Their is an old saying at West Point: ‘beginners study tactics, amateurs study strategy, but only the best study logistics’. Logistics being the formal study of how one achieves a goal. Their is not always symmetry between these competing claims as witnessed throughout successful military officers who have studied war as strategy.
September 11 and the ‘long war’ has exacerbated an already long debate within military strategic craft who study the advantages and limitations of both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. The literature on both men is astonishing. However, without studying how geography, politics, morale and psychology all interact to blunt the initiatives of warcraft it is pointless to study either men in isolation. In the end, Clausewitz was wrong to ignore experience as a hermeneutic strengthening the impact of employing terrain to blunt an adversaries initiative.
This post will explore a biography of both men whose writings dominate the curriculum of War colleges and a brief synopsis outlining the weaknesses implicit in each strategist.
Clausewitz was a Prussian military officer (d. 1831) who began his text ‘On War’ in 1816, it remained unfinished upon his death and was published by his wife who assumed the imprimatur. Clausewitz viewed war as a social act, an extension of political craft with moral and ethical consequences in both its construction and execution.
His philosophical antecedents were Kant, Hegel and a Romantic movement that dominated University life throughout Germany and Russia throughout the 18th & 19th century. Both Kant and Hegel advance an idealism in respect to perspective. This is an intrinsic weakness to Clausewitz for he ignores both the craft of intelligence and experience in the execution of war aims. Both proposed to discover the ‘center of gravity’ in each engagement. This is defined as an opponents operational, strategic and political power. Notice the use of Newtonian mechanics throughout the study of both Clausewitz and Jumini.
Clausewitz’s arch nemesis was Antoine Henri Jumini who dominated the military curricula in the American South immediately before the Civil War. Jumini advocated the aphorism that a commander should put superior combat power at the decisive point in any engagement, he also stressed exclusive superiority of maintaing interior lines of communication, engagement and supply. Still, the writings of Jumini were not adapted to the geography of the American South. It is significant that neither man proposed to study the personality and command that provides superior craft in assessing when to apply the proponents of either text.
Both Jumini and Clausewitz stressed the social characteristic (class) of its troops and both domestic, international politics. Both categories are no longer relevant in contemporary society. Studying class orientation and Monarchy reveals the political limitations of both men’s capacity to access the rise of democracy in the west and the social impact implicit in democratic society.
The finest critic of Clausewitz was Raymond Aron’s text ‘Clausewitz: Philosopher of War’ and Christopher Bassford ‘Clausewitz in English’.
Sun Tzu is considered the finest military strategist to ever fight throughout the Orient. It is not possible to discover whether he is an actual person or a community of persons dedicated to studying the craft of war. Nevertheless, he text is by far the single most significant study of military craft. His study of war was crafted during the ‘Warring States Period’. This was cultural anarchy among several provinces, each with equal weaponry and manpower. Although Sun Tzu is a contemporary of Confucius he was not stimulated by the monolithic approach so characteristic of Confucius’ social endeavor to end anarchy. Such a monolithic approach had its cultural response among the population as Taoism.
Taoism is not monolithic in either its approach or execution of any assessment of warcraft. Sun Tzu approaches his study synoptically; nothing is treated in isolation. Aphorisms are used, not narrative. He treats the use of intelligence with geography and supply lines together. This gives his approach an easier grasp to the novice. However, their are enormous problems implicit in Sun Tzu. Problems that did not constrain Clausewitz.
Sun Tzu lived in an age of enormous anarchy, analogous to Mao Zedon’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and ‘Great Leap Forward’. Both Sun Tzu and Confucius never discovered the use of reason in warcraft. Consequently, both Sun Tzu and Confucius neglected to develop politics as an equivalent discipline; a necessary appendage to consolidating victory.
Why is this so?
Sinic Civilization never developed an ethics outside its Confucian mandate. Without recognizing the necessity of a moral foundation, Chinese culture was left to the single device of power alone, as demonstrated in its monolithic posture of rigid Confucian assimilation. This means that Chinese Civilization never recognized the significance of the individual person. The West’s development of reason in the Enlightenment, its ability to permit spheres of autonomy (Reformation) in its culture gave it an enduring strength that Chinese civilization did not possess. In a word, the west recognized the limits of both power and politics. Sinic Civilization never did.
Does anyone think that the cruelty demonstrated as enforced solicitation of compliance among either Hannibal’s or Sun Tzu’s troops would be tolerated in the West? Could Petraeus act like Gengis Khan, Mao, or even Vo Nguyen Giap and still retain command? The west is superior because we believe and shape our warcraft from an informed Christian anthropology. This is the most enduring quality to our warcraft.
Those interested in reading the world’s finest commentary on Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ should choose Mark McNelly’s ‘Sun Tzu & The Art Of Modern Warfare’. Other posts in this blog to help the reader continue his/her interest in thoughts given here should read ‘The Specificity of Christian Ethics’ or ‘Christ or Kung Fu’ to understand how reason has significantly elevated the west, along with ‘Civilizational Growth & Decline’ for a study on discovering criteria to discern whether an Empire/Civilization is in growth or decline.