Carl Von Clausewitz Quotes


Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian general and military theorist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers in the field of military strategy and tactics.

Born in Burg bei Magdeburg, Prussia (now Germany), Clausewitz grew up in a family with a strong military tradition. He began his military career at the age of 12, and by the time he was 16, he had already joined the Prussian army as a lance-corporal.

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Clausewitz’s military career was marked by a number of notable achievements, including his participation in the Prussian campaigns against Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 and 1807. However, he is perhaps best known for his contributions to the field of military theory.

In 1812, Clausewitz began writing what would eventually become his most famous work, “On War.” The book, which he continued to revise and expand until his death in 1831, is a comprehensive study of the nature of war and the principles of military strategy.

Among the key insights in “On War” is Clausewitz’s belief that war is an extension of politics, and that military strategy should always be subordinate to political objectives. He also stressed the importance of understanding the psychological and moral factors that can influence military operations, and argued that military success is often determined by the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Despite his contributions to military theory, Clausewitz was never able to see his ideas put into practice on the battlefield. He died in 1831, shortly before the outbreak of the First Schleswig War, in which his son participated as a Prussian officer.

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Today, Clausewitz’s ideas continue to influence military strategists around the world, and “On War” remains one of the most widely read and studied works in the field of military theory.

Here are some powerful quotes that shed light on the art of combat and the complexities of the battlefield.

Famous Carl Von Clausewitz Quotes 

1. “The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.”

2. “If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.”

3. “War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.”

4. “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult”

Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. - Carl Von Clausewitz

5. “Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.”

6. “The conqueror is always a lover of peace; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.”

7. “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

8. “There are cases in which the greatest daring is the greatest wisdom.”

9. “There are very few men-and they are the exceptions-who are able to think and feel beyond the present moment”

10. “To achieve victory we must mass our forces at the hub of all power and movement. The enemy’s “center of gravity”

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11. “Our knowledge of circumstances has increased, but our uncertainty, instead of having diminished, has only increased. The reason of this is, that we do not gain all our experience at once, but by degrees; so our determinations continue to be assailed incessantly by fresh experience; and the mind, if we may use the expression, must always be under arms.”

12. “We repeat again: strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea.”

13. “Boldness governed by superior intellect is the mark of a hero.”

14. “If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.”

15. “All war presupposes human weakness and seeks to exploit it.”

16. “War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.”

17. “If we read history with an open mind, we cannot fail to conclude that, among all the military virtues, the energetic conduct of war has always contributed most to glory and success.”

18. “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means”

19. “…as man under pressure tends to give in to physical and intellectual weakness, only great strength of will can lead to the objective.”

20. “The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.”

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21. “Anyone who falls into the habit of thinking and expecting the best of his subordinates at all times is, for that reason alone, unsuited to command an army”

22. “…the side that feels the lesser urge for peace will naturally get the better bargain.”

23. “Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.”

Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination. - Carl Von Clausewitz

24. “history had no lessons or rules to offer the student, it could only broaden his understanding and strengthen his critical judgment.”

25. “[…] to introduce into the philosophy of war itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity”

26. “Great things alone can make a great mind, and petty things will make a petty mind unless a man rejects them as completely alien.”

27. “… a strong character is one that will not be unbalanced by the most powerful emotions”

28. “The aggressor is always peace-loving (as Bonaparte always claimed to be); he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.”

28. “Of all the passions that inspire a man in a battle, none, we have to admit, is so powerful and so constant as the longing for honor and reknown.”

29. “Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations; this serves more or less as a substitute for hatred between individuals.”

30. “casualty reports on either side are never accurate, seldom truthful, and in most cases deliberately falsified.”

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31. “But everything takes a different shape when we pass from abstractions to reality. In the former, everything must be subject to optimism, and we must imagine the one side as well as the other striving after perfection and even attaining it. Will this ever take place in reality?”

32. “…an intellectual instinct which extracts the essence from the phenomena of life, as a bee sucks honey from a flower. In addition to study and reflections, life itself serves as a source.”

33. “Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference.”

34. “The talent of the strategist is to identify the decisive point and to concentrate everything on it, removing forces from secondary fronts and ignoring lesser objectives.”

35. “If, adhering closely to the absolute, we try to avoid all difficulties by a stroke of the pen, and insist with logical strictness that in every case the extreme must be the object, and the utmost effort must be exerted in that direction, such a stroke of the pen would be a mere paper law, not by any means adapted to the real world.”

36. “Surprise becomes effective when we suddenly face the enemy at one point with far more troops than he expected. This type of numerical superiority is quite distinct from numerical superiority in general: it is the most powerful medium in the art of war.”

37. “…vanity is content with the appearance alone”

38. “peace is maintained by the equilibrium of forces, and will continue just as long as this equilibrium exists, and no longer.”

39. “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.”

40. “Where execution is dominant, as it is in the individual events of a war whether great or small, then intellectual factors are reduced to a minimum.”

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41. “The Statesman who, knowing his instrument to be ready, and seeing War inevitable, hesitates to strike first is guilty of a crime against his country.”

42. “Pity the theory which sets itself in opposition to the mind! It cannot repair this contradiction by any humility, and the humbler it is so much the sooner will ridicule and contempt drive it from real life.”

43. “…in war, the advantages and disadvantages of a single action could only be determined by the final balance.”

44. “If we have made appropriate preparations, taking into account all possible misfortunes, so that we shall not be lost immediately if they occur, we must boldly advance into the shadows of uncertainty.”

45. “War is simply the continuation of politics by other means”

War is simply the continuation of politics by other means. - Carl Von Clausewitz

46. “The commander’s talents are given greatest scope in rough hilly country. Mountains allow him too little real command over his scattered units and he is unable to control them all; in open country, control is a simple matter and does not test his ability to the fullest.”

47. “Everything is very simple in War, but the simplest thing is difficult.”

48. “As long as the enemy is not defeated, he may defeat me; then I shall be no longer my own master; he will dictate the law to me as I did to him.”

49. “There are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom.”

50. “The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose”

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51. “Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed; war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.”

52. “All thinking is indeed Art. Where the logician draws the line, where the premises stop which are the result of cognition—where judgment begins, there Art begins. But more than this even the perception of the mind is judgment again, and consequently Art; and at last, even the perception by the senses as well.”

53. “For political and social as well as for military reasons the preferred way of bringing about victory was the shortest, most direct way, and that meant using all possible force.”

54. “If our opponent is to be made to comply with our will, we must place him in a situation which is more oppressive to him than the sacrifice which we demand; but the disadvantages of this position must naturally not be of a transitory nature, at least in appearance, otherwise the enemy, instead of yielding, will hold out, in the prospect of a change for the better.”

55. “War is a conflict of great interests which is settled by bloodshed, and only in that is it different from others.”

56. “Theory must also take into account the human element; it must accord a place to courage, to boldness, even to rashness.”

57. “We maintain, on the contrary, that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase “with the addition of other means” because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.”

58. “Strategy can therefore never take its hand from the work for a moment.”

59. “(1) War becomes a completely isolated act, which arises suddenly, and is in no way connected with the previous history of the combatant States. (2) If it is limited to a single solution, or to several simultaneous solutions. (3) If it contains within itself the solution perfect and complete, free from any reaction upon it, through a calculation beforehand of the political situation which will follow from it.”

60. “PRINCIPLE is likewise such a law for action, except that it has not the formal definite meaning, but is only the spirit and sense of law in order to leave the judgment more freedom of application when the diversity of the real world cannot be laid hold of under the definite form of a law.”

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61. “The probability of direct confrontation increases with the aggressiveness of the enemy. So, rather than try to outbid the enemy with complicated schemes, one should, on the contrary, try to outbid him in simplicity”

62. “Out of the whole multitude of prudent men in the world, the great majority are so from timidity.”

63. “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy. - Carl Von Clausewitz

64. “In the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards.”

65. “steam boiler, delivering so and so many pounds of steam to its engines as long as the envelope can contain the pressure; but let a breach in its continuity arise—relieving the boiling water of all restraint—and in a moment the whole mass flashes into vapour, developing a power no work of man can oppose.”

66. “Von der Goltz in excuse for the action of the late President Kruger in 1899: “The Statesman who, knowing his instrument to be ready, and seeing War inevitable, hesitates to strike first is guilty of a crime against his country.”

67. “If we then ask what sort of mind is likeliest to display the qualities of military genius, experience and observation will both tell us that it is the inquiring rather than the creative mind, the comprehensive rather than the specialized approach, the calm rather than the excitable head to which in war we would choose to entrust…”

68. “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

69. “The errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.”

70. “Among uncivilised people, we never really find a great general, and very seldom what we can properly call a military genius because that requires a development of the intelligent powers which cannot be found in an uncivilised state.”

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71. “As the forces in one man after another become prostrated and can no longer be supported by an effort of this own will, the whole inertia of the mass gradually rests its weight on the will of the commander: by the spark in his breast, by the light of his spirit, the spark of purpose, the light of hope, must be kindled in others: in so far only as he is equal to this, he stands above the masses and continues to be their master.”

72. “No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

73. “To introduce into the philosophy of war itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity.”

74. “A distinguished commander without boldness is unthinkable. no man who is not…bold can play such a role, and therefore we consider this quality the first prerequisite of the great military leader. How much of this quality remains by the time he reaches senior rank, after training and experience have affected and modified it, is another question. The greater the extent to which it is retained, the greater the range of his genius.”

75. “The presence of a commander should be constantly felt and evoke a feeling of courage within his men.”

76. “War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.”

77. “Tactics is the art of using troops in battle; strategy is the art of using battles to win the war”

78. “Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds; it is a fallacy that must be exposed: War is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.”

79. “The world has a way of undermining complex plans. This is particularly true in fast moving environments. A fast moving environment can evolve more quickly than a complex plan can be adapted to it. By the time you have adapted, the target has changed.”

80. “To secure peace is to prepare for war.”

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81. “To achieve victory we must mass our forces at the hub of all power & movement. The enemy’s ‘Center of Gravity'”

82. “The Conqueror is always a lover of peace: he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.”

83. “Knowledge must become capability.”

Knowledge must become capability. - Carl Von Clausewitz

84. “Be audacious and cunning in your plans, firm and persevering in their execution, determined to find a glorious end.”

85. “Savage peoples are ruled by passion, civilized peoples by the mind.”

86. “Talent and genius operate outside the rules, and theory conflicts with practice.”

87. “In war, while everything is simple, even the simplest thing is difficult. Difficulties accumulate and produce frictions which no one can comprehend who has not seen war.”

88. “Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage than audacity”

89. “The first and most important rule to observe…is to use our entire forces with the utmost energy. The second rule is to concentrate our power as much as possible against that section where the chief blows are to be delivered and to incur disadvantages elsewhere, so that our chances of success may increase at the decisive point. The third rule is never to waste time. Finally, the fourth rule is to follow up our successes with the utmost energy. Only pursuit of the beaten enemy gives the fruits of victory.”

90. “In war more than anywhere else, things do not turn out as we expect.”

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91. “The best form of defense is attack.”

92. “Self-reliance is the best defence against the pressures of the moment.”

93. “Criticism exists only to recognize the truth, not to act as judge.”

94. “It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.”

95. “Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.”

96. “The general unreliability of all information presents a special problem in war: all action takes place, so to speak, in the twilight, which, like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are. Whatever is hidden from full view in this feeble light has to be guessed at by talent, or simply left to chance. So once again for the lack of objective knowledge, one has to trust to talent or to luck.”

97. “What do we mean by the defeat of the enemy? Simply the destruction of his forces, whether by death, injury, or any other means-either completely or enough to make him stop fighting. . . . The complete or partial destruction of the enemy must be regarded as the sole object of all engagements. . . . Direct annihilation of the enemy’s forces must always be the dominant consideration.”

98. “The best strategy is always to be very strong.”

99. “Where absolute superiority is not attainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skillful use of what you have.”

100. “Knowing is different from doing and therefore theory must never be used as norms for a standard, but merely as aids to judgment.”

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