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B —: OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE OBJECT OF THE WAR AND THE EFFORTS TO BE MADE - Carl von Clausewitz, On War, vol. 3 
On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918). Vol. 3.
Part of: On War
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OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE OBJECT OF THE WAR AND THE EFFORTS TO BE MADE
The compulsion which we must use towards our enemy will be regulated by the proportions of our own and his political demands. In so far as these are mutually known they will give the measure of the mutual efforts; but they are not always quite so evident, and this may be a first ground of a difference in the means adopted by each.
The situation and relations of the States are not like each other; this may become a second cause.
The strength of will, the character and capabilities of the Governments are as little like; this is a third cause.
These three elements cause an uncertainty in the calculation of the amount of resistance to be expected, consequently an uncertainty as to the amount of means to be applied and the object to be chosen.
As in War the want of sufficient exertion may result not only in failure but in positive harm, therefore, the two sides respectively seek to outstrip each other, which produces a reciprocal action.
This might lead to the utmost extremity of exertion, if it were possible to define such a point. But then regard for the amount of the political demands would be lost, the means would lose all relation to the end, and in most cases this aim at an extreme effort would be wrecked by the opposing weight of forces within itself.
In this manner, he who undertakes War is brought back again into a middle course, in which he acts to a certain extent upon the principle of only applying so much force and aiming at such an object in War as is just sufficient for the attainment of its political object. To make this principle practicable he must renounce every absolute necessity of a result, and throw out of the calculation remote contingencies.
Here, therefore, the action of the mind leaves the province of science, strictly speaking, of logic and mathematics, and becomes in the widest sense of the term an Art, that is, skill in discriminating, by the tact of judgment among an infinite multitude of objects and relations, that which is the most important and decisive. This tact of judgment consists unquestionably more or less in some intuitive comparison of things and relations by which the remote and unimportant are more quickly set aside, and the more immediate and important are sooner discovered than they could be by strictly logical deduction.
In order to ascertain the real scale of the means which we must put forth for War, we must think over the political object both on our own side and on the enemy’s side; we must consider the power and position of the enemy’s State as well as of our own, the character of his Government and of his people, and the capacities of both, and all that again on our own side, and the political connections of other States, and the effect which the War will produce on those States. That the determination of these diverse circumstances and their diverse connections with each other is an immense problem, that it is the true flash of genius which discovers here in a moment what is right, and that it would be quite out of the question to become master of the complexity merely by a methodical study, it is easy to conceive.
In this sense Buonaparte was quite right when he said that it would be a problem in algebra before which a Newton might stand aghast.
If the diversity and magnitude of the circumstances and the uncertainty as to the right measure augment in a high degree the difficulty of obtaining a right result, we must not overlook the fact that although the incomparable importance of the matter does not increase the complexity and difficulty of the problem, still it very much increases the merit of its solution. In men of an ordinary stamp freedom and activity of mind are depressed, not increased, by the sense of danger and responsibility; but where these things give wings to strengthen the judgment, there undoubtedly must be unusual greatness of soul.
First of all, therefore, we must admit that the judgment on an approaching War, on the end to which it should be directed, and on the means which are required, can only be formed after a full consideration of the whole of the circumstances in connection with it: with which therefore must also be combined the most individual traits of the moment; next, that this decision, like all in military life, cannot be purely objective, but must be determined by the mental and moral qualities of Princes, Statesmen, and Generals, whether they are united in the person of one man or not.
The subject becomes general and more fit to be treated of in the abstract if we look at the general relations in which States have been placed by circumstances at different times. We must allow ourselves here a passing glance at history.
Half-civilised Tartars, the republics of ancient times, the feudal lords and commercial cities of the Middle Ages, kings of the eighteenth century, and, lastly, princes and people of the nineteenth century, all carry on War in their own way, carry it on differently, with different means, and for a different object.
The Tartars seek new abodes. They march out as a nation with their wives and children, they are, therefore, greater than any other Army in point of numbers, and their object is to make the enemy submit or expel him altogether. By these means they would soon overthrow everything before them if a high degree of civilisation could be made compatible with such a condition.
The old republics, with the exception of Rome, were of small extent; still smaller their Armies, for they excluded the great mass of the populace; they were too numerous and lay too close together not to find an obstacle to great enterprises in the natural equilibrium in which small separate parts always place themselves according to the general law of nature: therefore their Wars were confined to devastating the open country and taking some towns in order to ensure to themselves in these a certain degree of influence for the future.
Rome alone forms an exception, but not until the later period of its history. For a long time, by means of small bands, it carried on the usual warfare with its neighbours for booty and alliances. It became great more through the alliances which it formed, and through which neighbouring peoples by degrees became amalgamated with it into one whole, than through actual conquests. It was only after having spread itself in this manner all over Southern Italy, that it began to advance as a really conquering power. Carthage fell, Spain and Gaul were conquered, Greece subdued, and its dominion extended to Egypt and Asia. At this period its military power was immense, without its efforts being in the same proportion. These forces were kept up by its riches; it no longer resembled the ancient republics, nor itself as it had been; it stands alone.
Just as peculiar in their way are the Wars of Alexander. With a small Army, but distinguished for its intrinsic perfection, he overthrew the decayed fabric of the Asiatic States; without rest, and regardless of risks, he traverses the breadth of Asia, and penetrates into India. No republics could do this. Only a King, in a certain measure his own condottiere, could get through so much so quickly.
The great and small monarchies of the Middle Ages carried on their Wars with feudal levies. Everything was then restricted to a short period of time; whatever could not be done in that time was held to be impracticable. The feudal force itself was raised through an organisation of vassaldom; the bond which held it together was partly legal obligation, partly a voluntary contract; the whole formed a real confederation. The armament and tactics were based on the right of might, on single combat, and therefore little suited to large bodies. In fact, at no period has the union of States been so weak, and the individual citizen so independent. All this influenced the character of the Wars at that period in the most distinct manner. They were comparatively rapidly carried out, there was little time spent idly in camps, but the object was generally only punishing, not subduing the enemy. They carried off his cattle, burnt his towns, and then returned home again.
The great commercial towns and small republics brought forward the condottieri. That was an expensive, and therefore, as far as visible strength, a very limited military force; as for its intensive strength, it was of still less value in that respect; so far from their showing anything like extreme energy or impetuosity in the field, their combats were generally only sham-fights. In a word, hatred and enmity no longer roused a State to personal activity, but had become articles of trade; War lost a great part of its danger, altered completely its nature, and nothing we can say of the character it then assumed would be applicable to it in its reality.
The feudal system condensed itself by degrees into a decided territorial supremacy; the ties binding the State together became closer; obligations which concerned the person were made the subject of composition; by degrees gold became the substitute in most cases, and the feudal levies were turned into mercenaries. The condottieri formed the connecting-link in the change, and were therefore, for a time, the instrument of the more powerful States; but this had not lasted long when the soldier, hired for a limited term, was turned into a standing mercenary, and the military force of States now became an Army, having its base in the public treasury.
It is only natural that the slow advance to this stage caused a diversified interweaving of all three kinds of military force. Under Henry IV. we find the feudal contingents, condottieri, and standing Army all employed together. The condottieri carried on their existence up to the period of the Thirty Years’ War, indeed there are some slight traces of them even in the eighteenth century.
The other relations of the States of Europe at these different periods were quite as peculiar as their military forces. Upon the whole this part of the world had split up into a mass of petty States, partly republics in a state of internal dissension, partly small monarchies in which the power of the government was very limited and insecure. A State in either of these cases could not be considered as a real unity; it was rather an agglomeration of loosely connected forces. Neither, therefore, could such a State be considered an intelligent being, acting in accordance with simple logical rules.
It is from this point of view we must look at the foreign politics and Wars of the Middle Ages. Let us only think of the continual expeditions of the Emperors of Germany into Italy for five centuries, without any substantial conquest of that country resulting from them, or even having been so much as in view. It is easy to look upon this as a fault repeated over and over again—as a false view which had its root in the nature of the times, but it is more in accordance with reason to regard it as the consequence of a hundred important causes which we can partially realise in idea, but the vital energy of which it is impossible for us to understand so vividly as those who were brought into actual conflict with them. As long as the great States which have risen out of this chaos required time to consolidate and organise themselves, their whole power and energy is chiefly directed to that point; their foreign Wars are few, and those that took place bear the stamp of a State unity not yet well cemented.
The Wars between France and England are the first that appear, and yet at that time France is not to be considered as really a monarchy, but as an agglomeration of dukedoms and countships; England, although bearing more the semblance of a unity, still fought with the feudal organisation, and was hampered by serious domestic troubles.
Under Louis XI., France made its greatest step towards internal unity; under Charles VIII. it appears in Italy as a power bent on conquest; and under Louis XIV. it had brought its political state and its standing Army to the highest perfection.
Spain attains to unity under Ferdinand the Catholic; through accidental marriage connections, under Charles V. suddenly arose the great Spanish monarchy, composed of Spain, Burgundy, Germany, and Italy united. What this colossus wanted in unity and internal political cohesion, it made up for by gold, and its standing Army came for the first time into collision with the standing Army of France. After Charles’s abdication, the great Spanish colossus split into two parts, Spain and Austria. The latter, strengthened by the acquisition of Bohemia and Hungary, now appears on the scene as a great power, towing the German Confederation like a small vessel behind her.
The end of the seventeenth century, the time of Louis XIV., is to be regarded as the point in history at which the standing military power, such as it existed in the eighteenth century, reached the zenith. That military force was based on enlistment and money. States had organised themselves into complete unities; and the Governments, by commuting the personal obligations of their subjects into a money payment, had concentrated their whole power in their treasuries. Through the rapid strides in social improvements, and a more enlightened system of government, this power had become very great in comparison to what it had been. France appeared in the field with a standing Army of a couple of hundred thousand men, and the other powers in proportion.
The other relations of States had likewise altered. Europe was divided into a dozen kingdoms and two republics; it was now conceivable that two of these powers might fight with each other without ten times as many others being mixed up in the quarrel, as would certainly have been the case formerly. The possible combinations in political relations were still manifold, but they could be discerned and determined from time to time according to probability.
Internal relations had almost everywhere settled down into a pure monarchical form; the rights and influence of privileged bodies or estates had gradually died away, and the Cabinet had become a complete unity, acting for the State in all its external relations. The time had therefore come when a suitable instrument and a despotic will could give War a form in accordance with the theoretical conception.
And at this epoch appeared three new Alexanders—Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, whose aim was, by small but highly disciplined Armies, to raise little States to the rank of great monarchies, and to throw down everything that opposed them. Had they only had to deal with Asiatic States they would have more closely resembled Alexander in the parts they acted. In any case, we may look upon them as the precursors of Buonaparte as respects that which may be risked in War.
But what War gained on the one side in force and consistency was lost again on the other side.
Armies were supported out of the treasury, which the Sovereign regarded partly as his private purse, or at least as a resource belonging to the Government, and not to the people. Relations with other States, except with respect to a few commercial subjects, mostly concerned only the interests of the treasury or of the Government, not those of the people; at least ideas tended everywhere in that way. The Cabinets, therefore, looked upon themselves as the owners and administrators of large estates, which they were continually seeking to increase without the tenants on these estates being particularly interested in this improvement. The people, therefore, who in the Tartar invasions were everything in War, who, in the old republics, and in the Middle Ages (if we restrict the idea to those possessing the rights of citizens), were of great consequence, were in the eighteenth century absolutely nothing directly, having only still an indirect influence on the War, through their virtues and faults.
In this manner, in proportion as the Government separated itself from the people, and regarded itself as the State, War became more exclusively a business of the Government, which it carried on by means of the money in its coffers and the idle vagabonds it could pick up in its own and neighbouring countries. The consequence of this was, that the means which the Government could command had tolerably well-defined limits, which could be mutually estimated, both as to their extent and duration; this robbed War of its most dangerous feature: namely, the effort towards the extreme, and the hidden series of possibilities connected therewith.
The financial means, the contents of the treasury, the state of credit of the enemy, were approximately known as well as the size of his Army. Any large increase of these at the outbreak of a War was impossible. Inasmuch as the limits of the enemy’s power could thus be judged of, a State felt tolerably secure from complete subjugation, and as the State was conscious at the same time of the limits of its own means, it saw itself restricted to a moderate aim. Protected from an extreme, there was no necessity to venture on an extreme. Necessity no longer giving an impulse in that direction, that impulse could only now be given by courage and ambition. But these found a powerful counterpoise in the political relations. Even Kings in command were obliged to use the instrument of War with caution. If the Army was dispersed, no new one could be got, and except the Army there was nothing. This imposed as a necessity great prudence in all undertakings. It was only when a decided advantage seemed to present itself that they made use of the costly instrument; to bring about such an opportunity was a General’s art; but until it was brought about they floated to a certain degree in an absolute vacuum, there was no ground of action, and all forces, that is, all designs, seemed to rest. The original motive of the aggressor faded away in prudence and circumspection.
Thus War, in reality, became a regular game in which Time and Chance shuffled the cards; but in its signification it was only diplomacy somewhat intensified, a more vigorous way of negotiating, in which battles and sieges were substituted for diplomatic notes. To obtain some moderate advantage in order to make use of it in negotiations for peace was the aim even of the most ambitious.
This restricted, shrivelled-up form of War proceeded, as we have said, from the narrow basis on which it was supported. But that excellent Generals and Kings, like Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, at the head of Armies just as excellent, could not gain more prominence in the general mass of phenomena—that even these men were obliged to be contented to remain at the ordinary level of moderate results, is to be attributed to the balance of power in Europe. Now that States had become greater, and their centres further apart from each other, what had formerly been done through direct perfectly natural interests, proximity, contact, family connections, personal friendship, to prevent any one single State among the number from becoming suddenly great was effected by a higher cultivation of the art of diplomacy. Political interests, attractions and repulsions developed into a very refined system, so that a cannon shot could not be fired in Europe without all the Cabinets having some interest in the occurrence.
A new Alexander must therefore try the use of a good pen as well as his good sword; and yet he never went very far with his conquests.
But although Louis XIV. had in view to overthrow the balance of power in Europe, and at the end of the seventeenth century had already got to such a point as to trouble himself little about the general feeling of animosity, he carried on War just as it had heretofore been conducted; for while his Army was certainly that of the greatest and richest monarch in Europe, in its nature it was just like others.
Plundering and devastating the enemy’s country, which play such an important part with Tartars, with ancient nations, and even in the Middle Ages, were no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age. They were justly looked upon as unnecessary barbarity, which might easily induce reprisals, and which did more injury to the enemy’s subjects than the enemy’s Government, therefore, produced no effect beyond throwing the Nation back many stages in all that relates to peaceful arts and civilisation. War, therefore, confined itself more and more, both as regards means and end, to the Army itself. The Army, with its fortresses and some prepared positions, constituted a State in a State, within which the element of War slowly consumed itself. All Europe rejoiced at its taking this direction, and held it to be the necessary consequence of the spirit of progress. Although there lay in this an error, inasmuch as the progress of the human mind can never lead to what is absurd, can never make five out of twice two, as we have already said and must again repeat, still upon the whole this change had a beneficial effect for the people; only it is not to be denied that it had a tendency to make War still more an affair of the State, and to separate it still more from the interests of the people. The plan of a War on the part of the State assuming the offensive in those times consisted generally in the conquest of one or other of the enemy’s provinces; the plan of the defender was to prevent this; the particular plan of campaign was to take one or other of the enemy’s fortresses, or to prevent one of our own from being taken; it was only when a battle became unavoidable for this purpose that it was sought for and fought. Whoever fought a battle without this unavoidable necessity, from mere innate desire of gaining a victory, was reckoned a General with too much daring. Generally the campaign passed over with one siege, or, if it was a very active one, with two sieges, and winter quarters, which were regarded as a necessity, and during which the faulty arrangements of the one could never be taken advantage of by the other, and in which the mutual relations of the two parties almost entirely ceased, formed a distinct limit to the activity which was considered to belong to one campaign.
If the forces opposed were too much on an equality, or if the aggressor was decidedly the weaker of the two, then neither battle nor siege took place, and the whole of the operations of the campaign pivoted on the maintenance of certain positions and magazines, and the regular exhaustion of particular districts of country.
As long as War was universally conducted in this manner, and the natural limits of its force were so close and obvious, so far from anything absurd being perceived in it, all was considered to be in the most regular order; and criticism, which in the eighteenth century began to turn its attention to the field of art in War, addressed itself to details without troubling itself much about the beginning and the end. Thus there was eminence and perfection of every kind, and even Field-Marshal Daun—to whom it was chiefly owing that Frederick the Great completely attained his object, and that Maria Theresa completely failed in hers—could still pass for a great General. Only now and again a more penetrating judgment made its appearance, that is, sound common sense acknowledged that with superior numbers something positive should be attained or War is badly conducted, whatever art may be displayed.
Thus matters stood when the French Revolution broke out; Austria and Prussia tried their diplomatic Art of War; this very soon proved insufficient. Whilst, according to the usual way of seeing things, all hopes were placed on a very limited military force in 1793, such a force as no one had any conception of made its appearance. War had again suddenly become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the State. Without entering here into the details of circumstances with which this great phenomenon was attended, we shall confine ourselves to the results which interest us at present. By this participation of the people in the War instead of a Cabinet and an Army, a whole Nation with its natural weight came into the scale. Henceforward, the means available—the efforts which might be called forth—had no longer any definite limits; the energy with which the War itself might be conducted had no longer any counterpoise, and consequently the danger for the adversary had risen to the extreme.
If the whole War of the Revolution passed over without all this making itself felt in its full force and becoming quite evident; if the Generals of the Revolution did not persistently press on to the final extreme, and did not overthrow the monarchies in Europe; if the German Armies now and again had the opportunity of resisting with success, and checking for a time the torrent of victory—the cause lay in reality in that technical incompleteness with which the French had to contend, which showed itself first amongst the common soldiers, then in the Generals, lastly, at the time of the Directory, in the Government itself.
After all this was perfected by the hand of Buonaparte, this military power, based on the strength of the whole nation, marched over Europe, smashing everything in pieces so surely and certainly, that where it only encountered the old-fashioned Armies the result was not doubtful for a moment. A reaction, however, awoke in due time. In Spain, the War became of itself an affair of the people. In Austria, in the year 1809, the Government commenced extraordinary efforts, by means of Reserves and Landwehr, which were nearer to the true object, and far surpassed in degree what this State had hitherto conceived possible. In Russia, in 1812, the example of Spain and Austria was taken as a pattern, the enormous dimensions of that Empire on the one hand allowed the preparations, although too long deferred, still to produce effect; and, on the other hand, intensified the effect produced. The result was brilliant. In Germany, Prussia rose up the first, made the War a National Cause, and without either money or credit and with a population reduced one-half, took the field with an Army twice as strong as that of 1806. The rest of Germany followed the example of Prussia sooner or later, and Austria, although less energetic than in 1809, still came forward with more than its usual strength. Thus it was that Germany and Russia, in the years 1813 and 1814, including all who took an active part in, or were absorbed in these two campaigns, appeared against France with about a million of men.
Under these circumstances, the energy thrown into the conduct of the War was quite different; and, although not quite on a level with that of the French, although at some points timidity was still to be observed, the course of the campaigns, upon the whole, may be said to have been in the new, not in the old, style. In eight months the theatre of War was removed from the Oder to the Seine. Proud Paris had to bow its head for the first time; and the redoubtable Buonaparte lay fettered on the ground.
Therefore, since the time of Buonaparte, War, through being first on one side, then again on the other, an affair of the whole Nation, has assumed quite a new nature, or rather it has approached much nearer to its real nature, to its absolute perfection. The means then called forth had no visible limit, the limit losing itself in the energy and enthusiasm of the Government and its subjects. By the extent of the means and the wide field of possible results, as well as by the powerful excitement of feeling which prevailed, energy in the conduct of War was immensely increased; the object of its action was the downfall of the foe; and not until the enemy lay powerless on the ground was it supposed to be possible to stop or to come to any understanding with respect to the mutual objects of the contest.
Thus, therefore, the element of War, freed from all conventional restrictions, broke loose, with all its natural force. The cause was the participation of the people in this great affair of State, and this participation arose partly from the effects of the French Revolution on the internal affairs of countries, partly from the threatening attitude of the French towards all Nations.
Now, whether this will be the case always in future, whether all Wars hereafter in Europe will be carried on with the whole power of the States, and, consequently, will only take place on account of great interests closely affecting the people, or whether a separation of the interests of the Government from those of the people will again gradually arise, would be a difficult point to settle; least of all shall we take it upon ourselves to settle it. But every one will agree with us, that bounds, which to a certain extent existed only in an unconsciousness of what is possible, when once thrown down, are not easily built up again; and that, at least, whenever great interests are in dispute, mutual hostility will discharge itself in the same manner as it has done in our times.
We here bring our historical survey to a close, for it was not our design to give at a gallop some of the principles on which War has been carried on in each age, but only to show how each period has had its own peculiar forms of War, its own restrictive conditions, and its own prejudices. Each period would, therefore, also keep its own theory of War, even if everywhere, in early times as well as in later, the task had been undertaken of working out a theory on philosophical principles. The events in each age must, therefore, be judged of in connection with the peculiarities of the time, and only he who, less through an anxious study of minute details than through an accurate glance at the whole, can transfer himself into each particular age, is fit to understand and appreciate its Generals.
But this conduct of War, conditioned by the peculiar relations of States and of the military force employed, must still always contain in itself something more general, or rather something quite general, with which, above everything, theory is concerned.
The latest period of past time, in which War reached its absolute strength, contains most of what is of general application and necessary. But it is just as improbable that Wars henceforth will all have this grand character as that the wide barriers which have been opened to them will ever be completely closed again. Therefore, by a theory which only dwells upon this absolute War, all cases in which external influences alter the nature of War would be excluded or condemned as false. This cannot be the object of theory, which ought to be the science of War, not under ideal but under real circumstances. Theory, therefore, whilst casting a searching, discriminating and classifying glance at objects, should always have in view the manifold diversity of causes from which War may proceed, and should, therefore, so trace out its great features as to leave room for what is required by the exigencies of time and the moment.
Accordingly, we must add that the object which every one who undertakes War proposes to himself, and the means which he calls forth, are determined entirely according to the particular details of his position; on that very account they will also bear in themselves the character of the time and of the general relations; lastly, that they are always subject to the general conclusions to be deduced from the nature of War.
ENDS IN WAR MORE PRECISELY DEFINED
OVERTHROW OF THE ENEMY
The aim of War in conception must always be the overthrow of the enemy; this is the fundamental idea from which we set out.
Now, what is this overthrow? It does not always imply as necessary the complete conquest of the enemy’s country. If the Germans had reached Paris in 1792, there—in all human probability—the War with the Revolutionary party would have been brought to an end at once for a season; it was not at all necessary at that time to beat their Armies beforehand, for those Armies were not yet to be looked upon as potent powers in themselves singly. On the other hand, in 1814, the Allies would not have gained everything by taking Paris if Buonaparte had still remained at the head of a considerable Army; but as his Army had nearly melted away, therefore, both in the years 1814 and 1815, the taking of Paris decided all. If Buonaparte in the year 1812, either before or after taking Moscow, had been able to give the Russian Army of 120,000 on the Kaluga road a complete defeat, such as he gave the Austrians in 1805, and the Prussian Army, 1806, then the possession of that capital would most probably have brought about a peace, although an enormous tract of country still remained to be conquered. In the year 1805 it was the battle of Austerlitz that was decisive; and, therefore, the previous possession of Vienna and two-thirds of the Austrian States was not of sufficient weight to gain for Buonaparte a peace; but, on the other hand also, after that battle of Austerlitz, the integrity of Hungary, still intact, was not of sufficient weight to prevent the conclusion of peace. In the Russian campaign, the complete defeat of the Russian Army was the last blow required: the Emperor Alexander had no other Army at hand, and, therefore, peace was the certain consequence of victory. If the Russian Army had been on the Danube along with the Austrian in 1805, and had shared in its defeat, then probably the conquest of Vienna would not have been necessary, and peace would have been concluded in Linz.
In other cases the complete conquest of a country has not been sufficient, as in the year 1807, in Prussia, when the blow levelled against the Russian auxiliary Army, in the doubtful battle of Eylau, was not decisive enough, and the undoubted victory of Friedland was required as a finishing blow, like the victory of Austerlitz eighteen months before.
We see that here, also, the result cannot be determined from general grounds; the individual causes, which no one knows who is not on the spot, and many of a moral nature which are never heard of, even the smallest traits and accidents, which only appear in history as anecdotes, are often decisive. All that theory can here say is as follows: That the great point is to keep the overruling relations of both parties in view. Out of them a certain centre of gravity, a centre of power and movement, will form itself, on which everything depends; and against this centre of gravity of the enemy, the concentrated blow of all the forces must be directed.
The little always depends on the great, the unimportant on the important, and the accidental on the essential. This must guide our view.
Alexander had his centre of gravity in his Army, so had Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, and the career of any one of them would soon have been brought to a close by the destruction of his fighting force: in States torn by internal dissensions, this centre generally lies in the capital; in small States dependent on greater ones, it lies generally in the Army of these Allies; in a confederacy, it lies in the unity of interests; in a national insurrection, in the person of the chief leader, and in public opinion; against these points the blow must be directed. If the enemy by this loses his balance, no time must be allowed for him to recover it; the blow must be persistently repeated in the same direction, or, in other words, the conqueror must always direct his blows upon the mass, but not against a fraction of the enemy. It is not by conquering one of the enemy’s provinces, with little trouble and superior numbers, and preferring the more secure possession of this unimportant conquest to great results, but by seeking out constantly the heart of the hostile power, and staking everything in order to gain all, that we can effectually strike the enemy to the ground.
But whatever may be the central point of the enemy’s power against which we are to direct our operations, still the conquest and destruction of his Army is the surest commencement, and in all cases the most essential.
Hence we think that, according to the majority of ascertained facts, the following circumstances chiefly bring about the overthrow of the enemy:
(1) Dispersion of his Army if it forms, in some degree, a potential force.
(2) Capture of the enemy’s capital city, if it is both the centre of the power of the State and the seat of political assemblies and factions.
(3) An effectual blow against the principal Ally, if he is more powerful than the enemy himself.
We have always hitherto supposed the enemy in War as a unity, which is allowable for considerations of a very general nature. But having said that the subjugation of the enemy lies in the overcoming his resistance, concentrated in the centre of gravity, we must lay aside this supposition and introduce the case in which we have to deal with more than one opponent.
If two or more States combine against a third, that combination constitutes, in a political aspect, only one War, at the same time this political union has also its degrees.
The question is whether each State in the coalition possesses an independent interest in, and an independent force with which to prosecute, the War; or whether there is one amongst them on whose interests and forces those of the others lean for support. The more that the last is the case, the easier it is to look upon the different enemies as one alone, and the more readily we can simplify our principal enterprise to one great blow; and as long as this is in any way possible, it is the most thorough and complete means of success.
We may, therefore, establish it as a principle, that if we can conquer all our enemies by conquering one of them, the defeat of that one must be the aim of the War, because in that one we hit the common centre of gravity of the whole War.
There are very few cases in which this kind of conception is not admissible, and where this reduction of several centres of gravity to one cannot be made. But if this cannot be done, then indeed there is no alternative but to look upon the War as two or more separate Wars, each of which has its own aim. As this case supposes the substantive independence of several enemies, consequently a great superiority of the whole, therefore in this case the overthrow of the enemy cannot, in general, come into question.
We now turn more particularly to the question, When is such an object possible and advisable?
In the first place, our forces must be sufficient—
(1) To gain a decisive victory over those of the enemy.
(2) To make the expenditure of force which may be necessary to follow up the victory to a point at which it will no longer be possible for the enemy to regain his balance.
Next, we must feel sure that in our political situation such a result will not excite against us new enemies, who may compel us on the spot to set free our first enemy.
France, in the year 1806, was able completely to conquer Prussia, although in doing so it brought down upon itself the whole military power of Russia, because it was in a condition to cope with the Russians in Prussia.
France might have done the same in Spain in 1808 as far as regards England, but not as regards Austria. It was compelled to weaken itself materially in Spain in 1809, and must have quite given up the contest in that country if it had not had otherwise great superiority, both physically and morally, over Austria.
These three cases should therefore be carefully studied, that we may not lose in the last, the cause which we have gained in the former ones, and be condemned in costs.
In estimating the strength of forces, and that which may be effected by them, the idea very often suggests itself to look upon time by a dynamic analogy as a factor of forces, and to assume accordingly that half efforts, or half the number of forces would accomplish in two years what could only be effected in one year by the whole force united. This view, which lies at the bottom of military schemes, sometimes clearly, sometimes less plainly, is completely wrong.
An operation in War, like everything else upon earth, requires its time; as a matter of course we cannot walk from Wilna to Moscow in eight days; but there is no trace to be found in War of any reciprocal action between time and force, such as takes place in dynamics.
Time is necessary to both belligerents, and the only question is: Which of the two, judging by his position, has most reason to expect special advantages from time? Now (exclusive of peculiarities in the situation on one side or the other) the vanquished has plainly the most reason, at the same time certainly not by dynamic, but by psychological laws. Envy, jealousy, anxiety for self, as well as now and again magnanimity, are the natural intercessors for the unfortunate; they raise up for him on the one hand friends, and on the other hand weaken and dissolve the coalition amongst his enemies. Therefore, by delay something advantageous is more likely to happen for the conquered than for the conqueror. Further, we must recollect that to make right use of a first victory, as we have already shown, a great expenditure of force is necessary; this is not a mere outlay once for all, but has to be kept up like housekeeping, on a great scale; the forces which have been sufficient to give us possession of a province are not always sufficient to meet this additional outlay; by degrees the strain upon our resources becomes greater, until at last it becomes insupportable; time, therefore, of itself may bring about a change.
Could the contributions which Buonaparte levied from the Russians and Poles, in money and in other ways, in 1812, have procured the hundreds of thousands of men that he must have sent to Moscow in order to retain his position there?
But if the conquered provinces are sufficiently important, if there are in them points which are essential to the well-being of those parts which are not conquered, so that the evil, like a cancer, is perpetually of itself gnawing further into the system, then it is possible that the conqueror, although nothing further is done, may gain more than he loses. Now in this state of circumstances, if no help comes from without, then time may complete the work thus commenced; what still remains unconquered will, perhaps, fall of itself. Thus time may also become a factor of his forces, but this can only take place if a return blow from the conquered is no longer possible, a change of fortune in his favour no longer conceivable, when, therefore, this factor of his forces is no longer of any value to the conqueror; for he has accomplished the chief object, the danger of the culminating point is past, in short, the enemy is already subdued.
Our object in the above reasoning has been to show clearly that no conquest can be finished too soon, that spreading it over a greater space of time than is absolutely necessary for its completion, instead of facilitating it, makes it more difficult. If this assertion is true, it is further true also that if we are strong enough to effect a certain conquest, we must also be strong enough to do it in one march without intermediate stations. Of course we do not mean by this without short halts, in order to concentrate the forces, and make other indispensable arrangements.
By this view, which makes the character of a speedy and persistent effort towards a decision essential to offensive War, we think we have completely set aside all grounds for that theory which, in place of the irresistible continued following up of victory, would substitute a slow methodical system as being more sure and prudent. But even for those who have readily followed us so far, our assertion has, perhaps, after all so much the appearance of a paradox—is at first sight so much opposed and offensive to an opinion which, like an old prejudice, has taken deep root, and has been repeated a thousand times in books—that we considered it advisable to examine more closely the foundation of those plausible arguments which may be advanced.
It is certainly easier to reach an object near us than one at a distance, but when the nearest one does not suit our purpose it does not follow that dividing the work, that a resting-point, will enable us to get over the second half of the road easier. A small jump is easier than a large one, but no one on that account, wishing to cross a wide ditch, would jump half of it first.
If we look closely into the foundation of the conception of the so-called methodical offensive War, we shall find it generally consists of the following things:
(1) Conquest of those fortresses belonging to the enemy which we meet with.
(2) Laying in the necessary supplies.
(3) Fortifying important points, as magazines, bridges, positions, &c.
(4) Resting the troops in quarters during winter, or when they require to be recruited in health and refreshed.
(5) Waiting for the reinforcements of the ensuing year.
If for the attainment of all these objects we make a formal division in the course of the offensive action, a resting-point in the movement, it is supposed that we gain a new base and renewed force, as if our own State was following up in the rear of the Army, and that the latter laid in renewed vigour for every fresh campaign.
All these praiseworthy motives may make the offensive War more convenient, but they do not make its results surer, and are generally only make-believes to cover certain counteracting forces, such as the feelings of the Commander or irresolution in the Cabinet. We shall try to roll them up from the left flank.
(1) The waiting for reinforcements suits the enemy just as well, and is, we may say, more to his advantage. Besides, it lies in the nature of the thing that a State can place in line nearly as many combatant forces in one year as in two; for all the actual increase of combatant focre in the second year is but trifling in relation to the whole.
(2) The enemy rests himself at the same time that we do.
(3) The fortification of towns and positions is not the work of the Army, and therefore no ground for any delay.
(4) According to the present system of subsisting Armies, magazines are more necessary when the troops are in cantonments than when they are advancing. As long as we advance with success, we continually fall into possession of some of the enemy’s provision depôts, which assist us when the country itself is poor.
(5) The taking of the enemy’s fortresses cannot be regarded as a suspension of the attack: it is an intensified progress, and therefore the seeming suspension which is caused thereby is not properly a case such as we allude to, it is neither a suspension nor a modifying of the use of force. But whether a regular siege, blockade, or a mere observation of one or other is most to the purpose is a question which can only be decided according to particular circumstances. We can only say this in general, that in answering this question another must be clearly decided, which is, whether the risk will not be too great if, while only blockading, we at the same time make a further advance. Where this is not the case, and when there is ample room to extend our forces, it is better to postpone the formal siege till the termination of the whole offensive movement. We must therefore take care not to be led into the error of neglecting the essential, through the idea of immediately making secure that which is conquered.
No doubt it seems as if, by thus advancing, we at once hazard the loss of what has been already gained. Our opinion, however, is that no division of action, no resting-point, no intermediate stations are in accordance with the nature of offensive War, and that when the same are unavoidable, they are to be regarded as an evil which makes the result not more certain, but, on the contrary, more uncertain; and further, that, strictly speaking, if from weakness or any cause we have been obliged to stop, a second spring at the object we have in view is, as a rule, impossible; but if such a second spring is possible, then the stoppage at the intermediate station was unnecessary, and that when an object at the very commencement is beyond our strength, it will always remain so.
We say this appears to be the general truth, by which we only wish to cut aside the idea that time of itself can do something for the advantage of the assailant. But as the political relations may change from year to year, therefore, on that account alone, many cases may happen which are exceptions to this general truth.
It may appear, perhaps, as if we had left our general point of view, and had nothing in our eye except offensive War; but it is not so by any means. Certainly, he who can set before himself the complete overthrow of the enemy as his object will not easily be reduced to take refuge in the defensive, the immediate object of which is only to keep possession; but as we stand by the declaration throughout, that a defensive without any positive principle is a contradiction in strategy as well as in tactics, and therefore always come back to the fact that every defensive, according to its strength, will seek to change to the attack as soon as it has exhausted the advantages of the defensive, so, therefore, however great or small the defence may be, we still also include in it contingently the overthrow of the enemy as an object which this attack may have, and which is to be considered as the proper object of the defensive, and we say that there may be cases in which the assailant, notwithstanding he has in view such a great object, may still prefer at first to make use of the defensive form. That this idea is founded in reality is easily shown by the campaign of 1812. The Emperor Alexander in engaging in the War did not perhaps think of ruining his enemy completely, as was done in the sequel; but is there anything which makes such an idea impossible? And yet, if so, would it not still remain very natural that the Russians began the War on the defensive?
ENDS IN WAR MORE PRECISELY DEFINED (continued)
In the preceding chapter we have said that, under the expression “overthrow of the enemy,” we understand the real absolute aim of the “act of War”; now we shall see what remains to be done when the conditions under which this object might be attained do not exist.
These conditions presuppose a great physical or moral superiority, or a great spirit of enterprise, an innate propensity to extreme hazards. Now where all this is not forthcoming, the aim in the act of War can only be of two kinds; either the conquest of some small or moderate portion of the enemy’s country, or the defence of our own until better times; this last is the usual case in defensive War.
Whether the one or the other of these aims is of the right kind can always be settled by calling to mind the expression used in reference to the last. The waiting till more favourable times implies that we have reason to expect such times hereafter, and this waiting for, that is, defensive War, is always based on this prospect; on the other hand, offensive War, that is, the taking advantage of the present moment, is always commanded when the future holds out a better prospect, not to ourselves, but to our adversary.
The third case, which is probably the most common, is when neither party has anything definite to look for from the future, when therefore it furnishes no motive for decision. In this case the offensive War is plainly imperative upon him who is politically the aggressor, that is, who has the positive motive; for he has taken up arms with that object, and every moment of time which is lost without any good reason is so much lost time for him.
We have here decided for offensive or defensive War on grounds which have nothing to do with the relative forces of the combatants respectively, and yet it may appear that it would be nearer right to make the choice of the offensive or defensive chiefly dependent on the mutual relations of combatants in point of military strength; our opinion is, that in doing so we should just leave the right road. The logical correctness of our simple argument no one will dispute; we shall now see whether in the concrete case it leads to the contrary.
Let us suppose a small State which is involved in a contest with a very superior power, and foresees that with each year its position will become worse: should it not, if War is inevitable, make use of the time when its situation is furthest from the worst? Then it must attack, not because the attack in itself ensures any advantages—it will rather increase the disparity of forces—but because this State is under the necessity of either bringing the matter completely to an issue before the worst time arrives, or of gaining at least in the meantime some advantages which it may hereafter turn to account. This theory cannot appear absurd. But if this small State is quite certain that the enemy will advance against it, then, certainly, it can and may make use of the defensive against its enemy to procure a first advantage; there is then at any rate no danger of losing time.
If, again, we suppose a small State engaged in War with a greater, and that the future has no influence on their decisions, still, if the small State is politically the assailant, we demand of it also that it should go forward to its object.
If it has had the audacity to propose to itself a positive end in the face of superior numbers, then it must also act, that is, attack the foe, if the latter does not save it the trouble. Waiting would be an absurdity; unless at the moment of execution it has altered its political resolution, a case which very frequently occurs, and contributes in no small degree to give Wars an indefinite character.
These considerations on the limited object apply to its connection both with offensive War and defensive War; we shall consider both in separate chapters. But we shall first turn our attention to another phase.
Hitherto we have deduced the modifications in the object of War solely from intrinsic reasons. The nature of the political view (or design) we have only taken into consideration in so far as it is or is not directed at something positive. Everything else in the political design is in reality something extraneous to War; but in the second chapter of the first book (End and Means in War) we have already admitted that the nature of the political object, the extent of our own or the enemy’s demand, and our whole political relation practically have a most decisive influence on the conduct of the War, and we shall therefore devote the following chapter to that subject specially.