Author: Murray, Stewart Lygon, 1863-1930
Military art and science
1780-1831. Vom Kriege
The Reality of War: A Companion to Clausewitz
THE REALITY OF WAR
REALITY OF WAR
MAJOR STEWART L. MURRAY
LATE GORDON HIGHLANDERS
POPULAR EDITION EDITED BY
A. HILLIARD ATTERIDGE
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
WARWICK SQUARE, E.C.
HUGH REES, LTD.
5 REGENT STREET, S.W.
Reprinted in 1914
Great books, the masterpieces of the special branch of knowledge with which they deal, are often very big books; and busy men, who have not unlimited time for reading, find it helpful to have some one who will give them a general summary of a famous writer’s teaching, and point out the most important passages in which the author himself embodies the very essence of his argument.
This is what Major Murray has done for the most important work on war that was ever written. He does not give a mere dry summary of its contents. He sets forth, in language so plain that even the civilian reader or the youngest soldier can read it with interest, the essence of the teaching of Clausewitz, and he embodies in his book the most striking passages of the original work. He adds to each section of his subject some useful criticisms, and at the end of the book he sums up the effect of recent changes on the practice of war.
The book is a popular manual of the realities of war, which should be read not only by soldiers, but by every one who takes an intelligent interest in the great events of our time.
As to the practical value of the writings of Clausewitz, it may be well to quote here the words of Mr. Spenser Wilkinson, the Professor of Military History at Oxford, from his introduction to the original edition of Major Murray’s work:
“Clausewitz was a Prussian officer who first saw fighting as a boy in 1793, and whose experience of war lasted until 1815, when the great war ended. He was then thirty-five and spent the next fifteen years in trying to clear his mind on the subject of war, which he did by writing a number of military histories and a systematic treatise ‘On War.’ At the age of fifty he tied his manuscripts into a parcel, hoping to work at them again on the conclusion of the duties for which he was ordered from home. A little more than a year later he died at Breslau of cholera, and the papers, to which he had never put the finishing touch, were afterwards published by his widow.
“Part of the value of his work is due to the exceptional opportunities which he enjoyed. When the war of 1806 began he had long been the personal adjutant of one of the Prussian princes, and an intimate friend of Scharnhorst, who was probably the greatest of Napoleon’s contemporaries. In the period of reorganization which followed the Peace of Tilsit he made the acquaintance of Gneisenau, and of almost all the officers who made their mark in the subsequent wars of liberation. During the years of preparation he was Scharnhorst’s assistant, first in the Ministry of War and then on the General Staff. During the campaign of 1812 he served with the Russian army as a staff officer. Thus his experience during the four years of the Wars of Liberation was that of one who was continually behind the scenes, always in touch with the Governments and Generals, and therefore better able than any one not so favourably placed to see everything in its proper perspective, and to follow and appreciate the considerations which directed the decisions both of statesmen and of the commanders of armies. His personal character was of the finest mould, and his writings have the sincerity, the absence of which makes it so difficult to rely upon those of Napoleon.
“The ultimate test of the value of books is time. When Clausewitz died, the two books on war which were thought the best were those of the Archduke Charles of Austria and General Jomini. To-day the book of Clausewitz, ‘On War,’ easily holds the first place. It is the least technical of all the great books on war; from beginning to end it is nothing but common sense applied to the subject, but for that reason it is the hardest to digest, because common sense or a man’s natural instinctive judgment on any subject is exceedingly hard to analyse and put into words. An exceptionally gifted man can go through this process, but few can follow it for any length of time without a distinct effort.
“Almost every good institution has arisen out of the effort to provide a remedy for some evil, but in the imperfection of human nature nearly every institution brings with it fresh evils, which in their turn have to be counteracted. The modern spirit, with its hatred of nepotism and its belief in knowledge, has grafted the examination system upon every form of education from the lowest to the highest. The British army shares in the benefits and in the disadvantages of the system, of which, in the case of an officer, the danger to be guarded against is that it tends to accustom a man to rely rather on his memory than his intelligence, and to lean more on other people’s thinking than on his own. Clausewitz aimed at producing the very opposite result. He does not offer specific solutions of the various problems of war lest officers, in moments when their business is to decide and to act, should be trying to recall his precepts instead of using their eyes and their wits. His purpose rather is to enable them to understand what war is. He believed that if a man had accustomed himself to think of war as it really is, had got to know the different elements which go to make it up, and to distinguish those that are important from those that are comparative trifles, he would be more likely to know of himself what to do in a given situation, and would be much less likely to confuse himself by trying to remember what some general, long since dead, did on some occasion in which after all the position was by no means the same as that in which he finds himself.”
What is said here of the soldier actually engaged in war, is true also even of the onlooker who takes a patriotic interest in the progress of a war in which his country is involved. Unless he has a clear idea of the real character of modern war, and the principles on which success or failure depend, he will be utterly unable to grasp the significance of the events of which he reads each day. And it is of real importance that in time of war every citizen should judge soundly the course of events, for opinion influences action, and public opinion is made up of the ideas of the units who compose the public. In this connection it is well to bear in mind a point that is often overlooked, a point on which Clausewitz insists in a singularly convincing passage—namely, the fact that one of the main objects of a nation waging war is to force the enemy’s population into a state of mind favourable to submission. This fact is sufficient proof of the importance of public opinion being well informed not only as to the course of events, but also as to the principles that give to these events their real significance.
|THE LIFE OF CLAUSEWITZ||3|
|THE INFLUENCE OF CLAUSEWITZ ON MODERN POLICY AND WAR||11|
|THE WRITINGS OF CLAUSEWITZ||23|
|THE THEORY AND THE PRACTICE OF WAR||33|
|THE MAGNITUDE OF THE EFFORT REQUIRED IN A MODERN NATIONAL WAR||47|
|PUBLIC OPINION IN WAR||65|
|THE NATURE OF WAR||79|
|WAR AS POLICY||119|
|THE EXECUTION OF STRATEGY||161|
|CHANGES SINCE THE DAYS OF CLAUSEWITZ||213|
THE LIFE OF CLAUSEWITZ
In an endeavour, such as the present, to interest the British public in even the greatest military writer, the first necessity is to show that he was not a mere theorist or bookworm. The wide and varied experience which the British officer gradually gains in so many different parts of the world shows up the weak points of most theories, and produces a certain distrust of them. Also a distrust of theory is undoubtedly one of our national characteristics. Hence, in order to appeal to the British officer or civilian, a writer must be a practical soldier.
Such was General Clausewitz: a practical soldier of very great experience in the long series of wars 1793 to 1815, and one present throughout that most awful of all campaigns, Napoleon’s Russian campaign in 1812.
“General Karl von Clausewitz was born near Magdeburg in 1780, and entered the Prussian army as Fahnenjunker in 1792. He served in the campaigns of 1793–1794 on the Rhine. In 1801 he entered the military school at Berlin as an officer, and remained there till 1803. He here attracted the notice of Scharnhorst. In the campaign of 1806 he served as aide-de-camp to Prince Augustus of Prussia, was present at the battle of Jena, and saw that awful retreat which ended a fortnight later in the surrender at Prentzlau. Being wounded and captured, he was sent into France as a prisoner till the end of the war.” “On his return (in November, 1807) he was placed on General Scharnhorst’s staff, and employed on the work then going on for the reorganization of the Prussian army. In 1812 Clausewitz entered the Russian service, was employed on the general staff, and was thus able to gain much experience in the most gigantic of all the struggles of his time.” “In the spring campaign of 1813 (battles of Lutzen, Bautzen, etc.), he, as a Russian officer, was attached to Blucher’s staff; during the winter campaign he found employment as chief-of-the-staff to Count Walmoden, who fought against Davoust on the Lower Elbe, and the splendid action of the Goerde was entirely the result of his able dispositions. In 1815 he again entered the Prussian service, and was chief-of-the-staff to the III. Army Corps (Thielman), which at Ligny formed the left of the line of battle, and at Wavre covered the rear of Blucher’s army.” “In addition to this, we may say, considerable practical training (note, enormous and varied indeed compared to any obtainable in the present day), he also possessed a comprehensive and thorough knowledge of military history, and also an uncommonly clear perception of general history” (Von Caemmerer). After the Peace he was employed in a command on the Rhine. In 1818 he became major-general, and was made Director of the Military School at Berlin. Here he remained for some years. This was the chief period of his writings. As General von Caemmerer, in his “Development of Strategical Science,” puts it: “This practical and experienced, and at the same time highly cultured soldier, feels now, in peaceful repose, as he himself confesses, the urgent need to develop and systematize the whole world of thought which occupies him, yet also resolves to keep secret till his death the fruit of his researches, in order that his soul, which is thirsting for Truth, may be safely and finally spared all temptations from subordinate considerations.”
In 1830 he was appointed Director of Artillery at Breslau, and, having no more time for writing, sealed up and put away his papers, unfinished as they were. In the same year he was appointed chief-of-the-staff to Field-Marshal Gneisenau’s army. In the winter of that year war with France was considered imminent, and Clausewitz had prospects of acting as chief of the general staff of the Commander-in-Chief Gneisenau. He then drew up two plans for war with France, which bear the stamp of that practical knowledge of war and adaptation of means to ends which distinguish his writings.
In the same year the war scare passed away, the army of Gneisenau was disbanded, and Clausewitz returned to Breslau, where after a few days he was seized with cholera, and died in November, 1831, aged only 51.
His works were published after his death by his widow.
THE INFLUENCE OF CLAUSEWITZ ON MODERN POLICY AND WAR
From the day of their publication until now the influence of the writings of Clausewitz has been steadily growing, till to-day it is impossible to over-estimate the extent of that influence upon modern military and political thought, especially in Germany. As General von Caemmerer, in his “Development of Strategical Science,” says: “Karl von Clausewitz, the pupil and friend of Scharnhorst and the confidant of Gneisenau, is in Germany generally recognized as the most prominent theorist on war, as the real philosopher on war, to whom our famous victors on the more modern battlefields owe their spiritual training.”
Field-Marshal Moltke was “his most distinguished pupil,” and adapted the teaching of Clausewitz to the conditions of to-day.
General von der Goltz, in the introduction to his great work, “The Nation in Arms,” thus describes the veneration which he inspires: “A military writer who, after Clausewitz, writes upon the subject of war, runs the risk of being likened to a poet who, after Goethe, attempts a Faust, or, after Shakespeare, a Hamlet. Everything important that can be told about the nature of war can be found stereotyped in the works which that great military genius has left behind him. Although Clausewitz has himself described his book as being something as yet incomplete, this remark of his must be taken to mean that he, too, was subject to the fate of all aspiring spirits, and was forced to feel that all he attained lay far beneath his ideal. For us, who knew not what that ideal was, his labours are a complete work. I have, accordingly, not attempted to write anything new, or of universal applicability about the science of warfare, but have limited myself to turning my attention to the military operations of our own day.” One can hardly imagine a stronger tribute of admiration.
And, as Moltke was Clausewitz’s most distinguished pupil, so also are all those trained in the school of Moltke pupils of Clausewitz, including the most eminent of modern German military writers, such as General von Blume, in his “Strategy”; Von der Goltz, in his “Nation in Arms” and “The Conduct of War,” who trained the Turkish General Staff for the campaign of 1897 against Greece and the battle of Pharsalia, etc.; General von Boguslawski; General von Verdy du Vernois, the father of the study of Applied Tactics; General von Schlichting, in his “Tactical and Strategical Principles of the Present”; General Meckel, who trained the Japanese Staff, etc., etc.
We all remember the telegram sent to General Meckel by Marshal Oyama after the battle of Liao-yang: “We hope you are proud of your pupils.”
Some time ago, when asked to give a lecture at Aldershot to the officers of the 2nd Division on Clausewitz, it struck me that it would be very interesting, anxious as we all were then to know the causes of the wonderful Japanese efficiency and success, if I could obtain a pronouncement from General Meckel how far he had been influenced in his teaching by Clausewitz. My friend Herr von Donat did me the favour to write to General von Caemmerer and ask him if he could procure me such a pronouncement which I might publish. General Meckel, whose death both Japan and Germany have since had to mourn, most kindly consented, and I esteem it a great honour to be allowed to quote part of his letter. He said: “I, like every other German officer, have, consciously or unconsciously, instructed in the spirit of Clausewitz. Clausewitz is the founder of that theory of war which resulted from the Napoleonic. I maintain that every one who nowadays either makes or teaches war in a modern sense, bases himself upon Clausewitz, even if he is not conscious of it.” This opinion of General Meckel, to whose training of the Japanese General Staff the success of the Japanese armies must be largely attributed, is most interesting. It is not possible to give a stronger or more up-to-date example of the magnitude of the influence of Clausewitz.
In this connection I should like to make a short quotation from “The War in the Far East,” by the Times military correspondent. In his short but suggestive chapter on “Clausewitz in Manchuria” he says: “But as all save one of the great battles in Manchuria have been waged by the Japanese in close accordance with the spirit and almost the letter of Clausewitz’s doctrine, and as the same battles have been fought by the Russians in absolute disregard of them (though his works had been translated into Russian by General Dragomiroff long before the war), it is certainly worth showing how reading and reflection may profit one army, and how the neglect of this respectable practice may ruin another.” “Clausewitz in Manchuria”! That brings us up to date. It is a far cry for his influence to have reached, and triumphed.
Clausewitz wrote his book expressly for statesmen as well as soldiers. We may be sure, therefore, that the influence of Clausewitz on the Continent has penetrated the realm of policy little less widely than the realm of war. From this thought arise many reflections. It will be sufficient here to suggest one. I would suggest that we should regard every foreign statesman, especially in Germany, as, consciously or unconsciously, a disciple of Clausewitz. That is to say, we should regard him as a man who, underneath everything else, underneath the most pacific assurances for the present, considers war an unalterable part of policy. He will regard war as part of the ordinary intercourse of nations, and occasional warlike struggles as inevitable as commercial struggles. He will consider war also as an instrument of policy, which he himself may have to use, and to be studied accordingly. He will consider it not as a thing merely for speeches, but for practical use in furthering or defending the interests of his State. He will regard war as the means by which some day his nation shall impose its will upon another nation. He will be prepared to wait and wait, to make “every imaginable preparation,” and finally to let loose war in its most absolute and ruthless character, war carried out with the utmost means, the utmost energy, and the utmost effort of a whole nation-in-arms, determined to achieve its political object and compel submission to its will by force.
To talk to such a man of “the evils of war,” or of “the burden of armaments”; or to propose to him “disarmament” or “reduction of armed forces,” and so forth can only appear to him as the result of “imperfect knowledge.” He will not say so, but he will think so, and act accordingly. To the partially instructed opponent of such a man one can only say, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”