Monday, December 1, 2014

Donald Stoker's "Clausewitz: His Life and Work"

Donald Stoker is Professor of Strategy and Policy for the U.S. Naval War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is the author of The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Clausewitz: His Life and Work:
I think a movie about Carl von Clausewitz, the nineteenth-century Prussian officer best known for penning On War, would be quite interesting, though for reasons many might not know. When I ask my students “Who was Carl von Clausewitz?” they invariably reply “a theorist” or “a German general.” He certainly was these things, but he was much more besides.

It is this “much more” that would make a movie about Clausewitz a fascinating period piece. Our backdrop is the tumult of the French Revolution and the sweep of the Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815). Clausewitz grew up in and fought his way through this chaotic maelstrom. Born in 1780, he went into the Prussian army as a boy (probably shortly before his twelfth birthday), and saw combat for the first time before he was 13. He participated in the shelling and siege of Mainz (1793), and then fought in the back and forth campaign in the rugged Vosges. He served as a young officer in the 1806 war with France, fought in the rearguard at Auerstedt, then survived a 14-day fighting retreat and nearly a year of imprisonment in France. Meanwhile, he carried on a long, romantic courtship of Marie von Brühl, a beautiful and exceedingly intelligent woman of superior social station. They married at the end of 1810; Marie’s widowed mother—after seven years—had finally given her blessing.

Clausewitz joined the Russian army in 1812 and served from beginning to end in one of the most famous campaigns in history: Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. He fought in the rearguard, participated in the battle of Borodino, saw the burning of Moscow, and the carnage of Napoleon’s famous retreat across the Berezina River. Clausewitz went on to fight in the 1813 campaign (where he was wounded), and also fought in the 1814 campaign and 1815’s Waterloo campaign. With Napoleon safely dispatched to St. Helena, Clausewitz then wrote On War and many other works.

The ideal actor to play Clausewitz is Ioan Gruffudd. The Welsh actor is currently the star of the television series Forever. But he is probably best known to American audiences for playing Horatio Hornblower in the wonderful A&E series based upon the C.S. Forester novels. Gruffudd not only looks a little like Clausewitz, but through his depiction of Hornblower has in many ways already played the part. Brave, intelligent, resourceful, but also awkward, uncomfortable around his men, and annoying to less capable and pedantic superiors: this was Clausewitz.
Learn more about Clausewitz: His Life and Work at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue