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Reviewed by:
  • Clausewitz and America: Strategic Thought and Practice from Vietnam to Iraq
  • Richard M. Swain
Clausewitz and America: Strategic Thought and Practice from Vietnam to Iraq. By Stuart Kinross . New York: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 978-0-415-38023-2. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. ix, 301. $140.00.

This book is a published dissertation and shows the strengths and shortcomings characteristic of the class. The bibliography is impressive, most particularly its coverage of pertinent professional literature and an admirable delving into selected student monographs written at military colleges during the period in question. In criticism, the author has a disconcerting habit of using quotations cited in secondary sources as primary evidence of assertions. This causes footnote followers to wonder [End Page 628] if he examined the originals in their own contexts and why, if he did, he does not help the reader by indicating where the original might be found?

The author took on a daunting task. If by adapted the author means manipulated, it is fairly easy "to demonstrate how the analysis and arguments of Carl von Clausewitz (1781-1831) have been adapted to the development of American strategic thinking since the Vietnam War" (p.1). It is arguably more difficult to "examine American strategic thought since the Vietnam War and to demonstrate Clausewitzian influence upon it" (p. 230). One can certainly show existence of a generational sense, since the Howard and Paret translation of On War, that one ought to quote Clausewitz (badly or well) in justification, or that some military actions were explained in terms similar to those used by the Prussian general. But influence would seem to constitute some sort of demonstrable affect, which is another matter and very difficult to prove.

On War is a notoriously difficult text to master if one wants to use it as a yard stick. Kinross certainly has a better grasp of the book than did the reviewer at a similar point but he does not demonstrate the nuanced understanding of a Tony Echevarria or Chris Bassford. To give one example, late in the text Kinross is critical of an author for applying the notion of culmination to the defense (pp. 182-3). Kinross argues that "Clausewitz had written only of the culminating point of the attack." As most readers of this journal will know, in Chapter 8 of Book VI, Clausewitz does use the notion of "the point of culmination" (Howard and Paret [1976], p. 383; [der Kulminationspunkt in Hahlweg (1980), p. 654]) to identify the time when the defense ceases to offer an advantage of form and the defender is forced to action. It is that passage to which the authors criticized referred.

Finally, for all the admirable study of its artifacts, or at least the artifacts of its literate members, the author does not really seem to grasp how the U.S. Army was on the inside through the decade following the loss in Vietnam, or in the period of intellectual decline in professional education that began around 1987 with the birth of a separate extra-mural joint doctrine community above and the parallel rise of the Combat Training Centers as the principal mediators of tactical technique. These developments were followed almost immediately by the sudden collapse of the well defined continental enemy whose presence had largely underwritten sustained professional interest in Clausewitz from 1976 to 1986. The rise of a more complex mission array in the nineties, for which much of the Clausewitzian model appeared problematic, only finalized a process already underway.

This book, then, reflects principally the learning exertions of the promising scholar more than a settled argument. I cannot recommend it at the very high price it commands, either to the student of Clausewitz's reception in America, or of U.S. military policy during the period.