19 Feb 2009

Clausewitz, On War, Book 1, Chapter 1, §9 The Result in War is Never Absolute

Clausewitz, On War

Book I "On the Nature of War"

Chapter I "What is War?"

§9 The Result in War is Never Absolute

Previously Clausewitz explained that we may prefigure abstractly how a war might play out, if we only consider basic principles rather than concrete realities. His thesis is that war will happen in this abstract way only if three conditions are fulfilled. He then proceeds to demonstrate how these conditions cannot be fulfilled. We saw already the first condition: that the war needs to be an isolated act. But we discovered it never is. The second was that the war must only involve a single act, or many simultaneous acts. This as well was demonstrated to be impossible. Now Clausewitz will explore the third condition: a war's outcome is absolute.

Consider firstly that the conquered nation never considers the matter settled. To maintain their pride, they believe that they will meet their opponents in battle again sometime in the future. Victory hovers still on their horizon.

For this reason, nations often retreat. But not always do they do so because they surrender themselves entirely. Often accepting defeat is a strategic move to increase readiness for the next war.

So in warfare, nations know that the end will not be final. This fact might lessen the tensions and vigor of their efforts, or modify them some other way.

Original text from the translation:


Lastly, even the final decision of a whole War is not always to be regarded as absolute. The conquered State often sees in it only a passing evil, which may be repaired in after times by means of political combinations. How much this must modify the degree of tension, and the vigour of the efforts made, is evident in itself.

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War, Vol.1. Transl. J.J. Graham.
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