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On War

On War

with a Commentary by BERNARD BRODIE
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 752
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  • Book Info
    On War
    Book Description:

    On Waris the most significant attempt in Western history to understand war, both in its internal dynamics and as an instrument of policy. Since the work's first appearance in 1832, it has been read throughout the world, and has stimulated generations of soldiers, statesmen, and intellectuals.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3740-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. xii-xii)
    Michael Howard and Peter Paret
  2. Introductory Essays

    • The Genesis of On War
      (pp. 3-26)

      Despite its comprehensiveness, systematic approach, and precise style, On War is not a finished work. That it was never completed to its author’s satisfaction is largely explained by his ways of thinking and writing. Clausewitz was in his early twenties when he jotted down his first thoughts on the nature of military processes and on the place of war in social and political life. A pronounced sense of reality, skeptical of contemporary assumptions and theories, and an equally undoctrinaire fascination with the past, marked these observations and aphorisms and lent them a measure of internal consistency; but it would not...

    • The Influence of Clausewitz
      (pp. 27-44)

      When Clausewitz’s widow published On War in 1832 a year after her husband’s death, it was received with a respect which may have owed more to Clausewitz’s reputation as one of the great generation of Prussian military reformers, a pupil of Scharnhorst and a close colleague of Gneisenau, than to any deep or widespread study of its contents. “The streams whose crystal floods pour over nuggets of pure gold,” warned one tactful reviewer, “do not flow in any flat and accessible river bed but in a narrow rocky valley surrounded by gigantic Ideas, and over its entrance the mighty Spirit...

    • The Continuing Relevance of On War
      (pp. 45-58)

      The late Herbert Rosinski, in his classic study TheGerman Armycalled OnWar“the most profound, comprehensive, and systematic examination of war that has appeared to the present day.” However, Rosinski also had some concern about its effectiveness, because elsewhere he wrote: “The fact that it towers above the rest of military and naval literature, penetrating into regions no other military thinker has ever approached, has been the cause of its being misunderstood.”¹

      Misunderstood indeed it often has been, but Rosinski’s explanation somewhat misses the mark. He was a close student of Clausewitz and of war, and his characterization...

  3. On War

  4. BOOK ONE On the Nature of War
    (pp. 73-124)

    I propose to consider first the variouselementsof the subject, next itsvarious parts or sections,and finallythe wholein its internal structure. In other words, I shall proceed from the simple to the complex. But in war more than in any other subject we must begin by looking at the nature of the whole; for here more than elsewhere the part and the whole must always be thought of together.

    I shall not begin by expounding a pedantic, literary definition of war, but go straight to the heart of the matter, to the duel. War is nothing...

  5. BOOK TWO On the Theory of War
    (pp. 125-174)

    Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive influence on the elements involved in war.

    The need to fight quickly led man to invent appropriate devices to gain advantages in combat, and these brought about great changes in the forms of fighting. Still, no matter how it is constituted, the concept of fighting remains unchanged. That is what we...

  6. BOOK THREE On Strategy in General
    (pp. 175-222)

    The general concept of strategy was defined in the second chapter of Book Two.¹ It is the use of an engagement for the purpose of the war. Though strategy in itself is concerned only with engagements, the theory of strategy must also consider its chief means of execution, the fighting forces. It must consider these in their own right and in their relation to other factors, for they shape the engagement and it is in turn on them that the effect of the engagement first makes itself felt. Strategic theory must therefore study the engagement in terms of its possible...

  7. BOOK FOUR The Engagement
    (pp. 223-276)

    In the last book we examined the factors that may be called the operative elements in war. We now turn to the essential military activity, fighting, which by its material and psychological effects comprises in simple or compound form the object of the war. The operative elements must therefore be contained in this activity and in its effects.

    The framework of the engagement is tactical; a broad survey will familiarize us with its general appearence. Every engagement has a specific purpose that gives it its peculiar characteristics, and these special purposes will be examined later. Compared with the general characteristics...

  8. BOOR FIVE Military Forces
    (pp. 277-354)

    Military forces will be examined from the following points of view:

    1. Their numerical strength and organization

    2. Their state when not in action

    3. Their maintenance

    4. Their general relationship to country and terrain.

    This book will deal not with combat itself, but with those aspects of the armed forces that must be regarded asconditions necessary to military action.They are more or less closely related to fighting and interact with it, so they will be frequently mentioned in our discussion of the uses of combat. But first each must be examined as a separate entity with its...

  9. BOOK SIX Defense
    (pp. 355-520)

    What is the concept of defense? The parrying of a blow. What is its characteristic feature? Awaiting the blow. It is this feature that turns any action into a defensive one; it is the only test by which defense can be distinguished from attack in war. Pure defense, however, would be completely contrary to the idea of war, since it would mean that only one side was waging it. Therefore, defense in war can only be relative, and the characteristic feature of waiting should be applied only to the basic concept, not to all of its components. A partial engagement...

  10. BOOK SEVEN The Attack
    (pp. 521-574)

    Where two ideas form a true logical antithesis, each complementary to the other, then fundamentally each is implied in the other. If the limitations of our mind do not allow us to comprehend both simultaneously, and discover by antithesis the whole of one in the whole of the other, each will nevertheless shed enough light on the other to clarify many of its details. In consequence we believe that the earlier chapters about defense will have sufficiently illuminated the aspects of attack on which they touch. But this is not always so. No analytical system can ever be explored exhaustively....

  11. BOOK EIGHT War Plans
    (pp. 575-638)

    In the chapter on the nature and purpose of war we roughly sketched the general concept of war and alluded to the connections between war and other physical and social phenomena, in order to give our discussion a sound theoretical starting point. We indicated what a variety of intellectual obstacles besets the subject, while reserving detailed study of them until later; and we concluded that the grand objective of all military action is to overthrow the enemy—which means destroying his armed forces. It was therefore possible to show in the following chapter that battle is the one and only...

  12. A Commentary

    • A Guide to the Reading of On War
      (pp. 641-712)

      I observed in my introductory essay that many find Clausewitz difficult to read with comprehension, even though the ideas presented are not intrinsically difficult. The reasons are several, the most important being that whether because of the richness of example and qualification or the sometimes faulty organization, the main thread of the argument is often lost in the development. Also, Clausewitz is occasionally, though not often, metaphysical, and this worries readers more than it needs to. In addition, some long sections are of purely historical value, or, as some would hold, obsolete, while others are charged with the greatest significance...