Alan D. Beyerchen essay on Clausewitz, Nonlinearity and the Unpredictability of War, is one of the best analyses of Clausewitz I’ve seen. Friction, the Trinity, and the open political system of war create the non-linear dynamics.

Many of his subsequent critics never understood this, and force linear interpretations on Clausewitz’ theory. Clausewitz’s rejection of geometric and linear mathematical models of war are often ignored.

For example, the severe misinterpretation of the interaction between politics and war:

Another implication of the nonlinear interpretation of Clausewitz is the need for a deepening of our understanding of his dictum on the relationship of war to politics. That “war is merely the continuation of policy by other means” is often taken to mean the primacy of a temporal continuum: first politics sets the goals, then war occurs, and then politics reigns again when the fighting stops. But such a view categorizes politics as extrinsic to war, and is an artifact of a linear sequential model. Politics is about power, and the feedback loops from violence to power and from power to violence are an intrinsic feature of war. It is not simply that political considerations weigh upon military commanders. War is inherently a subset of politics, and every military act has political consequences, whether or not these are intended or immediately obvious. In the grip of battle, it is hard to remember that every building destroyed, every prisoner taken, every combatant killed, every civilian assaulted, every road used, every unintentional violation of the customs of an ally ultimately has political import. It is crucial to understand that Clausewitz, who was for many years on the losing side before the tide turned against Napoleon, embeds the long-term view and the full range of a system’s behavior into the structure of On War. Such considerations often make soldiers impatient with his presentation, but the variables in war cannot be isolated from the parameters constituting the political context. And that environment itself evolves dynamically in response to the course of the war, with the changed context feeding back into the conduct of hostilities.

Advertisements