Welcome to all subscribers of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter!
We hope you will enjoy this newsletter, which focuses on articles and news concerning the great Prussian's legacy.
Seeing original documents in person, and touching them, is a feeling hard to describe. There is excitement. While researching and writing Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War, I worked mostly with e-copies of the original correspondence between Carl and Marie. It was a matter of convenience—the letters are kept at the Prussian State Privy Archives in Berlin, but I was living in upstate NY and then in Italy. Yet I still try to visit the archives at least once every year.
We like to think that emails, online catalogs, scanners, and friendly archivists make research in person more or less unnecessary. Yet I am always surprised how much more I discover when I physically open old folders and dusty boxes. For instance, I have worked before with Carl von der Gröben’s papers. A close friend of Carl, Gröben was one of the men Marie relied on for the publishing of the last two volumes of Posthumous Works. However, this time, instead of just feeding the online catalog with search items, I asked to see the old original catalog, handwritten and on paper, and I went line by line. And then there it was—a copy of Clausewitz’s "Three Declarations" (Drei Bekenntnisse) from 1812. Historians have speculated that Carl circulated at least several of them among friends before deciding to resign from Prussian service and fight for Russia—and that turned out to be true. Another partial copy of the Declarations is kept in August von Neidhardt von Gneisenau’s papers.
Currently I am researching Clausewitz’s last campaign in 1830-1831, a contingency operation against the Polish November Rebellion that morphed into quarantine measures against the cholera epidemic, possibly for a scholarly article. I did suspect that Gröben’s personal archive would contain interesting documents. What I was not prepared for was that he was a bit of a hoarder. At the Prussian State Privy Archives I asked to see several cataloged items. Expecting just a few thin folders, I found myself buried among boxes and boxes of General Staff reports, orders, government memoranda, and correspondence. Gröben kept a copy of almost every document crossing his desk. I guess now I have approximately thirty percent of my primary resources covered.
Then again, modern technology does matter. In the old days, I would have spend weeks and months transcribing documents in the archives. Now I am comfortably waiting for the e-copies to arrive directly to my laptop.
In this ssue of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter:
What we found interesting
Get That Man Some Clausewitz,” was The New York Times headline we have been waiting for. In the previous edition of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter, we wished that the mainstream media would stop treating the Prussian theorist’s name as a buzzword, but, rather, devote a larger piece to explaining for the mass audience his idea about the political nature of war. Last month, The New York Times’s The Interpreter did just that. (Link)
During an interview with Max [Fisher] about Mr. Trump’s plans for a military build-up, Erin Simpson, a national security consultant, said something that we thought really summed it all up: “Get that man some Clausewitz.” Ms. Simpson was referring to Carl von Clausewitz, an early 19th-century Prussian general whose ideas formed the foundation of modern military theory. He had one particularly famous theory, which Mr. Trump could stand to consider: “War is the continuation of policy by other means… A leader who has read her Clausewitz will start by asking herself: what are my policy aims? Then: What military hardware do I need to accomplish those aims?
You might not agree with the article’s main premise that President Donald Trump is a national policy and strategy neophyte. Yet the text explains war’s political nature—and why it matters—in an accessible manner. This is an article Clausewitz-aficionados can finally send to their mothers struggling to understand what these thick books are all about.
Wars spin out of control. They suck us in and take on a momentum of their own. Clausewitz knew this, though each generation seems to learn the lesson anew. Army Rangers, Special Forces Teams, and CIA operatives jumped into Afghanistan in 2001 with the intention of destroying Al Qaeda, killing bin Laden, and toppling the Taliban regime,” writes Danny Sjursen in his powerful essay "Reflections on War: The Day bin Laden Died." “We only partially achieved mission #1, utterly failed in #2, and did pretty well on the 3rd item. I’d give us a C+ at best. But then it became about something else. The mission grew, and grew. Counter-terrorism became counterinsurgency, which by its very nature involves enormous resources and a ‘whole of government’ approach. Only we didn’t ever really have sufficient military or financial assets to commit to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Thing is, we never actually defined what our purpose was in Afghanistan, or what a realistic, and acceptable end-state might look like. We knew one thing for sure. We didn’t want to lose!" (Link)
Is it possible to build a “virtual Clausewitz”? The future that Aaron Bazin describes in his article "How to Build a Virtual Clausewitz" is far from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s nightmare where a powerful computer attempts to destroy humans. If we understand this essay correctly, Bazin suggests technology similar to the way smart phones function today—they provide us quickly with information we have forgotten or guess what type of venue we are looking at for dinner based on few key words.
The experts could help build a corpus using primary sources and data from three broad areas: experience, education, and professional knowledge…. The system would then have to be trained through regular interaction with a pool of subject matter experts who help guide its development and assign more weight to the primary sources that matter most (e.g., Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Boyd, etc.)…. The rare military geniuses that emerge do so out of experience, aptitude, and a lot of hard work. Simply put, if done right, a tool of this type could help them do what they do better, perhaps enhancing the ability of commanders use their intuition, an enhanced coup d’oeil.
Honestly, a comprehensive electronic index of On War and the remaining works of Clausewitz, in German and English if possible, would be a godsend to many of us. [See Clausewitz.com's page, "Indexing On War."] Who hasn’t spent countless hours leafing through the pages while searching for obscure passages or comparing semantics. Just keep this in mind: On War is a book where context matters. Too often complex ideas are reduces to bumper stickers or are completely taken out of their original discourse.
If in time of need the ‘virtual Clausewitz’ helps a young captain to find a particular compelling passage, go for it. But if it is just another catalog of quotes for handy but mindless use in Staff College papers, then no, please no. We have had enough of this....
Take it from Carl von Clausewitz—reading by and about women matters. Jill Sargent Russell started a discussion about the critical absence of women’s voices in the field of national security (Link), followed by posts by Miranda Summers-Lowe (Link) and Eric M. Murphy (Link). Vanya Eftimova Bellinger wrote an answer too, not only because Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War was cited but also because Marie and Carl’s legacy bears an important lesson (Link).
War, politics and national security are complex human activities. To understand them, a strategic leader needs creativity, curiosity and critical thinking. Successful navigation of the field requires an active mind that seeks different ideas, voices, and experiences from a variety of individuals. It calls for seeing the world in all of its complexity and diversity and to embrace that enduring reality.
What in the World?
Doctrine Man and his Clausewitz Coloring Books
Some do professional development, some do … Clausewitz coloring
For those unfamiliar with Doctrine Man and his comics, here is the short explanation. It’s a Facebook page and Twitter account where an unknown, “mild-mannered Army officer gone cynical” posts on key national security issues and military community advocacy, with a little humor on the side. Doctrine Man and his comics are beloved, especially when they appear at Clausewitz Brothers Coffee.
Break out your crayons. Doctrine Man’s Coloring with Clausewitz is now sold on Amazon (Link)
P.S. If you have an interesting article in mind, please send us a link, plus a short description if it is written in a language other than English, German, Russian, or Bulgarian. (Vanya's French works only for 1-2 page articles.)
Please send us anything else you find relevant, interesting, and newsworthy to include in our next issue.
Until May, Happy Reading!
With warmest regards,