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    Clausewitz On Science
    By Patrick Lockerby | June 17th 2010 02:11 AM | 16 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Clausewitz On Science


    Clausewitz On War - yes.  But Clausewitz On Science?

    Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz is famous for his book Vom Kriege - On War.  In that book he is very specific in stating that there is no 'science of war'.

    In order for someone to state quite categorically that an area of study is not a science they must first know enough about science to be able to determine the matter scientifically.

    On War is not a science book.  But I invite my readers to agree with me that Clausewitz was a scientist.  His methods are clearly those of the forensic scientist: from the factual evidence, determine the probable causal chain.  Elementary, my dear Watson.


    Clausewitz shows how to approach historical truths using the scientific method:

    From the simple narration of an historical occurrence which places events in chronological order, or at most only touches on their more immediate causes, we separate the CRITICAL.

    In this CRITICAL three different operations of the mind may be observed.

    First, the historical investigation and determining of doubtful facts. This is properly historical research, and has nothing in common with theory.

    Secondly, the tracing of effects to causes. This is the REAL CRITICAL INQUIRY; it is indispensable to theory, for everything which in theory is to be established, supported, or even merely explained, by experience can only be settled in this way.

    Thirdly, the testing of the means employed. This is criticism, properly speaking, in which praise and censure is contained. This is where theory helps history, or rather, the teaching to be derived from it.

    In these two last strictly critical parts of historical study, all depends on tracing things to their primary elements, that is to say, up to undoubted truths, and not, as is so often done, resting half-way, that is, on some arbitrary assumption or supposition.

    Clausewitz shows how to approach truth across a minefield of misinformation

    Great part of the information obtained in War is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is of a doubtful character. What is required of an officer is a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give. The law of probability must be his guide.

    This is not a trifling difficulty ... but it is enormously increased when in the thick of War itself one report follows hard upon the heels of another; it is then fortunate if these reports in contradicting each other show a certain balance of probability, and thus themselves call forth a scrutiny.

    It is much worse for the inexperienced when ... one report supports another, confirms it, magnifies it, finishes off the picture with fresh touches of colour, until necessity in urgent haste forces from us a resolution which will soon be discovered to be folly, all those reports having been lies, exaggerations, errors, &c. &c.

    In a few words, most reports are false, and the timidity of men acts as a multiplier of lies and untruths.

    ...

    This difficulty of seeing things correctly, which is one of the greatest sources of friction in War, makes things appear quite different from what was expected. The impression of the senses is stronger than the force of the ideas resulting from methodical reflection, and this goes so far that no important undertaking was ever yet carried out without the Commander having to subdue new doubts in himself at the time of commencing the execution of his work.

    Ordinary men who follow the suggestions of others become, therefore, generally undecided on the spot; they think that they have found circumstances different from what they had expected, and this view gains strength by their again yielding to the suggestions of others.

    But even the man who has made his own plans, when he comes to see things with his own eyes will often think he has done wrong. Firm reliance on self must make him proof against the seeming pressure of the moment; his first conviction will in the end prove true, when the foreground scenery which fate has pushed on to the stage of War, with its accompaniments of terrific objects, is drawn aside and the horizon extended.
    For 'war' read 'scientific debate'.   For 'commander' read 'scientist'.  That reads like an early treatise on disinformation theory.

    Long before Darwin's Bulldog used The Method of Zadig, long before the original Sherlock Holmes used The Method, Clausewitz was defining the method of using analysis of evidence to determine causality.


    Clausewitz on obstructive resistance

    Clausewitz has been blamed by some for encouraging the military mindset that led to two world wars.  I disagree.  Clausewitz consistently demonstrates that defence has advantages over offence.  Here is an example, not from On War, but from history. 



    At the Battle of Hastings the Normans were getting a pasting from the defenders until some of King Harold's men broke ranks to pursue a seemingly retreating enemy.  They wanted more results, and faster, but handed 'more and faster' to the Normans as a gift.

    I use the term 'more and faster' to describe a whole class of human demands, and the economic model that creates and meets such demands.  In any dispute between groups, the cheapest solution is obstructive resistance.  But in a 'more and faster' world, a powerful first strike may seem like a good idea.  Which - as history continually shows - it isn't.

    Passive resistance implies the mere doing of nothing.  That never stopped tyranny.  Obstructive resistance, however, can bring even the greatest empire to its knees.
    The immediate object here is neither the conquest of the enemy's territory nor the defeat of his armed force, but merely to DO HIM DAMAGE IN A GENERAL WAY.
    ...

    The third [way], by far the most important, from the great number of cases which it embraces, is the WEARING OUT of the enemy. We choose this expression not only to explain our meaning in few words, but because it represents the thing exactly, and is not so figurative as may at first appear. The idea of wearing out in a struggle amounts in practice to A GRADUAL EXHAUSTION OF THE PHYSICAL POWERS AND OF THE WILL BY THE LONG CONTINUANCE OF EXERTION.

    Now, if we want to overcome the enemy by the duration of the contest, we must content ourselves with as small objects as possible, for it is in the nature of the thing that a great end requires a greater expenditure of force than a small one; but the smallest object that we can propose to ourselves is simple passive resistance, that is a combat without any positive view. In this way, therefore, our means attain their greatest relative value, and therefore the result is best secured. How far now can this negative mode of proceeding be carried? Plainly not to absolute passivity, for mere endurance would not be fighting; and the defensive is an activity by which so much of the enemy's power must be destroyed that he must give up his object. That alone is what we aim at in each single act, and therein consists the negative nature of our object.

    No doubt this negative object in its single act is not so effective as the positive object in the same direction would be, supposing it successful; but there is this difference in its favour, that it succeeds more easily than the positive, and therefore it holds out greater certainty of success; what is wanting in the efficacy of its single act must be gained through time, that is, through the duration of the contest, and therefore this negative intention, which constitutes the principle of the pure defensive, is also the natural means of overcoming the enemy by the duration of the combat, that is of wearing him out.

    Here lies the origin of that difference of OFFENSIVE and DEFENSIVE, the influence of which prevails throughout the whole province of War. We cannot at present pursue this subject further than to observe that from this negative intention are to be deduced all the advantages and all the stronger forms of combat which are on the side of the Defensive, and in which that philosophical-dynamic law which exists between the greatness and the certainty of success is realised. We shall resume the consideration of all this hereafter.

    If then the negative purpose, that is the concentration of all the means into a state of pure resistance, affords a superiority in the contest, and if this advantage is sufficient to BALANCE whatever superiority in numbers the adversary may have, then the mere DURATION of the contest will suffice gradually to bring the loss of force on the part of the adversary to a point at which the political object can no longer be an equivalent, a point at which, therefore, he must give up the contest. We see then that this class of means, the wearing out of the enemy, includes the great number of cases in which the weaker resists the stronger.
    As Clausewitz might have said, but didn't, on the topic of 'all standing together with our backs against the wall': Nothing unites people more in a common cause than the perception of being oppressed.

    Except, perhaps, music.

    .

    Discussion:

    Was Clausewitz the first person to write on intelligence analysis?

    Did Clausewitz write about and use abductive reasoning long before Charles Sanders Peirce formalised the concept?

    Did Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela ever read Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz?

    Where else but at http://www.science20.com/ do you get to see those three names together in a single sentence?
    .

    Comments

    rholley
    Che gelido cervellino – I’m sure that’s great stuff, Patrick, but my brain is too much of a jelly to make much sense of it, except to say that the Art of War by Sun Zi came out over 2000 years ago, and in the late 20th century was used by the Japanese as a business manual.

    Regarding that bit of music, though:
    Un ydym ni / Un ydym ni
    Un ein doluriau / Un ein cadwynau
    Un yn ein gwaith sy'n cynhesu calonau ....

     . . . . . Cyfieithiad / Translation

    We are one / We are one
    One in our pains / One in our chains
    One in the work that warms our hearts ....

    (link)
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I remember something from the Art of War by Sun Tzu about dealing with overwhelming opposing military force. As I recall, Sun Tsu would employ a kind of hit and run strategy when dealing with an overwhelming opposing military force, thus exhausting the resources of the enemy while at the same time keeping the enemy guessing as to what your next move is going to be and thus keeping your enemy off-balance at all times. The key part of this strategy was unpredictability. This way your enemy could not anticipate nor prepare for the next attack--another instantiation of gorilla warfare tactics. ;-)
    logicman
    Thanks for the great compliment, Robert.

    Message from the 'help me my brain1 is worn out from all that logic and I can't think straight today department': Is Che gelido cervellino idiomatic?  A brand of ice cream? What a cool little bicycle? 



    [1] - Che consumato cervellino!

    Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting.
    The Art of War - Sun Zi
    Sun Zi had some great insights, but Clausewitz demonstrated that war is neither art nor science, but the scientific study of it is a blend of both.
    rholley
    La fonte:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poyZ1OP1Dx0&feature=related
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    logicman
    My tiny brain is frozen.

    Must be all that snow and ice that I keep writing about.

    :-)
    Clausewitz is right about there being no 'science of war'. But you are correct in stating that the methodical study of historical events of war involves the scientific method and entails many scientific,  literary and linguistic disciplines.

    For example, the historical play by William Shakespeare of Henry V and the account of the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years' War comes to mind.

    It has been said that Henry V put an end to the era of chivalry. And what is meant by this, is that being greatly outnumbered, Henry V was able to prevail only by ignoring the conventions of warfare of the time and resort to what amounts to gorilla warfare.



    Mahatma Ghandi did not like the term 'passive resistance'. But as you said, obstructive resistance (i.e. the non-compliance with evil and acts of civil disobedience) can bring empires down. There is a Caveat in this though.

    Ghandi and his followers were dealing with a power, namely Great Britain, that had a certain standard of morality and were part of a much larger global community that was judging their every action in India at the time.

    If Ghandi and his followers had tried the same approach in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, they would have simply have been massacred. So, knowing the context in which these events occurred is essential to understanding why they worked at the time. 

    Wonderful article, Patrick! ;-)
    logicman
    Eric: thanks for the supportive comments.

    Shakespeare certainly knew a thing or two about researching his facts.  And about the power of propaganda.  He was also rather good at English, or so I have been told. ;-)

    It is widely believed - but false - that the French would cut off some of the fingers of a captured archer.  It is much more likely that a French soldier would have killed an English archer outright.  It is not widely known that English archers carried daggers rather like stilletos for finishing off helpless wounded French Knights. 
    FLUELLEN. Kill the poys and the luggage! 'Tis expressly against
    the law of arms; 'tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you now,
    as can be offert; in your conscience, now, is it not?

    GOWER. 'Tis certain there's not a boy left alive; and the
    cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha' done this slaughter;
    besides, they have burned and carried away all that was in the
    King's tent; wherefore the King most worthily hath caus'd
    every soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O, 'tis a gallant King!
    At Agincourt, war wasn't chivalrous.  It was nasty and brutish.

    If Ghandi and his followers had tried the same approach in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, they would have simply have been massacred. So, knowing the context in which these events occurred is essential to understanding why they worked at the time.

    I agree entirely.  Context in historical comparisons is the 'all other factors being held constant' of science.
    Hank
    It is widely believed - but false - that the French would cut off some of the fingers of a captured archer. 
    Is it false?   I thought the maimed English archers, forced to use the remaining middle finger to draw their mighty longbows, saw the French and yelled "we can still pluck yew" but that became too cumbersome so they just started waving that finger and yelling "pluck yew" and ... 

    ...well, you know the rest.
    logicman
    Is it false?

    It is true that it is false - not that truth ever stopped an urban myth spreading.

    http://www.snopes.com/language/apocryph/pluckyew.asp
    You're quite welcome, my friend. And you're right. The battle at Agincourt was anything but chivalrous, to put it mildly. It was as down and dirty as warfare can get! ;-)
    Hank
    Literally.  It ended chivalry because it ended the value of knights but it was as muddy as it gets - a freshly plowed field in the rain with thousands of troops on it meant even the slightly numbered English were more mobile than the plate-armored French.  But though we know little else about the battle Shakespeare was king enough to invent some fantastic quotes.

    "Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils."
    Was Clausewitz the first person to write on intelligence analysis?

    Did Clausewitz write about and use abductive reasoning long before Charles Sanders Peirce formalised the concept?

    Did Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela ever read Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz?

    Where else but at http://www.scientificblogging.com/ do you get to see those three names together in a single sentence?
    Where else but ScientificBlogging would a writer think 3 sentences are a single one?   Because somewhere out there, a helpful science blogger is coming to the rescue and working out a way that, for higher orders of 1, Patrick is correct.
    Where else but at http://www.scientificblogging.com/ do you get to see those three names together in a single sentence?

    Quite true, Hank! To me that is the beauty and the great strength of ScientificBlogging! ;-)
    logicman
    Did Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela ever read Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz?


    Where else but at http://www.scientificblogging.com/ do you get to see those three names together in a single sentence?


    (Mahatma Ghandi) + (Nelson Mandela) + (Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz) = 3 names.

    They were used together in a single sentence only because I couldn't think of a way to link in Mother Teresa.

    If anyone has a problem with that, I am ready with my semiotic veesignatorial1 digital response:-


    Of course, there is enough ambiguity in any sentence to keep anonymous pedants busy on the web all day.

    I'm thinking of changing my name to Nobody because it is so widely known that Nobody's perfect.



    [1] - Often confused with a semiotic verisignatorial digital response: someone who is 'giving the thumbs up', but not wanting a free ride, which is something to do with economics.
    Thanks for the new toy, Patrick! With my temper, this should come in handy! ;-)
    logicman
    I've more such toys than you can poke a stick at, Eric.

    LOL Patrick! And you can count on me to seize the opportunity to add them to my collection as you use them! lol ;-)