Corn, Clausewitz, and the True Nature of Conflict

Thanks Eddie at FDNF for alerting me to another fine piece by Tony Corn: Clausewitz in Wonderland. I don’t have the time to put together a coherent review (but I do look forward to the many commentaries that will surely appear over the weekend), so here’s Corn’s opening paragraphs:

"Amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics." In the five years since the 9/11 events, the old military adage has undergone a "transformation" of its own: Amateurs, to be sure, continue to talk about strategy, but real professionals increasingly talk about — anthropology.

In Iraq as in Afghanistan, real professionals have learned the hard way that — to put it in a nutshell — the injunction "Know Thy Enemy, Know Thyself" matters more than the bookish "Know Thy Clausewitz" taught in war colleges. Know thy enemy: At the tactical and operational levels at least, it is anthropology, not Clausewitzology, that will shed light on the grammar and logic of tribal warfare and provide the conceptual weapons necessary to return fire. Know thyself: It is only through anthropological "distanciation" that the U.S. military (and its various "tribes": Army, Navy, etc.) will become aware of its own cultural quirks — including a monomaniacal obsession with Clausewitz — and adapt its military culture to the new enemy.

While I think Clausewitz still has a place on military reading lists, it is imperative that cultural-warfare understanding take priority. The rules of conflict learned from Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Mao, Machievelli, etc (and what about ibn Zafar?) must be placed into the context of society. The strategy is important, but too simplified. Logistics no longer means the same as before. Knowing the enemy is the penultimate requirement that shapes the strategy and creates the logistical requirement.

I suggested my own modification to the adage, but I like Corn’s replacement better than my augmentation