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War By Other Means: An Examination of Clausewitz and Modern Terrorism

Clausewitz can help us to think about the historical evolution and present character of terrorism. A handful of scholars, notably M.L.R. Smith and Peter Neumann, have applied Clausewitzian ideas to terrorist campaigns. They show how his foundational idea of the “trinity”—composed of popular passion, military strategy, and political objectives—describes a terrorist cell just as readily as a conventional army or guerrilla outfit. As they describe it, terrorism is one option among many in the complex strategic environment of a decidedly weaker force struggling to “maximize its advantage vis-a-vis an opponent.” Here, Eric Fleury argues that terrorism is not merely one example of modern warfare among many that exhibits the continuing relevance of Clausewitz, but rather occupies a more fundamental role within his theory.

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Clausewitz’s Library

Ensconced within CSD's resource bank of Reading Lists we have an entry highlighting Clausewitz’s personal library, as recorded in his wife Marie's will. It may not be inclusive; and of course, he would have had access to the professional library at the Prussian Kriegsakademie. Military publications naturally constitute a significant number among the volumes, including Vauban’s treatises on fortifications and sieges; Johan von Ewald’s book on light infantry tactics; Henry Lloyd’s history of the Seven Years’ War; Montecucili’s memoirs; a study of Maurice de Saxe; Lazare Carnot’s textbook for engineers; George de Chambray’s account of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign in 1812; several of Georg Wilhelm von Valentini’s military works; Phillippe Henri de Grimoard’s treatise on general staff; and the field manual written by his mentor, Gerhard von Scharnhorst.

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Reading “On War” for the First Time

Where to begin? Authors felled forests in pursuit of analyzing On War, the seminal work of Carl von Clausewitz. Renowned strategic thinkers in the ages since its publication expanded on, clarified, or critiqued its insights into the conduct of war. In this light, the vast collections of materials associated with On War hardly seem to call for another addition to their midst. What else is there to say? As it turns out, there is a great deal to discuss with one particular group – first-time readers of the classic.

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