The work that Clausewitz has done on the strategy of war is important because it presents insight into how many of the generals and tacticians who came after were informed by his insights. While it is often understood that his work reflects the importance of raw power, as well as the projection of will, there are also two other important factors in war that he discusses. While he does argue that power is important, he also saw the importance of both the inevitability of random chance and the purpose, motives, or endgame of those involved.
Clausewitz was not only focused on the projection of the will through force, but also these two other important factors. His development of strategic warfare also takes into account the variability of the real world and the political or cultural motives for the war’s inception, as well as the outcome that the parties are in war to achieve. The ideas of hostility, chance, and purpose are, therefore, fundamental to his understanding of war. “Clausewitz combined these three forces into a single, enduring conception of war's nature, which he referred to as a wondrous trinity” This trinity is essential to understanding his strategic views towards war.
Clausewitz essentially argued that the implementation of will through violence was the fundamental cause of war. The purpose of war, therefore, is the assertion of this power in order attain a certain end. However, despite both of these important aspects of war, he also considered the importance of individuality, the fact that people and conditions within war are not set, and will often evade the expectations of those attempting to forecast the outcome of a specific set of circumstances. While the doctrines of many strategists seem to have become too academic or abstract, those of Clausewitz were profoundly different.
Although he does attempt to take into account all of these variables, the strategic viewpoint of his ideologies did portray the importance of power and violence as an essential underlying characteristic of war. This was contrary to other frameworks of the time, which saw the ease to which a war is won, and the fashion in which it is fought, is the most important aspects. “The core in Clausewitz’s appreciation [is] that violence is the essence of war, not finesse.” In this way, his theories diverge from the prevailing ideologies, and are more grounded in the realities of war.
This idea of the strategic implementation of war through violence underlies his theories as an essential aspect of its function. This preconception gives evidence of his position concerning the role of violence in war as a non-absolvable characteristic. “The only successful strategy in total war is total combat. The only significant aim should be the annihilation of the enemy army.” This idea is essential to understanding his position on the strategic value of violence in warfare. Violence is, in this sense, not only a means in war, but an underlying cause of the war.
Clausewitz was developing theories that looked at how to dominate in modern warfare, which led to the realization that they should focus more on the opposing army then strategic points. While it has been argued that the strategies of Clausewitz advocate for total power domination in warfare, it is evident that he was looking beyond the simple destruction of the enemy army and considered the changing and dynamic nature of warfare to be an important element in tactics. For this reason, he outlines chance as an important underlying factor to be considered in strategic warfare.
Hostility is sometimes viewed as the major factor in the strategic theories of Clausewitz. However, this is only a single aspect of his ideology. Clausewitz’s ideas concerning chance reflects the ever changing nature of the battlefield, as well as the confirmation how war in actuality will almost always have different results then abstract plans that are hashed out on paper. This ascertains the importance of taking into account the individuality of the units in the mind of the strategist. The individuals are people, not pawns, and will act in unexpected ways. This variability is an important aspect to take account of in war.
In this sense, an important element of strategy is to be flexible enough to adapt to a certain war that is occurring in a specific time and place. The strategy should, therefore, be reflective of this, and the goals of the war should be carefully considered and applied in a way that obtains those results. This allows for the application of a carefully considered strategy that outlines the purpose and function of the war. This outline can then be applied to the strategic advantage of those waging war, in a way that allows for the resolve necessary to achieve certain goals to be possible.
This examination into the specifics of a particular war can also be applied those who attain victory, and how they should go about concluding the conflict. This is why it is important for those at the head of the state, those who govern, to consider their position, or policy, on the matter of warfare. For this reason, the purpose is also important within the strategic importance of Clausewitz’s theories. These policies should not only reflect the nature or ideology of the political structure, but should also reflect the realities of the war itself, and be an objective projection of that particular position.
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