Apparently human groups live harmoniously in small communities, like most other animals,
but when the number of inhabitants of any particular community grows and large cities take
their place, problems arise which cannot be always resolved through dialogue and "good
manners". These include territorial disputes, access to natural resources, religious divisions
and many others, triggering conflicts whereby the resolution of the dispute acquires the
same value as human life, so immense groups of humans are willing to destroy themselves
rather than renounce their claims.
The history of war goes back to ancient times, however it was only at around 400 BC that there any attempt to
decipher the whys and wherefores of war. Sun Tsu was a Chinese military strategist who theorised about war in
his book "The Art of War". The Encyclopedia Britannica states that this treatise influenced the ideas of Mao
Few scholars have taken the study of warfare as a serious subject; on the contrary, most refer to war as a
scourge and the worst expression of the human species.
The beginnings of the Renaissance period were marked by a series of scientific discoveries. These were
accompanied by the emergence of some humanist ideologies and by an art that was gradually becoming more
accessible to ordinary people. The themes of the paintings were starting to leave the elevated strata of the
divine, and show humans in more prosaic activities. The distribution of power in Europe was unstable and the
presence of the Medici in Italy further complicated this instability. They were a family that influenced
various spheres of social life, including the clergy. Despite having three popes among its members, and
having given great importance to the arts and sciences, they came up against a prominent friar and their
persecutor called Girolamo Savonarola, who was a member of the Florentine Dominican order.
Savonarola's charisma and oratorical skills were so impressive that his ideas began to acquire much support,
especially as he fought to prohibit vanity and sodomy. At the culmination of his impetuous rise to power,
he began an onslaught against another influential family: the Borgias, who had expanded their influence
from Spain to the rest of Europe, where they also became art benefactors, governing in harmony with the
Catholic Church, since Pope Callistus III was also a Borgia.
As fast as he acquired supporters, Savonarola was confronted by a growing list of enemies from different
power groups that eventually spread their tentacles and gained much influence, leaving history with the
image that they fomented the teaching of knowledge when in reality many of these were acts of infamy. This
led firstly to his excommunication and then he was hung and his body burned, finally putting an end to the
influence of the powerful Savonarola.
At around the same time, a prominent public official Niccolò Machiavelli became dismayed as he
listened to the euphoric sermons of Savonarola and he saw how the influence of the power groups were able
to form alliances and sway opinion enoughto change dramatically the course of history.
Under the protection of the Medici, Machiavelli succeeded Savonarola and he dedicated himself to matters
of diplomacy and war. It was in this historical context that he conceived his masterpiece which was called
"The Prince" which took Caesar Borgia as its model. His ideas of strategy and human behaviour were
pragmatic and visionary, and it made him famous even to this day.
By the early 19th century, one of the most celebrated usurpers of power caused the end of the First Reich.
He was a Frenchman, skilful in war who he himself claimed that he knew how to govern the people "with a
steel glove inside a velvet glove." His name was Napoleon Bonaparte and he became Emperor of France and
aspired to control the whole of Europe.
His career began with the French Revolution where he acquired prestige and his ideas began to gain
importance, conferring powerand influence on him not only in France but also in other parts of Europe.
Beethoven admired him so much, that he dedicated his Third Symphony to him, with the symbolic name of
"Eroica". In 1802, when Beethoven began to compose it, Napoleon was already considered a hero and had won
several battles and had made some incursions into several countries, including Egypt. However he craved
power and hence he considered that to crown himself Emperor of France was an important step to achieve his
ends, but by doing this he was going against the social advances achieved by the French Revolution, which
is what Beethoven had especially admired about him. Thus, in an act of legitimate indignation, the composer
recanted and withdrew his dedication. A few yearslater, as if it was of no consequence, Napoleon would put
an end to the First Reich, or Holy Roman Empire, (which had lasted since 962) the vast territory in central
Europe and would undertake dozens of battles against several European countries,including Prussia.
Napoleon was defeated in what is probably one of the most iconic battles in history, which took place near
the small Belgian town of Waterloo. Carl von Clausewitz, an outstanding Prussian military theorist,
participated in the battles of Jena and Averstädt earlier on the same day, in which Napoleon had
beaten the Prussians.
Napoleon was convinced that true power meant the total control of Europe (a concept shared also by Hitler
a century later). For this purpose he tried to invade Russia, but he failed there and eventually in 1814,
after the decisive Battle of Paris he was forced to abdicate and was exiled.
Clausewitz was also participated in the actual Battle of Waterloo, albeit with a supporting role, as he
was Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army, however, these experiences would be determinating factors in the
legacy that he left with regard to the art of war.
Napoleon escaped from his place of exile on Elba and reassembled his army and tried to regain with great
energy his status as the genius of warfare. He had the dual ability to form and lead powerful armies and
at the same time, be adept with political and diplomatical power.
But ultimately, despite all his successes, he was not able to beat the allied army, formed by Britain,
Prussia, Russia and Austria at Waterloo. Strategists say that Napoleon made a big mistake by waiting and
not attacking until the ground had dried out after a heavy rain had fallen the night before. This space
of time allowed the allied army to reform into a more advantageous position.
Clausewitz, who had been intimately involved in several other campaigns, had acquired tremendous military
knowledge and developed a philosophy of war, given that he proposed that all this conflict between humans
was not just the simple and brutal combat of people consumed by hate and determination but there was a
reason and a becoming, which he developed in his book published posthumously "On War".
This work completed the trilogy with Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist of 400 BC, with his "Art of War"
and "The Prince" by Machiavelli.
Carl von Clausewitz was the great strategist of modern times.
These three elevated war to the status of art.