Thursday, July 4, 2013

Brush Up Your Clausewitz

I am spending some of this year rereading Clausewitz’ On War and at a friend’s suggestion will try to share the experience here. Given the size and complexity of the work, the discussion is likely to be as episodic as the book itself.

As is often the case with a work not written originally in English, the first question is which translation to read. I’m reading the Eighth Printing of the Indexed Edition that came out in 1984 which was the text used when I first read On War at the US Naval War College Command and Staff Course, 1986-1987. This version was translated by Angus Malcolm and Elsbeth Lewin, edited by Peter Paret and Michael Howard, and indexed by Rosalie West (modeling this on the index presented in Professor Werner Hahlweg’s 1952, 1972, and 1980 German editions). The translation upon which this latest edition is based went back to that 1832 edition, supplemented by the annotated German text prepared and published in 1952 by Professor Werner Hahlweg. The addition of the index addressed one of the most telling complaints first registered against the Paret/Howard version.

The Editor’s Note is the first of several introductions and essays that preface the actual text of this translation of On War. Here the editors explain that this is actually the third translation into English of On War. The first was by Colonel J J Graham in 1874, republished in 1909 in London. Unfortunately, this is considered to be both dated in style and suffering from a “large number of inaccuracies and obscurities” primarily it appears because he based his translation on the third German language edition of On War, which is considered to have suffered at the hands of its German editors. It is worth noting that Graham had himself authored a rather complex work on strategy in 1858 entitled Elementary History of the Progress of the Art of War. There is an interesting article on this background at though the author refers to the earlier Paret-Howard edition which did not have the index included in my edition.

A second translation by Professor O J Matthijs Jolles and was published in New York in 1943, a wartime translation to support the War Department. Both Graham’s and Jolles’ translations were based upon German texts that were significantly different from the 1832 First Edition.

The editors also reviewed four notes that were printed in that 1832 edition, but written by Clausewitz at different times between 1816 and 1830 to be an introduction. These are presented here in the order in which the editors believe they were actually written (rather than as published in previous editions). They argue that in the sequence presented here, the notes explain how On War took shape in the author’s mind and what he had in mind for its final form. They also dropped the previously used Preface by Marie von Clausewitz which was focused more upon how that first edition was prepared and did not address the subject of the book itself.

Since reading this and related articles I’ve picked up copies of the other translations and will have to compare them after I’ve finished rereading the Paret/Howard version again.