The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Who Does the American Military See in the Mirror?

Jomini and Clausewitz coexist in many modern militaries.  Jomini, with his emphasis on principals and application may dominate at  the tactical level of war.  Clausewitz, with the emphasis on ambiguity, complexity and politics tends to become more important at the more senior leadership levels.  The break point logically seems to be at the level of brigade command.  Brigade commanders are the military’s senior tacticians.  They are involved in the day to day operations and maintenance of the force and have the responsibility to planning, leading, and executing operations.  Brigade commanders live in the tactical environment.  Cause and effect relationships at the brigade level are more direct and the certainty of factors influencing decisions is higher.  Some general officers operate in the tactical environment as well –depending on the operational situation.  However, at the general officer level the tendency is for issues to become more complex and for effects to become more separated from causes.  Politics, media, and other factors beyond the military’s control begins to intrude on decision making at the general officer level.

Do you agree or disagree with the above analysis?

A challenge facing the effectiveness of general officers is two-fold.  First, how does one select the best officer to operate in the Clausewitz world (senior leader) based on the performance of officers who are typically operating in the Jominian world (tactical)?  In addition, how does the army train senior leadership (Clausewitzian) thinking before the leader makes the general officer ranks, if there is little or no  opportunity to practice it for most of an officer’s career at the tactical level?

Some analysts believe, whether the above described relationship exists or not between Jomini and Clausewitz’s ideas, its irrelevant because American culture demands a demonstrated, positive, scientific approach to all activity and thus the Jominian approach to war dominates the American way of war at all levels.  Do you agree?

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September 29, 2009 - Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. I definitely don’t think that Jomini dominates the American way of war at all levels. It certainly does at the operational and tactical level, but I think Clausewitz dominates at the strategic level. Unfortunately, I think we are currently stuck in a fight (Afghanistan) in which neither mode of thinking covers the situations we find ourselves. With Jominian thinking, we would just add more troops to the equation and/or find the right commander who can apply the principals of war correctly for the given situation. Clausewitzian thinking, taking into account the political and people aspects of the trinity, would suggest that we cannot win the current fight and should abandon it. We see many of the same problems in our current fight that Napoleon experiences in Russia. We are in a protracted fight with an enemy that is made up of the people and hiding among the people. There is no decisive enemy army to encircle and annihilate using Jominian tactics, and we do not have unlimited space within which to maneuver. Clausewitzian politics must play a larger role in getting Pakistan to either grant us unfettered access to track down the Taliban within their country, or assert more of their armed forces to catch them in-between. I understand there are current issues that the Pakistani President must take into account with the people and politics portions of the trinity within his own country that may be preventing such actions; I don’t want to debate that here. If the enemy is able to traverse back and forth over the border to strike at us and then find a safe haven within which to wait and plan their next attack, no amount of application of Jomini’s principals of war will solve that problem.

    Comment by Maj Scott "Spyder" Walker | September 29, 2009

  2. I agree with the separation of Clausewitz and Jomini at the Brigade Command level. I think what gives the analogy staying power is its simplicity. Through all of the theories strewn between the two minds(C & J), finding the point where we as (eventual) commanders must “flip the switch” from Clausewitz to Jomini is revealing. Maybe the art becomes “when” to realize you may have to flip it back and vice versa.

    I am currently reading “A History of Warfare” by John Keegan. I am very early in the work and Keegan already challenges many Clausewitzian beliefs, but he seems to attempt to apply them to the lower-operational and tactical levels. By the discussed analogy, this is almost an apples-to-oranges comparison. Almost as if he is disagreeing for the sake of disagreement.

    Comment by MAJ Rich Massengale SG 17B | September 30, 2009

  3. I agree that Jomini dominates the American way of war. We all were taught the principles of war in our ROTC days, and it has been reinforced at every level, and dury every OPORD process since then. I do agree that there is a gradual transition somewhere around the BCT Commander position to Clauswitz at the strategic level. The use of Clauswitz’s theries are of serious use at the strategic level. Unfortunately, the senior strategic level is dominated by politicians that don’t know Clauswitz, have never read Clauswitz, and don’t care and never will know or read Clauswitz. This means that the few senior officers that are assigned to the strategic level that will find a use for Clauswitz will be in the minority, and Clauswitz will in effect be drowned out.

    Comment by MAJ Roe 17B | October 2, 2009

  4. The discussion is an interesting one from a British perspective: I hadn’t even heard of Jomini before arriving at US Staff College! The British Army invests its efforts in teaching Clausewitz when it gets the chance to academically develop its captains (3 x 1 week courses as a captain). I suspect however that the aim is not to start the formal training of the few general officers in-the-making sitting in class nursing a hangover!

    Having now read a little bit of Jomini it is clear that his aim is to provide a check list of things that a commander must consider if he is to be successful in battle. However in my opinion his principles remain just as important to a general planning a campaign as they do to the BCT or battalion commander. They are after all what we now call principles of war. But of course the general planning the campaign needs to understand the political piece too and that is where his understanding of Clausewitz comes in.

    But it’s not just for the general to understand the political nature of war. I believe that it is beholden on all army officers to understand how their role fits into the bigger picture. I suspect that this is why the British Army focuses its efforts on teaching Clausewitz.

    Comment by Major Sam Cates 17A. British Army | October 5, 2009

  5. I agree with the analysis above, but I do not see the transition from Jomini to Clausewitz throughout a career as a difficult transition. As an officer progresses in his career, he is required to expand his view and see the larger picture. It is true that junior officers learn Jomini tactics in any service, and of course senior officers use Clausewitz theory. But as your scope and area of responsibility increases your inclination to lean toward Clausewitz is a natural tendency. I compare this shift to the shift by enlisted sailors to non-commissioned officers. Despite having the same area of expertise they must step back and act more in a supervisory role, vice the hands on role. This transition is difficult for some, but easy for others. I found that the enlisted that naturally understand the larger picture are the ones that transition better. Perhaps the same approach is necessary during the selection process for flag officers.
    As a naval officer I am not extremely knowledgeable of the Army training system, but it would seem to me that the current counter-insurgency (COIN) conflict has been an excellent learning environement for the Clausewitz concepts. This type of conflict has caused leaders at every level to see and understand the larger strategic picture, which is really a critical component of Clausewitz’s theory. Experience can not teach all the strategic concepts, but it definitely allows leaders to improve methods and tactics. Perhaps well enough to develop an internal COIN cookbook, which will continue to be useful until the type of conflict shifts again.

    Comment by LCDR Marc Davis | October 5, 2009

  6. How interesting that Jomini dominates our careers to this point at a tactical level of thinking and bleeds over to operational and yet we quote Clausewitz and know the title of his book just like we know the book the Art of War. But Jomini and his work is only vaguely familiar to a typical American military officer and even less well known apparently to our international collegues as stated by Major Cates above. If we are going to base our military on Jomini and his work than maybe it is time we introduce him to our ROTC and OTS cadets in more depth.

    Comment by Major Christopher "Kit" Johnson | October 6, 2009

  7. I agree with the basic premise that Jomini exists in the Army at the tactical/operational levels. It is truly perplexing that although we are taught the basics of Jomini as a cadet, the majority of us did not realize Jomini was the “father” of the principles of warfare. For several of us, Jomini was first introduced to us here at CGSC. Another interesting note in the debate of Jomini vs. Clausewitz, this “battle” has been ongoing since Jomini and Clausewitz began writing their most famous works. Can Jomini and Clausewitz coexist? I believe they are already co-existing as our military already uses both philosophies in our current doctrine.

    Comment by Major Gerald Duenas | October 13, 2009

  8. I agree with the premise. I believe their theories can coexist because their philosophies have been simultaneously applied during combat operations in Iraq. Clausewitz’ theories were demonstrated through strategic level planning and operations such as applying COIN doctrine. COIN operations directly resemble the trinity of the people, military, and government. Through the proper application of this doctrine, the military has strengthened the people, the government, and the Iraqi military. While COIN doctrine was implemented as the primary overall strategy for Iraq, the fundamental principles of Jomini were concurrently applied throughout combat operations. His elements of mass, surprise, offense, and economy of force are current Army doctrine fundamentals that were implemented during operational planning and tactical levels efforts.

    Comment by MAJ Anthony Rogers, Staff Group Bravo, CGSS Huntsville | November 29, 2012


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