NOTE: This version of Clausewitz's On War is the long-obsolete J.J. Graham translation published in London in 1873. The 1976/84 Howard/Paret version is the  standard translation today.


Chapter III

Of the Objects of Strategical Attack

THE overthrow of the enemy is the aim in war; destruction of the hostile military forces, the means both in attack and defence. By the destruction of the enemy's military force, the defensive is led on to the offensive, the offensive is led by it to the conquest of territory. Territory is, therefore, the object of the attack; but that need not be a whole country, it may be confined to a part, a province, a strip of country, a fortress. All these things may have a substantial value from their political importance, in treating for peace, whether they are retained or exchanged.

The object of the strategic attack is, therefore, conceivable in an infinite number of gradations, from the conquest of the whole country down to that of some insignificant place. As soon as this object is attained, and the attack ceases, the defensive commences. We may, therefore, represent to ourselves the strategic attack as a distinctly limited unit. But it is not so if we consider the matter practically, that is in accordance with actual phenomena. Practically the moments of the attack, that is, its views and measures, often glide just as imperceptibly into the defence as the plans of the defence into the offensive. It is seldom, or at all events not always, that a general lays down positively for himself what he will conquer, he leaves that dependent on the course of events. His attack often leads him further than he had intended; after rest more or less, he often gets renewed strength, without our being obliged to make out of this two quite different acts; at another time he is brought to a standstill sooner than he expected, without, however, giving up his intentions, and changing to a real defensive. We see, therefore, that if the successful defence may change imperceptibly into the offensive; so on the other hand an attack may, in like manner, change into a defence. These gradations must be kept in view, in order to avoid making a wrong application of what we have to say of the attack in general.