegan's intellectual
errors as a vehicle for exploring the true meaning of Clausewitz's work.
It will conclude with some speculations as to why a bright fellow like
Keegan might feel driven to make and defend such errors.
Keegan's A History of
Warfare argues, in essence, that war is a cultural rather than a political
activity. Warfare clearly is not a rational pursuit, since it does so
much more harm than good even to the victors; it "is wholly unlike politics
because it must be fought by men whose values and skills are not those
of politicians and diplomats."*16 Instead, most human
warfare has been a matter of symbolic ritual—with no political purpose—in
which the values of particular cultures are expressed. He draws much of
his inspiration for this view from the unique culture and "tribalism"
of the British regimental system with which he is so intimately familiar.
It was the Europeans, once they had been informed by Clausewitz that war
should be "a continuation of policy," who introduced politics into it
and thereby did in Western civilization—after first doing in just about
everybody else. No pacifist, Keegan argues that the contemporary armies
of the developed world have a continuing mission to bring peace and order
to the world. Nonetheless, warfare is now on its way out: "Little by little,...
recognition of the horror is gaining ground," an argument that could have
been written—and was—at a great many points in human history.*17
While there is much of interest in the book, its arguments are fatally
self-contradictory. One is forced to agree with Michael Howard that "much
of what [Keegan] does say is ... profoundly mistaken."*18 Nonetheless, except insofar as it is interwoven with his assault on Clausewitz
and his henchmen, Keegan's general argument is not the focus here. Concerning
the narrower topic of Clausewitz, much of Keegan's deviltry is in the
details, but this article shall seek out the most fundamental errors.
There are essentially two
ways to read Clausewitz. The first is to pore through the pages of On
War looking for practical hints and military prescriptions. These
are certainly present, despite Clausewitz's insistence that fundamental
theory must be descriptive, not prescriptive.*19 After
all, Clausewitz was a man of his time: He had real-world political and
military concerns, a need to provide contemporary illustrations for his
theories, and the requirement to refute competing theorists of his own
day. Thus, one can read On War and emerge intellectually prepared
to fight the wars of Clausewitz's own youth and middle age. Or, understanding
the context within which Clausewitz wrote, one can read to understand
his underlying theory and analytical methods, seeking their applicability
to one's own present-day problems and historical concerns.
Surely the second approach is more sensible in the case of a 160-year
old book, and its utility explains why On War remains a living
influence when most of its contemporaries are moldering on the shelf.
In any case, that is the approach of modern Clausewitzians, and it is
necessary to distinguish—as critics like Liddell Hart and Keegan generally
have failed to do—between the ideas of the philosopher himself and those
of his proponents in any given era.
Keegan takes a variation on the first approach: He has read On War (or some of it) for its 1820s-era prescriptions, then put a great deal
of imagination into explaining why Clausewitz might have said such terrible
things. Although he cites some of the most sophisticated modern analyses
of Clausewitz's life and works (he quotes Paret's insightful books), he
has failed to discern much of their meaning. Most of his interpretation
derives from older and misleading secondary sources, particularly F.N.
Maude's social Darwinist insertions into the 1908 English edition of On
War and Liddell Hart's attacks, long since repudiated by other historians—and
ineffectually condemned by Keegan himself.*20
Symptomatic of Keegan's misrepresentation of Clausewitz's argument is
his treatment of the opening gambit in On War. He ignores or misreads
the notorious complexities of Clausewitz's modeling of "absolute" war.
Absolute war is an abstraction freed of the constraints of time, space,
and human nature, a "logical fantasy" which does not and cannot occur
in practice. "Real" war (that is, war as we actually experience it) is
quite different. It occurs along a spectrum from the mere threat of force,
through wars tightly limited in their scope by constraints of motive or
resources, to conflicts which are unlimited in the sense that at least
one of the antagonists is unwilling to accept any outcome other than the
complete overthrow of his adversary.
Such niceties escape Keegan, who has chosen to fixate exclusively on
what he calls Clausewitz's "ideology" of "true war." It is hard to account
for the attention he pays to this term, since the phrase "true war" appears
only three times in On War's hundreds of pages and only once—arguably
twice—in the sense that Keegan uses it.*21 Apparently
a vestigial survival from earlier conceptions, the term refers to the
more intense spectrum of "real war" but has no noteworthy place in Clausewitz's
mature theory. Its use does serve to indicate Clausewitz's care, writing
in the 1820s, that the harsh lessons of the wars of the French Revolution
and Napoleon not be forgotten.*22 To write only of "true
war" may be convenient for Keegan's purposes of vilification, but it is
a good deal less meaningful even than the opposite tack taken by many
modern political scientists, who tend to focus exclusively on the limited
war component of Clausewitz's theories.*23 The fact
is that Clausewitz described a spectrum of war that accommodates infinite
variation. The flexibility of that approach is annoying to those who seek
rigid rules and prescriptions, or easy targets, but it constitutes the
only approach compatible with our historical experience of war.
Keegan's greatest error, however, lies in his naive and one-dimensional
definition of the word politics and in a misconception common among the
lay public—but surprising in a professional historian—concerning Clausewitz's
most famous phrase, "war is merely the continuation of politics by other
means." Keegan condemns Clausewitz's alleged argument that war is entirely
a rational tool of rational state policy, an argument with which he is
entirely right to disagree.*24 Unfortunately for Keegan
and his more credulous readers, this was not Clausewitz's position at
Writing in German, Clausewitz used the word Politik, and his most
famous phrase has been variously translated as "War is a continuation
of `policy'"—or of `politics'—"with an admixture of other means." For
the purpose of argument, he assumed that state policy would be rational,
that is, aimed at improving the situation of the society it represented.*25 He also believed, along with most Westerners of his era, that war was
a legitimate means for a state's advancement of its interests, particularly
survival. This is often taken to mean that war is somehow a "rational"
phenomenon, and Clausewitz is convicted—as Keegan convicts him—of advocating
the resort to war as a routine extension of unilateral state policy.
In fact, the choice of translation for Politik—"policy" or "politics"—indicates
differing emphases on the part of the translator, for the two concepts
are quite different. "Policy" may be defined as rational action, undertaken
by an individual or group which already has power, in order to use, maintain,
and extend that power. Politics, in contrast, is simply the process—comprising
an inchoate mix of rational, irrational, and non-rational elements like
chance and "friction"—by which power is distributed within a given society.*26 It occurs both within the state and between states (i.e., diplomacy).*27 Thus, in calling war a "continuation" of politics, Clausewitz was advocating
nothing. In accordance with his belief that theory must be descriptive
rather than prescriptive, he was merely recognizing an existing reality.
War is an expression of both policy
and politics, but "politics" is the interplay of conflicting forces,
not the rational execution of one-sided policy initiatives.*28
The word "continuation" is also a source of some confusion. The actual
word Clausewitz used in his formulation is Fortsetzung, literally
a "setting forth." War is an expression of—not a substitute for—politics.
Translating this word as "continuation," while technically correct, evidently
implies to many that politics changes its essential nature when it metamorphoses
into war.*29 This impression is contrary to Clausewitz's
argument. War remains politics in all its complexity, with the added element
of violence. The non-rational and completely irrational forces that affect
and often drive politics have the same impact on war. Violence is not
just another ingredient in the political stew, however. Like a powerful
spice, it affects the flavor of every other component.
Keegan, in contrast, uses the words "policy" and "politics" interchangeably
and repeatedly connects them both with the concept of rationality. Therefore
the present Balkan wars are, in Keegan's view, "apolitical," for "they
are fed by passions and rancours that do not yield to rational measures
of persuasion or control." "How could war be an extension of politics,
when the ultimate object of rational politics is to further the well-being
of political entities?"*30
Anyone who has ever witnessed a political campaign should know better,
and modern democratic politics is no more purely rational than the Byzantine
intrigues that characterized the Roman republic, the absolutist states
of early modern Europe, or the chaos of the Cultural Revolution in China.
Keegan's larger discussion demonstrates an underlying appreciation of
this reality; it is also inherent in his arguments concerning culture.
Nonetheless, he denies any such understanding to Clausewitz, even though
it is a central pillar of On War's argument.
On the side of rationality, it is true that Clausewitz advised that anyone
resorting to war should do so with a clear idea as to what he means to
accomplish and how he intends to proceed toward that goal. He should also
be aware, however, of the sharp limits on the role of rational calculation
in a phenomenon equally dominated by chance and blind emotion.
The rational side of Clausewitz's argument is not unimportant: If war
is to be an extension of policy, that is, a tool of policy, then
military leaders must be subordinate to political leaders and strategy
must be subordinate to policy. This poses practical organizational problems.
Like many of Clausewitz's teachings, his solution was not a simple prescription
but a dualism: The military instrument must be subordinated to the political
leadership, but political leaders must understand its nature and limitations.
Politicians must not attempt to use the instrument of war to achieve purposes
for which it is unsuited. This is the principle, often abused, upon which
modern American civil-military relations are based.
So much for the rational control of war. On the other hand, Clausewitz
grew up during the transition from the Enlightenment (and the rather different
German Aufklärung)—which stressed a rational approach to human
problems—to the age of Romanticism. The start of the Romantic era coincided
roughly with the disasters of the French Revolution. Keegan recognizes
the intellectual chasm between the Enlightenment and the age of Romanticism,
but he unaccountably treats Clausewitz as exclusively a product of the
former: "but in his lifetime, the Enlightenment ruled."*31 No one familiar with Azar Gat's excellent assessment of Clausewitz's place
in the evolution of European military thought—or, for that matter, with
the general intellectual history of the era—would put forth such an argument.*32 The newer movement stressed the irrational, emotional aspects of man's
make-up, including nationalism. Clausewitz's world view reflected elements
of each. Clausewitz's vision of war thus falls also very much into the
domain of the non-rational and even the irrational, "in which strictly
logical reasoning often plays no part at all and is always apt to be a
most unsuitable and awkward intellectual tool." "[I]t would be an obvious
fallacy to imagine war between civilized peoples as resulting merely from
a rational act on the part of their governments...."*33 States are not, in truth, unitary rational actors, and a sizeable portion
of what Clausewitz called "friction" many writers today would subsume
under the heading "bureaucratic irrationality." Such friction was only
one of several factors which, in Clausewitz's view, made the course of
events in war inherently unpredictable.
One of the most important requirements of strategy in Clausewitz's view
is that the leadership correctly "estimate the character of the war."
This is often misunderstood to mean that leaders should rationally decide
the kind of war that will be undertaken. In fact, although intelligent
policy may modify the participants' behavior somewhat, the nature of any
given war is beyond rational control: It is inherent in the situation
and in the "spirit of the age" (a concept which encompasses much of Keegan's
cultural argument). Good leaders, avoiding error and self-deception, can
at best merely comprehend the real implications of a resort to violence
and act accordingly.
It is clear, therefore, that Clausewitz's war is—despite all that intellect
and reason can do to modify it—a game of chance outside the bounds of
Would Prussia in 1792 have dared to invade France with 70,000
men if she had had an inkling that the repercussions in case of failure
would be strong enough to overthrow the old European balance of power?
Would she, in 1806, have risked war with France with 100,000 men, if she
had suspected that the first shot would set off a mine that was to blow
her to the skies?*34
Thus Clausewitz was hardly one to urge that the resort to war be taken lightly
or routinely, nor to claim that its result would necessarily further the
rational, unilateral policy goals of the party who launched it.
A clear implication of Keegan's narrowly cultural argument would seem
to be that, since war is a traditional behavior pursued by identifiable
cultural groups, the way to eliminate war is to eliminate its traditional
practitioners. Clausewitz, on the other hand, sees war as simply what
happens when the process of politics, by which power is distributed in
any society, assumes an emotional intensity that leads to organized violence.
The power being contested may be social, as in the endemic personal competitions
in feudal societies or during the European "Age of Kings"; economic, as
with control of gold for the mercantilists, human flesh for the cannibal
or slave-trader, or food for the ecological disaster victims on Easter
Island; religious, as in the early stages of the Thirty Years' War or,
in a rather different sense, Aztec Mexico; ideological; or anything else.
Regardless of the motivation, the contest is for power and is therefore
political. War is thus liable to eternal reinvention, as is well illustrated
by the speed with which long-suppressed national groups in the former
Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have fielded armies. Clausewitz's analysis
is far more consistent with the events on Easter Island than anything
Keegan offers, for there the cultural tradition of war was, by Keegan's
own description, absent.
Keegan has not only an unworkable definition of politics, but also too
exclusive an understanding of Clausewitz's analytical scheme. On War's
theory does not constrain war within the confines of mere "politics,"
much less Keegan's at least equally confining "culture," but within the
much broader realm of human nature. Although the Prussian writer occasionally
likened it to commerce and litigation, and more usually to politics, war
is essentially a "part of man's social existence."*35 He contrasted this social analysis not with a cultural approach but with
two more traditional analogies: Clausewitz's war (as opposed to
strategy or tactics) is neither an art nor a science, but those two terms
often mark the parameters of theoretical debate on the subject.
Clausewitz's most ardent critics (e.g., Jomini, the early J.F.C. Fuller)
have tended to be those who treated war as a science. Clausewitz argued
that the object of science is knowledge and certainty, while the object
of art is creative ability. Of course, all art involves some science (the
mathematical sources of harmony, for example) and good science always
involves creativity. Clausewitz saw tactics as more scientific in character
and strategy as something of an art. If pressed, Clausewitz would have
placed war-making closer to the domain of the arts, but neither definition
was satisfactory. The view of war as a social phenomenon accounts better
not merely for war's origins but for its essential character as well.
The distinction is crucial: In both art and science, the actor is working
on inanimate matter (and, in art, the passive and yielding emotions of
the audience), whereas in social phenomena like business, politics, and
war, the actor's will is directed at an animate object that not only reacts but takes independent actions of its own.
War is thus permeated by "intelligent forces." War is also "an act of
force to compel our enemy to do our will," but it is never unilateral.
It is a contest between independent wills, in which skill and creativity
are no more important than personality, chance, emotion, and the various
dynamics that characterize any human interaction. When Clausewitz wrote
that war may have a grammar of its own, but not its own logic, he meant
that the logic of war, like politics, is nothing unique.*36 It is merely the logic of social intercourse, and not that of art or science.
Social interaction is continuous; one can no more achieve final victory
than one can "win" history. Clausewitz's argument that no strategic development
is final*37 is inherent in his social analysis and completely
contradictory of Keegan's misleading phrase, "Clausewitzian victory."*38 This corresponds well to our actual experience. Which of the following
provides a better metaphor for the outcome of the recent  war with
1. Finishing a long, grueling, dangerous engineering project.*39
2. Completing a great painting or symphony.
3. Leaving the theater after a cultural event, say, a kabuki performance.
4. "Winning" an argument with one's spouse.*40
Soldiers and military analysts who fail to grasp the implications of
this argument—this reality—are doomed to a life of frustration and disappointment.
This approach proved irritating to critics long before Keegan came upon
it. J.F.C. Fuller (1878-1966), was an advocate of the scientific view
of war. He originally argued, as Keegan does now, that Clausewitz's theory
was obsolete because it originated in a premodern society.*41 Fuller initially portrayed Clausewitz as irrelevant, a "general of the
agricultural period of war," dismissing On War as "little more
than a mass of notes, a cloud of flame and smoke."*42 Fuller's attempt to create a scientific theory of war was fundamentally
alien to the social message of On War. He called Clausewitz's comment
on the absurdity of the term "science of war" a "preposterous assertion."*43
Fuller, however, unlike Liddell Hart, was a flexible thinker who continually
struggled with the implications of his own ideas. Towards the end, in
1961, Fuller caved in:
In my opinion, Clausewitz's level is on that of Copernicus,
Newton, [and] Darwin—all were cosmic geniuses who upset the world. They
could not help doing so, and the same may be said of Gautama, Christ [and]
Mahomet. If my [book, the Conduct of War] follows suit, it will
not be because of what I have written, but because my study of Clausewitz
has compelled me to write it.*44
Showing a remarkable capacity for evolution, Fuller also finally surrendered
on the issue of war as art or science: Clausewitz "was the first, and remains
one of the few, who grasped that war `belongs to the province of social
An explanation for much of the cultural element that Keegan discusses
can be found in a section of On War that Keegan attacks on other
grounds. Dealing with "absolute" war in the abstract, Clausewitz had pointed
out that to "introduce the principle of moderation into the theory of
war itself would always lead to logical absurdity." This argument has
much to do with Clausewitz's bloodthirsty reputation. In fact, Clausewitz
did not mean that moderation was absurd in practice, because the
social conditions within states and the relationships between them often
made moderation an element of policy. The theoretical point is a good
one, but the language in which it was expressed is harsh.
Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some
ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed,
and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as
it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous
business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst. The maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous
use of the intellect.*46
Clausewitz's position is easier to understand if we consider the military
transition Europe was forced to undergo at the end of the eighteenth century.
Clausewitz argued that human societies often tend to ritualize war into
a mere game, presumably for reasons of social order, humanitarianism, aesthetics,
or economy. This is what happened in the case of Keegan's Mamelukes and
samurai, and to a great extent it happened again in western Europe under
the ancien regime. To accept such a conventionalization of war was
in Clausewitz's view to fall into a trap. "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 [i.e., some revolutionary or alien invader] will
come along with a sharp sword and hack off our arms."*47 The conventional-ization of war in pre-Revolutionary Europe had created the
ideal situation for a Napoleon to exploit, just as the petrification of
Mameluke military methods exposed them to the Ottomans (and later to Napoleon
himself). Samurai technological retrenchment, undertaken for reasons of
domestic class politics that Keegan reads narrowly as "culture," exposed
them to Perry's gunships. Ritualization of the pacific Zulus' warfare exposed
them to the psychotic innovations of Shaka, who was, in Keegan's view, "a
This accusation demonstrates Keegan's profound confusion regarding Clausewitz's
historical role and position, a misunderstanding apparently derived from
Liddell Hart's image of Clausewitz as the "high priest of Napoleon." Clausewitz
represents the ideas not of Napoleon but of his most capable military
and ideological opponents. That has immense implications for the meaning
of Clausewitz's work: He was not a proponent of conquest, but rather a
supporter of the European balance of power among free and independent
In actuality, then, Shaka, like Napoleon, was exactly what Clausewitz
was warning us against, just as Keegan warns us against "ethnic
bigots, regional warlords, ideological intransigents, common pillagers
and organized international criminals." Unfortunately, Keegan then goes
on to tell us that "there is a wisdom in ... symbolic ritual that needs
to be rediscovered."*49 Perhaps he has forgotten the
elaborate diplomatic dances that preceded the Gulf War and surround the
problem in Bosnia. The danger in Keegan's suggestion, as Clausewitz pointed
out, is that one side will substitute ritual for action while the other
side acts decisively. Or does Keegan think his criminals will join in
the ritual and submit to its restraints?*50
The differences between Keegan and Clausewitz on this issue point to
a rather interesting contradiction in Keegan's approach. Although Keegan
tries to paint Clausewitz as a narrow-minded product of regimental culture,
it is in fact Keegan who is the real militarist, in the sense developed
by Alfred Vagts.*51 Clausewitz had no use for armies,
for war, or for military ritual for their own sake, whereas Keegan is
quite taken with the ritual and apparently desires to perpetuate it. While
Keegan seems to think that this would be a step in a positive direction,
I'm afraid that most of us, when push comes to shove, will have to disagree.
Killing and dying over issues of ideology or political power are certainly
objectionable, but far less so than killing or dying for the sake of mere
ritual—and, in any case, any ritual that involves life and death has a
political significance of its own.
Culture clearly plays a tremendous role in both war and politics. It
often serves, as Keegan very rightly points out, to overwhelm any attempt
at rational calculation. One does not have to seek far, however, to discover
examples of the opposite effect. The reforms of Prussia's army and society
initiated by Clausewitz's mentor Scharnhorst, for example, ran utterly
contrary to Prussia's military and political culture. They nevertheless
constituted a rational and effective response to the mortal peril in which
the state found itself. The same is true of the samurai-led Meiji Revolution
of 1868. Thus Clausewitz's analysis of war as a social phenomenon can
easily incorporate the phenomena described in Keegan's cultural thesis,
but, because it is much more flexible and comprehensive, Clausewitzian
theory can also incorporate the many contrary examples with which historical
experience has provided us.
Such a conclusion, however, reflects precisely the sort of Clausewitzian
smugness that infuriates Keegan. He feels hemmed in by omnipresent—though
very seldom identified—Clausewitzian scholars taking credit for every
idea that works and denying responsibility for every one that fails. "Clausewitz—the
Clausewitzians believe—arrived at a vision of war so eclectic, and an
analysis of war so exact, that all its phenomena—glimpsed by the groundlings
through a microscope, by the sage from an earth-girdling surveillance
satellite—take their proper place, rank and relationship in his theory
of how soldiers ought to act." "What [Clausewitzians] wrongly say is that
those who succeed as strategists by what they regard as the light of their
own judgment are Clausewitzians nonetheless, while those who fail, though
consciously applying Clausewitzian principles, have misunderstood or misused
them. What they ascribe to Clausewitz, then, is a possession of absolute
truths—which would make strategy unique among the social sciences."*52
There is a grain of truth in what Keegan says here. Overtly Clausewitzian
thinkers are indeed annoyingly apt to restate others' observations in
Clausewitzian terms, the better to integrate what is new and useful in
an argument into an existing and immensely flexible conceptual framework.
Keegan's other accusations, however, are blows into the air, for they
assail positions that Clausewitz does not occupy. Clausewitz explicitly
denied that either war or the much narrower field of strategy were "sciences"
at all. The exactitude Keegan decries is not to be found in the Clausewitzian
universe, dominated as it is by chance and friction. As for Clausewitz's
alleged restraints on the individuality of military leaders (and, we may
safely imply, military historians), it is an irreducible fundamental of
Clausewitzian theory that "given the nature of the subject ... it is simply
not possible to construct a model for the art of war that can serve as
a scaffolding on which the commander can rely for support at any time."
Since theory cannot be a guide to action, it must be a guide to study;
it is meant to assist the student in his efforts at self-education and
to help him develop his own judgment, "just as a wise teacher guides
and stimulates a young man's intellectual development, but is careful
not to lead him by the hand for the rest of his life."*53 It is true that Clausewitz urged leaders contemplating war to think through
its implications rationally, but he by no means predicted that they would
actually do so. Nor must the modern analyst expect this to be the case.
Clausewitzian theory thus is not the intellectual strait-jacket Keegan
claims it to be. It predicts neither "how soldiers ought to act" nor how
historians ought to interpret their actions. Clausewitz's suggestion that
war is an expression of politics is no more a claim to "absolute truth"
than Keegan's argument that it is an expression of culture. The difference
is that Clausewitz's flexible analytical framework can easily incorporate
Keegan's insights, whereas Keegan's claims are stridently exclusive.
That brings us to the issue
of motivations, and, in a roundup of all the usual suspects, we find that
Keegan has been dallying with all of them. For example, like many post-1914
Anglo-Saxon propagandists, Keegan shows an exaggerated resentment of all
things Teutonic.*54 He also finds reading Clausewitz
tough going (surely a humanizing trait).
The latter point was, in fact, Liddell Hart's fundamental complaint about
Clausewitz. Liddell Hart actually respected Clausewitz's achievement—his
private correspondence demonstrates that fact conclusively. He simply
felt that other readers, who were inevitably less perspicacious than himself,
would necessarily misunderstand On War's insights because of the
complexity of its style.
Some of Keegan's bitterness can be attributed to mere quirks of personality,
for the profoundly civilian Keegan clearly is a moonstruck romantic about
soldiers—or, even more dangerous, a disillusioned romantic. These beings,
he says, "are not as other men—that is the lesson I have learned from
a life cast among warriors."*55 The rational side of
Clausewitzian theory, which ruthlessly subordinates these unique creatures
to the drabness of government policy, must be repugnant.
There is also an ideological element to Keegan's attack. He is determined
to convince us (despite the enormous amount of evidence he provides to
the contrary) that "war ... may well be ceasing to commend itself to human
beings as a desirable or productive, let alone rational, means of reconciling
their discontents." He assures us that "this is not mere idealism," and
indeed it is not. Personally, I am inclined to view Keegan's belief in
a new sociable man as a symptom of that malady lately common among professional
military historians: a melancholy longing for acceptance among that other
unique tribe, the politically correct academicians. As Keegan has said,
"Let us deem Clausewitz, with Nietzsche, politically incorrect."*56 In this pursuit Keegan is wasting his time. Both military theorists and
military historians are, almost by definition, politically incorrect.
Taking a somewhat different tack, it has been suggested by some that
Keegan's critique is less than candid. As Richard Swain puts it, Keegan's
description of Clausewitz "is so perversely bad ... that one can only
suspect it to be a deliberate distortion for the sake of creative effect,
a dramatic ploy to emphasize his own argument that war is as much a cultural
as a political phenomenon, a point few would dispute, Clausewitz notwithstanding."*57 Alas, this credits Keegan's intellect at the cost of his integrity. In
truth, Keegan's perversity appears to be sincere.
None of the above misunderstandings and motivations can fully account
for the fury with which Keegan attacks Clausewitz, nor the petulant resentment
he displays towards the unnamed "Clausewitzians" he claims to see lurking
under every bush. The explanation which most forcefully presents itself
on that score is that Keegan's problem with Clausewitz is essentially
a matter of Keegan's own self-image. I recently tried to suggest to Keegan,
not only that he was using the word "Clausewitzian" to refer to ideas
which did not originate with Clausewitz and were, in many cases, flatly
contradictory to the theories of On War, but that a great many
of his own ideas were in no way inimical to those theories. He responded
bitterly that "Bassford ... insists that I am an unwitting Clausewitzian....
You can't win."*58 In other words, what truly gets Keegan's
dander up is the suggestion that his own vivid insights are anything less
than totally original.*59
It is a simple if unpalatable fact that no modern military thinker, unless
he operates in a complete intellectual vacuum, can avoid some contamination
by Clausewitzian ideas. What the Clausewitzians are saying to Keegan,
however, is not that he stole his ideas from Clausewitz, nor even that
he has been unconsciously subverted, but simply that much of his idiosyncratic
explanation of war is perfectly compatible with Clausewitz. Many of his
observations are in fact reinforced by the message of On War, if
only because both are based on the same empirical experience of war. Keegan,
however, demands that his ideas be treated as sui generis; because
they are his insights, they cannot be integrated into or paralleled
by anyone else's conceptual scheme. In other words, Clausewitz was a personal
failure and his ideas are obsolete, or evil, or benighted, simply because,
were things otherwise, John Keegan would not be unique.
Clausewitz is long dead.
He was never omniscient. The modern Clausewitzian is under no obligation
to accept every aspect of his argument. Clausewitz represents not an end
point for speculation about war and its history but a solid foundation
for further investigation. His flexible analytical approach remains supremely
useful. It can do much to help transcend the distance between his time
and ours and between one modern thinker and another, without in any way
inhibiting our individuality or creativity.
The individual historian or theorist therefore gains little by a wholesale
rejection of Clausewitz, and the community of thinkers and scholars benefits
not at all from the systematic misrepresentation of his historical role
or of his ideas. John Keegan, a creative and insightful historian, would
be able to see further—and, in fact, to help us all see further—if only
he were willing to stand upon the shoulders of giants.
OTHER DISCUSSIONS OF KEEGAN
1. For an intelligent Marxist critique of Keegan, et al,
2. From Michael Handel, Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought, 3rd ed. (Portland, OR, Frank Cass, 2001), p.305:
Unfortunately, [Keegan's] ‘summary’ of Clausewitz has nothing to do with what Clausewitz actually
said. Clausewitz’s ideas are either misunderstood or quoted out of context. (For an
understated critique of the case, see Christopher Bassford’s article, ‘John Keegan and the
Grand Tradition of Trashing Clausewitz: A Polemic’, in War in History, vol. 1, no. 3,
November 1994, pp. 319–336.)
3. For a more mainstream critique—perhaps less inherently suspect
than that of the editor of The Clausewitz
Homepage—see Jim Byrne, "Keegan
versus von Clausewitz," The Defence Associations National
Network's National Network News, vol.6 no.1 (Spring 1999).
4. It's nice to know that someone at the Daily Telegraph has actually read Clausewitz. See Daniel Johnson, "First,
Read Clausewitz." Copyright Daily
Telegraph Apr 17, 1999. [Johnson wrote this op-ed piece
at the height of the 78-day NATO air-war against Serbia over Kosovo. "NATO needs statesmen who know their Clausewitz, but it does not
5. Nick Young, computer support technician in Sydney, Australia,
and apparently a student at the University of New South Wales. His
website is http:/www.inocuo.org/.
Here's an admirable bit of understatement from this non-historian,
in a paper entitled " Readings
on the macrohistory of human invasion processes: Some thoughts on
technological determinism and other evils," pages 1/7, 3/7:
"John Keegan's project in A History of Warfare is to tell the history of warfare in a way that debunks the work
of Clausewitz,... Not being a military historian myself, I cannot
judge how effective a rebuttal Keegan's book would be. However,
it would seem that Keegan has quite admirably rebutted Clausewitz,
but in doing this, his priorities have forced him to occasionally
create explanations out of thin air that will support his argument."
6. LTC Walter M. Hudson [Instructor, U.S. Army Command and General
Staff College], " The
Continuing Influence of Clausewitz," Military Review,
March-April 2004, pp.60-62. This is a review essay on John Keegan, Intelligence and War: Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).
7. From Richard K. Betts, "Is Strategy An Illusion?," International Security, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Fall 2000), pp. 5–50:
"Keegan’s dismissal of Clausewitzian rationality falls of its own weight. It simply confuses what politics, the proper driver of strategy, is. Consider his astounding statements that “politics played no part in the conduct of the First World War worth mentioning,” or that although Balkan wars “seem to have as their object that ‘territorial displacement’ familiar to anthropologists. . . . they are apolitical.”45 Keegan is a respectable historian of military operations, but a naïf about politics, so he cannot render a verdict on the strategy that connects them."
ON-LINE INTERVIEW WITH KEEGAN
Excerpt on Clausewitz ("this awful German"): "He was a Prussian,
son of a clergyman, born 1780, served in the Prussian army, captured
by the French, changed sides when Poland invaded Prussia, went to
fight for the Russians. Never made a great success of his military
career. He was a difficult, cantankerous man. He was regarded with
suspicion because he fought for the Russians even though that was
in the course of Prussian independence. And he was sort of pensioned
off, sent to the staff college to live out his days, where he sat
down and wrote this great—I mean, it has to be said—great theoretical
work called "On War," which has influenced every soldier and statesman
interested in war for the last 100 years."
• Clausewitz was the son of a minor customs official, formerly
an officer in Frederick the Great's army. Keegan evidently has
him confused with British thinkers B.H. Liddell Hart and J.F.C.
Fuller, both sons of church ministers.
• No Polish state existed in Clausewitz's era, a fact of which
most historians are aware. However, France did invade Russia in 1812, forcing its conquered Prussian satellite to contribute
an army corps to the invasion. Rather than fight for Prussia's
oppressor, Clausewitz (with the permission of the King of Prussia)
joined the Russian army in order to resist Napoleon. He returned
from that war a hero, was reinstated in the Prussian army, and
was promoted. [Major Claus E. Andersen, of the Danish army, has
suggested to me that the transcript incorrectly transcribes Keegan's
words here, and that he actually said "changed sides when Napoleon
invaded Prussia." This would be a somewhat less egregious historical
error (Napoleon invaded Prussia in 1806, Russia in 1812) but looks
like an effort to paint Clausewitz as a traitor. Perhaps the correct
language is even "changed sides when Napoleon invaded Russia,"
but in fact Clausewitz remained on the same—i.e., the anti-Napoleon—side.]
• I suppose it can fairly be said that Clausewitz's military
career was a failure, since he never rose above the rank of general.
:-) Seriously, the notion that Clausewitz was a failure in his
military career is an element of British wartime propaganda and
appears to stem from some of Clausewitz's own musings to his wife—in
personal correspondence that Keegan has certainly never read—concerning
his failure to achieve certain personal ambitions.
• As to personality, Keegan has confused Clausewitz with the
irritable Jomini. Clausewitz was famous (and sometimes unpopular)
for his cool, reserved bearing. Keegan's confusion is understandable,
however—Jomini was, after all, like Clausewitz, a foreigner.
• Clausewitz was regarded with suspicion in the Prussian court,
not because he fought with the Russians, but because his social
and political views were considered too liberal. The King also
found Clausewitz irritating for his insistance during the wars
of 1812 to 1814 that the King's job was to protect Prussia's interests,
not just to hold on to his crown at any cost. But he was not too
irritated to promote Clausewitz to Major-General, which he did
• Clausewitz was never "pensioned off." He died as a result of
service in the field as chief of staff (and, briefly, commander) of the only army Prussia
mobilized in the crisis of 1830-31.
• Clausewitz did indeed write a great book. Despite his pretensions
to expertise, however, Keegan has never read it. When I asked
him (c.1995) if he had, he sputtered a bit and said that he'd
been assigned it in school—back in the late 1960's. That
figures. It is fairly obvious that he once read Anatole Rapoport's
long, hostile introduction to Penguin's
severe abridgement (published in 1968), and nothing else.
Nothing anywhere in Keegan's work—despite his many diatribes about
Clausewitz and "the Clausewitzians"—demonstrates any reading whatsoever
of Clausewitz's own writings.
NOTES to "John Keegan and the Grand Tradition of Trashing Clausewitz"
1. Spenser Wilkinson, "Killing
No Murder: An Examination of Some New Theories of War," Army Quarterly 14 (October 1927), pp.14-27, criticizing Liddell Hart's The Remaking
of Modern Armies (London, John Murray, 1927).
2. Basil Liddell Hart, "War, Limited," Harper's Magazine 192, no.1150 (March 1946), pp.193-203.
3. This discussion of Liddell Hart is derived
from Chapter 15 of my own book, Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America,
1815-1945 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1994).
4. Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier
and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1957); Henry A. Kissinger, Nuclear
Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1957).
5. Harry G. Summers, Jr. On Strategy:
A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, CA, Presidio Press,
1982); Caspar Weinberger, "The Use of Force and the National Will," Baltimore
Sun, 3 December 1984, 11.
6. References to Clausewitz's On War (Vom Kriege, 1832) are to the translation by Michael Howard and
Peter Paret (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1976), 1984 edition.
7. Headquarters United States Marine Corps, FMFM 1: Warfighting (Washington, D.C., 1989).
8. John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York, Knopf, 1993).
9. This view of Clausewitz as a failure
in his military career appears to stem from some of Clausewitz's own musings
to his wife concerning his failure to achieve certain personal ambitions.
It also relates to speculations concerning the Clausewitz family's social
status and dubious claims to nobility. These issues can be mutated into
professional failure only with great effort, and that effort must ignore
Clausewitz's considerable achievement in obtaining prominence and general's
rank despite some very real political obstacles to his advancement.
10. Keegan, Warfare, 22, 354, tries
to have it both ways on this accusation, which he seems to believe but
also knows to be intellectually indefensible. "And although this catastrophic
outcome must not be laid at the door of Clausewitz's study, we are nevertheless
right to see Clausewitz as the ideological father of the First World War....
the objects of the First World War were determined in great measure by
the thoughts that were Clausewitz's...."
11. Keegan, Warfare, 15-16, attributes
this simply to frustration with the slow progress of Scharnhorst's "plot
to flesh out the army under Napoleon's nose." He fails to note the social
character of the army's reforms. He also equates Clausewitz's actions
with those of the murderous Japanese ultranationalists of the 1930s. Such
analogies, pro or con, are awkward. John Wheeler-Bennett, in The
Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918-1945 (London,
Macmillan, 1964), saw in Clausewitz's 1812 actions a positive precedent
for German military resistance to Hitler, but neither analogy works very
well. Clausewitz was not trying to assassinate anyone, and Keegan conveniently
forgets that Napoleon was an aggressive tyrant who held Prussia in its
alliance only by threatening to complete her total destruction.
12. Despite Keegan's own many examples
of very different kinds of forces with which Clausewitz had actual contact,
Clausewitz's advocacy of militia forces in Prussia's own war for liberation,
and the discussion in On War of "people's war," Keegan insists
throughout that Clausewitz understood "only one form of military organization:
the paid and disciplined forces of the bureaucratic state." Warfare,
222. In order to justify this view, and unable to find a suitably inane
quotation from Clausewitz's own writing, Keegan is reduced to quoting
other writers with whom Clausewitz "would have probably" agreed—particularly
on the subject of the Cossacks, pp6-10.
13. The Economist, 2 October 1993,
97-98. See also former Navy secretary John Lehman's credulous review in The Wall Street Journal, 1 December 1993, A-18, or John Lancaster's
in The Washington Monthly, 25, no.11 (November 1993).
14. Keegan, Warfare, 20; "Peace
by Other Means? War, popular opinion and the politically incorrect Clausewitz," Times Literary Supplement, 11 December 1992, 3-4.
15. Keegan, Warfare, 21-22.
16. This postulates an extremely narrow
definition of "politics." Does Keegan really believe that military officers
do not engage in unit or service (much less national and international)
politics? Politics exists in all human groups; no one is disqualified
from its practice. The wider definition I imply here is much more akin
to what Clausewitz discusses.
17. Keegan, Warfare, 56.
18. Michael Howard, "To the Ruthless Belong
the Spoils," The New York Times Book Review, 14 November 1993.
19. Keegan, Warfare, 6, ignores
this fundamental of Clausewitzian theory and says that Clausewitz was
"struggling to advance a universal theory of what war ought to
be, rather than what it actually was and had been."
20. Jay Luvaas, "Clausewitz, Fuller and
Liddell Hart," in Michael Handel, ed., Clausewitz and Modern Strategy (London, Frank Cass, 1986), 197-212; John Mearsheimer, Liddell Hart
and the Weight of History (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1988);
Keegan, Warfare, 48, 354.
21. On War, 133, 218, 488. Keegan's notion of "true war" appears to come not from Clausewitz at all, but from the American anthropologist Harry Holbert Turney-High (1899-1982).
22. "Not every future war, however, is
likely to be of this type; on the contrary, one may predict that most
wars will tend to revert to wars of observation [i.e., of the most limited
type]. A theory, to be of any practical use, must allow for that likelihood." On War, 488.
23. In some ways as erroneous as Liddell
Hart's or Keegan's, this is the vision of Clausewitz as "the preeminent
military and political strategist of limited war in modern times," a quotation
from Robert Endicott Osgood, Limited War Revisited (Boulder, Westview,
24. The very first line of Keegan's main
text tells us that "War is not the continuation of policy by other means."
Interestingly, and based on much the same grounds of rationality, it is
the very last line in Russell F. Weigley's The Age of Battles:
The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo (Bloomington,
Indiana University Press, 1991), 543. Weigley, however, does not attribute
the concept in that form to Clausewitz, because, he tells me, he has come
to recognize that this phrase in English is so misleading as to On
War's actual argument. Interview, Quantico, VA, 9 September 1992.
25. One can argue forever about definitions
of rationality and its opposite in regard to policy. Keegan, Warfare, 381, says that "the ultimate object of rational politics," by which
I believe he means policy, "is to further the well-being of political
entities." Clausewitz, On War, 606, says essentially the same thing,
without believing that this necessarily corresponds to practice: "That
it can err, subserve the ambitions, private interests, and vanity of those
in power, is neither here nor there.... here we can only treat policy
as representative of all interests of the community."
26. My definitions; Clausewitz does not
distinguish the two concepts, both of which are represented by the one
word Politik in German. However, this definition of politics is
expressed in Clausewitz's famous "paradoxical trinity—composed of primordial
violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural
force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative
spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument
of policy, which makes [war] subject to reason alone." On War,
27. Although Clausewitz focuses largely
on inter- and intra-state politics, it is not difficult to extend this
definition to politics in opposition to or even without reference to the
state, a point to keep in mind when considering other recent dismissals
of Clausewitz by writers like Martin van Creveld.
28. The latter interpretation is extremely
common and frequently a source of hostility to Clausewitz. See for example
David Kaiser, Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to
Hitler (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1990), 415.
29. See for example Burton I. Kaufman, The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command (New York, Knopf, 1986), 150.
30. Keegan, Warfare, 58, 381.
31. Warfare, 47. Keegan's criticisms
here are more appropriately directed at Jomini, who represents the culmination
of the Enlightenment's efforts at military theory, and at Jominians like
A.T. Mahan, who translated Jomini's "politique" one-sidedly as
32. Azar Gat, The Origins of Military
Thought: From the Enlightenment to Clausewitz (Oxford, Oxford University
Press, 1989); The Development of Military Thought: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, the Clarendon Press, 1992).
33. On War, 580-81, 76.
34. On War, 581.
35. Clausewitz, On War, 149.
36. A point that Keegan, previously author
of a book called The Nature of War (New York, Holt, 1981), is recognizing
when he notes acidly that "there is no such thing" as a "`nature of war'
itself." Keegan, Warfare, xi.
37. On War, 80.
38. Despite his objections to Clausewitz's
alleged insistence on the total destruction of an enemy, Keegan, Warfare,
xi, opens with a sneer at the "inutility of the `Western way of warfare'"
for its failure to utterly destroy Saddam Hussein, which "robbed the coalition's
Clausewitzian victory of much of its point."
39. The systematic dismantling of Iraq's
military machine by the vastly superior coalition during a uniquely unbalanced
conflict obviously offers some parallels to this analogy.
40. This last metaphor is one suggested,
in a slightly different context, by Jane Holl (National Security Council
staff) in a presentation to the USMC Command and Staff College, Quantico,
Va., 23 October 1992. The point is that one must continue to live and
interact with the now disgruntled spouse or, if that particular relationship
has been "terminated with extreme prejudice" (a very rare event in either
marital or international politics), at least with one's own and the spouse's
relatives and neighbors.
41. "Clausewitz, in short, was not a modern
man." Keegan, "Peace by other means?" Whereas Keegan attacks Clausewitz
as a proto-fascist, however, the fascist-leaning Fuller of the 1930s attacked
him as a democrat. Such efforts are essentially ahistorical. Placed in
the context of Napoleonic-era and Metternichian Prussia, Clausewitz's
social and political views can be seen as distinctly enlightened and progressive.
Viewed from the standpoint of an age repeatedly victimized by Prusso-German
nationalism, events of an age long after he was dead, other of Clausewitz's
attitudes are certainly open to suspicion. Clausewitz's politics are incomprehensible
outside the context of his own era and are, in any case, irrelevant to
the politics of modern "Clausewitzians."
42. J.F.C. Fuller, The Dragon's Teeth:
A Study of War and Peace (London, Constable and Company, 1932), 66-67.
43. On War, 149; J.F.C. Fuller, Foundations of the Science of War (London, Hutchinson and Company,
44. Letter, Fuller to Sloane, undated
but in reply to letter, Sloane to Fuller, January 30, 1961, Fuller Papers
IV/6/5; IV/6/6a. Fuller's papers are held by the Liddell Hart Centre for
Military Archives at King's College London.
45. J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War,
1789-1961: A Study of the French, Industrial, and Russian Revolutions
on War and Its Conduct (London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961), 12.
46. On War, 75.
47. On War, 260.
48. Keegan, Warfare, 32.
49. Keegan, Warfare, 392.
50. If it becomes a matter of their own
survival, of course, they well may, which would reinforce rather than
invalidate Clausewitz's argument.
51. Alfred Vagts, A History of Militarism:
Civilian and Military, revised ed. (New York, The Free Press, 1959;
originally New York, Norton, 1937).
52. Keegan, "Peace by other means?"
53. On War, 140-41.
54. See, for example, the very opening
line in "Peace by other means?" Another example is Keegan's effort to
tie Clausewitz to Marx—in hopes, perhaps, that the eclipse of the one
will imply that of the other.
55. Keegan, Warfare, xvi.
56. In his TLS article, "Peace
by other means?," Keegan attempts to portray Clausewitz as a defender
of "unrepresentative institutions." He misuses a quotation from Peter
Paret as evidence. When Paret says that Clausewitz's "political recognitions
were one-sided," he was referring to the philosopher's focus on foreign
policy rather than domestic, not to his position on internal political
structures. Since Clausewitz was in fact an advocate of parliamentary
government, Keegan's accusation is false as well as pointless.
57. Richard M. Swain, ms. review of Keegan's A History of Warfare, submitted to Military Review.
58. Letters, Times Literary Supplement,
15 Jan 1993, 22 January 1993.
59. Sad to say, even this motive is not
original to Keegan, for it appears to have driven Liddell Hart and the
young Fuller as well.