Welcome to all subscribers of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter! We hope you will enjoy this newsletter, which focuses on articles and news concerning the great Prussian's legacy.
Was Carl von Clausewitz born on June 1 or July 1, 1780? This is the source of a common but annoying mistake. Just look at the Wikipedia entry, proclaiming, despite decades of scholarly research and publications which indicate otherwise, that the great Prussian was born on June 1, 1780. (One of you Wikipedia-editor-types ought to fix this!)
We offer you irrefutable proof that Clausewitz was born on July 1: the entry in the birth registry of his home town, Burg bei Magdeburg. The document's electronic copy was provided to clausewitzstudies.org by the Clausewitz Society in Burg (Forschungsverein Clausewitz Burg e.V.) (Link).
The source of this misunderstanding is, in all probability, Carl's father, Friedrich Gabriel. The younger Clausewitz joined the Prussian army before his twelfth birthday, sometime in the spring of 1792. It was on the eve of a great campaign, the War of the First Coalition against the French Republic and its Revolutionary Army. Boys younger than 12 were allowed to join the military only in exceptional circumstance. Friedrich Gabriel likely changed the date so Carl would appear very close to his twelfth birthday when he took him to the 34th Regiment in Potsdam. Without a doubt, the elder Clausewitz was a man of great ambitions, and for his son, fighting in a war was the best chance to rise quickly within the ranks. Curiously enough, Carl never realized his father's duplicity and believed he was indeed born on June 1.
If you read closely the pages of Burg's birth registry, you will notice another peculiar fact. Other kids had one or two, maybe three godparents. Carl had no less than seven, among them Burg's mayor, a councilman, an officer and a noblewoman. This is evidence of the Clausewitz family's place within Burg society. While not rich, as a tax collector Friedrich Gabriel was a representative of the king and certainly belonged to the provincial elite. Carl's mother, Friederike Schmidt, was a popular and respected member of Burg society. (The Clausewitz men knew how to marry up and well!)
The choice and number of godparents also reveals how great were the family's aspirations for their children. From early on, little Carl from Burg bei Magdeburg was prepared to take on the big world. And he did.
In this fourth issue of The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter:
What we found interesting
PAUL DONKER'S long-anticipated study of Carl von Clausewitz's Aphorismen über den Krieg und die Kriegfürung is now out (Link). Translated in English as Aphorisms about War and Warfare, the work was published in Zeitschrift für Kunst, Wissenschaft und Geschichte des Krieges between 1833-1835. Until now Aphorisms have never been a subject of extensive study. One of the few scholars to take a look at them, Werner Hahlweg, for instance, assumed that these were a later summary, précis or anthology of On War, perhaps even assembled by someone else.
In his monograph, Aphorismen über den Krieg und die Kriegfürung as the First Version of Clausewitzs Masterpiece: A Textual Comparison with Vom Kriege, Paul Donker attempts to reconstruct the great Prussian's complete oeuvre and establish the place of Aphorisms in it. Donker, a lecturer in Military Thought and Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, examines three possible scenarios: a) Clausewitz wrote the 177 aphorisms well before he wrote the text of On War b) Clausewitz wrote both texts almost simultaneously, i.e. Aphorisms were a kind of step-up to the final text of On War c) Clausewitz wrote On War first and then extracted the 177 aphorisms himself d) After Clausewitz died, an unknown writer wrote Aphorisms based on On War. It is possible, of course, to imagine additional scenarios.
Since most manuscripts for On War are missing and none has been found for the Aphorisms, and because there are no direct references to the latter in Carl and Marie von Clausewitz's correspondence, Donker turned for evidence to a word-by-word comparison between Vom Kriege and the Aphorisms. The results of this content analysis in German are published in 53 pages at the end of the monograph. A neat and comprehensive table displays in different colors the similarities and differences between the texts of the two works. In many ways, Donker's research and its results are so surprising that he obviously felt a full disclosure would serve his argument best. See also Paul Donker, "The Genesis of Clausewitz's On War Reconsidered," British Journal for Military History, Volume 2, Issue 3, July 2016, pp.101-117.
The 177 numbered aphorisms show great textual and conceptual resemblance to Clausewitz's magnum opus. For instance, they contain key concepts such as the dual nature of war, the notion that war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means, and the paradoxical trinity. The comparison also reveals important differences. As Donker says (this is slightly edited from p.35), "115 aphorisms are not completely verbatim and thirteen of them cannot be found in Vom Kriege at all or contain a significant statement that is not in that work. In eight cases a completely different term was used and in three cases an entirely different example was given. Four aphorisms didn't follow the same sequence of subjects as Vom Kriege. In at least eleven cases the relevant text in Vom Kriege seems to be a further development of the original aphorism itself. On top of that, there were at least 18 concepts, specific parts, chapters and even four entire books (5-8) in Vom Kriege that have no corresponding aphorism. All in all, we have to conclude that Aphorismen über den Krieg und die Kriegführung is in every respect less developed than Vom Kriege and that seems to indicate that it was written well before Clausewitz's masterpiece."
This will make Aphorisms possibly the first version of On War, which was written between 1815 and 1818. Let's just say that Donker's conclusions will call into question prevailing notions as to when Clausewitz developed his concepts of the dual nature of war and the wondrous trinity.
It will takes us months, if not years, to digest and debate Donker's research. For now, we suggest that you read the monograph—and, of course, that you let us know what you think!
• WHAT were military officers in the 18th and 19th centuries reading before Clausewitz's On War was published? Listen to TheDeadPrussian Podcast in which Mick Cook discusses the subject with Dr. Huw Davies, a senior lecturer in Defence Studies, King's College (Link). As a British historian, Davies' interests mostly concern British officers' education and the library of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, in particular. Yet by comparing the previous generation of military thinkers and their writings, he argues that Clausewitz was more "a part of a trend" than a sudden burst in intellectual development. If you have ever met Huw Davies in person, you know that he is not only a walking encyclopedia of 18th and 19th century military history, but also a quite agreeable character. These are 45 minutes well spent.
This is actually his second time on TheDeadPrussian podcast. The first time he talked about the Duke of Wellington (Link). Additionally, if you have an academia.edu account, you can read Dr. Davies' scholarly research (Link).
• ARE YOU FOLLOWING The Strategy Bridge, an on-line international journal focused on strategy, national security, and military affairs? (Link) And in particular, are you reading its weekly segment #Monday Musings? (Link) Every Monday morning, The Strategy Bridge publishes the answers of a military thinker or writer to three questions: Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually? What book do you think best explains strategy? What do you want your legacy to be?
On War is naturally the book most often cited in reply to the second question. Particularly interesting, many thinkers/writers share personal opinions about what Clausewitz's treatise means to them and how it relates to their own experience and knowledge. Here is a short list of interesting links:
• H.R. McMaster (Link)
• Olivia Garard (Link)
• Harold L. Winston (Link)
• B.A. Friedman (Link)
• Steven M. Leonard (Link)
• Dave Lyle (Link)
• Mick Cook (Link)
• Adam Elkus (Link)
• Lukas Milevski (Link)
• and even Vanya E. Bellinger (Link)
• THE CLAUSEWITZ SOCIETY in Burg bei Magdeburg (Forschungsverein Clausewitz Burg e.V.) was able to locate the remaining copy of Clausewitz—Lebensbild eines preußischen Generals. As far as we know, this is the only feature film about Carl von Clausewitz (Link, German). It was produced by the East German television Deutscher Rundfunk and shown in 1980. Until now the movie was buried in the vaults of Rundfunkarchiv in Babelsberg. Thanks to the efforts of Bernd Domsgen, Dr. Rolf-Reiner Zube, Olaf Thiel, and Bernhard Thüne-Schönborn, Clausewitz—Lebensbild is in Burg on a long-term loan. This week, it had its first public screening in 36 years at the local movie theater, and it was a resounding success (Link, German).
In an email, Bernd Domsgen describes his first impressions, "Many of the scenes are, of course, fictitious, as the playwright readily admitted. It is obvious that the plot was heavily influenced by Hans Heyck's book Clausewitz—Ein Lebens- und Zeitbild, published in 1968 in West Germany. There are many clichés and half-truths but, of course, 36 years later we know better. Still, the movie provides knowledge and food for thought about war and peace, reason and power, honor and love."
Vanya E. Bellinger hopes to see the move for herself soon and write an exhaustive report about its artistic and historical qualities, as some of you might be interested in watching it too and even using it in the classroom. Can we get it on video? And how would we go about getting it dubbed in English?
• THE PRIZE for best application of a Clausewitzian quote to current affairs this month goes to Dave Lyle. Concerning the debate about "Camo In or Out" (i.e., if US soldiers are allowed to roll up their sleeves again, how it should be done?), Dave found and posted on Facebook the perfect, almost 200-year-old comment.
It comes from Carl von Clausewitz's 1823/1825 monograph "Observations on Prussia in her Great Catastrophe": "More than any other institution [the army] had succumbed to the lassitude of tradition and detail...Everything was tied up in endless red tape... the insistent observance of external forms caused people to lose sight of what really mattered."
In a later email, Dave explains, "I posted [the quote] to point out the ridiculousness of people arguing that one option or the other would have a serious impact on professionalism—it's the same kind of thinking that drove Clausewitz crazy in Neuruppin.
"I'm encouraged that [US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark] Milley was willing to entertain the possibility of change for practical reasons, so it wasn't meant as a slam on him, and as a former SERE camo instructor, I'm really happy to see that the Army has apparently turned the corner on finding a functional camo pattern that works well with most of the environments we're fighting in. But it is beyond ridiculous how crazy the entire military has gotten about camo in particular over the last decade—our choices seem to have been more concerned about looking cool and distinctive in the Pentagon than blending in with the combat environment (or NOT blending in, for sailors swept overboard) in combat."
Panorama: What in the World?
Have you seen, or even participated in one of many discussions across the social media concerning what Clausewitz would say about Jon Snow's battlefield plan? With its epic clashes, the sixth season of Game of Thrones has transformed millions of its viewers into armchair generals. Quite a few military historians, strategists and professionals have also weighed in or used examples from the popular show to explain to a broader public what they actually do.
The flagship of German quality news media, the weekly Die Zeit, even calls On War "the most important secondary literature for Game of Thrones fans." (Link)
The trendy French site about movies, TV, and popular culture, smallthings.fr, writes that the series "has renewed the political genre on television, becoming a hybrid genre, between fantasy and House of Cards…." And since politics is at the core of Game of Thrones, Clausewitz's famous quote inevitably comes into play: "As Clausewitz said, war is only the continuation of politics by other means (and marriage too)." (Link)
This association between Game of Thrones and On War has been going on for a while. Take for instance a post on the Wall Street Journal's internet platform from last year. The medieval-studies scholar and science-fiction writer Susan Shwartz discusses what she calls "the show's alleged moral compass, with points deducted for bad tactics." In this regard, Shwartz explains that "Rob should have married his Frey spawn. Sansa and Arya should have escaped with Brienne. And Cersei really does need to learn that she is not Clausewitz in petticoats." (Link)
The public obsession surrounding every new season of Game of Thrones may get on some serious people's nerves (an example, perhaps, of what diplomatic historian L.C.B. Seaman used to condemn as the typical academic's humorless, "dropping-down-deadness of manner"). Yet we at The Clausewitz Studies Newsletter prefer to adopt a more amiable attitude. If, after so much talk about politics, strategy and warfare, a few more souls pick up On War; if a wider public starts seeking to understand the relationship between politics and violent conflict; if the mass media realizes that substantial parts of its audience long to be intellectually challenged, we will think all the babel was worth it.
P.S. If you have an interesting article in mind, please send us a link, plus a short description if it is written in a language other than English, German, Russian, or Bulgarian. (Vanya's French works only for 1-2 page article.)
We are still looking for volunteers! We have found worthy translators for a number of Clausewitz's works not yet available in English. We want to support them with a team of scholars well versed in both English and German who would like to help out by critiquing their work, providing introductory, historical, literary, or theoretical essays related to the works in question, and/or collaborating on additional translations of Clausewitz's works. Please let us know if you are interested and can volunteer your time and skills. Contact Vanya E. Bellinger or ClausewitzStudies.org.
Come join our merry team!
And please send us anything else you find relevant, interesting, and newsworthy to include in our next issue. Until August, Happy Reading!
With warmest regards,