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?


September 29, 2010 - Posted by | H100, leadership, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Jomini was the primary influence on early American strategists (Halleck, Mahan, et al.), and his influence continues today at all levels, not just the tactical. As noted by Paret et al., Jomini experienced his wars at headquarters next to the commander. As a result, his viewpoint was skewed toward centralized, top-down control with the commander moving units much as chess pieces on the field. This continues in the US military today, though it may be changing (more on that later).

    In contrast, the German Army of WWI and particularly of WWII espoused the Clausewitz approach. While Clausewitz did not advocate an “approach” per se, his characterization of war implies a decentralized approach which allows for subordinates to take initiative within broad guidance, or as the Germans would say, Auftragstaktik. This approach reduces (or perhaps more accurately, bypasses) fog and friction to some degree by providing implicit coordination among the elements of a force (commander’s intent) while reducing the need for robust command and control required to maneuver the Army as chess pieces a la Jomini.

    In the first paragraph I indicated that we may be moving toward Clausewitz. A reading of the Army Capstone Concept, combined with the imminent renaming of Command and Control to Mission Command (Auftragstaktik), certainly indicates we want to go that way. Whether we can overcome the significant cultural and organizational hurdles required to implement this change (and they are significant), or whether this will be a cosmetic chance only remains to be seen.

    I’m reminded of something a Marine Gunnery Sergeant told me once, “Sir, when you paint (poop), you end up with painted (poop).”

    Comment by MAJ Trent Lythgoe | September 29, 2010

  2. I agree that our cultures (both aggregate American culture and military sub-culture) posture us to be more receptive to Jomini and has influenced us to execute operations by “Going Ugly Early”, adapting, and overcoming.

    Jomini’s paradigms also used to align better with our war-fighting doctrine (Air Land Battle – conventional force).

    In the midst of persistent conflict that has catalyzed our shift to a doctrine of full spectrum operations, Clausewitz’s theories are becoming more relevant. Clausewitz’s theories are being pushed down to the tactical levels as tactical units are being forced to engage in operational-level operations downrange.

    Within the US military sub-culture, Clausewitz’s theories are also beginning to gain traction. This is evidenced by Secretary Gates offering DOD resources to bolster DOS and improve the holistic application of military power. Another indication of the culture shift is the incessent urging by DOD leaders at all levels to effectively engage interagency partners to augment our inherent capability gaps.

    In summary, I believe we are still biased towards Jomini, but hurdling towards the world of Clausewitz. This will exist as long as the Army’s mission encompasses conventional and non-conventional threats.

    Comment by Marc Leduc | September 30, 2010

  3. I agree that politics and media affects the decision making of genral officers. I’m sure that GO’s often ask themselves, ” How will this action look in the eyes of the public? Or what are the political impacts of my decision? Being that our country is ran by politicians, not the military, GO’s are sometimes more concerned about public approval, or should I say politician approval, rather than doing what’s best for the military.

    An example of this was in the video clip that our class saw about Dersert Storm. Media footage of huge numbers of dead and mangled enemy bodies lead to the decision to end the war because some felt that those grotesque images would do more to hurt the U.S cause than to help it. It can be argued that the war may have continued if senior level offiicals and officers were not concerned about the impact that the media’s images would have on the operation.

    Comment by Eric Morris | September 30, 2010

  4. I do not believe that American culture (specifically US Naval culture) demands a scientific approach at the tactical level similar to Jomini. Even though Clausewitz did not write about the naval environment, his strategic view was present and one example highlights the end of World War II in the Pacific by the usage of the atomic bomb as a strategic venue.
    I would argue that the various options open to the United States to terminate the Pacific War, only one founded on an Allied ground offensive offered the potential to fulfill the requirement for a rapid and simultaneous unconditional surrender because it directly pressured Japan’s strategic center of gravity (SOG), its leadership. The only way to destroy the SOG would be to destroy the enemy’s will to continue. As Clausewitz thinking would articulate, Japan would not have surrendered if it was not for the usage of the atomic bomb as a strategic vs. tactical operation. A tactical (Jomini environment) would be the something to the effect of a naval blockade, an aerial bombardment and/or invasion. Not until the allies hope for a settled peace was brought to fruition by the atomic weapon, did Japan Japan’s political leaders, and more importantly its Emperor, actively move to accept and initiate an immediate and simultaneous unconditional surrender of all of its forces. This is where the US Navy best utilized the Clausewitz strategic thinking to bring the conflict to an end quickly. The Jominian approach to war was not a factor in the American Navy way of planning during World War II.

    Comment by Mike Matis | October 4, 2010

  5. This article about “Strategic Intuition” may be of interest:

    I concur with the author that military leaders use a combination of analytical processes and intuition to make decisions. I believe that this happens at many levels, including BDE CMD and above. The author, Dr. Duggan, ties this to Clausewitz’ depiction of military decision-making.

    Clausewitz’ description of insight, termed “coup d’oeil,” is on page 102 of our translation of On War.

    Comment by Rachel Wienke, 17D | October 5, 2010

  6. I do agree with the analysis regarding Brigade commanders as the military’s senior tacticians and with the assertion that they are involved in the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the force, etc. Ideally, we may have desire for such officers to serve in that capacity in the truest sense. However, I do not think we allow our commanders that opportunity in this day and age. It is my opinion that these commanders seemed to be bogged down in the minutia of the day-to-day occurrences and an overload of briefings, meetings and interviews that may not necessarily allow these officers to fully act as the senior tacticians that they should be. The demands placed on these officers—more so in a tactical environment—are insurmountable. However, I opine that some of the external factors may be able to be kept in check if commanders possess a high degree of clarity and intuition.

    Comment by Pia Romero | October 7, 2010

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