Southern Trident: Strategy, History, and the Rise of Australian Naval Power

By David Stevens; John Reeve | Go to book overview

3
History and theory: the
Clausewitzian ideal and its
implications
Jon Sumida

Clausewitz's work stands out among those very few older books which have presented profound and original insights that have not been adequately absorbed in later literature.

Bernard Brodie, 1976

In the opening sentences of Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, Julian Corbett, Britain's most important historian and theorist of naval conflict, expressed views on the value of war theory that were similar to those of Carl von Clausewitz, the author of On War. ‘At first sight,’ he observed,

nothing can appear more unpractical, less promising of useful result, than to approach the study of war with a theory. There seems indeed to be something essentially antagonistic between the habit of mind that seeks theoretical guidance and that which makes for the successful conduct of war. The conduct of war is so much a question of personality, of character, of common-sense, of rapid decision upon complex and ever-shifting factors, and those factors themselves are so varied, so intangible, so dependent upon unstable moral and physical conditions, that it seems incapable of being reduced to anything like true scientific analysis. 1

Corbett went on to quote Clausewitz's views on the proper role of theory not as a prescriber of conduct in battle, but as a guide to self-education.

-40-

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