On War, Carl Von Clausewitz

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Carl Von Clausewitz was a Prussian general and war theorist. His most known work On War examines the philosophy of war in all its aspects. The book, should you wish to read it through, is quite long -over 700 pages in the English version in paperback print- and hadn't been quite finished when Clausewitz died at age 51. His wife made sure it was published posthumously in 1832. You might think that after almost 200 years, this systematic study of the Western military thinking of the 19th century would be quite outdated. But it is not! It is not only because Clausewitz studied the strategy of war, but lies also in the analysis, the policy, and the planning behind it all. War is not only a socio-political occurrence. It is a sum of actions and decisions in a specific context and depends on several variables, hence its intricate nature. My take here is not to tell you this essay is organized into 8 different "books" and what they entail. You can read a summary of that and be done with it. I would rather consider the current situation in Gaza given the theories presented by Clausewitz. This is not to say in any way that what is done to Gaza is legitimate or based on sound reasoning. It is just an attempt to make some sense and what is leading to such barbaric behavior on one side and complete apathy/lethargy on the other...

I will start with some facts. There obviously is a dialectical discourse between the involved parties, i.e. Hamas and Israel. It is also evident that Hamas possesses an operational center of gravity when it comes to the tunnels and hideouts it runs. This is not surprising once one understands that Hamas is a militia and not an army: it makes for a different modus operandi and in this case, these shelters and hiding places are the hub of its power. Additionally, while strategy is in itself an art, what we have seen happening to Gaza for more than 6 weeks is mere tactics and "marketing". It vaguely reminds me of the 2-week flattening curve the media served us in 2020 but I digress. The Zionist leadership has the will, and the means, to raze hospitals, school grounds, and places of worship. Its -now clear and loudly stated- intention is to wipe out Hamas. So when will the decisive point of this "chess game" be reached? And the ultimate question remains: will Israel be able to do just that -eliminating the terrorists? If it does, at what toll, and more importantly, what comes next? Won't the next extremist group pop out of all the injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people since 1947? Let us be aware that extremists always begin with a grievance narrative, based on daily bias and discrimination that take place, before providing an empowerment tool to the targeted population, an often romanticized story of the resistance to the oppressor. This is then known as the "propaganda of the deed". And the atrocities are not helping the Israeli cause. Even Jews are protesting for peace now. People from all sides are calling for the genocide to come to a halt. As a reminder, Al Qaeda didn't really die out as it was replaced with ISIS. Regardless of how these groups are founded and funded, the idea is that violence only breeds more violence. And it gets more virulent at each turn. If you wish to read more about Strategies of far-right and Islamist extremism click here.

To come back to Clausewitz, yes, war is a "Realpolitik instrument intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will". And "no one starts a war without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it". Whether you believe in conspiracies, the cabal, or not, the Zionist objectives in this offensive operation are quite important if we consider the violence and the horrors committed. And they have been meticulously planned. However, the world is once more polarized and appears to be at an impasse. In which book or practices is it acceptable to bomb hospitals? Or to wipe out entire neighborhoods of civilians? While warfare is considered a legitimate response by oppressors, their victims have been heavily disappointed by most of the Arab states who have been seeking normalization of their diplomatic relationship with Israel. Evaluating the positions and behavior of the different Arab nations from a Clauswitzian perspective makes it understandable and here is how: the Iranian rise to power constitutes a threat to their predominantly Sunni neighbors because it exports a Shiite ideology of Islam to the region, like in Yemen for example or with the Hezbollah in Lebanon. To counter this, regional efforts pushed Arab nations to sign the Abraham Accords with Israel in 2020. This is a measure to protect the vital interests of these communities, and Israel's of course, as it would boost trade, tourism, the transfer of technology, and ultimately make it possible for Arabs to purchase armament from Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians have been living in an open-air prison for so many decades and they urgently need to be provided with a better and improved quality of life. How else can anybody with a right mind even consider replacing Hamas if not with peace and a tangible better future? But are the United States of America ready to equip its ally with means for peace rather than weapons?

On War is a very long and at times arduous/tedious read. I have skimmed through large parts of it, relying on the published guide that is annexed to it in the copy I have. I didn't dare read it in the original German version as I am sure it would have been a bit "dry" to be enjoyed. If you are courageous enough, you might appreciate the military history and concepts presented. Here is a digital copy -in English- for the adventurous of you who have a lot of time on your hands 😉 For those daredevils who want to try going through the original German text, here is the link. Because you asked for it...

Happy reading 📚

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History repeats itself. As usual.

Only when we have not learned our lessons...

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