Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eighth Book Tackled

Good evening! 10 MORE DAYS. Today I met up with Jessica at Barnes & Noble. Knowing of Matt's absence and of Yohanna's recent return from New York, we decided to meet up on our own. We briefly discussed the intricacy of the book we'd just finished (On War, which is summarized below) and then went over the security of our laptops. We had some issues at first--yes, I'm a complete amateur when it comes to these things--but worked through them. After our meeting, we're sure our laptops will not be stolen!

Late last night, I finished reading On War by Carl von Clausewitz. This book has clearly been the most difficult read thus far. Clausewitz's language, in my opinion, is very complex--much like most philosophy is--so I often found myself re-reading sentences while chewing my poor fingernails in absolute concentration.

On War's purpose is self-explanatory: to write on war. Everything about war is explained, from its nature, to its strategy, its plan. While war is, by definition, "an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will," its nature lies within "instinctive hostility and hostile intention." This hostility is the foundation of war's strategy, "the employment of the battle as the means towards the attainment of the object of the War." Stratagem is characterized primarily by intention because "it is dangerous to detach large forces for any length of time merely for a trick." For this reason, purpose and intention are much better utilized than chicanery. The final paragraph of the book concisely mounts and unites all ideas into one: "War is an instrument of policy;... the conduct of War... is therefore policy itself, which takes up the sword in place of the pen, but does not on that account cease to think according to its own laws.

I could not find any especially striking similarities between On War and the other seven books I've read except for its concept of stratagem. Sparta, Athens, and their allies, as once mentioned, frequently betrayed each other. It was because of this that the war lingered on not for a few years, but decades. Genghis Khan, on the other hand, had both intention and tricks up his sleeve; he had the intention of creating a universally Mongol Empire, and he had the military tricks of secrecy, rapidity, and surprise. For this reason I do not think Clausewitz's view applies to Genghis Khan's stratagem.

While I found it very helpful to have Jessica to help me decode some of Clausewitz's elaborate concepts and writing, there are still some parts that I do not understand--mainly because of his language. I hope to go more in depth with this particular book in order to thoroughly grasp its concepts.

Tomorrow I begin The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. My mother has brought out the suitcase, reminding me of how near the adventure is. I can't wait.

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie,

    I haven’t even gotten past your first sentence about On War and you’ve convinced me to take it off of my ‘must read’ list. I tend to overthink things as I read them so if the language he uses is as complex as you said—and I trust your observations here—I think I’ll stick to the See Spot Run books.

    I’m not sure I completely agree with Clausewitz’s summary about war. Sometimes we have stupid people, deranged people or power crazy people who push for war without a legitimate rationale. Think Kim Il Jung, George W., Dick Cheney, or any number of African dictators.

    It pleases me to see the way you’re making critical observations and comparisons between the authors of the books you’re reading. With a person your age, it’s all too easy to buy into what you’re being taught hook, line and sinker without giving any real thought to the legitimacy of what’s being thrust your way. Not only are you allowed to question what someone’s telling you but I encourage you to do so at every turn (Excluding me, of course. Whatever I tell you is a gospel fact and should never be questioned. ☺ ). Be respectful and you don’t have to be confrontational but at the same time you don’t have to accept what you’re being told as an absolute. Check it out until you’ve heard and read enough to embrace what you’re being told.

    You’re going to do just fine, Stephanie, just fine.