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Clausewitz and the Conduct of US Military Operations in the Persian Gulf War

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Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz would be proud. While certainly not perfect, U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf War was strategically successful, both militarily and politically. An analysis of this success demonstrates that the United States understood and appropriately applied Clausewitzs theory of the paradoxical trinity. Clausewitz is probably best known for his statement that war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means. Some have challenged this statement on the basis that war is abhorrent and has no place in policy. The author believes these challenges are mistaken. Clausewitzs statement neither glorifies nor advocates war. Rather, it simply states that war is a tool, and if used, it must be subordinated to a purpose other than violence. Wars must never be fought for the sake of military objectives alone military objectives must serve a political purpose toward the ensuing peace. Clausewitz theorized that war is a phenomenon of three tendencies, forming a paradoxical trinity, affecting military operations. The three elements of this trinity are reason, the creative spirit, and a natural force. Clausewitz argues that the subordination of war to policy is subject to reason, and therefore principally the concern of government the creative spirit, working within the play of chance and probability on the battlefield, is the arena of the commander and his army and the blind, natural force composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, is embodied by the people. The three elements of the trinity are bonded by a force called will. The paradox of the trinity lies in the seeming contradictions between the pure logic of reason, the artistry of the creative spirit and the uncontrollable passion of primordial violence, hatred and enmity. In this paper the author will explore each element of the trinity and examine its application to the conduct of U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf War.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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