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Essay: Clausewitz versus Jomini: Which War Theorist is Most Relevant Today?

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 1,107 (approx)
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Paste your text in here…There has been continued debates regarding whether the teachings of Douhet, Jomini, Clausewitz, Mao, and Sun Tzu, some of the most prominent war thinkers in history, have been pertinent to modern war. Even as some people claim that the thinking of such theorists is enduring, others argue that there have been drastic changes in the character of war in current history such that their theories remain outdated. This paper gives a point of view regarding the theorist, Clausewitz, whose theory I consider to be most relevant in clarifying the ways of conflicts since 1945. The essay involves a breakdown of the works of Clausewitz in comparison to other theorists. Even though Sun Tzu, Mao, Douhet, and Jomini could be some of the most relevant theorists in explaining the conduct of the war in the contemporary world, it is my opinion that Clausewitz is the best thinker/theorist to underscore the conduct of war since 1945.  

Clausewitz had much of his focus on the psychological connotations or changing aspects of war. Compared to other theorists, Clausewitz seemed to be a much more abstract thinker. For example, he delegated particular tactical approaches and techniques with an understanding based on the relationship of the forces that generals had to contend with not only internally but also externally. Clausewitz was much more cerebral and opaque in comparison to Jomini. He is not more challenging to follow; however, readers such as myself will surely have to put more effort intellectually to apply his principles as opposed to the case of his counterparts. For the reason that Clausewitz works, ‘On War,’ pay more attention to the common fundamentals of human psychology and at the same time have fewer operations.

Jomini, unlike Clausewitz, focused much further on the mechanics and art of tactics of the battle. Jomini was perspective about his offer of a systematic strategy, for instance, by his use of geometric terminology to develop a strategic method or approach to any specified conflict.  Even as he maintained that military strategy is not an exact science but an art, Jomini employed several mathematical and scientific principles to demonstrate his points.  For a time, as mentioned by Liddell & Liddell, it is imperative that Jomini’s work be imparted to students at West Point for lessons learned from the past. The approach of Jomini certainly is easily understandable for people who look for a playbook to follow and learn. Outstanding his dogmatic approach, there is an apparent limitation to his applicability beyond the perspective and setting of the nineteenth-century warfare. Liddell & Liddell conclusively ascertain that the primary difference between Jomini and Clausewitz is that the works of Jomini concentrate on military management and its operational aspects even as the works of Clausewitz pay more attention to psychological, abstract elements of the management of the military.

Clausewitz was what many considered the first real Western Strategist, whereas Jomini’s focus was more on the elements of combat. In line with Liddell & Liddell, Jomini was more direct; but not for very long as his technology-based approach became obsolete. Clausewitz certainly had a much more lasting influence, and people readily identified with him from the various case studies on the Civil War. Clausewitz’s dialect was easily misunderstood and misapplied due to his principles, thus causing tragic results. His perception of the constancy of the nation-state blinded him; therefore, he fomented a lasting weakness in the Western philosophy of war that persists to this day.

On the contrary, Mao studied Clausewitz for both his flaws and wisdom and taught his lessons to his military. He understood the more poetic and even fragile approach of Sun Tzu, the ancient writer of ‘The Art of War’ or ‘The Art of Strategy,’ which provided a more forward-thinking, less inhibited assessment of conflict. While largely out of favor, Clausewitz remains one of a line of standard strategists and tacticians studied in military academies.

Liddell & Liddell shed some light on Giulio Douhet. According to the writer, the Italian was the leading pioneer theorist on warfare pertaining to air power. The role he played was distinctive and two-fold. Winning a war in the industrial age according to Douhet called for people to have control of the air, total command, not superiority. Then again, Douhet suggested that for people to get this at a period of global tension, a nation-state has to avert and head off through a maximum attack from the air against military and civilian targets.

Even though common with ‘blue-suiters’ all over the world, ‘command of the air’ unavoidably provoked other armed forces branches, which had perceived air power as nothing more than auxiliary. Having the First World War in mind, it is convincing that massive preemptive action has irritated the people who believed that winning a war could perhaps be easy with minimal causalities; however, who conducted long campaigns in the end where misery was the greater part and not intensive but extensive.

In comparison to Clausewitz, who is considerably the most purist and innovative thinker, from the onset Douhet suffered misinterpretation, abuse, and ostracism. However, the ‘command of the air,’ which was Douhet’s first precept, demonstrated some elements of truth, whereas ‘preemption,’ which was his second precept, has never faced any trial on any major scale, except for Iraq. The United States Air Force during the Cold War never had the permission to do so. The key misunderstanding, nevertheless, originates from taking a discerning reading of Douhet’s work with the aim of justifying or condemning the Second World War’s allied bombing of Germany, which transpired over four years.

Or rather, the more than two year North Vietnam bombing that Douhet would never have approved. In keeping with Liddell & Liddell, this partly crops from the fact that Douhet’s work has been accessible in English, though not completely so. The clarification as well lies to a different place: in the present and past politics of airpower.

Sun Tzu, Mao, Douhet, and Jomini could be some of the most relevant theorists in explaining the conduct of the war in the modern world; however, Clausewitz is just the best thinker to underscore the conduct of war since 1945. The essay provides a point of view on Clausewitz with other logicians whose theories are considered the most relevant in clarifying the ways of conflicts since 1945. In doing so, the essay involved a breakdown of the works of Clausewitz, Jomini, and Douhet and provided a comparison of the theorists. Moreover, it highlighted, though thinly, the works of logicians such as Mao and Sun Tzu to show more clearly the reason why I considered Clausewitz as the best in this case.

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