Clausewitz – On War

Clausewitz’s Vom Krige (On War or Sodankäynnistä) is a military and strategy treatise written by a prussian general Carl von Clausewitz in the beginning of the 19th century. My copy is from the first printing and 5th printing is out of print, so keep this in mind while reading this review (although I don’t expect big revisions between printings in this book).

As I’m just an armchair general, I can’t reliably judge the content matter of the book from practical point of view. However, I can review lots of other things, like how enjoyable the book was, how easily understandable and how usable it is for computer gamer (among other things).

This version is abridged version (as the original is over 1000 pages long). Whole chapters that editors deemed not relevant for contemporary readers have been omitted and text of other chapters have been condensed, often omitting pieces here and there. Left out parts are marked with ellipsis (…), making book to sound little bit like William Shatner sometimes. I think the edited version works well and is certainly faster to read than the original behemoth.

Clausewitz wrote several books that together form Vom Krige. They each have theme (Nature of War, Theory of War, Strategy in General, Combat, Force of War, Defence, Attack and War Plan). The last two of them, Attack and War Plan, aren’t as polished as the rest, since Clausewitz never finished the book. They’re still immensively interesting to read and enjoyable.

The book is a real gem and it never felt like a slog to read. It captured my interest right in the beginning and managed to hold it until the very end. Clausewitz stressed spirit and morale of the army as the deciding factor in combat and urges war chief to forget fancy maneuvers and little tricks as they are both hard to execute and not necessarily that effective. He reminds the reader that war and combat is relatively simple matter and it takes a real genius to both see this and be able to seize the moment in the middle of confusion and conflict of the combat. There is never completely picture of the battle field, reports are conflicting and usually it’s the bad news that pile on the shoulders of the leader.

At the time when the book was written, war was considered as a separate subject from politics. It started at somepoint, ran its’ course and then ended, without being affected by politics as it was running. Clausewitz was of opinion that war was just integral part or extension of the politics. It had political reasons, goals and was directed by politics. Commander should be aware of this and act accordingly.

At the end of the book there’s a chapter explaining a bit of background history. Among other things, it outlines life of Clausewitz and points out some aspects that might be important when reading the book in order to fully appreciate it.

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