Patton, Rommel, Montgomery and Zhukov are among such names that have certainly acquired a very strong position in the discussions regarding wars. The list of notable warriors might be full of names like Napoleon and Fredrick the Great but the works of Karl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu on art and conduct of wars has certainly made them prominent in history. They both are separately and carefully studied and praised for each of their contributions in counseling wars, they have though much things in common but are different in cognition (Ando).
One of the major differences between the two lies in the concept of achieving victory. Sun Tzu believes that best way to do this is not to fight at all. He proclaims, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”By defeating the enemy strategically and without fighting certainly becomes a source of discomfort for him, the best way to do this is to isolate the enemies from his allies. The major ingredients for achieving success in such matters are; the use of diplomacy, propaganda and secret agents. By doing this the one can easily discourage enemy’s plans and allies, hence nullifying the need to engage in war for getting victorious. On the contrary, Clausewitz believes that in order to defeat any all out attack must be engage by inserting all the efforts required. As per Michael Howard assessment Clausewitz, has always been assertive on the fact that diplomacy and spying is more political rather than a military issue. Therefore by comparing with Sun Tzu’s idea of getting victory without a fight, is entirely opposite to the Clausewitz idea of being victorious by launching all out attack (Ando).
Another difference between these two-war theorists lies in making prediction regarding wars. Sun Tzu’s word clearly shows that he conceive war as a predictable event. He was so much optimistic that he believes that as long as a commander will follow his instructions he can easily tell which side shall be victorious and which side will face defeat. Unlike Sun Tzu, Clausewitz being a soldier he did not ignored the external or uncontrollable factors, like “fog” can create immaculate hindrances during the war (Ando).
The third and the foremost difference lie in their opinions as well. As Sun Tzu stated, victory without fighting as “the acme of skill” and he is also in favor of taking whole army at once. He admired the way of defeating an army without any loss. While Clausewitz on the other hand wants to be victorious by engaging complete annihilation against the enemy. This can be verified from Clausewitz statement, “by daring all to win all” (Ando).
In spite of the numerous differences, they do have many things in common. Both of them have given morale the utmost importance for both the commander armies and home front. They both agree it is best for the countries to end wars fast. Otherwise, the expenses and overheads including the conscripts training would rise considerably. Clausewitz also acknowledge the importance of ending wars fast by making the statement that a good general can give orders but soldiers must have the capacity to follow them (Ando).
Idea of strength is the third area in which both of the theorist agrees and consider it as very critical part of war. Sun Tzu emphasized that there is nothing comparable to a victorious army and on the other hand, Clausewitz believes that the best strategy is to get stronger and stronger (Ando).
Choosing between these two is difficult because they both have strengths and weaknesses. If pinned down to make a decision, which I am, I would probably agree more with Clausewitz mainly because of his recognition of the friction that occurs on the battlefield. Though Sun Tzu’s words of, “a victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle” are crucial to successful war planning, Clausewitz’s practicality ultimately wins out (Ando).
Their philosophies are applicable to naval warfare as well even though they have not written on this topic. Sun Tzu and Clausewitz believe that politics and correct strategy are necessary for safeguarding national interest. They also affirmed that forces should remain focused in order to win any battle. Philosophy of Sun Tzu’s is rather more deception oriented and develop such a way that enemies will fight on your terms. Sun Tzu describes it as “Those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform. They entice him with something he is certain to take, and with lures of ostensible profit, they wait for him in strength.” In history, it is evident that previous governments have applied Sun Tzu’s philosophy to naval warfare. Like Elizabeth I for instance, while dealing with Spanish Armada in 1588 Sun Tzu’s philosophy was applied (Zapotoczny 1).
It was almost two hundred vessels, which English were carrying along and met the Spanish Armada in English Channel. English craft were well equipped and using state of the art technology in their crafts stressed up the entire Spanish Armada. While the employment Strategy of the Spanish Armada was more base upon the Clausewitz’s theory of destruction and achievement of victory (Zapotoczny 1). Clausewitz describes it this way:
Combat is the only effective force in war; its aim is to destroy the enemy’s forces as a means to a further end. . . . It follows that the destruction of the enemy’s forces underlies all military actions; all plans are ultimately based on it, resting on it like an arch on its abutment. . . . The decision by arms is for all major and minor operations in war what cash payment is in commerce. . . . Thus, it is evident that destruction of the enemy forces is always the superior, more effective means, with which others cannot compete. We do claim that the direct annihilation of the enemy’s forces must always be the dominant consideration. We simply want to establish this dominance of the destructive principle.
As many troops as possible should be brought into the engagement at the decisive point. . . . This is the first principle of strategy” Also, “The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point. . . . There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated. (1)
Sun Tzu’s approach calls for the need to keep one’s own dispositions “shapeless” in order to avoid disclosing one’s intentions (Zapotoczny 1). Sun Tzu states:
The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you. It is according to the shapes that I lay plans for victory, but the multitude does not comprehend this. Although everyone can see the outward aspects, none understands the way in which I have created victory. (1)
Sun Tzu believed in the indirect approach, which relates to the search for comparative advantage, economy of force, surprise and deception, and limited war. Clarity and decisive action are most important for Clausewitz. The very idea of tolerating an ongoing dispute or a “shared sea” would be completely contrary to his beliefs. Sun Tzu is clearly more adequate to the task of describing war at sea, than Clausewitz is. (Zapotoczny 2)
Ando. “Your History Questions Answered. Even If You Never Asked”.
An essay written for War and Diplomacy class (2008): 1
Walter S. Zapotoczny. “Sun Tzu and Clausewitz Applied to War at Sea”.
Related Articles (2006): 1-2
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