Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to on War
Baillergeon, Rick, Infantry
Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War. By Jon Tetsuro Sumida. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2008, 234 pages, $29.95.
The sheer mention of his name can quickly bring immediate discomfort and a general uneasiness to those who are familiar with the man. Ask that same person to begin reading his most referenced publication and paralysis could very well set in. What man and his work could possibly evoke such actions? As many of you have probably already surmised, only Carl von Clausewitz and his volume, On War, can generate such physical and mental reactions in so many.
It has been more than 178 years since the death of Clausewitz. Yet, today passionate debate continues regarding the man and the "book." Perhaps, no other person or book associated with war has been as scrutinized or questioned as much as Clausewitz or On War. This in itself is highly intriguing since many who are vocal on these subjects have never completed the book in total. Clearly, nò other volume related to war has instilled such varying degrees of emotion.
Throughout this debate, there have been numerous attempts to interpret Clausewitz and On War in print. Having read many of these efforts, I must admit that most left me more confused than before I had started. Despite their attempts to provide understanding, many of the books only muddied the waters more. Thus, when Jon Tetsuro Sumida 's Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War was published, I was extremely hesitant to pick up the book.
Before I made the decision, I conducted some research. Certainly, in a book of this distinct subject area the credentials of the author are imperative. My investigation indicated Sumida was at least historically up to pursuing the challenge of tackling the topic. First, he has garnered an excellent reputation as a military historian. This standing was built primarily with his body of work in naval history and in the prestigious academic positions he has held in several institutions. Second, Sumida has studied Clausewitz for many years (since 1992) and written numerous articles on the man and On War. He is clearly not a novice in the subject area. Finally, having read some of his past material, I have found him to possess an engaging and effective writing style. Undoubtedly, this would be an asset in any attempt to articulate Clausewitz. In total, these credentials persuaded me to begin reading the book, a decision which would prove highly beneficial.
As I began reading Decoding Clausewitz, it was immediately evident this book would be unlike others based on Sumida 's purpose for the book. Unlike other authors' motives in interpreting On War, which I felt were principally self-promoting, Sumida focused in another direction. In his preface he states, ". . . my intended objective is neither to produce an executive summary of a text nor to devise the definitive interpretation of that text, but to orient the learning perspective of a reader of On War in a matter that will enable that person to negotiate this book as its author intended ..."
I believe readers will agree with me in assessing that Decoding Clausewitz not only strives for this objective but clearly achieves it. How does Sumida meet this obviously challenging objective? I believe there are three true keys that support him. To begin with, he undoubtedly grasps the difficulties readers have with On War. Further, …
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Publication information: Article title: Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to on War. Contributors: Baillergeon, Rick - Author. Magazine title: Infantry. Volume: 100. Issue: 3 Publication date: June-August 2011. Page number: 52+. © Infantry Magazine Nov/Dec 1996. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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