The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz

A couple of months back, Jason Fritz said this on Twitter:

To which Adam Elkus replied:

This led to a brief conversation among me, Jason, and Adam about the dearth of good strategic training tools for the playground set (however strong their tactical skills might be, and it sounds like the younger Mr. Fritz’s are pretty solid), and concluded with an agreement that a children’s book version of Clausewitz would be awesome.

It happened that I had just started reading On War when we had this conversation. This was the first time I had read Clausewitz through, front to back. I work three jobs, and don’t have nearly enough time to read, so I get most of my reading done on the train as I travel to and from and between works, meaning that I was carrying a 900+ page book in my bag for about two months, as I read closely, pausing frequently to re-read segments or to take notes. The weight of it on my shoulder made it more of a presence than the average book, and I began referring to it simply as Carl, as if it were a sentient being accompanying me on my commutes. (I was also inspired to get an e-reader). I like to think that Carl and I got pretty tight during this experience, and I hope that we will continue to get closer as we work together on this project (albeit through the much lighter-weight electronic version I purchased once I got that e-reader), but really Adam and Jason (as well as many, if not most, of the people with whom I interact on Twitter and whose blogs and such I read on a regular basis) are much more experienced scholars of Clausewitz and of strategy than I am.

What I bring to the table here is a lifelong commitment to being one of those people who actually does those silly things you talk about doing but never do. Like in college, my friend Ant and I had this conversation about how Existentialist Philosophy and Norse Mythology are basically the same thing and thought: wouldn’t it be cool if we made a comic book about the old gods where the modern world was the ongoing embodiment of Ragnarok and we wrote it and we got our friends to play the gods and set up scenes and shot photos and scanned the negatives into the computer and created our own font and made layouts in Photoshop and altered them and then etched them onto zinc plates and then printed them by hand onto rag paper? Like, the most complicated comic book ever? How awesome would that be? And then we actually did that.

I also bring to this project degrees in History, Studio Art, and International Relations. I mention this not because any of those degrees is particularly useful here or represents any concrete qualification to execute this project, but just to illustrate 1) that I like making stuff and also 2) that I am nerdy enough to want to make stuff that is about a dead Prussian.

To share this process (read: in a cry for help), I have decided to blog my progress on the Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz. I will post text choices and sketches and layouts and eventually, hopefully, final products. I may also from time to time share some related thoughts. It is my hope that you, the audience of whoever out there decides to read this thing, will give me input on this project, participate in it to whatever degree you each might choose, whether through the comments, on Twitter, or via email. This can be on important issues such as what text or ideas should be included in the book or whether it’s better to quote or summarize, or on really important issues such as whether the artistic style should be edgy contemporary multimedia collages or Victorian-style pencil and watercolor drawings of woodland creatures or my usual bright color-blocked marker drawings of over-emotive monsters.

I think (read: hope) that some of you who are reading this are wiser, more experienced Clausewitz and/or Strategy and/or Children’s Literature and/or Twitter Art Projects wonks than I am. I would be honored and delighted to have the opportunity to publish guest posts from you on why you love Carl, or why you hate him, or why he’s important, or what strategy is, or why children need it, or why adults need it presented to them as if they were children, or why a certain idea absolutely must be included in any précis of Clausewitz, or why a particular quote is actually irrelevant, or why only anthropomorphic badgers can properly represent Clausewitz’s ideas to young children, or why over-emotive monsters are all wrong for the job.

So thank you in advance for your interest and/or your assistance and/or your pity. Carl and I are going to get to work on some preliminary thoughts and sketches.

31 thoughts on “The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz | The Children's Illustrated Clausewitz -- Topsy.com

  2. What a great idea – I look forward to reading about your literary (illustrative?) journey. Being a recent grad of a senior service war college, this will be fun to watch and will help me continue to process what I (think) I learned.

  3. The post is getting picked up by Clausewitz nerds on Facebook (hooray, Doctrine Man!) and it’s a hell of a beautiful idea. Any chance you can shoehorn in a version of the famous Tyler Edlin illustration?

    More seriously, I recommend pulling in guys like Christopher Bassford (who runs Clausewitz.net) and such. He’s got some good rants, too. Drop an email and I’ll send you some contacts if you need it. Mary can, too. She knows everybody. Or they owe her money. I think.

  4. I have been surprised and gratified today to find out just how many Clausewitz nerds are running around out there. I figured I’d post this and get 20 or 30 hits from my Twitter friends, and that would be it. Hundreds and hundreds of page hits later, most from FB links I didn’t post myself, I am very appreciative for all of the support, and even more excited to make progress on the actual book. Thanks, all!

  5. Caidid:

    You’ve sold me. A friend referred me to this site, and I do not use twitter, so I apologize for not knowing you. However, I think this an excellent project, and honestly, I already want to buy the book to give to my young son and read to him every night.

    I have worked as an intelligence analyst in the private sector and I have a degree in Strategy. (Technically, Master of Statecraft and National Security Affairs with a Specialization in Intelligence, but it amounts to the same thing.) In any case, I would love to contribute as much as I possibly can. Please get in touch if you feel there is anything I can do, and I will monitor the site and comment or write on whatever I can.

    I apologize if I seem presumptuous. I am just really excited.

  6. Well, the basic question is, are you intending to relate it to a child’s life or are you going to use it on some sort of a game board. The genius would be in the former, using vonC as a philosophical base for decisions to be made at the child experience level — related to competition (War is competition by other means.) Thus, applied to school situations, playground happenings and even in the home.

    I am afraid, however, that in the words of Alexander Pope “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. At the same time as it is issued as a children’s book, a “teacher” manual will have to be supplied — otherwise control of the battlefield will be ceded to the children and chaos will result And haven’t we enough chaos on those battlefields now what with this being the age of permissiveness?

    • It seems to me that it would irresponsible to teach children about cutthroat competition before they have learned what fair play is. Rather, Von Clausewitz, I think, provides an opportunity for children to learn about strategic thinking, which is the antithesis of permissiveness. Strategic thinking rejects short-term, tactical success for long-term victory, and so implies a sort of delayed gratification for a greater good. This seems to me a sort of lesson that children are NOT taught today, and could be very helpful for their development.

      Von Clausewitz will teach maturity and self-discipline to achieve goals, as well as a clear, logical mental function that will help them both at school and at home. However, it could go awry, (the last thing we need are little dictators running around playgrounds, I agree with you there), but only if the wrong things are highlighted or the right things miscommunicated.

  7. I’ve already tweeted my tremendous excitement about this project, but let me say it again: this is the most awesome thing in history, and it’s not even close. I’m happy to line up with my Ink Spots brethren and help you out in whatever way possible. Best of luck!

  8. You hot shit, you. I can’t believe you’re taking this on – or rather, I can, and it’s reason #4,080 that I love you. Not that it could ever improve on Strasberry Yel, of course.

    I would love to help with this in any way I can, but as you well know, I am artistically useless and Clausewitz ignorant; would you be willing to accept contributions in the form of baked goods?

  9. Such an awesome idea, I’d definitely pick up a copy if it gets done! If i were involved, I’d develop a sci-fi or fantasy intellectual property and use a conflict between two factions within said universe to illustrate the theories. Its Von Clausewitz: On (Star) Wars, though getting a license for that IP from lucasfilm would prove a tad expensive…

  10. Pingback: That Hilarious Prussian | The Children's Illustrated Clausewitz

  11. Please allow me to play Devil’s Advocate:
    “Teaching children to channel their natural agressions into organised aggression: Goody goody…First, though, you must get the parents involved.”

  12. Pingback: An Idea Whose Time Has Come! | justbarkingmad.com

  13. Sounds like an interesting project, but do you understand what you are attempting? It’s difficult to teach military officers Clausewitz, and you wish to make his concepts understandable for children? Agree that getting people to think “strategically” as early as possible is a plus, but . . .

    Consider for instance, just one concept – Absolute War – which has led to no end of misunderstanding: Three interactions to the extreme in regards to military aim, but not political purpose, which are tempered in reality by the corresponding tendencies to moderation, a very important element of the general theory. This of course being separate from Clausewitz’s art of Napoleonic War (On War essentially has both). And children are going to understand this, and find it interesting? Maybe . . .

  14. I think this is brilliant — I teach at the college level, but with the students I have, it would probably be easier and more successful to teach Clausewitz using a children’s book! I’ll definitely buy it and I might even adopt it.

  15. Pingback: Children’s Books and Military Strategy – Air Force General Counsel Blog

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