That Hilarious Prussian

First of all, thank you all for reading. The response to this project has been far, far, far beyond anything I imagined, and I am really excited (and trying not to be intimidated) that so many people – including some who are much more knowledgeable strategy scholars than I am – are so enthusiastic about it.

For the next few posts, I will be trying things out – media, artistic styles, structural approaches, etc – and I thought it might be fun to start these experiments with some of Carl’s funnier moments.

Yes, yes, I know On War wasn’t written to be humorous and Clausewitz is very serious business, but I found him surprisingly funny. Not that he wasn’t serious about what he was saying; it’s more in the attitude. Mainly, I was frequently amused by (not to mention in sympathy with) his impatience with lazy thinking, incompetent command, and bad strategy. Also, by his general imperiousness: he was nothing if not sure of his own rightness, and was not always subtle in implying that anyone who disagreed with him was a fool. What I plan to do in the next couple of weeks is try out different approaches to the illustration of this book, using some individual lines from Clausewitz, starting with some of those that I found most amusing, and hopefully get some reactions and input on the styles I use.

These are some of my favorites (quotes are all taken from the 2004 Barnes & Noble edition, with translation by Colonel J. J. Graham):

“That this, however, has not always been the view taken is evident from the former custom of keeping Strategy in the cabinet, and not with the Army, a thing only allowable if the cabinet is so near to the Army that it can be taken for the chief headquarters of the Army.” (I do enjoy that ‘Strategy’ and ‘Army’ are capitalized here, but ‘cabinet’ is not. The priorities are clear).

“A General who allows himself to be beaten in an extended mountain position deserves to be brought before a court martial.”

“A battle in the open field does not suppose a perfectly equal set of circumstances beforehand, like a duel; and the defender who does not know how to gain for himself any advantages, either through the special nature of the defense, through rapid marches, or by knowledge of the country and freedom of movement, is one whom nothing can save, and least of all will a river or its valley be able to help him.”

“Keep it simple, stupid.” (OK, he doesn’t really say that in those words, but it is strongly implied throughout the book).

“…as elegance easily merges into folly, and as it is not so easily excused in War as in society, therefore we have had as yet few instances of this elegant art.”

“What here seems so prolix in the explanation is often decided in the concrete case at first sight; but still, the tact of a practiced judgment is required for that, and a person must have thought over everyone of the cases now developed in order to see in its true light the absurdity of those critical writers who think they have settled something by the mere words ‘turning’ and ‘acting on a flank,’ without giving their reasons.” (Total Joshua Foust moment: Where is your evidence?…I think I might spend too much time on Twitter).

“A small jump is easier than a large one, but no one on that account, wishing to cross a wide ditch, would jump half of it first.” (Just after this quote in the little moleskine in which I was taking notes I wrote: ‘CVC strongly suspects that most people are idiots).’

“We think that these views will only appear paradoxical to those who have not studied military history long enough or with sufficient attention, who do not distinguish the important from the unimportant, nor make proper allowance for the influence of human weaknesses in general.”

“…beat him in detail…” (OK,  I just really like the turn of phrase on that one).

But see? Funny stuff!…Or maybe I just have a strange sense of humor. In any case, while I certainly take Clausewitz and his ideas and his place in history quite seriously, I also see no problem with admiring and taking amusement from his attitudes, especially his delightful total lack of sympathy for the incompetent.

So, next week, I hope to put up the first art experiments. I might also have some title page materials then. I told Ant – my dear friend, partner-in-crime on the Ragnarok comic book and a very talented artist with a lot of experience in lettering – that I would probably be hitting him up if I needed any lettering done, and he just beat me to the punch and started working on title page ideas. I’ll see about having some of that to put up next week, too.

For now, Carl and I are going to D.C. for a couple of days, where I hope to get the chance to pick the brains of some of the smart and strategically inclined people who know him better than I do.

4 thoughts on “That Hilarious Prussian

  1. “A small jump is easier than a large one, but no one on that account, wishing to cross a wide ditch, would jump half of it first.” (Just after this quote in the little moleskine in which I was taking notes I wrote: ‘CVC strongly suspects that most people are idiots).’

    You probably already know this, but this passage is merely drawing a visual parallel between and analogous military action. It isn’t that he thinks people are stupid, he isn’t so general, and he certainly is not a philosopher. Rather, he is saying that to X is equivalent to Y.

    • I know what he meant with the line. My note was not actually specific to that section; that is just where it was in my notebook.

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