TO WAR FOR FREEDOM, HATRED AND DIGNITY
I apostatize from an irresponsible hope for salvation by the hand of chance…; from the false resignation of
suppressed intellectual faculties; from the
unreasonable mistrust in the powers given to us from God; from the shameless sacrifice of all honour of the state and the people, all personal, all human dignity. I believe and profess, that a people has nothing higher to value than the dignity and freedom of their being; that they should defend this to the last drop of blood. That they have no more holy duty to fulfil, no higher law of thought to obey…That the honour of the king and the government is one with the honour of the people and the only palladium of their welfare [cf. Greek mythology Pallas Athena as safeguard]; that a people is invincible in their noble fight for freedom; that the downfall [der Untergang] of this freedom after a bloody and honourable fight itself secures the rebirth of this people and a new tree of secure roots
from which the core of life starts to strike.437
This chapter elaborates Clausewitz’s experience of war from 1812 to 1815, which he later used as inspiration and epitome from which to theorize strategy. The quote reflects that he had conceded enough and shows the tone used to motivate the reformer’s wish to fight Napoleonic preponderance in early 1812, contrary to the king’s official policy. ‘The Good Cause’, the expression used among the reformers to reflect and motivate the struggle for freedom, translates finally into warlike action, which was indeed the ultimate purpose of the Prussian reform. War became a public
437 Clausewitz [completed at the latest 16 February 1812], ‘Bekenntnisdenkschrift’, Schriften
(1966), 682‐751 cf. 688‐89. ‘Ich sage mich los von der leichtsinnigen Hofnung einer Errettung durch die Hand des Zufalls. …Von der falschen Resignation eines unterdrükten Geistesvermögens. Von dem unvernüftigen Mißtrauen in die uns von Gott gegebenen Kräfte. Von der schamlosen Aufopferung aller Ehre des Staates und Volks, aller persönlichen, aller Menschenwürde. Ich glube und bekenne, daß ein Volk nichts höher zu achten hat, als die Würde und Freiheit seines Daseyns. Daß es diese mit dem letzten Blutopfern vertheidigen soll. Daß es keine heilige Pflicht zu erfüllen hat, keinem höhern gesetz zu gehorchen…Daß die Ehre des Königs und die Regierung eines ist, mit der Ehre des Volks, und das einzige Palldium seines Wohls. Daß ein Volk unüberwindlich ist in dem großmüthigen Kampf um seine Freiheit. Daß selbst der Untergang dieser Freiheit nach einem blutigen und ehrenvollen Kampf die Wiedergeburt des Volks sichert und der Kern des Lebens ist, aus dem einst ein neuer Baum die sichern Wurzeln schlägt.‘
expression of Politik, simply and easily motivated by longing for freedom and dignity, fuelled by hatred.
The chapter addresses: first, the Bekenntnisdenkschrift, which spelled out the reformers’ political and military posture to finally fight all‐out for freedom as indicated in the quote. The text reflected patriotism as Politik, ultimately as a warlike struggle and action when no decent alternative can be identified. Münkler has labelled this posture the existential view of war. In addition, the essay Die Wichtigsten Grundsätze
des Krigführens written to conclude the Crown Prince’ tutorials is briefly addressed.
This text was written on the road to Russia and the fundamental precepts outlined should be understood in that context. Secondly, Clausewitz’s efforts and suffering in Russia are examined until the crucial turn of tide manifested by the convention of Tauroggen in December 1812.
Thirdly, the very happy time as Russian liaison during the Spring Campaign of 1813, which took him to the inner circle of the Prussian HQ, reunited with his friends. Fourthly, I review Clausewitz’s activity as Chief of General Staff in the Russo‐German Legion; part of the Allied Northern Army fighting on the flank during the Autumn Campaign of 1813 and the Winter Campaign of 1814 that ended in Paris. After peace, the period out in the political cold was troublesome for Clausewitz.
Finally, when Bonaparte returned to France for his final 100 days in power, Clausewitz was allowed to reassume the Blue colours. He was helped by his friends back into the core of the Army. He acted as Chief of the General Staff in one of Prussia’s four Army Corps, which terminated in Waterloo. Clausewitz experienced the night before this epic battle as the ‘longest night of his life’, thus the utmost challenge. The chapter ends in the outskirts of Paris in late June 1815, when the situation was still uncertain regarding fighting in Paris and the unfolding transition to peace.
The chapter notes Clausewitz’s experience as the foundation for his ideas and concepts. They include as combat, campaign and war as open‐ended activities. One enters a course of events without knowing their unfolding and results on a larger scale. The atmosphere of war: danger, physical exertion, friction between idea and unfolding, uncertainty and unreliable intelligence – all enhance the difficulty to see things ‘right’ in high military command. That a standstill can contribute in a way similar to action to the aim of campaigns. The conflict over Allied strategy in early 1814 is observed. On one hand the prevalent views of limited strategic aim nested in Metternich’s policy of bargaining peace with Bonaparte; on the other a strategy aiming to overthrow Bonaparte from power, nested in the Command of the Prussian Army. Clausewitz’s influence on Gneisenau is here observed.
SPELLING OUT THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM POLITICALLY AND MILITARILY
The relation of France and Russia in the spirit of Tilsit deteriorated little by little from 1809 to a final ultimatum in early 1812. Napoleon decided to take action and restore his authority from Tilsit and on 27 January 1812 issued a list of objections to Russia and his German allies.438 Napoleon wanted to remove Prussia from neutrality and demanded 20,000 troops, free access to staging areas and the main avenues of
approach through Prussia towards western Russia. Friedrich Wilhelm complied and agreed in a treaty signed on 24 February 1812, which fully incorporated Prussia in the
Rheinbund along with the other German satellites. He thought this was the only way to
prevent the complete fall of Prussia and his regime.
Support of Napoleon and obedience to his will were unthinkable to Clausewitz and most of the patriotic reformers. They regarded the king’s compliance as the utter dishonour of the state and the policy induced a group of officers to resign. This type of demonstration, unwillingness and disobedience had never happened before in Prussia. It showed that patriotism was now a true rival to the principles of absolute power and blind military subordination; in addition to royal sentiment. Clausewitz wrote at the beginning of February 1812 his most important political text, his Bekenntnisdenkschrift on behalf of the rebellion reformers who saw resistance as the only political way forward.439 This text was the political confession of the reformers to justify to the world resistance rather than obedience. Some parts were dictated by Clausewitz and written by Marie, who shared her husband’s energetic patriotism. The memorandum was circulated to the group of hard‐core reformers, such as Boyen and Gneisenau, who added their comments. The first part analysed the political situation in Prussia and its prevailing system of political thought, deeply refuted by the reformers. The second part of the Bekenntnisdenkenschrift analysed the strategic situation of Prussia as squeezed between France and Russia. A strategy of resistance based on the arming of the people was outlined in the third part, which Clausewitz supported with a military‐theoretical observation on the prospect of defence. The king may have read the third part but ratified the Franco‐Prussian Treaty anyway, on 31 March.440 The political influence in the Kriegskunst was clarified as conceptualising forward defence as the strongest form of war. Clausewitz’s conceptual view of the basic intimacy of
Politik and Kriegskunst is thus very clear 1812, which disprove interpretations of the
twist 1827 as a fundamental shift indeed.
The difference between a war of aggression and a war of defence permeates both parts [of the Kriegskunst – strategy and tactics], and it extends even into the Politik. Defence can thus be tactical, strategic, political. Political defence is without doubt when a nation strives for preservation, and not for conquest (no matter what the form) which does not concern the actual war; this could however substantially
influence the spirit of the army.441
439 Clausewitz to Gneisenau, February 1812, Schriften (1966), 681‐82; Clausewitz [completed
at the latest 16 February 1812], ‘Bekenntnisdenkschrift’, Schriften (1966), 682‐751, first published in Pertz & Delbrück, Gneisenau, Vol3/5, Beilage 1. ‘Des Oberstlietenants Carl v. Clausewitz Denkschrift vom Februar 1812’, 622‐76
440 See Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 216‐21
441 Clausewitz [completed at the latest 16 February 1812], ‘Bekenntnisdenkschrift’, Schriften
(1966), 682‐751 cf.742. ‘Der Unterschied von Angriffs‐ und Vertheidigungs‐Krieg geht durch beide Theile [der Kriegskunst ‐ Strategie and Taktik] durch, und erstreckt sich sogar bis in die Politik. Die Verteidigung kann also seyn, taktisch, strategisch, politisch. Die politische
Consequently, the political animation of defence induced Clausewitz to refute earlier views that war could not be waged successfully within the country’s borders; something even Scharnhorst had concluded about Prussia in 1806. Three inherent intentions and related advantages for the conduct of defence were explained with different tactical and strategic implications. The strength was, in Clausewitz’s opinion, the possibility of ‘Abwarten’, awaiting the enemy’s offensive unfolding and just fighting when it was necessary. To be in place meant to be able to utilize local conditions and to be close to sources of support. He outlined the operational idea of active defence (actif vertheidigen) that resembled Scharnhorst’s, but was about combining energetic action with the inherent possibility of defence. Clausewitz had told Gneisenau about this approach in June 1811: ‘In the notion of Abwarten [awaiting] lies the main conception of the defence; in a strategic sense defence is nothing more than awaiting the enemy’ unfolding in my theatre of war, and then attacking him.’442 Tiedemann resigned directly and joined the Russian army to fight French dominance. Scharnhorst was not allowed to resign and the king put him on continuous vacation in Silesia instead. Gneisenau and Boyen were sent on secret missions abroad. Clausewitz told the crown prince that the tutorial had to cease. The tutorial was obviously much appreciated, which a letter from Gaudi, the prince’s military supervisor, indicated.443 Clausewitz replied to the crown prince, thanked him warmly for the gift he had received and expressed a sincere belief in the prince in his future difficult role.444 The 2nd French Corps entered Berlin in late March and at the same time Clausewitz left the city tormented bysevere headaches. He travelled to his brother Wilhelm and his sister Johanna in Frankfurt‐an‐der‐Oder. A couple of days later he continued to Silesia to act briefly as Scharnhorst’s adjutant.445
Clausewitz wished to conclude and summarize his tutorial in the art of war for the seventeen‐year‐old crown prince properly. With Scharnhorst in Finkelstein he finalized
the piece that became longer than planned, Die Wichtigsten Grundsätze…, which was an up‐to‐date summary of the most important precepts of the conduct of war.446 The text combined patriotic sentiments by emphasizing courage and determination with his understanding of Napoleon’s strategic approach. His first strategic Grundsatz was Verteidigung welche darin besteht, daß eine Nation für ihre Erhaltung, und nicht für Eroberung streite (gleichgültig in welcher Form übrigens) geht dem eigentlichen Krieg nicht an, wie wohl sie auf den Geist der Armee einen bedeutenden Einfluß hat und in sofern wichtig werden kann.‘
442 Clausewitz letter to Gneisenau, 17 June 1811, in Clausewitz, Schriften (1966), 644. ‘In dem
Begriff des Abwartens liegt der eigentliche Hauptbegriff der Defensive; strategisch ist eben so die Verteidigung nicht anderes als das Abwarten bis der Feind in mein Kriegstheather vorrückt, und ihn darin anfallen.‘
443 Gaudi to Clausewitz, Berlin 26 March 1812, Schwartz, Leben des Generals Carl von
Clausewitz,Vol 1, 153‐54 444 Clausewitz to the Crown Prince, Berlin 29 March 1812, Schriften (1979), 169‐71 445 Clausewitz to Marie, Liegnitz, 2/3/4 April, Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 270‐73; See also Max Lehmann, Scharnhorst, Vol2:2 (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1886‐87), 453‐54 446 Clausewitz to Marie, Frankenstein 12 April 1812, Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 273‐ 75
consequently to employ all forces of the state against the enemy with the utmost effort.447 Clausewitz observed the great potential of using the strategic defence to absorb enemy power and switch to the offensive after an initial defensive victory. He more or less turned around Napoleon’s preferred strategic offensive approach, which relied on an initial, decisive offensive victory. This became his core idea of strategy and is more or less literally clarified in the same way in Book 6 of Vom Kriege.
Finally to observe in respect of the strategic defensive, that it only serves to fight and win the first major successes, because it is stronger per se than the offensive, and then, when this purpose is accomplished and peace does not immediately follow, then wider success can only be accomplished by the offensive; those who always remain on the defensive will put themselves in great trouble, always conducting war at their own expense. This a state can only endure for a certain time, and it will also, when it exposes itself to the blows of the enemy, without retaliating, end up exhausted and defeated. One has to begin with the
defensive, to be able to conclude safely with the offensive.448
The text soon gained wider attention and was circulated internally in the military community. Marie later characterised the essay as the germ of Vom Kriege.449 It is important, however, to consider the situation in which it was written and not draw the too‐far‐reaching conclusions. The mature work contained many themes and preferences clarified before the final campaigns, but by then had a deeper level of analysis.
Clausewitz posted his resignation from the army on the 18 April in Frankenstein, (Polish Ząbkowice Śląskie) south of Breslau in lower Silesia, giving as the reason private affairs.450 Scharnhorst and Boyen speculated that his request would be turned down; if
447 Clausewitz [Before 13 April 1812], ’Die wichtigsten Grundsätze des Kriegführens zur
Ergänzung meines Unterrichtes bei SR. königlichen Hoheit dem Kronprinzen‘, Vom Kriege, 1047‐86, cf. 1070. The essay was sent to the Crown Prince on 13 April, according to the letter; Clausewitz to Marie, Frankenstein 12 April 1812, Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 271‐72. The text was published 1834 as a complement to Vom Kriege part III.
448 Clausewitz [Before 13 April April 1812], ’Die Wichtigsten Grundsätze des Kriegführens‘,
Vom Kriege, 1047‐1086 cf. 1078. ‘Endlich ist in Rücksicht auf die strategische Defensive zu
bemerken, daß sie, weil sie an sich stärker ist als die Offensive nur dazu dienen soll, die ersten großen Erfolge zu erfechten, und daß, wenn dieser Zweck erreicht ist und der Frieden nicht unmittelbar darauf erfolgt, die weitern Erfolge nur durch die Offensive erreicht werden können; denn wer immer defensiv bleiben will, setzt sich dem großen Nachteil aus, immer auf eigene Kosten den Krieg zu führen. Dies hält ein jeder Staat nur eine gewisse Zeit aus, und er würde also, wenn er sich den Stößen seines Gegners aussetzte, ohne je wieder zu stoßen, höchstwahrscheinlich am Ende ermatten und unterliegen. Man muß mit der Defensive anfangen, damit man um so sicher mit der Offensive endigen könne.‘
449 Marie v. Clausewitz [Potsdam 30 June 1832], ’Vorrede’, Vom Kriege, 173‐78, cf.174
so Clausewitz would renew the request.451 The king answered already on 23 April, coldly, in a single sentence: ‘Regarding your request of 12 April I notify you with these words of my permission to resign.’ Clausewitz decided to hold to his intention to leave Prussia and fight France in the Russian Army. He felt uneasy about the king’s short tone and the crown prince’s silence over his piece on the conduct of war.452 He left Prussia on 2 May, estimating his time of arrival in Petersburg to 18 May.
After some considerations, Clausewitz took the shortest route through the Duchy of Warsaw, a French satellite state created by the Treaty of Tilsit. Along the way he met scornful and aspiring people who evoked his contempt.453 On leaving the Prussian army he had received more pay than expected and could afford to travel by coach. War was in the air; rumours circulated of an impending Russian offensive, the Tsar had moved his headquarters to Wilna (Vilnius) and plunder was occurring along the road. The unfolding of events was still uncertain, but to be more secure he bought a pair of
pistols in Breslau. The headache from Berlin had not disappeared, making him think he had got ‘rheumatism in the head’.454 His contempt for Polish egoism as well as anti‐ Semitic sentiments emerged on a couple of occasions in his summary of the journey across Polish territory.455 Gneisenau had meanwhile been on a secret mission abroad to estimate the strength of the Russian Army. His result was presented to Tsar Alexander in a memorandum on 20 May, which outlined a possible Russian strategy for the impending war. In the enclosed letter Clausewitz was introduced and seemingly his recent essay for the crown prince suggested as new doctrine. Herr von Clausewitz, whom Your Royal Highness has accepted for your service, possesses a first‐rate mind and profound knowledge of the Kriegskunst, will be able to tell the same about Generalstabsdienst [service of GS] as I have done, in addition elucidate everything else that the memorandum addresses. He has written an instruction (direction) for Generals in just a few pages, which surpasses anything published of this kind, and deserves to be translated into Russian, to finally sweep away the precepts [Grundsätze], which the scholarly Systemwuth [destructive and stupid passion for military scientific system456], or ignorance, or Korporalwuth [the destructive and stupid passion of senior officers for minor details] has introduced into the Kriegskunst.457 451 Clausewitz to Marie, Breslau 24 April 1812, Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 280‐81 452 Clausewitz to Marie, Breslau 28 April 1812, Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 281‐2. See also Hahlweg, Clausewitz: Soldat‐Politiker‐Denker, 33; Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 219‐20 453 Clausewitz to Marie, Graudenz 5 May 1812, Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 283 454 Clausewitz to Marie, Gumbinnen 8 May 1812 [Gusev], Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 283‐86
455 Clausewitz to Marie, Kwaydany Lithuania 15 May 1812 [Kėdainiai – Kedahnen?],
Clausewitz: Ein Lebensbild in Briefen, 283‐86. The single note was later used by National socialist
propaganda and studies to promote anti‐Semitism.
456 See ‘Wuth‘ in Adelung, Grammatisch‐kritisches Wörterbuch der Hochdeutschen Mundart, Vol
4. (Leipzig: 1801), 1637‐38 [Online version] URL: http://www.zeno.org/Adelung‐ 1793/A/Wuth,+die?hl=wuth accessed 10 August 2011
457 Gneisenau to Tsar Alexader I, Riga 20 May 1812, in Pertz, Das Leben des Feldmarschalls
Clausewitz arrived happily in Wilna same day and met Gneisenau and Ludwig Graf von Chasôt (1763‐1813) on the following days.458 The latter was also a hard‐core patriot who had resigned from Prussian service and was known for his political outspokenness. He became the first commander of the Russian‐German Legion,
Flügeladjutant to the Tsar and promoted to Russian colonel before he died in the
following year.459 Clausewitz experienced great uncertainty in May and June. When he