Air University Review, March-April 1986

Clausewitz: Eastern and
Western Approaches to War

Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., USA (Ret)

"WOKE up at 0300 and it was raining like hell," noted General George S. Patton, Jr., in his diary on 8 November 1944. "I actually got nervous and got up and read Rommel’s book, Infantry Attacks. It was most helpful, as he described all the rains he had in September 1914, and also the fact that, in spite of the heavy rains, the Germans got along."1 This was the incident—cited, with poetic license, over a year-and-a-half earlier at El-Guettar in North Africa—that is immortalized in the movie Patton when George C. Scott shakes his fist at the attacking panzers and shouts, "You S.O.B., I’ve read your book!"

Twenty years later, America’s military commander in Vietnam also sought to read his enemy’s book. In his assessment of the military theories and philosophies of war that influenced the strategic thinking of General Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese general-in-chief, General William C. Westmoreland wrote in his autobiography that General Giap "studied at a Communist military school in China, where he apparently absorbed the teachings of Sun Tzu and of the pedagogue of modern revolutionary warfare, Mao Tse-Tung."2 General Westmoreland kept beside his bed in Saigon "Mao Tse-tung’s little red book on theories of guerilla warfare"3 and bragged that he had "long [been] a student of the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu, who," General Westmoreland stated, "may be called the Clausewitz of the Orient."4 Later, in an address to the staff and faculty of the Chinese National War College in Taiwan, General Westmoreland noted that he "discussed the principles of Sun Tzu as the enemy was practicing them in Vietnam."5 His fascination with Eastern approaches to war was revealed by the fact that in the index to his autobiography, General Westmoreland had no listing for Clausewitz but included six listings for Sun Tzu.

But General Westmoreland was reading the wrong book. One of the most famous aphorisms in Sun Tzu's The Art of War is that in order to achieve victory, one must "know the enemy and know yourself."6 In Vietnam, the American military failed both of these tests, a failure that grew out of false distinctions drawn between Eastern and Western approaches to war.

"Know Yourself"

A major reason such false distinctions were drawn was that the American Vietnam-era military did not "know itself." Within its ranks a vacuum existed on Western approaches to war. The American military has never been noted for its attention to the theories and philosophies of war. If there ever was an American philosopher of war, it was Antoine Henri, Baron de Jomini, who was particularly influential in the Civil War. His concentration on fixed rules and geometric and algebraic formulas became so pervasive that in 1869 then Commanding General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman warned the graduating class at the United States Military Academy against the "insidious and most dangerous mistake" that one could "sit in ease and comfort in his office chair and ... with figures and algebraic symbols, master the great game of war."7

While Jominian influence waned (only to return with a vengeance during the Vietnam War), it was replaced by military theories derived from the post-Civil War writings of Brevet Major General Emory Upton.8 Reflecting these views, a 1936 Army Command and General Staff School manual, The Principles of Strategy, stated boldly: "Politics and strategy are radically and fundamentally things apart. Strategy begins where politics end."9 The very antithesis of Clausewitzian theory, this neo-Uptonian approach was reflected in the American conduct of World War II. As Bernard Brodie has noted, "supporters of the Clausewitzian ideal of keeping political aims always at the forefront of strategic consideration, and, on the other hand, those inclined to the traditional military preference for keeping them out altogether ... played out in a tug of war between Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt."10

During the Korean War, reflecting the Uptonian mind-set (a mind-set shared by most of the senior American generals of World War II), General of the Army Douglas MacArthur testified before the Senate in 1951 that "the general definition which for many decades has been acceptable was that war was an ultimate process of politics; that when all of the political means failed we then go to force."11 This was a direct rejection of the Clausewitzian belief that "war should never be thought of as something autonomous but always as an instrument of policy."12

The relief of General MacArthur from command during the Korean War over just such policy issues marked the end of these neo-Uptonian theories. While there was a brief attempt after the Korean War to begin to build a theoretical structure for U.S. military policy on Clausewitzian principles—the Army's 1954 Field Service Regulations, for example, emphasized that "since war is a political act, its broad and final objectives are political; therefore, its conduct must conform to policy and its outcome realize the objectives of policy"13 –these Clausewitzian beginnings were soon overtaken by the impact of nuclear weapons on American military thought. Historian Russell Weigley has commented on the result:

A national military policy and strategy relying upon massive nuclear retaliation for nearly all the uses of force left the Army uncertain of its place in the policy and strategy, uncertain that civilians recognized a need even for the Army's existence and uncertain therefore of the Service's whole future.14

When President John F. Kennedy took office, this vacuum was filled at the managerial level by the neo-Jominian policies of then Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and their emphasis on hard data, quantification, and computerization. At the operational level, it was filled by the social science-derived theories of "counterinsurgency."15 Adopting "counterinsurgency" as the basis of Army doctrine required defining the enemy in terms of "insurgency," which, in turn, led to what General Westmoreland had called "the pedagogue of modern revolutionary warfare, Mao Tse-tung," and to the military philosophies of Sun Tzu from which it was commonly believed Mao's theories were derived.

"Know Your Enemy"

In his masterful 1963 translation of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, USMC (Ret), devoted an entire chapter to "Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-tung" and emphasized that Mao had "been strongly influenced by Sun Tzu's thought, [an influence] apparent in his works which deal with military strategy and tactics." General Griffith went on to conclude:

It has often been said that had Western leaders read Hitler's Mein Kampf, they would have been somewhat better equipped than they were to deal with him. Some familiarity with Mao’s speeches and writings, together with the major works which provide their conceptual framework, would assist leaders of the present generation to an equal degree. From any collection of such works, The Art of War could not be omitted. 16

Commenting on such beliefs, Raymond Aron observed:

Some people are inclined to see Mao as anti-Clausewitzian, as being more in the tradition of classical Chinese writings.... Certainly Mao sometimes quoted Sun Tzu, and inasmuch as a non-Chinese-speaking commentator, who is also ignorant of the military thought of classical China, can risk a judgment, he appears to have been inspired by certain aspects of the age-old wisdom forged by the oldest empire in the world. Besides, wars fought between conflicting states before imperial unification in some ways resemble the civil wars.17

Because Vietnam-era American military leaders were not only "ignorant of the military thought of classical China" but also not well grounded in classical Western military philosophy either, it was not apparent to them that while Sun Tzu's Art of War was important to an understanding of Maoist theory, it was not the basis of that theory. Above all, Mao's theories rested on what Clausewitz called the "remarkable trinity" of the people, the government, and the army18 and especially depended on the mobilization of the people. It is critical to understand that Sun Tzu's Art of War, on the other hand, fits into the category of what in the West is known as eighteenth-century military literature. As Clausewitz explained:

In the eighteenth century,…war was still an affair for governments alone, and the people's role was simply that of an instrument....The executive represented the state in its foreign relations…The people's part has been extinguished…War thus became solely the concern of the government to the extent that governments parted company with their peoples and behaved as if they were themselves the state.19

Thus, while Sun Tzu remains an important philosopher of war, the one thing he most definitely was not is the "Clausewitz of the Orient." As Griffith makes clear in his introduction to The Art of War, Sun Tzu flourished during the 150 years between 450 and 300 B.C., in what was known as the period of the "Warring States." Like eighteenth-century Europe, China was then divided into a number of separate countries—Ch’in, Chin, Yen, Ch'i, Lu, Sung, Chou, Ch'u, and Wu—each of which had its own armies. Sun Tzu was a native of Ch'i who began as an advisor to the king of Wu. According to the ancient chronicles, forces under his command "defeated the strong state of Ch'u to the west and entered Ying; to the north, he intimidated Ch'i and Chin."20 As Lionel Giles put it so well in his earlier translation of The Art of War, "the only warfare Sun Tzu knows is that carried on between various feudal princes."21 Moreover, Sun Tzu's victories were based on what Raymond Aron has called "the school of ruse, deceit, and indirect action."22

The oriental strategisms contained in Sun Tzu's The Art of War, while valuable, are more comparable to those in Niccolò Machiavelli's similarly titled Arte della Guerra (Art of war). Just as Machiavelli influenced Carl von Clausewitz,23 so Sun Tzu influenced Mao Tse-tung. But there were other more powerful and fundamental influences. In order to understand Mao, as Raymond Aron has written, "laws of war themselves, followed by laws of revolutionary war, and finally laws resulting from the peculiarities of China, have to be understood."24 There was a syncretic relationship between these laws, laws rooted in the peasant revolutions of China's past. As Mao himself said, "in thousands of years of history ... it was peasant uprisings that brought about most dynastic changes."25

The Chinese Clausewitz

A key to the fundamental classical influences on Mao Tse-tung's theories of war was contained in the marginal notes that he wrote in his ethics text in 1917:

When we read history, we always praise the time of the Warring States, the time of the struggle between Liu Chi and HsiangYu, the, time of Han Wu-Ti's battle with the Huns, . . . the periods when the situation is constantly changing, and when talents were continually emerging.26

Mao—who, in his speeches, continually referred to the Chinese people as Han jen or "Men of Han"—found the roots of his military theory in the beginnings of the Han dynasty in the third century B.C.

In 230 B.C., the kingdom of Ch'in, which had been hardened by constant warfare with its barbarian neighbors, descended on the rest of China. Ch’in’s army was completely ruthless. Ch'in adopted more modern and efficient methods of warfare, including the use of mobile cavalry, while the other Chinese states were still engaging in rather chivalrous warfare with strict rules of proper conduct. Ch'in had universal conscription to man three armies. One army, composed of all able-bodied men, served as the warriors; the second, consisting of all able-bodied women, constructed the defenses and carried provisions; and the third, consisting of the old and feeble, foraged and guarded the cattle.27 In 221 B.C., the last of the separate states fell, and Ch'in emerged as the victor. China was completely unified for the first time in her history and took her modern name, China, from the state of Ch'in.

Instituting a set of particularly harsh laws with a political philosophy known as "Legalism,"the Ch'in dynasty began to come apart soon after it was founded, and revolts broke out throughout the empire. Out of these revolts arose the father of Chinese revolutionary war, Liu Chi—a man who in important ways was China's Clausewitz. Born a simple peasant in 248 B.C. in the village of Chung-yang in P'ei Commandery (the present Kiangsu Province), Liu Chi worked his way to a minor position as a village official under the Ch'in dynasty. Condemned to death because several prisoners assigned to his care escaped, he subsequently fled to the hills and became the leader of an outlaw band. In October 209 B.C., at the age of forty, he was summoned with his band to join the revolt of the chief magistrate of P'ei Commandery against the hated Ch'in dynasty. When the chief magistrate vacillated, Liu Chi killed him and assumed the leadership of the local revolt.28

The banner of revolution had been raised the previous August by another peasant, Ch'en She, also under sentence of death (for being late in reporting for duty, due to heavy rains). The harsh Ch'in laws had exactly the opposite effect from their intent. Men already under sentence of death for minor infractions felt that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain in joining a revolt.

Sensing the need for an ideological basis for their revolution, the rebels turned to the political philosophy of Confucianism. Since the Ch'in emperors had been so violently against Confucianism, the, people felt that there must be some merit in a philosophy that was antipathetic to Legalism. Capitalizing on the people's respect for Confucianism and the people's resentment of the harsh and tyrannical rule of the Ch'in, the rebels were successful in promoting a general revolution, which spread throughout the empire. However, rebel Ch'en She was defeated and assassinated by his own charioteer. The leadership of the overall revolt passed to Hsiang Yu, an aristocrat and a descendant of famous generals. In order to legitimize the rebellion and bring in further recruits, Hsiang Yu set up a puppet government headed by King Huai of the state of Ch'u. In November 207 B.C., King Huai united the rebel armies, appointing Hsiang Yu to the command of one field army and Liu Chi to the command of another smaller field army. The two chief protagonists for the imperial throne, the aristocrat Hsiang Yu and the peasant Liu Chi, were nominally united in a common cause.

Liu Chi was sent to the west to subjugate the Ch'in capital, while Hsiang Yu moved north against the main Ch'in army. Hsiang Yu was a capable and ruthless general. He crossed the Chang River in the face of a superior force, burned his boats, destroyed all but three days' worth of his provisions, and boldly attacked the enemy. In a series of nine battles, he defeated the enemy decisively, captured the generals, and burned their camps. He then turned on the remaining Ch'in general, Chang Han. Chang Han suffered a minor defeat and, although he had 200,000 soldiers left, surrendered on the promise of a kingdom. When the surrendered Ch'in army showed signs of discontent about the actions of its general, Hsiang Yu had the entire 200,000-man force massacred. He then started for the capital of Ch'in, leading an army said to number 400,000 men.

Meanwhile, Liu Chi had been working his way westward with his small force. On the road, he met a party of Confucian scholars and paid his respects in a rather peculiar manner:

Some Confucians came to Liu Chi in full costume, with their scholar's bonnets on.... In order to show contempt for them, Liu Chi suddenly snatched off a bonnet and urinated into it.... He had an aversion to the sight of Confucian scholars.29

Later, a village elder and Confucian scholar, Li Yi-chi, called on Liu Chi, who received him squatting on a bed, with two maids washing his feet. Li Yi-chi rebuked him, saying, "if your honor firmly wishes to destroy the utterly inhuman dynasty of Ch'in, it is not fitting that you should interview your senior squatting down."31 Liu Chi, in a famous incident, begged the scholar's pardon and conducted him to a seat of honor. Li Yi-chi became Liu Chi's political advisor and psychological warfare expert, advising him on the methods to win hearts and minds. As we shall see, these slights to the Confucian scholars (who were to become the official historians of Imperial China) were to have effects that have extended into our own time.

In November 207 B.C., Liu Chi entered the state of Ch'in through a little-used southern pass and defeated the Ch'in armies that were defending the capital. Refusing to execute the defeated generals of Ch'in, Liu Chi sealed up the depositories, treasuries, and libraries of the Ch'in emperor and encamped his men outside the capital. He issued strict orders to his troops; "the soldiers were ordered, wherever they went, not to be rude, nor to pillage, so that the people of Ch'in were delighted."31

In a further attempt to win the popular support of the people, Liu Chi issued a famous proclamation to the defeated enemy:

Fathers and Elders, you have suffered long enough from the cruel laws of the Ch'in; those who spoke ill or criticized the government have been cruelly executed with their relatives, those who talked in private have been publicly executed in the market place.... I am merely going to agree with you upon a code of laws in three articles: he who kills anyone will be put to death; he who wounds anyone will be punished according to his offense; as to the remainder I am repealing and doing away with the laws of the Ch'in....All that I have come for is to deliver your Elders from harm. I do not have any intention of exploiting or tyrannizing over you. Do not be afraid.32

Even though the harsh Ch'in laws were not actually repealed until after Liu Chi's death, his propaganda theme was effective. The people flocked to him with gifts of cattle, sheep, wine, and food for his troops. Liu Chi refused the offerings, saying, "In the government granaries there is much grain; I do not wish to be a burden on the people."33 Liu Chi ensured that news of his generosity was disseminated throughout the kingdom of Ch'in, and the people, expecting death, rape, pillage, and plunder from their conquerors, worshipped him.

In the meantime, Hsiang Yu approached the Ch'in capital from the east with his army of 400,000 men, greatly outnumbering Liu Chi's army of approximately 100,000. Hsiang Yu was so outraged that a mere peasant had beaten him to the Ch'in capital that he wanted to attack Liu Chi immediately. Chang Liang, Liu Chi's advisor, dissuaded him, pointing out that all the treasure had been sealed up, awaiting Hsiang Yu's arrival. Hsiang Yu vented his rage on the Ch'in capital. He abrogated Liu Chi's promises, executed the Ch'in emperor who had surrendered to Liu Chi, massacred the people, and burned the palaces and courts of the Ch'in regime.

King Kuai was placed on the throne as I Huang-ti or third emperor. In reality, the third emperor was only a puppet, for Hsiang Yu kept the actual power to himself. He reestablished the old feudal empire destroyed by the first emperor, dividing the empire among his subordinates. Liu Chi was virtually exiled to the kingdom of Han, in present Shensi and Szechuan provinces, away from central China. Incensed by his shabby treatment but badly outnumbered, Liu Chi departed for Han with only 30,000 troops. But, most important, he left with the goodwill of the people of Ch'in.

Liu Chi brooded in his far-off kingdom and plotted with his advisors. He cast about for a suitable area from which to launch his revolt against Hsiang Yu and decided finally on the kingdom of Ch'in as his base of operations. In words that Clausewitz echoed two thousand years later in his discussion on the selection of guerrilla base areas, Liu Chi enumerated the strategic advantages of Ch'in:

Ch'in is a country with an excellent geographical situation. It is girdled by the Yellow River, with mountains as barriers, separated from the rest of the world along a thousand li (300 miles) of border. ... The strength of Ch'in is proportionate to double that of a hundred enemy. Its geographical situation is convenient and favorable; when it sends down its troops from the passes upon the nobles, it is like a person on the top of a high building upsetting water into a tile gutter.34

Leaving his general, Han Hsin, as King of Han, Liu Chi marched against Ch'in and secured the capital as his base of operation. His earlier generosity paid handsome dividends for the people of Ch'in flocked to his banner. In order to ensure their continued support, Liu Chi opened the imperial pastures, enclosures, gardens, and ponds to the common people to make cultivated fields; he exempted the families of his soldiers from taxes for one year; he appointed the san-lo, (village elders) to rule over their own villages and exempted them from forced labor and garrison service; he proclaimed an amnesty for criminals; he provided shrouds, coverlets, coffins, encoffining, and return to the family for burial for all soldiers who died in his service; he promoted to noble rank all those who brought 10,000 troops into his service; and he exempted the neighboring states of Shu and Han, which had been heavily burdened with furnishing supplies for his army, from land taxes and contributions for two years.35 After the tyranny of the Ch'in and the cruelty of Hsiang Yu, Liu Chi was looked upon as the savior of the people.

In November 106 B.C., Hsiang Yu made a fatal mistake. Seizing total power, he executed the puppet third emperor, and, in so doing, relieved his rival, Liu Chi, of his fealty to the imperial throne. Liu Chi quickly raised an army of 560,000 troops, captured Hsiang Yu's capital, and "liberated" the absent leader's concubines and treasures. But Hsiang Yu returned to his capital with a picked army of 30,000 men and attacked Liu Chi's army on the banks of the Sui River. Liu Chi was routed, and so many men were killed that the flow of the river was blocked. Liu Chi learned a bitter lesson. From that point on, he avoided pitched battles, kept his field forces mobile, attacked Hsiang Yu's army only when its leader was absent, and maintained a secure base area in Ch'in under his Grand Councilor, Hsiang Ho. Most significantly, he capitalized on the goodwill of the people of Ch'in. After every defeat, Liu Chi was able to raise a new army immediately—even the old, the weak, and the young flocked to him. Although his army lost several major engagements, his advisors were captured and boiled alive, and the nobles deserted him, the common people never lost faith in him.

Losing most of his battles, Liu Chi nevertheless won the war. In January 202 B.C., Hsiang Yu committed suicide after being wounded ten times. His immortal final words were: "Heaven has forsaken me. I have never made a military error."36 But Hsiang Yu had made the gravest error of them all, for it is axiomatic in Chinese history that heaven forsakes only those who have committed the cardinal sin of losing the hearts of the people.37

After being entreated three times by his subordinates, Liu Chi finally consented to become emperor, and on 28 February 202 B.C., he ascended the imperial throne as Han Kao Tsu, the founder of the Han dynasty, one of the greatest of the Chinese dynasties.38

This brief overview of the first successful peasant revolution in Chinese history and especially the emphasis in the ancient texts on the importance of winning the confidence of the common people makes clear the critical influence of Liu Chi on Mao Tse-tung's theories. Thus, the foreword to a 1947 article in Mao's Selected Works states:

From the earliest days, Comrade Mao Tse-tung required that his soldiers speak politely to the masses, pay fairly for all purchases, never impress the people into forced labor, or hit or swear at people.

The article reveals (without giving credit to the similar guidance set down by Liu Chi in 206 B.C.) that Mao issued strict orders to his troops in the spring of 1928:

These "Three Main Rules of Discipline" were added to in the summer of 1928, with the "Six Points for Attention":

In 1929, two additional points for attention were added: "Don't bathe within sight of women" and "Don't search the pockets of captives."39 Just as a disciplined soldiery won support for Liu Chi in 206 B.C., the discipline of Mao's troops favorably impressed the peasants of the twentieth century. The Clausewitzian "remarkable trinity" had been established, a "remarkable trinity" first created by Liu Chi in the third century B.C.

In 1935-36, Mao again emulated his early predecessor when his Red Army escaped from Nationalist encirclement in South China and made the famous Long March to a new base area in the north. This new base area in Yenan was in the ancient state of Ch'in in precisely the same place that the "Chinese Clausewitz" Liu Chi had established his base—the mountain stronghold that dominated the North China plain, which contained the bulk of China's population.

But these "Chinese Clausewitzian" roots of Mao Tse-tung thought were not apparent to those seeking the basis of his military theories. They were not apparent because they were deliberately obscured by Mao himself. Because of some unusual and little-known facts about Chinese historiography, it was quite impolitic for Mao to identify with Liu Chi. Mao would use his precursor's revolutionary strategies but would refuse to acknowledge his debt to the originator of peasant revolutionary warfare. China, with several milleniums of recorded history, had reduced most personages to historical models or stereotypes. The facts were selected to fit the stereotypes. Chinese historians had one fundamental concern: to create models that would inspire men and mold their conduct.40 This selection was common not only in official histories but also in popular plays, in popular fiction, and in education, where, traditionally, teaching by imitation had relied heavily on models and precedents more than rules.

By an odd quirk of history, possibly because of his contempt for the Confucian scholars who were also the official historians, Liu Chi was relegated to an obscure position in Chinese folk legend. His principal opponent, Hsiang Yu, on the other hand, was exemplified as an example of the brave and fearless warrior who was the embodiment of a military leader.41 Liu Chi was portrayed in Chinese popular fiction as a monument of hypocrisy compared to his straightforward, noble, artless rival, Hsiang Yu.42

Mao perpetuated the legend that he drew his inspiration from the bandit heroes of such popular romantic novels as Water Margin and Tales of Three Kingdoms, whose fictional deeds were modeled on the actual exploits of Liu Chi.43 Both Mao's rivals among the returned-student intelligentsia of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao's mortal (Chinese Nationalist) enemies were quite content to accept and perpetuate the legend that popular but tawdry romantic novels of the common people had influenced the peasant mentality of Mao Tse-tung, rather than consider the possibility that Mao might have been influenced by respectable classical texts.44

While in the East there was a question of whether Mao Tse-tung had read and profited from the ancient chronicles of Chinese history, in the West there was another question. "Does all this mean that Mao Tse-tung studied Clausewitz?" asked Raymond Aron (who may well have also asked, "Does all this mean that Clausewitz had studied Liu Chi?"). Answering his own question, he said:

I cannot say so, [but] the thought processes seem to be the same for the simple reason that they reflect common sense and use the same concepts. In the middle of the object (war) man is both subject and object because war is struggle and involves two enemies, each with a brain. Clausewitz and Mao Tse-tung [and Liu Chi] both state that man decides all.45

Echoing the same theme, Michael Howardnotes that while war resolves itself into "a struggle for the control of territory" such

control over territory involves also control over the people who live there, and here again the Clausewitzian insights have a lasting relevance…Mao Tse-tung and the theorists of revolutionary warfare gave to this social dimension an overriding importance which perhaps it deserves only in the context of "wars of national liberation"; but it is one that strategists under any circumstances ignore at their peril.... If the people themselves are not prepared if necessary to take part in the defence of their country, they cannot in the long run be protected.46

The lasting legacy of the military philosophies of Liu Chi, Clausewitz, and Mao Tse-Tung is reflected in the fact that the People’s Republic of China, alone of the major powers, lists "political mobilization" as one of its principles of war.47 During the Vietnam War, the United States was so mesmerized by its ill-thought-out doctrines of counterinsurgency that it expended its efforts in a futile attempt to "win the hearts and minds" of the South Vietnamese people, disregarding the fact that the first task was to establish its own "remarkable trinity"—to "win the hearts and minds" of the American people in support of that way. Instead, the American people were deliberately excluded from the strategic equation, first by the academic limited-war theorists and then by their commander in chief. Ultimately, the United States found, to its sorrow, that Clausewitz knew what he was talking about when he warned that

a theory that ignores [the "remarkable trinity" of the people, the army and the government] ... would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.48

As I have discussed in detail elsewhere, 49 it was not the wily and inscrutable oriental strategisms of Sun Tzu that caused our undoing in Vietnam. It was failure to understand and appreciate the lasting relevance of classic Western military theories and the importance of the principles of war. The great irony is that while the United States ignored these "Western" approaches to war, the North Vietnamese Army followed them almost to the letter. It was not so much that American commanders read the wrong book on the art and science of war as it was that, in too many cases, they had read no such book at all.

One of the aftereffects of the Vietnam War has been a reappreciation of the importance of military history and classic military theory. Today, we are experiencing a revival in the study of the fundamentals of military art and science. All of this gives hope that by the bedside of any future American battlefield commander will be that most valuable of military texts, Carl von Clausewitz's OnWar. With that frame of reference, as a guide, a commander can then shout with confidence at any enemy he might face, "You S.O.B., I've read the book!"

Washington, DC


    1. Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, 1940-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1974), p. 571.

    2. General William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (GardenCity, New York: Doubleday, 1976), p. 404.

    3. Ibid., pp. 277-78.

    4. Ibid., p. 102.

    5. Ibid., p. 369.

    6. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by Samuel B. Griffith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963) p. 84.

    7. General William Tecumseh Sherman, Address to the Graduating Class of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, June15th 1869 (New York: Van Nostrand, 1869), p. 8.

    8. Brevet Major General Emory Upton, The Military Policy of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1917).

    9. The Principles of Strategy for an IndependentCorps or Armyin a Theater of Operations (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Command and General Staff School Press, 1936), p. 19.

    10. Bernard Brodie, Warand Politics (New York: Macmillan, 1973), p. 37.

    11. 82d Congress, lst Session, Hearings before the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Military Situationinthe Far East (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1951), vol. 1, p. 45.

    12. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 8.

    13. Field Manual 100-5, Field Service Regulations—Operations (Washington: Government Printing Office, 27 September 1954). p. 7.

    14. Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of Way: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1973). p. 418.

    15. For a detailed analysis of the impact of counterinsurgency on the Army, see Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1982), chapter 7. See also Douglas S. Blaufarb, The CounterinsurgencyEra (New York: Free Press, 1976).

    16. Sun Tzu, pp. 45, 55-56.

    17. Raymond Aron: Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, translated by Christine Booker and Norman Stone (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 302.

    18. Clausewitz, p. 89.

    19. Ibid., pp. 583, 589-91.

    20. Sun Tzu, pp. 57, 59.

    21. Lionel Giles, Sun Tzu on The Art of War: The Oldest Military Treatise in the World (London: Luzac and Company, 1910), p. xxv.

    22. Aron, p. 302.

    23. Ibid., pp. 20, 58, 86, 226.

    24. Ibid., p. 298.

    25. Mao Tse-tung, "The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party," Selected Works, III, December 1939, p. 74.

    26. The notation in the ethics text is reported in Li Jui, Mao Tse-tung T'ung Chih Ti Ch'u-ch'i Ko-ming Huo-tung (Peking: Chung-kuo Ch’ing-nien Ch’u-pan She 1957). This is especially relevant because it was an authorized hagliography of Mao published in Communist China. See Stuart Schram, Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung (New York: Praeger, 1963), p. 14.

    27. Ssuma Ch'ien, Shih Chi, quoted in Derk Bodde, China's First Unifier: A Study of the Ch'in Dynasty as seen in the Life of Li Ssu (280? - 208 B.C.)(Leiden: Sinica Leidensia III, E. J. Brill, 1938), p. 7.

    28. Pan Ku, Ch'ien Han Shu, translated by Homer H. Dubs as History of the FormerHan Dynasty (Baltimore, Maryland: Waverly Press, 1938), 3 volumes, I, 1A:la-5b.

    29. Ibid., p. 19.

    30. Ibid., p. 1A: 15b.

    31. Ibid., p. 1A:18a.

    32. Ibid., p. 1A:20b.

    33. Ibid.

    34. Ibid., pp. 1B:8a. Note the similarity to Clausewitz’s comments in his chapter "The People in Arms" (On War, p. 481-82).

    35. Ibid., p. 1A:30b-31a.

    36. Ibid., p. 1B:2a

    37. James Legge, The Chinese Classics, 5 volumes (Hong Kong: London Missionary Society Printing Office, 1861), Ta Hsueh, p. X.5, and Li Chi (Book of Odes), p. 42.

    38. Ibid., p. 1B:3b.

    39. Mao Tse-tung, "On the Reissue of the Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention: Instructions of the General Headquarters of the Chinese People's Liberation Army," 10 October 1947, SelectedWorks, V, p. 156.

    40. Arthur F. Wright, "Sui Yang-ti, Personality and Stereotype," The Confucian Persuasion (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1960), pp. 47-76.

    41. Wang Shao Chi, China and her Great Men (Taipei: Chinese Association for the Advancement of Science, 1962), p. 45.

    42. Robert Ruhlmann, "Traditional Heroes in Chinese Popular Fiction," in The Confucian Persuasion, edited by Arthur F. Wright, p. 185.

    43. Mao Tse-tung, quoted in Edgar A. Snow, Red Star over China (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937), pp. 129-30.

    44. See, for example, "Historical References in Mao's Selected Work" China News Analysis, 22 January 1971.

    45. Aron, p. 301.

    46. Michael Howard, Clausewitz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 72-73.

    47. Joint Staff Officers Guide 1984, Armed Forces Staff College Publication 1, 1 July 1984, pp. 1-5.

    48. Clausewitz, p. 89.

    49. Summers, op. cit.


Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., USA (Ret.) (B.S., University of Maryland; M.M.A.S., U.S. Army Command and General Staff College), is Senior Military Correspondent for U.S. News and World Report. A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, he held the General Douglas MacArthur Chair of Military Research at Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and taught strategy there and at Army Command and General Staff College, retiring after 38 years of military service. He is the author of On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1982) and The Vietnam War Almanac (forthcoming). Colonel Summers is a graduate of Army War College and a previous contributor to the Review.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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