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by General Carl von Clausewitz

TRANSLATED BY COLONEL J.J. GRAHAM

{1874 was 1st edition of this translation. 1909 was the London reprinting.}

HAVING in the foregoing chapter ascertained the complicated

and variable nature of War, we shall now occupy ourselves in

examining into the influence which this nature has upon the end

If we ask, first of all, for the object upon which the whole effort

of War is to be directed, in order that it may suffice for the

attainment of the political object, we shall find that it is just as

variable as are the political object and the particular

If, in the next place, we keep once more to the pure conception

of War, then we must say that the political object properly lies

out of its province, for if War is an act of violence to compel the

enemy to fulfil our will, then in every case all depends on our

overthrowing the enemy, that is, disarming him, and on that alone.

This object, developed from abstract conceptions, but which is

also the one aimed at in a great many cases in reality, we shall, in

the first place, examine in this reality.

In connection with the plan of a campaign we shall hereafter

examine more closely into the meaning of disarming a nation, but

here we must at once draw a distinction between three things,

which, as three general objects, comprise everything else within

them. They are the MILITARY POWER, THE COUNTRY,

The military power must be destroyed, that is, reduced to such a

state as not to be able to prosecute the War. This is the sense in

which we wish to be understood hereafter, whenever we use the

expression “destruction of the enemy’s military power.”

The country must be conquered, for out of the country a new

But even when both these things are done, still the War, that is,

the hostile feeling and action of hostile agencies, cannot be

considered as at an end as long as the will of the enemy is not

subdued also; that is, its Government and its Allies must be

forced into signing a peace, or the people into submission; for

whilst we are in full occupation of the country, the War may

break out afresh, either in the interior or through assistance given

by Allies. No doubt, this may also take place after a peace, but

that shows nothing more than that every War does not carry in

itself the elements for a complete decision and final settlement.

But even if this is the case, still with the conclusion of peace a

number of sparks are always extinguished which would have

smouldered on quietly, and the excitement of the passions abates,

because all those whose minds are disposed to peace, of which in

all nations and under all circumstances there is always a great

number, turn themselves away completely from the road to

resistance. Whatever may take place subsequently, we must

always look upon the object as attained, and the business of War

As protection of the country is the primary object for which the

military force exists, therefore the natural order is, that first of all

this force should be destroyed, then the country subdued; and

through the effect of these two results, as well as the position we

then hold, the enemy should be forced to make peace. Generally

the destruction of the enemy’s force is done by degrees, and in

just the same measure the conquest of the country follows

immediately. The two likewise usually react upon each other,

because the loss of provinces occasions a diminution of military

force. But this order is by no means necessary, and on that

account it also does not always take place. The enemy’s Army,

before it is sensibly weakened, may retreat to the opposite side of

the country, or even quite outside of it. In this case, therefore, the

greater part or the whole of the country is conquered.

But this object of War in the abstract, this final means of attaining

the political object in which all others are combined, the

DISARMING THE ENEMY, is rarely attained in practice and is

not a condition necessary to peace. Therefore it can in no wise be

set up in theory as a law. There are innumerable instances of

treaties in which peace has been settled before either party could

be looked upon as disarmed; indeed, even before the balance of

power had undergone any sensible alteration. Nay, further, if we

look at the case in the concrete, then we must say that in a whole

class of cases, the idea of a complete defeat of the enemy would

be a mere imaginative flight, especially when the enemy is

The reason why the object deduced from the conception of War

is not adapted in general to real War lies in the difference

between the two, which is discussed in the preceding chapter. If it

was as pure theory gives it, then a War between two States of

very unequal military strength would appear an absurdity;

therefore impossible. At most, the inequality between the physical

forces might be such that it could be balanced by the moral

forces, and that would not go far with our present social condition

in Europe. Therefore, if we have seen Wars take place between

States of very unequal power, that has been the case because

there is a wide difference between War in reality and its original

There are two considerations which as motives may practically

take the place of inability to continue the contest. The first is the

improbability, the second is the excessive price, of success.

According to what we have seen in the foregoing chapter, War

must always set itself free from the strict law of logical necessity,

and seek aid from the calculation of probabilities; and as this is so

much the more the case, the more the War has a bias that way,

from the circumstances out of which it has arisen–the smaller its

motives are, and the excitement it has raised–so it is also

conceivable how out of this calculation of probabilities even

motives to peace may arise. War does not, therefore, always

require to be fought out until one party is overthrown; and we

may suppose that, when the motives and passions are slight, a

weak probability will suffice to move that side to which it is

unfavourable to give way. Now, were the other side convinced of

this beforehand, it is natural that he would strive for this

probability only, instead of first wasting time and effort in the

attempt to achieve the total destruction of the enemy’s Army.

Still more general in its influence on the resolution to peace is the

consideration of the expenditure of force already made, and

further required. As War is no act of blind passion, but is

dominated by the political object, therefore the value of that

object determines the measure of the sacrifices by which it is to

be purchased. This will be the case, not only as regards extent,

but also as regards duration. As soon, therefore, as the required

outlay becomes so great that the political object is no longer

equal in value, the object must be given up, and peace will be the

We see, therefore, that in Wars where one side cannot

completely disarm the other, the motives to peace on both sides

will rise or fall on each side according to the probability of future

success and the required outlay. If these motives were equally

strong on both sides, they would meet in the centre of their

political difference. Where they are strong on one side, they might

be weak on the other. If their amount is only sufficient, peace will

follow, but naturally to the advantage of that side which has the

weakest motive for its conclusion. We purposely pass over here

the difference which the POSITIVE and NEGATIVE character

of the political end must necessarily produce practically; for

although that is, as we shall hereafter show, of the highest

importance, still we are obliged to keep here to a more general

point of view, because the original political views in the course of

the War change very much, and at last may become totally

different, JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE DETERMINED BY

Now comes the question how to influence the probability of

success. In the first place, naturally by the same means which we

use when the object is the subjugation of the enemy, by the

destruction of his military force and the conquest of his provinces;

but these two means are not exactly of the same import here as

they would be in reference to that object. If we attack the

enemy’s Army, it is a very different thing whether we intend to

follow up the first blow with a succession of others, until the

whole force is destroyed, or whether we mean to content

ourselves with a victory to shake the enemy’s feeling of security,

to convince him of our superiority, and to instil into him a feeling

of apprehension about the future. If this is our object, we only go

so far in the destruction of his forces as is sufficient. In like

manner, the conquest, of the enemy’s provinces is quite a different

measure if the object is not the destruction of the enemy’s Army.

In the latter case the destruction of the Army is the real effectual

action, and the taking of the provinces only a consequence of it;

to take them before the Army had been defeated would always

be looked upon only as a necessary evil. On the other hand, if

our views are not directed upon the complete destruction of the

enemy’s force, and if we are sure that the enemy does not seek

but fears to bring matters to a bloody decision, the taking

possession of a weak or defenceless province is an advantage in

itself, and if this advantage is of sufficient importance to make the

enemy apprehensive about the general result, then it may also be

regarded as a shorter road to peace.

But now we come upon a peculiar means of influencing the

probability of the result without destroying the enemy’s Army,

namely, upon the expeditions which have a direct connection with

political views. If there are any enterprises which are particularly

likely to break up the enemy’s alliances or make them inoperative,

to gain new alliances for ourselves, to raise political powers in our

own favour, &c. &c., then it is easy to conceive how much these

may increase the probability of success, and become a shorter

way towards our object than the routing of the enemy’s forces.

The second question is how to act upon the enemy’s expenditure

in strength, that is, to raise the price of success.

The enemy’s outlay in strength lies in the WEAR AND TEAR of

his forces, consequently in the DESTRUCTION of them on our

part, and in the LOSS of PROVINCES, consequently the

Here, again, on account of the various significations of these

means, so likewise it will be found that neither of them will be

identical in its signification in all cases if the objects are different.

The smallness in general of this difference must not cause us

perplexity, for in reality the weakest motives, the finest shades of

difference, often decide in favour of this or that method of

applying force. Our only business here is to show that, certain

conditions being supposed, the possibility of attaining our purpose

in different ways is no contradiction, absurdity, nor even error.

Besides these two means, there are three other peculiar ways of

directly increasing the waste of the enemy’s force. The first is

INVASION, that is THE OCCUPATION OF THE ENEMY’S

TERRITORY, NOT WITH A VIEW TO KEEPING IT, but in

order to levy contributions upon it, or to devastate it.

The immediate object here is neither the conquest of the enemy’s

territory nor the defeat of his armed force, but merely to DO

HIM DAMAGE IN A GENERAL WAY. The second way is to

select for the object of our enterprises those points at which we

can do the enemy most harm. Nothing is easier to conceive than

two different directions in which our force may be employed, the

first of which is to be preferred if our object is to defeat the

enemy’s Army, while the other is more advantageous if the defeat

of the enemy is out of the question. According to the usual mode

of speaking, we should say that the first is primarily military, the

other more political. But if we take our view from the highest

point, both are equally military, and neither the one nor the other

can be eligible unless it suits the circumstances of the case. The

third, by far the most important, from the great number of cases

which it embraces, is the WEARING OUT of the enemy. We

choose this expression not only to explain our meaning in few

words, but because it represents the thing exactly, and is not so

figurative as may at first appear. The idea of wearing out in a

struggle amounts in practice to A GRADUAL EXHAUSTION

OF THE PHYSICAL POWERS AND OF THE WILL BY

THE LONG CONTINUANCE OF EXERTION.

Now, if we want to overcome the enemy by the duration of the

contest, we must content ourselves with as small objects as

possible, for it is in the nature of the thing that a great end requires

a greater expenditure of force than a small one; but the smallest

object that we can propose to ourselves is simple passive

resistance, that is a combat without any positive view. In this way,

therefore, our means attain their greatest relative value, and

therefore the result is best secured. How far now can this

negative mode of proceeding be carried? Plainly not to absolute

passivity, for mere endurance would not be fighting; and the

defensive is an activity by which so much of the enemy’s power

must be destroyed that he must give up his object. That alone is

what we aim at in each single act, and therein consists the

No doubt this negative object in its single act is not so effective as

the positive object in the same direction would be, supposing it

successful; but there is this difference in its favour, that it succeeds

more easily than the positive, and therefore it holds out greater

certainty of success; what is wanting in the efficacy of its single

act must be gained through time, that is, through the duration of

the contest, and therefore this negative intention, which constitutes

the principle of the pure defensive, is also the natural means of

overcoming the enemy by the duration of the combat, that is of

Here lies the origin of that difference of OFFENSIVE and

DEFENSIVE, the influence of which prevails throughout the

whole province of War. We cannot at present pursue this subject

further than to observe that from this negative intention are to be

deduced all the advantages and all the stronger forms of combat

which are on the side of the Defensive, and in which that

philosophical-dynamic law which exists between the greatness

and the certainty of success is realised. We shall resume the

consideration of all this hereafter.

If then the negative purpose, that is the concentration of all the

means into a state of pure resistance, affords a superiority in the

contest, and if this advantage is sufficient to BALANCE whatever

superiority in numbers the adversary may have, then the mere

DURATION of the contest will suffice gradually to bring the loss

of force on the part of the adversary to a point at which the

political object can no longer be an equivalent, a point at which,

therefore, he must give up the contest. We see then that this class

of means, the wearing out of the enemy, includes the great

number of cases in which the weaker resists the stronger.

Frederick the Great, during the Seven Years’ War, was never

strong enough to overthrow the Austrian monarchy; and if he had

tried to do so after the fashion of Charles the Twelfth, he would

inevitably have had to succumb himself. But after his skilful

application of the system of husbanding his resources had shown

the powers allied against him, through a seven years’ struggle, that

the actual expenditure of strength far exceeded what they had at

first anticipated, they made peace.

We see then that there are many ways to one’s object in War;

that the complete subjugation of the enemy is not essential in

every case; that the destruction of the enemy’s military force, the

conquest of the enemy’s provinces, the mere occupation of them,

the mere invasion of them–enterprises which are aimed directly

at political objects–lastly, a passive expectation of the enemy’s

blow, are all means which, each in itself, may be used to force the

enemy’s will according as the peculiar circumstances of the case

lead us to expect more from the one or the other. We could still

add to these a whole category of shorter methods of gaining the

end, which might be called arguments ad hominem. What branch

of human affairs is there in which these sparks of individual spirit

have not made their appearance, surmounting all formal

considerations? And least of all can they fail to appear in War,

where the personal character of the combatants plays such an

important part, both in the cabinet and in the field. We limit

ourselves to pointing this out, as it would be pedantry to attempt

to reduce such influences into classes. Including these, we may

say that the number of possible ways of reaching the object rises

To avoid under-estimating these different short roads to one’s

purpose, either estimating them only as rare exceptions, or

holding the difference which they cause in the conduct of War as

insignificant, we must bear in mind the diversity of political objects

which may cause a War– measure at a glance the distance which

there is between a death struggle for political existence and a War

which a forced or tottering alliance makes a matter of

disagreeable duty. Between the two innumerable gradations

occur in practice. If we reject one of these gradations in theory,

we might with equal right reject the whole, which would be

tantamount to shutting the real world completely out of sight.

These are the circumstances in general connected with the aim

which we have to pursue in War; let us now turn to the means.

There is only one single means, it is the FIGHT. However

diversified this may be in form, however widely it may differ from

a rough vent of hatred and animosity in a hand-to-hand

encounter, whatever number of things may introduce themselves

which are not actual fighting, still it is always implied in the

conception of War that all the effects manifested have their roots

That this must always be so in the greatest diversity and

complication of the reality is proved in a very simple manner. All

that takes place in War takes place through armed forces, but

where the forces of War, i.e., armed men, are applied, there the

idea of fighting must of necessity be at the foundation.

All, therefore, that relates to forces of War–all that is connected

with their creation, maintenance, and application– belongs to

Creation and maintenance are obviously only the means, whilst

The contest in War is not a contest of individual against individual,

but an organised whole, consisting of manifold parts; in this great

whole we may distinguish units of two kinds, the one determined

by the subject, the other by the object. In an Army the mass of

combatants ranges itself always into an order of new units, which

again form members of a higher order. The combat of each of

these members forms, therefore, also a more or less distinct unit.

Further, the motive of the fight; therefore its object forms its unit.

Now, to each of these units which we distinguish in the contest

If the idea of combat lies at the foundation of every application of

armed power, then also the application of armed force in general

is nothing more than the determining and arranging a certain

Every activity in War, therefore, necessarily relates to the combat

either directly or indirectly. The soldier is levied, clothed, armed,

exercised, he sleeps, eats, drinks, and marches, all MERELY TO

FIGHT AT THE RIGHT TIME AND PLACE.

If, therefore, all the threads of military activity terminate in the

combat, we shall grasp them all when we settle the order of the

combats. Only from this order and its execution proceed the

effects, never directly from the conditions preceding them. Now,

in the combat all the action is directed to the DESTRUCTION of

the enemy, or rather of HIS FIGHTING POWERS, for this lies

in the conception of combat. The destruction of the enemy’s

fighting power is, therefore, always the means to attain the object

This object may likewise be the mere destruction of the enemy’s

armed force; but that is not by any means necessary, and it may

be something quite different. Whenever, for instance, as we have

shown, the defeat of the enemy is not the only means to attain the

political object, whenever there are other objects which may be

pursued as the aim in a War, then it follows of itself that such

other objects may become the object of particular acts of

Warfare, and therefore also the object of combats.

But even those combats which, as subordinate acts, are in the

strict sense devoted to the destruction of the enemy’s fighting

force need not have that destruction itself as their first object.

If we think of the manifold parts of a great armed force, of the

number of circumstances which come into activity when it is

employed, then it is clear that the combat of such a force must

also require a manifold organisation, a subordinating of parts and

formation. There may and must naturally arise for particular parts

a number of objects which are not themselves the destruction of

the enemy’s armed force, and which, while they certainly

contribute to increase that destruction, do so only in an indirect

manner. If a battalion is ordered to drive the enemy from a rising

ground, or a bridge, &c., then properly the occupation of any

such locality is the real object, the destruction of the enemy’s

armed force which takes place only the means or secondary

matter. If the enemy can be driven away merely by a

demonstration, the object is attained all the same; but this hill or

bridge is, in point of fact, only required as a means of increasing

the gross amount of loss inflicted on the enemy’s armed force. It

is the case on the field of battle, much more must it be so on the

whole theatre of war, where not only one Army is opposed to

another, but one State, one Nation, one whole country to

another. Here the number of possible relations, and consequently

possible combinations, is much greater, the diversity of measures

increased, and by the gradation of objects, each subordinate to

another the first means employed is further apart from the ultimate

It is therefore for many reasons possible that the object of a

combat is not the destruction of the enemy’s force, that is, of the

force immediately opposed to us, but that this only appears as a

means. But in all such cases it is no longer a question of complete

destruction, for the combat is here nothing else but a measure of

strength–has in itself no value except only that of the present

result, that is, of its decision.

But a measuring of strength may be effected in cases where the

opposing sides are very unequal by a mere comparative estimate.

In such cases no fighting will take place, and the weaker will

If the object of a combat is not always the destruction of the

enemy’s forces therein engaged–and if its object can often be

attained as well without the combat taking place at all, by merely

making a resolve to fight, and by the circumstances to which this

resolution gives rise– then that explains how a whole campaign

may be carried on with great activity without the actual combat

playing any notable part in it.

That this may be so military history proves by a hundred

examples. How many of those cases can be justified, that is,

without involving a contradiction and whether some of the

celebrities who rose out of them would stand criticism, we shall

leave undecided, for all we have to do with the matter is to show

the possibility of such a course of events in War.

We have only one means in War–the battle; but this means, by

the infinite variety of paths in which it may be applied, leads us

into all the different ways which the multiplicity of objects allows

of, so that we seem to have gained nothing; but that is not the

case, for from this unity of means proceeds a thread which assists

the study of the subject, as it runs through the whole web of

military activity and holds it together.

But we have considered the destruction of the enemy’s force as

one of the objects which maybe pursued in War, and left

undecided what relative importance should be given to it amongst

other objects. In certain cases it will depend on circumstances,

and as a general question we have left its value undetermined. We

are once more brought back upon it, and we shall be able to get

an insight into the value which must necessarily be accorded to it.

The combat is the single activity in War; in the combat the

destruction of the enemy opposed to us is the means to the end; it

is so even when the combat does not actually take place, because

in that case there lies at the root of the decision the supposition at

all events that this destruction is to be regarded as beyond doubt.

It follows, therefore, that the destruction of the enemy’s military

force is the foundation-stone of all action in War, the great

support of all combinations, which rest upon it like the arch on its

abutments. All action, therefore, takes place on the supposition

that if the solution by force of arms which lies at its foundation

should be realised, it will be a favourable one. The decision by

arms is, for all operations in War, great and small, what cash

payment is in bill transactions. However remote from each other

these relations, however seldom the realisation may take place,

still it can never entirely fail to occur.

If the decision by arms lies at the foundation of all combinations,

then it follows that the enemy can defeat each of them by gaining

a victory on the field, not merely in the one on which our

combination directly depends, but also in any other encounter, if it

is only important enough; for every important decision by arms

–that is, destruction of the enemy’s forces–reacts upon all

preceding it, because, like a liquid element, they tend to bring

Thus, the destruction of the enemy’s armed force appears,

therefore, always as the superior and more effectual means, to

which all others must give way.

It is, however, only when there is a supposed equality in all other

conditions that we can ascribe to the destruction of the enemy’s

armed force the greater efficacy. It would, therefore, be a great

mistake to draw the conclusion that a blind dash must always gain

the victory over skill and caution. An unskilful attack would lead

to the destruction of our own and not of the enemy’s force, and

therefore is not what is here meant. The superi

book of religion

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