Thursday, August 16, 2012

On War, Part VI: On Danger in War

1.4 Book One, Chapter 4: On Danger in War

GIV Comment:  For those who believe that war can be fought without battle... You are wrong.  War is ultimately a contest of arms, which is settled in battle. The best description of battle is provided by Clausewitz:

Let us accompany a novice to the battlefield. As we approach the rumble of guns grows louder and alternated with the whir of cannonballs, which begin to attract his attention. Shots begin to strike close around us. We hurry up the slope where the commanding general is stationed with his large staff. Here cannonballs and bursting shells are frequent, and life begins to seem more serious that the young man had imagined. Suddenly someone you know is wounded; then a shell falls among the staff. You notice that some of the officers act a little oddly; you yourself are not as steady and collected as you were: even the bravest can become slightly distracted. Now we enter the battle raging before us, still almost like a spectacle, and join the nearest divisional commander. Shot is falling like hail, and the thunder of our own guns adds to the din. Forward to the brigadier, a soldier of acknowledged bravery, but his is careful to take cover behind a rise, a house of a clump of trees. A noise is heard that is a certain indication of increasing danger—the rattling of grapeshot on roofs and on the ground. Cannonballs tear past, whizzing in all direction, and musketballs begin to whistle around us. A little further we reach the firing line, where the infantry endures the hammering for hours with incredible steadfastness. The air is filled with hissing bullets that sound like a sharp crack if they pass close to one’s head. For a final shock, the sight of men being killed and mutilated moves pounding hearts to awe and pity. (Book One, Chapter Four, p. 113.)

The novice cannot pass through these layers of increasing intensity of danger without sensing that here ideas are governed by other factors, that the light of reason is refracted in a manner quite different from that which is normal in academic speculation. (Book One, Chapter Four, p. 113.)

Here again we recognize that ordinary qualities are not enough; and the greater the area of responsibility, the truer this assertion becomes. (Book One, Chapter Four, p. 114.)

Danger is part of the friction of war. Without an accurate conception of danger we cannot understand war. (Book One, Chapter Four, p. 114)

GIV Comment:  Marshal of the Soviet Union Boris Shaposhnikov, Chief of the General Staff, captured the essence of war and what must be done:

"[A] war must begin with the defeat of the strongest and most dangerous enemy, and it must no be diverted by successes over a weak one by leaving the stronger to hang over one’s neck... It must be not forgotten that for the resolution of a war, it is important to have not only military successes, but also obtain political success, that is, win a victory over a politically important enemy ... Otherwise, only after an extended period accompanied even by military successes, will we be forced to return to the same fight against the main enemy against which we initially were only on the defensive."  David M. Glantz, The Military Strategy of the Soviet Union:  A History, (Portland, OR:  Frank Cass, 1992), p. 42.

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