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Clausewitz Goes Global: Carl von Clausewitz in the 21st Century.

Clausewitz Goes Global: Carl von Clausewitz in the 21st Century

Edited by Reiner Pommerin

Berlin, Germany: Miles-Verlag, 2014

380 pages

$31.50

The Clausewitz Society was founded in Germany in 1961 to promote the study of Clausewitz's ideas particularly as they relate to current strategic and political issues. This book, first published in hardback in 2011, was commissioned to celebrate the Society's 50th year. Civilian and military scholars from 18 countries--13 in Europe plus China, Israel, Japan, South Africa and the United States of America (the United Kingdom and Russia are notable omissions)--were asked to examine how Clausewitz's understanding of war has been interpreted in their country and whether his thinking still plays any role in military and political affairs. The book's tide suggests Clausewitz, like trade and communications, has become globalized. However, the book's contents indicate for the last 180 years Clausewitz has attracted relatively limited interest in most countries, is often misunderstood or misrepresented, and rarely influences strategy or policy in any identifiable fashion.

It is not clear whether contributors were asked to write to a format but certain common themes are apparent. Some authors are able to refer to Clausewitz's visits to their country, for example, Belgium and Switzerland, with the latter claiming that Madame de Stael and August von Schlegel re-invigorated his nationalism and romanticism during his rather comfortable time as a prisoner in Castle Coppet on Lake Geneva during the French occupation. The Spanish contributor argues Clausewitz's understanding of guerrilla war would have benefited from military service in the peninsula.

More substantially, most contributors struggle to find significant and sustained intellectual efforts in their country to come to grips with Clausewitz. On War might be translated into the relevant language, sometimes at an early date, but this does not ensure continuing an informed interest in its content. Germany and France are significant exceptions. Even so, much has depended on the work of preeminent individuals, notably Werner Hahlweg and Raymond Aron who receive due attention from Claus von Rosen and Uwe Hartmann, and from Herve Coutau-Begarie respectively. Yet the salience of individual writers, it is apparent, can also wreak havoc with Clausewitz's reputation--think of Liddell Hart's "Mahdi of mass" in Britain or Rene Girard's apocalyptic interpretation in France.

Similar considerations apply to efforts to incorporate Clausewitz into the syllabus of military colleges or officer education. One or two enlightened educators introduce ideas--often competing with advocates of Jomini or Sun Tsu--but sooner or later, their influence wanes. Often officers are assigned to "teach Clausewitz" in military colleges, but do not have time to get beyond relating his ideas to supposedly more relevant factors such as centers of gravity, the superiority of the defense or the culminating point of the offensive. At the same time, few contributors are able to refer to any substantial study of Clausewit2 in civilian universities--for obvious reasons. We learn even the study of military history was actively discouraged in Austrian and Japanese universities after 1945.

Several papers attempt to find Clausewitz relevant (or not relevant) to their nation's experience of conflict--whether national liberation, guerrilla war, Cold War, or post-Cold War conflicts. In most cases the argument is tenuous. Some contributors acknowledge how difficult it is to explain how such influence might occur, or to produce evidence of Clausewitz's impact on policy or the conduct of war. The problem of influence is all the greater when there is misunderstanding of Clausewitzian thinking or a selective quotation is used to provide spurious authority for an argument. In public debates it is common for "Clausewitzian" to become either a term of approbation or of abhorrence.

One paper stands out from the rest, by Christopher Bassford on "Clausewitz in America today." True, he has the advantage of reporting on a country that has a strong and extensive intellectual engagement with Clausewitz, at least since the US defeat in Vietnam and the appearance of the Howard-Paret translation of On War in 1976. But he is acutely aware of the methodological problems in demonstrating Clausewitz's influence (hence the sub-title of his 1994 book, Clausewitz in English, refers to "reception" rather than "influence"), while he is entertainingly trenchant in his analysis of US writers on Clausewitz and forthright in his conclusion--"American military and governmental students get very little out of reading Clausewitz" (349). The volume is worth taking off the library shelf for this contribution alone.

Reviewed by Dr. Hugh Smith, former associate professor, University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy and author of On Clausewitz: A Study of Military and Political Ideas (Macmillan, 2005)
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Author:Smith, Hugh
Publication:Parameters
Date:Sep 22, 2014
Words:761
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