Monday, 4 July 2011
Von Clausewitz: On Twaddle
While re-reading Von Clausewitz' On War (I have a Penguin Classics edition of the 1908 translation by Col JJ Graham), I came across one of my favourite examples of the thankless art of avoiding ambiguity. This is from Clausewitz' own introduction.
"It is, perhaps, not impossible to write a systematic theory of War full of spirit and substance, but ours. hitherto, have been very much the reverse. To say nothing of their unscientific spirit, in their striving after coherence and completeness of system, they overflow with commonplaces, truisms, and twaddle of every kind. If we want a striking picture of them we have only to read Lichtenberg's extract from a code of regulations in case of fire.
If a house takes fire, we must seek, above all things, to protect the right side of the house standing on the left, and, on the other hand, the left side of the house on the right; for if we, for example, should protect the left side of the house on the left, then the right side of the house lies to the right of the left, and consequently as the fire lies to the right of this side, and of the right side (for we have assumed that the house is situated to the left of the fire), therefore the right side is situated nearer to the fire than the left, and the right side of the house might catch fire if it was not protected before it came to the left, which is protected. Consequently, something might be burnt that is not protected, and that sooner than something else would be burnt, even if it was not protected; consequently we must let alone the latter and protect the former. In order to impress the thing on one's mind, we have only to note if the house is situated to the right of the fire, then it is the left side, and if the house is to the left it is the right side."
I realise that the original may have lost a little in translation, but is it possible that the Bold Karl Von C actually had a sense of humour? [Actually, the regulation seems clear enough to me.]