Military Quotes - Clausewitz, Liddel-Hart, Sun Txu

 

 

 

 

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Military Quotes

compiled by Eric Lewan

Words of wisdom from Karl Von Clausewitz, Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart, and Sun Tzu. It is part of a fuller collection of quotations and aphorisms by other military thinkers on the science and art of warfare, leadership and strategy. The Historic Military Quotes page has more quotes, dealing more with history than theory


Clausewitz

War is the continuation of policy by other means.
- Karl von Clausewitz
Never forget that no military leader has ever become great without audacity. if the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.
- Karl von Clausewitz
The majority of people are timid by nature, and that is why they constantly exaggerate danger. all influences on the military leader, therefore, combine to give him a false impression of his opponent's strength, and from this arises a new source of indecision.
- Karl von Clausewitz
We must, therefore, be confident that the general measures we have adopted will produce the results we expect. most important in this connection is the trust which we must have in our lieutenants. consequently, it is important to choose men on whom we can rely and to put aside all other considerations. if we have made appropriate preparations, taking into account all possible misfortunes, so that we shall not be lost immediately if they occur, we must boldly advance into the shadows of uncertainty.
- Karl von Clausewitz
After we have thought out everything carefully in advance and have sought and found without prejudice the most plausible plan, we must not be ready to abandon it at the slightest provocation. should this certainty be lacking, we must tell ourselves that nothing is accomplished in warfare without daring; that the nature of war certainly does not let us see at all times where we are going; that what is probable will always be probable though at the moment it may not seem so; and finally, that we cannot be readily ruined by a single error, if we have made reasonable preparations.
- Karl von Clausewitz
The first and most important rule to observe...is to use our entire forces with the utmost energy. the second rule is to concentrate our power as much as possible against that section where the chief blows are to be delivered and to incur disadvantages elsewhere, so that our chances of success may increase at the decisive point. the third rule is never to waste time. unless important advantages are to be gained from hesitation, it is necessary to set to work at once. by this speed a hundred enemy measures are nipped in the bud, and public opinion is won most rapidly. finally, the fourth rule is to follow up our successes with the utmost energy. only pursuit of the beaten enemy gives the fruits of victory.
- Karl von Clausewitz
War is the province of chance. in no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. it increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.
- Karl von Clausewitz
The best form of defense is attack.
- Karl von Clausewitz
The conqueror is always a lover of peace; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.
- Karl von Clausewitz
War is a conflict of great interests which is settled by bloodshed, and only in that is it different from others.
- Karl von Clausewitz
In war the will is directed at an animate object that reacts.
- Karl von Clausewitz
There is only one decisive victory: the last.
- Karl von Clausewitz
A certain grasp of military affairs is vital for those in charge of general policy.
- Karl von Clausewitz
The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish ... the kind of war on which they are embarking.
- Karl von Clausewitz
No one starts a war-or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.
- Karl von Clausewitz
If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.
- Karl von Clausewitz
Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.
The bloody solution of the crisis, the effort for the destruction of the enemy's forces, is the first-born son of war.
Only great and general battles can produce great results.
Blood is the price of victory.
- Karl von Clausewitz [these quotes demonsttrate the inadequacy of his direct form of strategy]

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Liddel-Hart

For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
For even the best of peace training is more theoretical than practical experience ... indirect practical experience may be the more valuable because infinitely wider.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
...the predominance of moral factors in all military decisions. On them constantly turns the issue of war and battle. In the history of war they form the more constant factors, changing only in degree, whereas the physical factors are different in almost every war and every military situation.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The most consistently successful commanders, when faced by an enemy in a position that was strong naturally or materially, have hardly ever tackled it in a direct way. And when, under pressure of circumstances, they have risked a direct attack, the result has commonly been to blot their record with a failure.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
This high proportion of history's decisive campaigns, the significance of which is enhanced by the comparative rarity of the direct approach, enforces the conclusion that the indirect is by far the most hopeful and economic form of strategy.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
Natural hazards, however formidable, are inherently less dangerous and less uncertain than fighting hazards. All conditions are more calculable, all obstacles more surmountable than those of human resistance.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The most effective indirect approach is one that lures or startles the opponent into a false move -- so that, as in ju-jitsu, his own effort is turned into the lever of his overthrow.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The effect to be sought is the dislocation of the opponent's mind and dispositions -- such an effect is the true gauge of an indirect approach.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
In a campaign against more than one state or army, it is more fruitful to concentrate first against the weaker partner than to attempt the overthrow of the stronger in the belief that the latter's defeat will automatically involve the collapse of the others.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The military weapon is but one of the means that serve the purposes of war: one out of the assortment which grand strategy can employ.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
While there are many causes for which a state goes to war, its fundamental object can be epitomized as that of ensuring the continuance of its policy -- in face of the determination of the opposing state to pursue a contrary policy. In the human will lies the source and mainspring of conflict.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
It should be the aim of grand strategy to discover and pierce the Achilles' heel of the opposing government's power to make war. Strategy, in turn, should seek to penetrate a joint in the harness of the opposing forces. To apply one's strength where the opponent is strong weakens oneself disproportionately to the effect attained. To strike with strong effect, one must strike at weakness.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
It is thus more potent, as well as more economical, to disarm the enemy than to attempt his destruction by hard fighting ... A strategist should think in terms of paralysing, not of killing.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
While the nominal strength of a country is represented by its numbers and resources, this muscular development is dependent on the state of its internal organs and nerve-system -- upon its stability of control, morale, and supply.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
Direct pressure always tends to harden and consolidate the resistance of an opponent.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
To ensure attaining an objective, one should have alternate objectives. An attack that converges on one point should threaten, and be able to diverge against another. Only by this flexibility of aim can strategy be attuned to the uncertainty of war.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The higher level of grand strategy [is] that of conducting war with a far-sighted regard to the state of the peace that will follow.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
As has happened so often in history, victory had bred a complacency and fostered an orthodoxy which led to defeat in the next war.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954; discussing the French army between the World Wars)
Their strength became split in diverging directions -- due partly to divided minds at the top, but also, ironically, to dazzling initial success in all directions. Instead of keeping a single line of operation that threatened alternate objectives, they were led to pursue several lines of operation, each too obviously aiming at a single objective, which thus became easier for the defender to cover. Moreover, in each case the attacker's direction became obvious at the same time that his drive was becoming a precarious stretch of his own supply line.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954; on German failure in WWII)
The more closely [the German army] converged on [Stalingrad], the narrower became their scope for tactical manoeuvre as a lever in loosening resistance. By contrast, the narrowing of the frontage made it easier for the defender to switch his local reserves to any threatened point on the defensive arc.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
With growing experience, all skillful commanders sought to profit by the power of the defensive, even when on the offensive.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
[the blurring of the line between policy and strategy] encouraged soldiers to make the preposterous claim that policy should be subservient to their conduct of operations, and (especially in democratic countries) it drew the statesman on to overstep the definite border of his sphere and interfere with his military employees in the actual use of their tools.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The more usual reason for adopting a strategy of limited aim is that of awaiting a change in the balance of force ... The essential condition of such a strategy is that the drain on him should be disproportionately greater than on oneself.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
To foster the people's willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
No man can exactly calculate the capacity of human genius and stupidity, nor the incapacity of will.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
In war the chief incalculable is the human will, which manifests itself in resistance, which in turn lies in the province of tactics. Strategy has not to overcome resistance, except from nature. Its purpose is to diminish the possibility of resistance, and it seeks to fulfil this purpose by exploiting the elements of movement and surprise.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
In the case of a state that is seeking not conquest but the maintenance of its security, the aim is fulfilled if the threat is removed -- if the enemy is led to abandon his purpose.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
[The] aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve this. In other words, dislocation is the aim of strategy.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
For if we merely take what obviously appears the line of least resistance, its obviousness will appeal to the opponent also; and this line may no longer be that of least resistance. In studying the physical aspect, we must never lose sight of the psychological, and only when both are combined is the strategy truly an indirect approach, calculated to dislocate the opponent's balance.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
An army should always be so distributed that its parts can aid each other and combine to produce the maximum possible concentration of force at one place, while the minimum force necessary is used elsewhere to prepare the success of the concentration.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
While hitting one must guard ... In order to hit with effect, the enemy must be taken off his guard.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
In any problem where an opposing force exists and cannot be regulated, one must foresee and provide for alternative courses. Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life ... To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy's power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met;
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The unexpected cannot guarantee success, but it guarantees the best chance of success.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
Air forces offered the possibility of striking a the enemy's economic and moral centres without having first to achieve 'the destruction of the enemy's main forces on the battlefield'. Air-power might attain a direct end by indirect means -- hopping over opposition instead of overthrowing it.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
Inflict the least possible permanent injury, for the enemy of to-day is the customer of the morrow and the ally of the future
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (1925)
If you find your opponent in a strong position costly to force, you should leave him a line of retreat as the quickest way of loosening his resistance. It should, equally, be a principle of policy, especially in war, to provide your opponent with a ladder by which he can climb down.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
It is only to clear from history that states rarely keep faith with each other, save in so far (and so long) as their promises seem to them to combine with their interests.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
It is folly to imagine that the aggressive types, whether individuals or nations, can be bought off ... since the payment of danegeld stimulates a demand for more danegeld. But they can be curbed. Their very belief in force makes them more susceptible to the deterrent effect of a formidable opposing force.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The downfall of civilized states tends to come not from the direct assaults of foes, but from internal decay combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
War is always a matter of doing evil in the hope that good may come of it.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The nearer the cutting off point lies to the main force of the enemy, the more immediate the effect; whereas the closer to the strategic base it takes place, the greater the effect.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)

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Sun Tzu

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected
-Sun Tzu
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
-Sun Tzu
If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is tempermental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
-Sun Tzu
The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to w in or lose.
-Sun Tzu
He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue... In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
-Sun Tzu
Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
-Sun Tzu
It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
-Sun Tzu
Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy... use the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.
-Sun Tzu
In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it.
-Sun Tzu
To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
-Sun Tzu
Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans, the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces, the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field, and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
-Sun Tzu
There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army: By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey; This is called hobbling the army. By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army; This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds. By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
-Sun Tzu
He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
-Sun Tzu
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
-Sun Tzu
The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
-Sun Tzu
Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
-Sun Tzu
The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
-Sun Tzu
Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.
-Sun Tzu
In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack - the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle - you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
-Sun Tzu
Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.
-Sun Tzu
The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.
-Sun Tzu
An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.
-Sun Tzu
Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
-Sun Tzu
If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.
-Sun Tzu
Should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.
-Sun Tzu
In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them.
-Sun Tzu
Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards... Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
-Sun Tzu
So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
-Sun Tzu
The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.
-Sun Tzu
Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.
-Sun Tzu
We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
-Sun Tzu
Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
-Sun Tzu
The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
-Sun Tzu
When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is INSUBORDINATION. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is COLLAPSE. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or no he is in a position to fight, the result is RUIN.
-Sun Tzu
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
-Sun Tzu
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.
-Sun Tzu
If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.
-Sun Tzu
If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.
-Sun Tzu
On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way. On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground, fight.
-Sun Tzu
If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: "begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will." Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.
-Sun Tzu
Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve.
-Sun Tzu
If our soldiers are not over-burdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity.
-Sun Tzu
Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a single man.
-Sun Tzu
Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
-Sun Tzu
Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are. Anger may in time change to gladne ss; vexation may be succeeded by content.
-Sun Tzu
No leader should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no leader should fight a battle simply out of pique. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. Hence the enlightened leader is heedful, and the good leader full of caution.
-Sun Tzu
Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity; (2) They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straight forwardness; (3) Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports; (4) Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of warfare; (5) If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.
-Sun Tzu
The enemy's spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become double agents and available for our service. It is through the information brought by the double agent that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.
-Sun Tzu

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