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The Art of War

Antoine-Henri, Baron de Jomini. The Art of War, Translated by Capt G.H Mendell and Lt W.P. Craighill (New York: Dover, 2007)

Central Proposition: While technically an art, it is possible to study war in a scientific manner. When studied in this capacity, certain enduring principles and prescriptive techniques become visible to the strategist. The Art of War is Jomini’s attempt to socialize these enduring principles.

Brief Synopsis: After studying/observing the Seven Years’ War and the Napoleonic Wars, Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini attempted to describe the enduring and invariable principles of war. While he alluded to many of the same concepts as Clausewitz—the passion of the people (37), the role of chance (38), the importance of generalship (51), morale (56), limited war (126), etc—he was more prescriptive throughout all aspects of military operations than Clausewitz. While much of the early part of the reading focuses on organize, train, and equip functions, the chapter on Strategy represents the core of the reading. Jomini defined strategy as the “art of properly directing masses upon the theater of war, either for defense or for invasion” (11). Later, he simplified this definition to “the art of making war upon the map” (62) within which there is one fundamental principle: apply sufficient mass and engage the adversary at the decisive point at the proper time (63). He recognized that the difficulty in this concept is identifying decisive points, determining the proper time, and then determining sufficient mass—thus, the importance of good generalship.

Two Major Critiques:

1) Jomini correctly wrote that the “first care” of the “commander should be to agree with the head of state upon the character of the war” (59). He also wrote that the choice of objective points “will generally depend upon the aim of the war and the character which politics or other circumstances may give it” (82). But, in general, Jomini failed to describe the relationship between war and politics. This critique would probably be less important if Jomini had written The Art of War during a different era from Clausewitz; but since that was not the case, Jomini will always be negatively compared to Clausewitz, who so clearly linked military action to the political objective. If anything, Jomini wrote with some contempt toward politicians who might impose some political end—“sometimes quite important, but often very irrational” (82)—on the military which “frequently led to the commission of great errors in strategy” (82). Like Moltke, Jomini probably believed that once the commander properly understood the character or the objective of the war, politicians should remain out of any further decision-making.

2) The second major critique of Jomini is that he was far too prescriptive. Whereas Clausewitz gave strategists an “it depends” answer in many cases, Jomini offered checklists—this critique is only partially valid. Up front, Jomini described the art of war as containing six distinct parts: statesmanship in its relation to war, strategy, grand tactics, logistics, engineering, and minor tactics. He disregarded statesmanship as beyond the purview of the strategist and then focused on the other components, with a large emphasis on strategy. But in today’s terminology, Jomini, like Clausewitz, actually wrote about the operational level of war (but called it strategy). In this sense, his fascination with enduring principles of war is less damning because it is meant to fill the role of operational military doctrine, which will tend to be more prescriptive.

Author: Jomini was Swiss, born in 1779, witnessed the French Revolution, and participated in the new regime following the Swiss Revolution of 1798. He initially trained as a banker but then devoted his life to warfare and studying warfare. He served as the secretary to the Swiss minister of war. He served with the commander of the French Sixth Corps, General Ney, who subsidized the publication of Jomini’s first book. Jomini was a veteran of many campaigns, and was

Other Major Propositions:

Operational Level of War: Jomini alluded to an intermediate level of war where coordination amongst multiple armies would be required but doesn’t go into any further detail: “If, on the contrary, there be concert of action, the theater of operations of each army taken singly is but a zone of operations of the general field, occupied by the masses for the attainment of a common object” 68.”

Decisive Points: Jomini defined decisive points as those points “whose importance was constant and immense” (77), and then offered various examples of types of decisive points (78-80).

Lines of Operation: Jomini’s views on Lines of Operations are still present today in planning doctrine. Lines of Operation link decisive points and represent the “fundamental idea in a good plan of a campaign” (104). “The ability to decide upon such a direction is among the most important qualities in a general” (105).

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