In a previous post on the difference between combative and defensive mindsets an interesting comment came up about Carl von Clausewitz statement on defensive war being superior…which he did indeed say. I went back and re-read some of “On War” and found some interesting quotes that seem apropos to this topic.
- WHAT is defence in conception? The warding off a blow. What is then its characteristic sign? The state of expectancy (or of waiting for this blow). This is the sign by which we always recognise an act as of a defensive character, and by this sign alone can the defensive be distinguished from the offensive in war. But inasmuch as an absolute defence completely contradicts the idea of war, because there would then be war carried on by one side only, it follows that the defence in war can only be relative and the above distinguishing signs must therefore only be applied to the essential idea or general conception: it does not apply to all the separate acts which compose the war.
- But as we must return the enemy’s blows if we are really to carry on war on our side, therefore this offensive act in defensive war takes place more or less under the general title defensive—that is to say, the offensive of which we make use falls under the conception of position or theatre of war. We can, therefore, in a defensive campaign fight offensively,
- What is the object of defence? To preserve. To preserve is easier than to acquire; from which follows at once that the means on both sides being supposed equal, the defensive is easier than the offensive.
- If the defensive is the stronger form of conducting war, but has a negative object, it follows of itself that we must only make use of it so long as our weakness compels us to do so, and that we must give up that form as soon as we feel strong enough to aim at the positive object. Now as the state of our circumstances is usually improved in the event of our gaining a victory through the assistance of the defensive, it is therefore, also, the natural course in war to begin with the defensive, and to end with the offensive.
- In other words: a war in which victories are merely used to ward off blows, and where there is no attempt to return the blow, would be just as absurd as a battle in which the most absolute defence (passivity) should everywhere prevail in all measures.
- But, irrespective of these things, there are other three which appear to us of decisive importance, these are: surprise, advantage of ground, and the attack from several quarters.The surprise produces an effect by opposing to the enemy a great many more troops than he expected at some particular point. The superiority in numbers in this case is very different to a general superiority of numbers; it is the most powerful agent in the art of war.—The way in which the advantage of ground contributes to the victory is intelligible enough of itself, and we have only one observation to make which is, that we do not confine our remarks to obstacles which obstruct the advance of an enemy, such as scarped grounds, high hills, marshy streams, hedges, inclosures, etc.; we also allude to the advantage which ground affords as cover, under which troops are concealed from view. Indeed we may say that even from ground which is quite unimportant a person acquainted with the locality may derive assistance. The attack from several quarters includes in itself all tactical turning movements great and small, and its effects are derived partly from the double execution obtained in this way from fire-arms, and partly from the enemy’s dread of his retreat being cut off.