History Highlights

The West’s premier work on the philosophy of war was written in Germany by Clausewitz in his spare time as a Prussian officer.

“On War” is the West’s premier work on the philosophy of war. It was written by Carl von Clausewitz in his spare time as a Prussian officer. Although it was not even published until after his death, his ideas took hold and have been widely influential in military theory and have had a strong influence on German military thought specifically.

Prussian German generals such as Helmuth Graf von Moltke were clearly influenced by Clausewitz… Moltke’s notable statement that “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy” is a classic reflection of Clausewitz’s insistence on the roles of chance, friction, “fog”, uncertainty and interactivity in war.

Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz, 1780 to 1831, was a professional Prussian soldier in numerous military campaigns, mainly in the Napoleonic Wars, but he is most famous as a military theorist. He wrote a careful, systematic, philosophical examination of war in all its aspects. The result was his principal work, “On War”.

In “On War”, Clausewitz sees all wars as the sum of decisions, actions, and reactions in an uncertain and dangerous context, and also as a socio-political phenomenon. He has several definitions, the most famous one being that war is the continuation of politics by other means. 

He was also very skeptical of the accuracy of much military intelligence: “Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain…. In short, most intelligence is false.” This circumstance is generally described as the fog of war.

Over 200 years ago General Clausewitz taught military strategy for 12 years as Director of the War College in Berlin, but his work is still studied today. Between 2005 and 2014 more than sixteen major English language books focusing specifically on his work were published.

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