Napoleon and Clausewitz
"Marcus J. Ranum" <mjr @
Information Warehouse! Inc, Baltimore, MD
Sun, 3 Dec 1995 23:31:56 -0500 (EST)
<A HREF="http://iwi.com/mjr/mjr-top.html">mjr's web page</A>
Anton J Aylward writes:
>Example: Napoleon was a BRILLIANT general. Von Clausawitz observed humbly,
>and wrote the book which became the FORMAL METHODs for instructing military
>officers. But that doesn't mean that other BRILLIANT generals cannot lead
>troops to victory without an impact analysis, situation ananlysis, umpteen
>simulations, dangling [...]
I have to jump on this one. Because Anton makes an absolutely
fascinatingly apropos digression. And I can't pass up the opportunity
to explain why, since it's very relevant to the discussion. :)
It's a digression, and it's not apropos, but it's the first time
I can legitimately combine a longtime interest in Napoleonic
military history with Internet firewalls. :)
Napoleon went beyond being a brilliant general. [For one
thing, *ahem* don't demote the man, he was Emperor of The French.
Generals worked for him.] Napoleon pushed forward the state of
the art of military science for its era. He refined the doctrine
of combined arms, building significantly on Frederick the Great's
doctrine to make appropriate use of then-modern artillery operating
in conjunction with infantry and cavalry. He also completely very
effectively revamped the integration of his command structure and
communications and intelligence. During the height of the empire,
using internal semaphore systems, messages were passed across much
of france in approximately 15 minutes. If there can be said to be
a "first modern army" Napoleon created it, and in the process of
doing so, he created the modern nation-state.
What's the point? Read on.
Von Clausewitz was a petty staff officer, who saw action
from a distance during the russian campaign. While he saw a few
shots fired in anger, he was a far cry from Napoleon, who led
bayonet charges at Toulon, and fought in major engagements about
once a month for 14 years. Clausewitz saw enough of war to realize
that it is a messy business, and retired to a cushy job at the
german war college, where he wrote his classical work, and spent
the rest of his career engaging in battles of letters not bullets.
Clausewitz never held a rank above divisional general, never
conquered Europe, never crushed Italy, Austria, Prussia, and
Spain under his heel, never commanded the largest army known
to mankind at that time, and never lost it in Russia. :) He
did, however, inspire a generation of Prussian staff officers,
including Moltke and Von Schiefflein.
What's the point?
It's a perfect example of the difference between the
theoretical practitioner, and the real expert who knows how to
get something done. Clausewitz' "formal methods" of warfare
brought on the dogmatic disaster of the WWI trenches, in which
both sides failed to calculate that aggressive power in excess
of the ability to move it safely made mobile warfare impossible.
Napoleon would not have made such an error. Clausewitzian
military philosophy has, perhaps, had the same kind of stultifying
effect on military thought as the orange book has had on
computer security. :)
Obviously, I find the example of Napoleon to be rather
a bit more inspiring the the example of a theoretical armchair
general. Napoleon broke tracks. Clausewitz followed behind and
nattered like Siskel and Ebert.
Strive for greatness.