Monday, April 23, 2007

An alibi with a feet of clay

Well, it's a mixed metaphor. But it fits the creative interpretations that "stab-in-the-back" theorists make when they come up with the idea that the only reason our infallible generals ever lose a war is because of the gutless civilians back home.

Between a
bad analysis of Carl von Clausewitz and an uncritical reading of John Mueller, you can concoct a heckuva stab-in-the-back alibi.

But there's a little problemita with this, as explained in
Clausewitz's Center of Gravity: Changing Our Warfighting Doctrine - Again! by Antulio J. Echevarria II September 2002 (US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute). Also available here. Echevarria argues that Clausewitz saw "center of gravity" as more of a "focal point" on which to focus military attacks, not as a strength or weakness, as contemparary interpretations often use it.

Oh, and the English translation of the main phrase on which the alibi totters might not be, uh, exactly right, according to Milan Vego in
Clausewitz's Schwerpunkt: Mistranslated from German - Misunderstood in English Military Review (US Army professional journal) Jan/Feb 2007. Vego writes:

As the U.S. Army moves forward in its efforts to transform itself in profound ways, it might be useful for its leadership to reexamine the origins of some concepts that serve as the theoretical underpinnings of current Army and joint [service] doctrine. Among those that should be closely reconsidered is "center of gravity" (COG), a concept widely attributed to Carl von Clausewitz and now regarded as the heart of any sound plan for a campaign or major operation. ...

The term from which the COG concept has been extrapolated, Schwerpunkt, really means "weight (or focus) of effort." In reassessing center of gravity as an underppinning of doctrine, it is important to observe that the original Schwerpunkt concept is actually closer in meaning to what the U.S. military now calls the "sector of main effort" and the "point of main attack" (defense). ... Inc contrast to the modern application of the concept of center of gravity[by the US military], Clausewitz's Schwerpunkt dealt almost exclusively with the strategic level of war.
Vego does leave open a vague possibility at the end that some other concept than Schwerpunkt (he doesn't specify "center of gravity") might be need in "analyzing and applying sources of nonmilitary national power to achieve theater-strategic objectives."

But his article is a reminder of how tricky it can be to try to take a battlefield concept like Schwerpunkt and adapt it to the broader political aspects of war.

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