Quotes by Famous Strategic Thinkers

The Principle of Continuity

If any time is lost without good reason, the initiator bears the loss.

Clausewitz, On War

[In theory] ... suspension of action in war is a contradiction in terms. Like two incompatible elements, armies must continuously destroy one another. Like fire and water they never find themselves in a state of equilibrium, but must keep on interacting until one of them has completely disappeared. ... military action ought to run its course steadily like a wound-up clock. ...

Clausewitz, On War

If every action in war is allowed its appropriate duration, we could agree that. ... any additional expenditure of time - any suspension of military action - seems absurd. In this connection, it must be remembered that what we are talking about is not progress made by one side or the other but the progress of military interaction as a whole.

Clausewitz, On War

[This] would never operate on more than one side since its opposite must automatically be working on the other. If action would bring an advantage to one side, the other's interest must be to wait.

Clausewitz, On War

If we assume that both generals are completely cognizant of their own and the opponent's conditions, one of them will be motivated to act, which becomes in turn to the other a reason for waiting. Both cannot simultaneously want to advance, or on the other hand, to wait.

Clausewitz, On War

If this continuity were really to exist in the campaign, its effect would again be to drive everything to extremes [in fact, a fourth case of interaction]. Not only would such ceaseless activity arouse men's feelings and inject them with more passion and elemental strength, but events would follow more closely on each other and be governed by a stricter causal chain. Each individual action would be more important, and consequently more dangerous.

Clausewitz, On War

War ... seldom if ever shows such continuity. [Therefore, the interruption of action in war] ... cannot always be an anomaly. Suspension of action in war must be possible; in other words, it is not a contradiction in terms.

Clausewitz, On War

... Action in war is not continuous but spasmodic. Violent clashes are interrupted by periods of observation. ...

Clausewitz, On War

[The] ... defense is the stronger form of war, the one that makes the enemy's defeat more certain.

Clausewitz, On War

It is easier to hold ground than take it. It follows that the defense is easier than the attack, assuming both sides have equal means. Just what is it that makes preservation and protection so much easier? It is the fact that time which is allowed to pass unused accumulates to the credit of the defender. He reaps what he did not sow. Any omission of attack - whether from bad judgment, fear, or indolence accrues to the defender's benefit.

Clausewitz, On War

There is still another factor that can bring military action to a standstill: imperfect knowledge of the situation. The only situation a commander can fully know is his own; his opponent's he can only know from unreliable intelligence. His evaluation, therefore, may be mistaken and can lead him to suppose that the initiative lies with the enemy when in fact it remains with him.

Clausewitz, On War

[Inaction in turn has a moderating effect on] ... the progress of the war by diluting it, so to speak, in time by delaying danger ... the slower the progress and the more frequent the interruptions of military action, the easier it is to retrieve a mistake, the bolder will be the general's assessments and the more likely he will be to avoid theoretical extremes [i.e., the ideal type of war and the three cases of interaction] and base his plans [in the absence of reliable information] on probability and inference.

Clausewitz, On War

... Absolute, so-called mathematical factors never find a firm basis in military calculations. ... In the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards. ... the art of war deals with living and with moral forces. Consequently, it cannot attain the absolute, or certainty [i.e., the ideal type of war, the absolute war]; it must always leave a margin for uncertainty, in the greatest things as much as in the smallest.

Clausewitz, On War

The greater the tensions that have led to the war, and the greater the consequent war effort, the shorter these periods of inaction. Inversely, the weaker the motive for conflict, the longer the intervals between actions.

Clausewitz, On War

But usually one side is. ... more strongly motivated, which tends to affect its behavior: the offensive element will dominate, and usually maintain its continuity of action.

Clausewitz, On War

... Warfare attained the unlimited degree of energy that we consider to be its elementary law. We see it is possible to reach this degree of energy; and if it is possible, it is necessary.

Clausewitz, On War

The elemental fire of war is now so fierce and war is waged with such enormous energy that even these regular periods of rest have disappeared, and all forces press unremittingly toward the great decision.

Clausewitz, On War

We hope to have made it clear that in our view an offensive war requires above all a quick, irresistible decision. If so, we shall have cut the ground from under the alternative idea that a slow, allegedly systematic occupation is safer and wiser than conquest by continuous advance. ... It is of course easier to reach a nearby object than a more distant one. But if the first does not suit our purpose, a pause, a suspension of activity will not necessarily make the second half of the journey any easier to complete. A short jump is certainly easier than a long one; but no one wanting to get across a wide ditch would begin by jumping half-way.

Clausewitz, On War

All these are admirable aims, and no doubt they can make the offensive war easier; but they cannot make its results more certain. They usually camouflage misgivings on the part of the general or vacillation on the part of the government. ... [All the advantages of waiting for reinforcements, resting, and so on will also work for the enemy.] Our belief then is that any kind of interruption, pause, or suspension of activity is inconsistent with the nature of offensive war. When they are unavoidable, they must be regarded as necessary evils, which make success not more but less certain. Indeed, if we are to keep strictly to the truth, when weakness does compel us to halt, a second run at the objective normally becomes impossible; and ifit does turn out to be possible, it shows that there was no need for a halt at all. When an objective was beyond one's strength in the first place, it will always remain so.

Clausewitz, On War

Once a major victory is achieved there must be no talk of rest, of a breathing space, or reviewing the position or consolidating and so forth, but only of the pursuit, going for the enemy again ifnecessary, seizing his capital, attacking his reserves and anything else that might give his country aid and comfort. ... we demand that the main force should go on advancing rapidly and keep up the pressure.

Clausewitz, On War

Once a pause has become necessary, there can as a rule be no recurrence of the advance. ... Every pause between one success and the next gives the enemy new opportunities. One success has little influence on the next, and often none at all. The influence may well be adverse, for the enemy either recovers and rouses himself to greater resistance or obtains help from somewhere else. But when a single impetus obtains from start to finish, yesterday's victory makes certain of today's, and one fire starts another. For every case of a state reduced to ruin by successive blows which means that time, the defender's patron, has defected to the other side - how many more are there in which time ruined the plans of the attacker!

Clausewitz, On War

[Once victory] has been won, one must ensure that it touches off a series of calamities which, in accordance with the law of falling bodies, will keep gathering momentum.

Clausewitz, On War

The situation is completely different when a defeated army is being pursued. Resistance becomes difficult, indeed sometimes impossible, as a consequence of battle casualties, loss of order and of courage, and anxiety about the retreat. The pursuer who, in the former case had to move with circumspection, almost groping like a blind man, can now advance with the arrogance of the fortunate and the confidence of the demigod. The faster his pace, the greater the speed with which events will run along their predetermined course: this is the primary area where psychological forces will increase and multiply without being rigidly bound to the weights and measures of the material world.

Clausewitz, On War

Keep him under a strain and wear him down. [Li Ch'uan] When the enemy is at ease, tire him. [Tu Mu] ... Exhaust him by causing him continually to run about.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. ... Thus the momentum of one skilled in war is overwhelming, and his attack precisely regulated.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When the enemy is at ease, be able to weary him. ... when at rest to make him move.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[Tu Mu] ... The military law states: Those who when they should advance do not do ... are beheaded.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Now to win battles and take your objectives, but to fail to exploit these achievements is ominous and may be described as a 'wasteful delay '.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy 's unpreparedness. ...

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When the enemy presents an opportunity, speedily take advantage of it. ...

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Chang Liao said: 'Our Lord is campaigning far away, and if we wait for the arrival of reinforcements, the rebels will certainly destroy us. Therefore the instructions say that before the enemy is assembled we should immediately attack in order to blunt his keen edge and to stabilize the morale of our own troops. '

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It follows that when one rolls up the armour and sets out speedily, stopping neither day nor night and marching at double time for a hundred li, the three commanders will be captured.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When the envoy speaks in apologetic terms, he [the enemy] wishes a respite

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When a general wins, he ought with all speed to follow up his victory, imitating in this manner Caesar, not Hannibal, who by standing still after he had defeated the Romans at Cannae, lost thereby the mastery of Rome. The other after victory never rested, but in pursuing his defeated enemies showed greater vigor and dash than in attacking them when they were unshaken. When he loses, a general should try to get some benefit from the loss, especially if some remnant of his army is left. Such opportunity can come from the negligence of an enemy, who after victory often grows careless and gives you a chance to defeat him. . . [conversely, when defeated in battle] you must take measures to keep your enemy from following you easily or must give him a good cause for hesitation. ... [First] some generals when they knew they were losing, have ordered their officers to flee in different directions and by different roads, after giving orders where they were later to regather. They did this in order that the enemy, fearing to divide his army, would allow the safe escape of all or the greater part of the defeated army. ... [Second] . . . many have openly abandoned their most precious things, so that the enemy, delayed by the spoil, would give them more time for flight.

Machiavelli, The Art of War

When a wise prince hopes to obtain something from another, he does not, if the opportunity allows, give the other prince time for consideration, but manages to make him see the necessity for quick decisions. ...

Machiavelli, The Art of War

A pursuit should generally be as boldly and actively executed as possible, especially when it is subsequent to a battle gained; because the demoralized army may be wholly dispersed if vigorously followed up.

Jomini, The Art of War