2.2 Chapter Two: On the Theory of War
Clausewitz considers why a theory of war is necessary and what are its limitations. He begins this chapter by discussing that originally the art or science of war was concerned with material factors only. “It was about a relevant to combat as the craft of the swordsmith to the art of fencing. It did not yet include the use of force under conditions of danger, subject to constant interaction with an adversary, nor the efforts of spirit and courage to achieve the desired end.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 133)
Clausewitz next states that reflections on the events of war led to the need for a theory and efforts were made to “equip the conduct of war with principles, rules, or even systems.” This was a positive goal but their advocates failed to take into account the complexities involved. The problem is that a system or model has a finite nature of synthesis and “the conduct of war branches out in almost all directions and has not definite limits. Therefore, “An irreconcilable conflict exists between this type of theory and actual practice.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 134) As a result theorists again found themselves drawn to the material basis of war. “As in the science concerning preparation for war, they wanted to reach a set of sure and positive conclusions, and for that reason considered only factors that could be mathematically calculated.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 134)
Here is the crux of the problem. While these ideas may be of analytical use, “synthetically, in the rules and regulations they offer, they are absolutely useless.”
They aim at fixed values; but in war everything is uncertain, and calculations have to be made with variable quantities.
They direct the inquiry exclusively toward physical quantities, whereas all military action is intertwined with psychological forces and effects.
They consider only unilateral action, whereas war consists of a continuous interaction of opposites. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 136)
COMMENT: No better assessment of American military action in Vietnam can be made. While Americans claimed to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese they did so using mathematics and dollars. How do you monetize “hearts and minds”? According to a Congressional Research Service Report, “Costs of Major U. S. Wars”, the United States spent $738B in FY 2011 dollars for 1965-1975
(Dagett, p. 2) in Vietnam. (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22926.pdf
See Table 1, p. 2.) More recently, we have spent almost $2T in the war on Iraq
and Afghanistan. At the time the Report was written (June 29, 2010) between
2001 and 2010 we had spent $1.147T in FY2011 dollars. While staggering, these figures say nothing
of the thousands of American lives lost and whose value cannot be monetized.
Clausewitz observes that theory faces particularly difficult problems when moral factors are involved and moral values cannot be ignored in war.
Military activity is never directed against material force alone; it is always armed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be separated…
Since danger is the common element in which everything moves in war, courage, the sense of one’s own strength, is the principal factor that influences judgment…
Everyone rated the enemy’s bravery lower once his back is turned, and takes much greater risks in pursuit than while being pursued. Everyone gauges his opponent in the light of his reputed talents, his age, and his experience, and acts accordingly. Everyone tries to assess the spirit and temper of his own troops and the enemy’s… What indeed would become of a theory that ignored these? (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 137)
Principal Problems In Formulating A Theory
Of The Conduct Of War
In order to get a clear idea of the difficulties involved in formulating a theory of the conduct of war and so be able to deduce its character, we must look more closely at the major characteristics of military activity. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 137)
THE FIRST PROPERTY is that of “moral forces and they effects they produce. Essentially combat is an expression of hostile feelings. But in the large-scale combat that we call war hostile feelings often have become merely hostile intentions.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 137)
Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations; this serves more or less as a substitute for hatred between individuals. Even where there is national hatred and no animosity to start with, the fighting itself will stir up hostile feelings; violence committed on superior orders will stir up the desire for revenge and retaliation against the perpetrator rather than against the powers that ordered the action… Theorists are apt to look on fighting in the abstract as a trial of strength without emotion entering into it. This is one of a thousand errors which they quite consciously commit because they have no idea of its implications. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 138)
In order properly to appreciate the influence which danger exerts in war, one should not limit its sphere to the physical hazards of the moment. Danger dominates the commander not merely by threatening him personally, but by threatening all those entrusted to him; not only at the moment where it is actually present, but also, through the imagination, at all other times when it is relevant; not just directly but also indirectly through the sense of responsibility that lays a tenfold burden on the commander’s mind. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 138)
[There are other emotional factors which come into play as well] The higher a man is placed the broader his point of view. Different interests and a wide variety of passions, good and bad, with arise on all sides. Envy and generosity, pride and humility, wrath and compassion—all may appear as effective forces in this great drama. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 139)
Clausewitz notes that the intellectual qualities of commanders differ and the diversity of intellectual qualities results in a diversity of roads to the goals sought to be achieved. (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 139)
THE SECOND PROPERTY: Positive Reaction. “The second attribute of military action is that it must exert positive reactions, and the process of interaction that results.” The concern is not with calculating reactions but rather “with the fact that the very nature of interaction is bound to make it unpredictable. The effect that any measure will have on the enemy is the most singular factor among all the particulars of action.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 139)
THE THIRD PROPERTY: Uncertainty of All Information. “Finally, the general unreliability of all information presents a special problem in war: all action takes place, so to speak, in a kind of twilight, which, like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 140)
Despite advances in information gathering and speed of data acquisition, this property remains at the heart of the problem. For example, in a June 13, 1991 article in the New York Times:
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf complained to Congress today about the quality and timeliness of intelligence given his forces during the Persian Gulf war.
The general was especially critical of the analyses of intelligence provided to his staff by specialists in Washington on the Iraqi military, saying they had been "caveated, footnoted and watered down" to the point of being useless.
"There were so many disclaimers that by the time you got done reading many of the intelligence estimates you received, no matter what happened, they would have been right," he said. "And that's not helpful to the guy in the field."
Clausewitz notes that given the problems a positive doctrine of war is unattainable. “[I]t is simply not possible to construct a model for the art of war that can serve as a scaffolding on which the commander can rely for support at any time… the situation will always lead to the consequences we have already alluded to: talent and genius operate outside the rules, and theory conflicts with practice.” (Book Two, Chapter Two, p. 140) This should not be a surprise to anyone, yet it is. In sports, games have specific rules. Yet it takes knowledge and talent to take advantage of the rules to one’s favor. For example, I know the rules of soccer well and I know how to kick the ball straight. But this will not make me (nor anyone else for that matter) a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Leonel Messi anytime soon. In war, the rules are even more amorphous and lacking in guidance.
A commander is faced with situations which are not part of the “manual” so he is without a set of rules which will provide a ready-made solution.