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 20, 2017 - Posted by | H100, military history, Uncategorized | , , , ,


  1. In class we discussed that military officers are rewarded and promoted for their Jomini-like skills (tactical success, or being someone who “gets results”) up to and including O-6. On the other hand, flag officers need skills that are more Clausewitz-like (deep contemplation that results in profound insights). However, I feel that while the military does reward Jomini-achievers, it also invests a significant amount of time into developing those deep thinking Clausewitz-like skills through education. I have examples in the USAF as that is my service. The AF sends a large portion of its officers for weeks to months of PME (professional military education) at each rank. 2nd Lts attend 5 weeks, Captains attend 8 weeks, Majors attend 10 months, and Lt Cols about 10 months. Additionally, the AF sponsors a large number of officers to get masters and doctoral degrees both at AFIT and civilian universities. For many years it has been generally understood that a masters degree is unofficially required to make O-5 (although about a year ago they started hiding degrees for promotion boards before O-6). Additionally, the military offers tuition assistance for members to pursue education in their free time as well. Sending so many students and financially supporting a broad-based education shows the AF cares about having its officers study a subject on a deeper level. Keeping members in their primary job improves their tactical Jomini-like skills, but taking 1-3 years off to develop a more comprehensive understanding of a field helps that member gain deeper knowledge in that area. I feel that through education, the AF does support developing those deep-thinking Clausewitz skills that will be useful if and when a member reaches the rank of General Officer.

    Comment by Christine Zens | October 29, 2017

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  3. I think that the relationship between Jomini and Clausewitz is somewhat of a false dichotomy and this leads to the discussion. Clausewitz and Jomini are talking about different things. Jomini seeks to provide principles that if followed will lead to victory. Clausewitz does not tell you how to win, he tells you how to understand war (granted, the indirect connection is if you understand war it should help you win. In short, Clausewitz studies war and Jomini studies warfare.

    This doesn’t really push past the inflection point at the Brigade command level ans officers cross threshold from tactical command to the senior leader / policy level. The question is still do we want tactical leaders with a good understanding of the principles, or do we want more creative leaders at the senior levels with an inherent understanding of war and its influences. The answer is yes – we want both, but how can you achieve this? The best option is through education and experience. The first exposure of officers to the Clausewitzean concept of war should not be as senior leaders. Professional educations and employment at the senior levels to broaden experience valuable to overall rounding out of professional competence. It sometimes comes at the cost of tactical experience, but I don’t think this is insurmountable. It is likely easier to learn and apply principles than it is to learn and apply theory which is more fluid, thus I think the risk of higher education is valuable.

    Comment by Jonathan Cox | November 13, 2017

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