7th November 2003 - On War

It took me a while to get through "On War" by Carl von Clausewitz. This book has been referred to me as a monumental piece in war strategy theory; and indeed it was a comprehensive piece on the subject.

Clausewitz is a believer of was as an extended arm of politics, and in his time this was not in contradiction of what we would consider historical wisdom today. He describes the elements of tactics and strategy as well as the issues arising in war all the way down to operational level, yet he views the battlefield as a dynamic substance at a holistic level where too much detail blinds rather than informs. Clausewitz describes the total information available in war as a great part of contradictory information, and even greater part of false information, let alone the greatest part of information which is doubtful. Having said this about the information available, Clausewitz stats that war is simple; but in war the simplest things are difficult!

In general, one can only be impressed with this level of theoretic approach to war from a person who also has significant field experience; however, the zero-sum thinking of war which in Clausewitz’ time would appear logic has been surpassed by the power of modern weaponry. Today zero-sum on strategic theatre level has been relieved, not by win-win, but by loss-loss. The cold war scenario is still fresh in mind for our generation, and it appears intuitively that any global conflict would be a loss to everyone –especially humans.

Another part of Clausewitz’ conclusion that great battles make great wins also seems to be out of date. If we look towards various experiences of guerrilla warfare; since war is indeed a tool of politics, and politics today are significantly more democratic than in Clausewitz time, it appears that small wins that disrupt the faith of the people can have significant results.

Reading the book inspired me to think about applying the military idea of strategic reserves in modern day business. If businesses today operate in an information scenario not far from that of a war; would an idea of reserves be applicable to cope with surprises? –if so, how do we obtain this when most organizations have been trimmed lean of any resource not crucial to obtaining profits….? One suggestions could be considering the resource of time, planning more loosely on strategic goals, thus have the flexibility to pursue tactical opportunities as they arise in sight. The idea of strategic time reserves would mean that chains of command were suited for such tactics; I shall pursue this issue further in my CALM research….

In summary a classic which is a great contribution to military theory and interesting reading for anyone interested in the Art of War.

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