Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
On War (Ger. Vom Kriege) is a book on military strategy and tactics by Prussian general Karl von Clausewitz, written mostly after the Napoleonic wars, between 1816 and 1818, and published posthumously by his wife in 1832. It is one of the most important treatises on strategy ever written, and is prescribed at various military academies to this day.
There are several strands of thought on the subject of war within the book. On the one hand there is the top down approach which sees war as an expression and instrument of policy. In other words war is used in order to achieve political aims (or in defense, as the method of resisting the political aims of the aggressor). The other strands of thought are practical and deal in a systematical manner with war as it was practiced, covering a wide variety of strategic and tactical manners.
On War has been seen as the place where the concept of total war was made explicit and has been blamed1 for the level of destruction involved in the First and Second World Wars. Whilst even critics have admitted that this is partly through over-simplistic interpretations, Von Clausewitz's message is at heart that fighting and destruction are inevitable in war. This contrasts strongly with Sun Tzu's message in The Art of War that supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
The book contains a wealth of historical examples used to illustrate the various concepts. Frederick II of Prussia (the Great) figures prominently for having made very efficient use of the limited forces at his disposal. Napoleon also is a central figure in the book credited with having changed the nature of the wars fought through his ability to motivate the populace and thus unleash war on a greater scale than was generally fought previously. Carl von Clausewitz spent a considerable part of his life fighting against Napoleon and there is no doubt that the insight he gained from his experiences provided much of the raw material for the book.
On War is actually an unfinished work; Clausewitz had set about revising his accumulated manuscripts in 1827, but did not live to finish the task.
- For example, writing in his introduction to Sun Tzu's Art of War, B.H. Liddell Hart states that Civilization might have been spared much of the damage suffered in the world wars of this century if the influence of Clausewitz's monumental tomes On War, which molded European military thought in the era preceding the First World War, had been blended with and balanced by a knowledge of Sun Tzu's exposition on `The Art of War'. Whilst this comment is tempered by the comment that the ill-effects of Clausewitz's teaching arose largely from his disciples' too shallow and too extreme interpretation of it, it still ranks as a strong criticism. Extracted from "The Art of War (UNESCO Collection of Representative Works)" Samuel B. Griffith 
(Translations are into English unless otherwise noted)
- Translated by Colonel J. J. Graham , 1874, republished 1909 Project Gutenberg eBook
- Translated by O. J. Matthijs Jolles , 1943
- Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret , Princeton University Press, 1976 (index added 1984) ISBN 0-691-05657-9
- Edited with introduction by Anatol Rapoport, Viking Penguin , 1982 (Paperback, 464 pages) ISBN 0140444270
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