Quote of the day

From an article at the Modern War Institute at West Point, titled “You really think I’m irrelevant?  LOL.” A letter to Clausewitz haters from beyond the grave.  It points out that despite the passage of time and technological developments since he wrote his classic treatise “On War“, Carl von Clausewitz‘s military doctrines remain relevant today.

In my time, [attrition] was the surest method to defeat the will of your opponent. Today, all it takes is a fire team of Russian bots on Twitter and your national will crumbles like week-old lebkuchen.




  1. Anyone who thinks Von Clausewitz, or Sun Tzu, or Musashi irrelevant should not be allowed to command a troop of cub scouts, much less an actual military unit.

  2. Corollary to that? Anyone who seeks to apply any of them outside a military or war context needs to be laughed at. Hard.

    Other than the most general terms, most of what any of them have to say is positively inimical outside those two contexts. FedEx does not have a business case for sending out trucks to ambush UPS delivery drivers, and you're not going to conquer GE and sit atop a throne of their executive's skulls if you're Samsung. The ruthless extreme of things presumed by military strategists and commentators is emphatically not appropriate to any other venue. Would you want your children raised by a governess who held to the precepts of Machiavelli, and applied them to child-rearing?

  3. Takirks I would absolutely endorse someone who had read and endorsed Machiavelli's concepts. If you read him with a critical eye you see that Machiavelli endorsed the light handed benevolent ruler who taxed lightly and regulated less. His commentary on what you have to do to be any kind of tyrant is warning not endorsement. As for the principles of war? That depends on what field and how you perform the actions. Sun Tzu is relevant in the conflict of ideologies.

  4. Mark, none of the various commentators on military strategy should be taken out of their context of full-on warfare.

    Consider Sun Tzu. Sure, most of what he has to say can be transferred out into other situations, but I promise you that should you try to use the full range of his ideas unfettered in any other context than full warfare, you will come to regret the idea.

    You cannot treat every encounter, every interaction in life as though it were war. You do that, and what's going to happen is that your neighbors are going to do unto you what you've done to you, and you're not going to like that, not one bit. You treat everything as war, then war you will get.

    China is about to learn that lesson. Mark it well, for I suspect you need to learn it just as much.

    1. So you'd never want to "appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak" (paraphrase of Sun Tzu) outside of a literal war? Getting (for instance) your business competitors to overextend in an area where you appear weak, before demonstrating that they've made a mistake and wasted a great deal of money, is just one example of how that advice could serve well outside a explicitly military conflict.

      The key is common sense, coupled to the capacity to translate literal, physical concepts (like physically ambushing and killing your foes' troops) into metaphorical, non-violent actions.

      You're thinking far too literally.
      Also, life *is* war, metaphorically speaking. Perhaps "life *is* conflict" would suit your perspective better?

      And while treating your neighbor as an enemy in a war might not end well, that doesn't mean you can't still utilize some of the strategic wisdom in these great works as a means of managing difficult neighbors. Again, common sense is the crucial element.

  5. I swear, the software here…

    Third paragraph, second sentence should read "…your neighbors are going to do unto you what you've done to them, …"

  6. What we are seeing is well-established think tanks trying to shove past thinkers – however great – out of the way so their theories get precedence.

    Another thing to consider is the abysmal record of Chinese armies against non-Chinese opponents versus the Prussian record of battlefield performance. Give me Clausewitz who actually fought in battles over some mythical sage from the mysterious East.

    Clausewitz, the foremost proponent of Reason in War, warns against letting concepts overwhelm reality (he calls it "friction") and inveighs against overly analytical conclusions (he calls it "pure warfare") that lead to false solutions (thus, he is actually applicable to nuclear war). He knew his own limits.

    The possibly mythical Sun Tzu can be summed up as "Always be more clever than the foe and never harm the infrastructure." Nice, but not that useful.

    In the modern world, Lind and vanCreveld continue Clausewitz's legacy of applying Reason to War – although with variations of their own.

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