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Clausewitz Condensed


"Once the defender has gained an important advantage," Clausewitz writes, "defense as such has done its work." (370) Now it is time for a "sudden powerful transition to the offensive--the flashing sword of vengeance." (370) This is the culminating point of battle. Unless an offensive results in the defender's collapse, there will be a pivotal point at which the attack is about to lose effective superiority. To push beyond this threshold without a good chance of victory is dangerous. In fact, "every attack which does not lead to peace must necessarily end up as a defense." (572)

In addition to the culminating point of battle, Clausewitz raises two vital questions concerning offense: "Destruction of the enemy's forces is the means to the end. What does this mean? At what price?" (529) It is formidable enough to develop a strategy that will achieve specific political ends; it is even more so unless decision makers know precisely what they are trying to destroy by combat and how much they are willing to commit to that effort. Regarding offensive maneuver, Clausewitz notes that it has the virtue of being able to create something "out of nothing" by seizing upon the adversary's mistakes. He concludes, however, that it is fruitless to attempt to devise systematic rules for maneuver, and that, in any event, maneuver remains dependent upon the superior application of force:

"...no rules of any kind exist for maneuver, and no method or general principle can determine the value of the action; rather, superior application, precision, order, discipline, and fear will find the means to achieve palpable advantage in the most singular and minute circumstances." (542)