The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H107 American Military Leadership — Carl or Antoine?

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?

October 14, 2015 - Posted by | H100 | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I do agree with the analysis that general officers typically operate at the strategic level with infrequent forays into tactical-level decisions. Additionally, general officers’ decisions are invariably shaped by politics, media, and numerous factors inherent to the career and paradigm the general officer is operating within. This is the nature of the general officer in making difficult and far-reaching decisions with second- and third-order effects lasting for decades at the least.
    The challenge of selecting effective general officers is indeed immense given the transition from Jomini-level understanding to a Clausewitz-level strategic grasp. While this is a difficult transition, the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors effectively navigate the career progression to general officer. The military promotion and command structure require competition at all levels; this funneling feature forces military personnel to thrive at their current level – albeit tactical or strategic, if the Soldier fails to thrive then they cease to promote. Therefore, the existing force development of the American military is effectively transitioning leaders from Jominian mentality to Clausewitzian logic.
    I do not agree that the Jominian approach to war dominates American military philosophy at all levels. Instead, the American way of war pragmatically utilizes both Jomini and Clausewitz depending on requirements, the current American will, military capability, and governmental guidance at various levels of conflict. At times, Jomini may dominate operationally and tactically after the Clausewitz fog of war elements are addressed; conversely, the will application inherent to Clausewitz’s writings might dominate an operation where Jomini will receive scarce mention. The functionality of America’s military philosophy is the ability to transition between Jomini and Clausewitz in order to appropriately approach military functionality.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, SG 19A | October 14, 2015

  2. I agree that Clausewitz’s theory is more applicable for a general officer that operates at the strategic level of war. The environment that a general officer operates in is one that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. At that level, the problem that needs to be addressed is probably one that has not been encountered before. There will typically not be a standard doctrine or fixed solution to the problem. This is aligned to the USMA except from 1945 that indicates that “Clausewitz believes that a general should learn the nature of war, … and then use his own common sense to apply this knowledge to the solution of any problem confronting him.”

    On the issue of identifying and developing senior leaders, talent management is key. Talent should be identified early based on “potential”, which is correlated to, but not the same as “performance”. For example, a Company Commander can be identified to have a higher “potential” than his XO of the same rank, but will likely not have better “performance” because of the hierarchy of appointments. Estimating the “potential” of every soldier in the organization will allow the Army to groom them for future appointments. The Company Commander with a higher “potential” would be given more difficult and varied assignments to develop him to meet the higher “potential” that he has. A criticism of this system is that “potential” can be quite arbitrary. This is true to the extent that it involves the judgment of a senior commander. However, the senior commander (e.g. Division Commander) should have the necessary experience to judge whether a more junior officer (e.g. Company Commander) has the “potential” for a higher appointment (e.g. Brigade Commander).

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | October 16, 2015

  3. I disagree with the idea that only Generals deal with complex situations where outside forces influence decision making. It will admit that it probably happens more often, but it is just as important that everyone, down to the Private, understand the consequences of his actions. Many call this the “strategic private” impact.
    The Army’s current promotion system is skewed to rewarding performance. Although OERs talk about potential, it is the guy who gets things done that receives the best comments in both sections. How can your potential for future success be high if you are currently failing? Jominian approach to war (and promotion) is more appealing because it is more scientific and can therefore be logically explained and documented for others. The challenge that we have is to determine ways to measure Clausewitzian characteristics and include those in the evaluation calculation.

    Comment by Laura Proffit, SG 19C | November 2, 2015

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