Fighting Wars and Fighting Viruses

von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege

On 13 April 2017 I posted the following on Facebook:

I have been fascinated with von Clausewitz since I do not know when. He applied a very keen analytical mind to understand warfare in his time, in war ministries, in the diplomacy, and on the battlefields. His magnum opus is, of course, "Vom Kriege" (On War).

Sun Tzu's "The art of war" became widely known in the West only in the post-War II period, and it eclipsed - in the view of many - von Clausewitz. The content aside, where Sun Tzu certainly is interesting, his form - including style and mode of communicating - remains distinctly Asian. This is perhaps one reason why I prefer von Clausewitz.

In recent years von Clausewitz's work has seen a renaissance as it is being applied to analysis of modern terrorism.

Then, on 13 April 2020, that is, today, I reposted the above with the following additional comment:

In my comments when posting the below 3 years ago, I concluded that I found von Clausewitz the better theoretician of warfare, as compared with Sun Tzu. Today I may have a more balanced view on them. Both have to be understood in their respective cultural and historical contexts. Both were insightful and correct. Both have partly been proven wrong by history. As to differences between them, one that stands out is that Sun Tzu incorporates both higher strategic levels and lower tactical levels of war, whereas von Clausewitz emphasizes primarily the latter.

These two thinkers come to mind now as a president has declared himself a "war president" in the fight against the Corona virus and Covid-19. Never has a more ludicrous parallel been drawn invoking traditional warfare, as analyzed by these two theoreticians. Never has the world seen a war president that is primarily focused on attacking everybody else for having caused the pandemic, and to self-congratulation for giving society's resources to citizens (and this is just the beginning of it). Never has the world seen a more incapable and pitiful war president than Trump.

By now I am of course far from alone in voicing similar views. Today, Jeffrey Sachs published an article that is rather more straightforward than mine (Sachs, 2020; Note 4), and that I find measured as well as correct. Here is an excerpt:

America's failure is plain for all to see, even if Trump loyalists are blind to it. We are at the end of the "Wizard of Oz" tale. The curtain has been pushed aside to reveal the con man behind the curtain. Our choice is like Dorothy's: to go home to the country of competence we once knew, or to remain in the deadly dream kingdom of Trump.

Lars T. Soeftestad

(1) Both texts were originally posted on Facebook, on 13 April 2017 and 13 April 2020, respectively.
(2) There appear to be a lacking consensus of how to spell the name of the Chinese theorician. In this article I use two ways: first as sun-tzu and then as Sun Tzu. I gather that the latter is the correct way.
(3) The Sources includes a selection of scholarly works that discuss von Clausewita and Sun Tzu.
(4) Jeffrey Sachs is Director, Centre for Sustainable Development, Colombia University, United States.
(5) Image credit: "Vom Kriege. Hinterlassenes Werk des Generals Carl von Clausewitz, achtzehnte Auflage". Vollständige Ausgabe im Urtext, mit völlig überarbeiteter und erweiterter historisch-kritischer Würdigung von Dr. Werner Hahlweg. Gebundene Ausgabe – 1. Januar 1973. Dümmlers (Dümmler) Verlag.
(6) Relevant Devblog articles: "Covid-19 and Norway, a personal report"
(7) Permalink. URL:
(8) This article was published 13 April 2020. It was revised 16 February 2021.

Berger, George. 2013. "Is Clausewitz or Sun Tzu more relevant to contemporary war?" (accessed 13 April 2020)
Clausewitz, Carl von. 2016. Vom Kriege. Hofenberg.
Clausewitz, Carl von. 2009. On war. Brownstone books.
McNeilly, Mark. 2015. Sun Tzu and the art of modern warfare. Oxford University Press.
McNeilly, Mark. 2015. "The battle of the military theorists: Clausewitz vs. Sun Tzu" (accessed 13 April 2020)
Sachs, Jeffrey. 2020. "Why the US has the world's highest number of Covid-19 deaths", CNN Opinion, 13 April 2020 (accessed 13 April 2020)
Sun Tzu. 2001. The art of war. Translation, essay and commentary by the Denma Translation Group. Shambhala Publications.
Sun Tzu. 2005. The art of war. Penguin Books.
Wikipedia. "Carl von Clausewitz" (accessed 13 April 2020)
Wikipedia. "On war" (accessed 13 April 2020)