Sun Tzu And Carl Von Clausewitz Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz both theorized on the strategies, influences, and effects of war. Sun Tzu sees it with an idealistic outlook, believing that war has requirements and predictable outcomes. Clausewitz, on the other hand, thinks that war is more enigmatic and susceptible to chance and happenstance. Both realize that war is a political action of the state with a political purpose. Clausewitz states that “war is an extension of politics by other means.” As in politics, the outcome is not always certain; there is a sort of enshrouding “fog” that always conceals the exact characteristics of a situation. This element of uncertainty is key in Clausewitz’s philosophy; he believes strongly that war is in large part determined by chance and possibility, that the individual nature of war makes it inherently unpredictable.
Clausewitz feels that war is at its most basic level, an individual activity. The commander is obviously the lead individual in an army, and it is often a question of his moral, physical, and psychological capacities as to whether an army can be victorious. These qualities must also trickle down through the ranks to the corpsman, for they are the ones who fight. These military virtues of an army are all-important, whether a nation wins or loses if often determined by the spirit of the army. If morale is low, a force cannot win.
A defeat causes a loss of self-confidence, and this in turn leads to fear, a horribly destructive element for an army to have. Thus it is the morale of the troops that greatly affects their performance. The commander’s skill is also of paramount significance. A general cannot be weak, he must be strong for to lead the troops into battle; he must present an air of confidence that inspires the army. The general, as well as the troops, must be experienced. The commander must be intelligent and knowledgeable of the terrain, weather, the enemy, every aspect of the engagement.
A commander’s most dangerous weakness is cowardice, for this gives way to rashness, foolishness, and vanity. Thus Clausewtitz believes that war is greatly dependent on the individual. While Clausewitz stresses the individual, the most important element of war is chance. There are always uncertainties in war which cannot be accounted for and must be handled. If a commander or army lacks some of the military virtues, it must make up for them in other ways: simplicity or size. When an army cannot fulfill all of these virtues, it must rely somewhat on chance to swing in its favor.
Clausewitz says that there is a fog in war which covers the predictable situation and conceals some influencing elements. If a commander is to win a war, this fog must lift, so that he can view the situation with perfect clarity, or he must be able to adapt to an unexpected situation that may arise. The interaction between all of the individuals in a force is a breeding ground for chance. Disease may suddenly spread throughout the army, or a fight may break out between two people or two factions within the army. Or something may occur which serves to lifts the troops’ spirits and helps them win an important battle, thereby turning the war. Chance is also revealed in the structure of alliances. As Clausewitz believes that war is a means to a political end, he knows that an alliance is really an agreement between nations for the protection of self-interests.
A country will pledge no more than the bare minimum of troops or supplies when its own interests are not at stake. Only when two nations share a common interest, will an alliance succeed to its fullest potential. Chance is an extremely important element of war. Clausewitz believes that not all events can be anticipated and that there is a general disorder in war which must be expected. When the fighting becomes most severe, communication lines will be severed, between an army and a nation, or between a general and his troops. In such situations, only the intellect and experience of the individual will aid victory. Clausewitz states that there are certain elements that a commander must understand if he is to be successful.
A battle depends on four characteristics of war: first, the tactical planning according to which battle must be fought. This is something that must be done ahead of time, and then must be adapted to fit a changing situation of battle. Second, terrain must guide a commander as to the nature of an attack or withdrawal. Terrain dictates what kind of force must be used, whether it be a siege or a surprise attack, two thousand men on horses or fifty thousand foot soldiers. The composition of forces on both sides must be taken into account at all times. Armament, manpower, transportation, and morale must all be considered for planning an attack.
When all of these aspects have been considered, an attack may be made that is the most promising attempt at victory. Complete destruction of the enemy’s forces is the principle goal of war. Clausewitz believes in total war: a victory must be absolute; the enemy must be completely beaten to the point that retaliation is not possible. When a country cannot win the war, it should at least try to do as much damage as possible against its enemy. Because of this “fight to the death” mentality, Clausewitz warns to never trap a losing army.
The enemy should always be given a way out, a means of escape, for men on the losing side would rather retreat then be slaughtered. War is an experience that requires infinite patience, effort, and trouble. While Clausewitz says that war itself requires hearty reserves of strength and perseverance, he claims that often times a war is decided in a single battle. When large forces meet in a great battle, the victor will usually win the war. A major battle that involves the …