Clausewitz Is Wrong

Dr. Jamie Schwandt
6 min readJan 26, 2019
Illustration pulled from io9.gizmodo.com: Great A’Tuin, the Giant Star Turtle (Chelys galactica), carrying four giant elephants and the Discworld on her back. Image via fyterrypratchett

Clausewitz is wrong. In the U.S. military, a statement like this is both blasphemy and heresy. It’s blasphemy to call Clausewitz irrelevant and it’s heresy to say he “was” or “is” wrong. I will leave it up to you to determine which one.

Carl von Clausewitz book On War is one of the most influential books ever written and is preached across the world in military education. I will admit, I do enjoy the discussion provided in On War. It offers immense value to strategic and abstract thinkers. However, there are fundamental errors in Clausewitz theory.

Center of gravity analysis

image via https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/barycenter/en/

In On War, Clausewitz discusses center of gravity. You may recognize this as a term from physics. It is a point from which the weight of a body or system may be considered to act.

We have formally adopted center of gravity (CoG) in the military. In fact, we define it in Joint Publication (JP) 1–02 as the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. We view it as the enemy source of strength or power. Once identified, we know exactly where to attack. Or do we? In Three Approaches to Center of Gravity Analysis: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, two fundamental problems with CoG analysis are discussed: 1) It is hard to identify; and 2) Different approaches produce different results.

From my perspective, CoG analysis adds more fog than it removes. CoG analysis is backwards. For example, examine Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) methodology. This is a way to identify the most important constraint standing in your way of achieving your goal. It’s like identifying the weakest link in a chain. Once identified, you focus your efforts on strengthening the link.

Looking at this from a military perspective. The strongest link in the chain would be the military interpretation of the CoG. However, why would you attack the strongest link? I would think about this differently and chip away at the weakest links first; thus, leaving the CoG as the only remaining link — if, in fact, a CoG exists.

Karate vs MMA

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Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Dr. Schwandt (Ed.D.) is an American author, L6S master black belt, and red teamer.