Quotes by Famous Strategic Thinkers

The Ideal & The Real

Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed...

Clausewitz, On War

Everything is governed by a supreme law, the decision by force of arms...

Clausewitz, On War

The wish to annihilate the enemy's forces, is the first-born son of war.

Clausewitz, On War

To bring a war, or one of its campaigns, to a successful close requires a thorough grasp of national policy. On that level strategy and policy coalesce: the commander-in-chief is simultaneously a statesman.

Clausewitz, On War

Since in war too small an effort can result not just in failure but in positive harm, each side is driven to outdo the other, which sets up an interaction.

Clausewitz, On War

There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one's forces concentrated, ... to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point.

Clausewitz, On War

When we speak of destroying the enemy's forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must also be considered.

Clausewitz, On War

Destruction of the enemy's force is only a means to an end, a secondary matter. If a mere demonstration is enough to cause the enemy to abandon his position, the objective has been achieved...

Clausewitz, On War

Battle... should not be considered as mutual murder - its effect... is rather a killing of the enemy's spirit than of his men.

Clausewitz, On War

But there is another way. It is possible to increase the likelihood of success without defeating the enemy's forces. I refer to operations that have direct political repercussions, that are designed in the first place to disrupt the opposing alliance, or to paralyze it, that gain us new allies, favorably affect the political scene, etc. If such operations are possible it is obvious that they can greatly improve our prospects and that they can form a much shorter route to the goal than the destruction of the opposing armies.

Clausewitz, On War

If we abandon the weak impressions of abstract concepts for reality, we will find that an active, courageous, and resolute adversary will not leave us time for long-range intricate schemes; but that is the very enemy against whom we need these skills most. It seems to us that this is proof enough of the superiority of the simple and direct over the complex.

Clausewitz, On War

The probability of direct confrontation increases with the aggressiveness of the enemy. So, rather than try to outbid the enemy with complicated schemes, one should, on the contrary, try to outdo him in simplicity... Whenever possible... we must... choose the shorter path. We must further simplify it to whatever extent the character and situation of the enemy and any other circumstances make necessary.

Clausewitz, On War

The decision by arms is for all major and minor operations in war what cash payment is in commerce. Regardless how complex the relationship between the two parties, regardless how rarely settlements actually occur, they can never be entirely absent.

Clausewitz, On War

It is inherent in the very concept of war that everything that occurs must originally derive from combat.

Clausewitz, On War

Everything is governed by a supreme law, the decision by force of arms... T o sum up: of all the possible aims in the war, the destruction of the enemy's armed forces always appears as the highest.

Clausewitz, On War

The destruction of the enemy's forces must always be the dominant consideration in war .

Clausewitz, On War

The destruction of the enemy forces is admittedly the purpose of all engagements.

Clausewitz, On War

The objective of all military action is to overthrow the enemy - which means destroying his armed forces... [we] tried to make it absolutely clear that the destruction of the enemy is what always matters the most.

Clausewitz, On War

1. Destruction of the enemy forces is the overriding principle of war, and, so far as positive action is concerned, the principal way to achieve our object.

2. Such destruction can usually be accomplished only by fighting.

Clausewitz, On War

Consequently, it would be an obvious fallacy to imagine war between civilized peoples as resulting merely from a rational act on the part of their governments and to conceive of war as gradually ridding itself of passion, so that in the end one would never really need to use the physical impact of the fighting forces - comparative figures of their strength would be enough. That would be a kind of war by algebra.

Clausewitz, On War

Combat is the only effective force in war; its aim is to destroy the enemy's forces as a means to a further end. That holds good even if no actual fighting occurs, because the outcome rests on the assumption that if it came to fighting, the enemy would be destroyed. It follows that the destruction of the enemy's force underlies all military actions; all plans are ultimately based upon it, resting on it like an arch on its abutment. Consequently all action is undertaken in the belief that if the ultimate test of arms should actually occur, the outcome would be favorable.

Clausewitz, On War

All possible engagements are to be regarded as real ones because of their consequences.

Clausewitz, On War

If a mere demonstration is enough to cause the enemy to abandon his position, the objective has been achieved.

Clausewitz, On War

One may admit that even where the decision has been bloodless, it was determined in the last analysis by engagements that did not take place but had merely been offered. In that case, it will be argued, the strategic planning of these engagements, rather than the tactical decision, should be considered the operative principle.

Clausewitz, On War

But armed resistance, by its diversity of possible combinations, can so change the appearance and vary the character of armed defense, especially in cases where there is no actual fighting but the outcome is affected by the fact that there could be, that one is almost tempted to think some new effective principle here, awaits discovery. The vast difference between savage repulse in a straightforward battle and the effect of a strategic web that prevents things from getting that far, will lead one to assume that a different force must be at work - a conjecture somewhat like that of the astronomers who deduced from the enormous void between Mars and Jupiter that other planets must exist.

Clausewitz, On War

Consider in the abstract how war originates. Essentially, the concept of war does not originate with the attack, because the ultimate object of attack is not fighting: rather, it is possession. The idea of war originates with the defense, which does have fighting as its immediate object, since fighting and parrying obviously amount to the same thing. Repulse is directed only toward an attack, which is therefore a prerequisite to it; the attack, however, is not directed toward defense but toward a different goal - possession, which is not necessarily a prerequisite for war. It is thus in the nature of the case that the side that first introduces the element of war, whose point of view brings two parties into existence, is also the side that establishes the initial laws of war. This side is the defense...

Clausewitz, On War

Maneuvering the enemy out of an area he has occupied is not very different from this, and should be considered in the same light, rather than as true success of arms. These means are generally overrated; they seldom achieve so much as a battle, and involve the risk of drawbacks that may have been overlooked. They are tempting because they cost so little.

None of this is meant to say that there should be any less activity in warfare. Tools are there to be used, and use will naturally wear them out. Our only aim is clarity and order; we are opposed to bombastic theories that hold that the most overwhelming surprise, the fastest movement or the most restless activity cost nothing; that they are rich mines which lie unused because of the generals' indolence. The final product may indeed be compared to that of gold and silver mines: one looks only at the end result and forgets to ask about the cost of the labor that went into it.

Clausewitz, On War

That is why governments and commanders have always tried to find ways of avoiding a decisive battle and of reaching their goal by other means or of quietly abandoning it. Historians and theorists have taken great pains, when describing such campaigns and conflicts, to point out that other means not only served the purpose as well as a battle that was never fought, but were indeed evidence of higher skill. This line of thought had brought us almost to the point of regarding, in the economy of war, battle as a kind of evil brought about by mistake - a morbid manifestation to which an orthodox, correctly managed war should never have to resort. Laurels were to be reserved for those generals who knew how to conduct a war without bloodshed; and it was to be the specific purpose of the theory of war to teach this kind of warfare... Recent history has scattered such nonsense to the winds.

Clausewitz, On War

How are we to prove that usually, and in all the most important cases, the destruction of the enemy's forces must be the main objective? How are we to counter the highly sophisticated theory that supposes it possible for a particularly ingenious method of inflicting minor direct damage on the enemy's forces to lead to major indirect destruction; or that claims to produce, by means of limited but skillfully applied blows, such paralysis of the enemy's forces and control of his will-power as to constitute a significant shortcut to victory? Admittedly, an engagement at one point may be worth more than at another. Admittedly, there is a skillful order of priority of engagements in strategy; indeed, that is what strategy is all about, and we do not wish to deny it. We do claim, however, that direct annihilation of the enemy's forces must always be the dominant consideration. We simply want to establish this dominance of the destructive principle.

Clausewitz, On War

We are not interested in generals who win victories without bloodshed. The fact that slaughter is a horrifying spectacle must make us take war more seriously, but not provide an excuse for gradually blunting our swords in the name of humanity. Sooner or later someone will come along with a sharp sword and hack off our arms.

Clausewitz, On War

The advantage that the destruction of the enemy forces possesses over all other means is balanced by its cost and danger; and it is only in order to avoid these risks that other policies are employed. That the method of destruction cannot fail to be expensive is understandable; other things being equal, the more intent we are on destroying the enemy's forces, the greater our own efforts must be. The danger of this method is that the greater the success we seek, the greater will be the damage if we fail. Other methods, therefore, are less co.,tly if they succeed and less damaging if they fail, though this holds true only if both sides act identically...

Clausewitz, On War

If the opponent does seek battle, this recourse can never be denied him. A commander who prefers another strategy must first be sure that his opponent either will not appeal to that supreme tribunal - force - or that he will lose the verdict if he does.

Clausewitz, On War

They should always be looked upon as minor investments that can only yield minor dividends, appropriate to limited circumstances and weaker motives. But they are obviously preferable to pointless battles - victories that cannot be fully exploited.

Clausewitz, On War

This view [i.e., that wars can be won without actually fighting] is as petty as its subject. In the absence of great forces and passions it is indeed simpler for ingenuity to function; but is not guiding great forces [i.e. material and even more so ideological and spiritual motivation], navigation through storms and surging waves, a higher exercise of the intellect? That other , formalized type of swordsmanship is surely included and implicit in the more energetic mode of conducting war. It has the same relation to it as the movements on a ship have to the motion of the ship. It can only be carried on so long as it is tacitly understood that the opponent follows suit. But is it possible to tell how long this condition will be observed? The French Revolution surprised us in the false security of our ancient skills and drove us from Chalons to Moscow... Woe to the government, which, relying on half-hearted politics and a shackled military policy, meets a foe who, like the untamed elements, knows no law other than his own power! Any defect of action and effort will turn to the advantage to the enemy, and it will not be easy to change from a fencer's position to that of a wrestler. A slight blow may then often be enough to cause a total collapse.

Clausewitz, On War

Obviously, wars waged by both sides to the full extent of their national strength must be conducted on different principles from wars in which policy was based on the comparative size of regular armies.

Clausewitz, On War

In war too small an effort can result not just in failure but in positive harm [where] each side is driven to outdo the other, which sets up an interaction.

Clausewitz, On War

A government must never assume that its country's fate, its whole existence, hangs on the outcome of a single battle, no matter how decisive. Even after a defeat, there is always the possibility that a turn of fortune can be brought about by developing new sources of internal strength or through the natural decimation all offensives suffer in the long run or by means ofhelp from abroad.

Clausewitz, On War

In our plan of battle we must set this great aim: the attack on a large enemy column and its complete destruction. If our aim is low, while that of the enemy is high, we will naturally get the worst ofit. We are pennywise and pound-foolish.

Clausewitz, On War

If he [the enemy] were to seek the decision through a major battle, his choice would force us against our will to do likewise. Then the outcome of the battle would be decisive; but it is clear - other things again being equal - that we would be at an overall disadvantage, since our plans and resources had been in part intended to achieve other goals, whereas the enemy's were not. Two objectives, neither of which is part of the other, are mutually exclusive: one force cannot simultaneously be used for both. If, therefore, one of the two commanders is resolved to seek a decision through major battle, he will have an excellent chance of success if he is certain that his enemy is pursuing a different policy. Conversely, the commander who wishes to adopt different means can reasonably do so only if he assumes his opponent to be equally unwilling to resort to major battles.

Clausewitz, On War

If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by the bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand.

Clausewitz, On War

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Your aim must be to take All-under-Heaven intact.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle. They capture his cities without assaulting them and overthrow his state without protracted operations.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

He who knows the art of the direct and indirect approach will be victorious. Such is the art of manoeuvring.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[Ts'ao Ts'ao] Go into emptiness, strike voids, bypass what he defends, hit him where he does not expect you.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Thus, march by an indirect route and divert the enemy by enticing him with a bait. So doing you may set out after he does and arrive before him. One able to do this understands the strategy of the direct and the indirect.

[Tu Mu] He who wishes to snatch an advantage takes a devious and distant route and makes of it the short way.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

And therefore those skilled in war avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick. This is control of the mental factor.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Do not thwart an enemy returning homewards. To a surrounded enemy you must leave a way of escape. [Tu Mu] Show him there is a road to safety, and so create in his mind the idea that there is an alternative to death. Then strike. Do not press an enemy at bay.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape and even when faced with death they will not flee. For if prepared to die, what can they not achieve? Then officers and men together put forth their utmost efforts. In a desperate situation, they fear nothing, when there is no way out they stand firm.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War