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Are You The General Of Carl von Clausewitz’s Dreams? Take This Quiz To Find Out!

Carl von Clausewitz (1780 -1831); Prussian general and military theorician. (Photo by: Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

We all know Clausewitz, right? Noted Prussian, on the wrong side of some of Napoleon’s greatest victories, war-is-the-continuation-of-politics-by-other-means, Carl Philipp Gottfried von? Until recently I could not have come up with his first name if held at gunpoint on the street but I knew the concept. Admittedly, the concept in my mind had a monocle and a bushy mustache and the man himself did not, but still. In the West Point of my mind all graduates were required to read Clausewitz in the original German; I knew without knowing that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a big fan. 

I’m reading Clausewitz’s unfinished book On War for the first time now. It’s great and not just because it necessarily implies that someone has bestowed upon me a smoking jacket and a pipe. Clausewitz takes this whole set of experiences and concepts that we bundle together under the name of warfare and very, very slowly walks through them. And a lot of the time it’s not that he’s necessarily saying anything dramatically counterintuitive (who didn’t already know the advantages and disadvantages of the concentric action of forces? she asks, snuggling deeper into her smoking jacket), but something about taking the concepts out and thinking them through in slow motion either gives the sensation of having understood or (less cynically) actually induces a new capacity to understand what the hell goes into war-making.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out I was wrong about some of the whole Clausewitz deal. The portrait of Clausewitz attached to his Wikipedia article could easily belong to your average lieder composer if you took away the medals, and the book itself is in many ways more of a meditation on the nature of war than a series of dictates. Some of it’s pretty applicable to day-to-day life, too, like his insistence that three-quarters of waging a successful war is keeping other people moving forward in the face of the sheer animal difficulty of being alive in the world. In other words, and I mean this absolutely sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, this is a man with useful things to say about what happens when the office copier breaks down. So why hasn’t he broken containment like Sun Tzu? Why isn’t there a whole Clausewitz-based self-help industry? 

I am someone with a hunger to be helped, but also a hunger to be known. If you put in front of me a personality quiz, I will take it. I will take it even if it is obviously meant as a joke. I have taken literally hundreds of Seventeen Magazine quizzes. I do not believe in Myers-Briggs, but I know my type. I once found in my mother’s belongings a guide she had put together for her high school yearbook about studying more effectively and I read it all the way through three times even though it was written by my mother who had already given me more advice than I wanted on studying more effectively. Clausewitz talked a lot about military genius, as you might expect from a man who got to watch Napoleon in action, and every time he did I found myself thinking, is that me? That might be me, right?

This was obviously unscientific and unsatisfactory, so I decided to create a better instrument. The results of this process are before you. Find out if you dare.


Art by Felix Kent.

1. Have you ever in the middle of the night woken up convinced that two people in your circle of acquaintances were dating?

    • No. (0 points)
    • Yes, and I was wrong. (5 points)
    • Yes, and I was right. (60 points)
    • Yes, and then they denied it, and now I’m a little embarrassed about the whole thing. (-25 points)
    • Yes, and then they denied it, but I knew they were lying and I have been writing the speech I will read at their wedding ever since. Also I follow them around sometimes on the hunt for additional evidence. (100 points)

Clausewitz says:

“[T]o get safely through this perpetual conflict with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: in the first place an intellect which, even in the midst of this intense obscurity, is not without some traces of inner light, which lead to the truth, and then, the courage to follow this faint light.

2. In high school you finished your standardized tests:

    • Well in advance of the end time. (20 points)
    • Finished? I was still writing when the bell rang. (5 points)

Clausewitz says:

“In real action most men are guided merely by the tact of judgment which hits the object more or less accurately, according as they possess more or less genius. This is the way in which all great generals have acted, and therein partly lay their greatness and their genius, that they always hit upon what was right by this tact.”

3. You are meeting your friends for brunch. You show up first. The server asks you what time your friends will arrive. You:

    • Shrug and say you don’t know. (0 points)
    • Say decisively that they will be here in five minutes. The server seats you. Half an hour later your friends have not arrived. You are four cups of free-refill coffee deep by the time they show up and the three people at the two-top next to you are looking at you with ill-concealed hate in their eyes. (50 points; or, if the place you are meeting is your neighborhood place where you don’t want to piss people off, -10 points)
    • Say that they will be here in 23 and a half minutes. Are correct, down to the half-minute. (30 points; or, if the place you are meeting is your neighborhood place where you don’t want to piss people off, 80 points)
    • Do not get a chance to say anything because your friends stroll up at precisely that moment, your iron will having instilled in your friend group a firm grasp of punctuality. (100 points)

Clausewitz says:

“[A commander-in-chief] need not understand anything about the make of a carriage, or the harness of a battery horse, but he must know how to calculate exactly the march of a column, under different circumstances, according to the time it requires.”

BUT:

“If we ask, first of all, for the object upon which the whole effort of war is to be directed, in order that it may suffice for the attainment of the political object, we shall find that it is just as variable as are the political object and the particular circumstances of the war.”

4. You at one time believed Saddam Hussein to have weapons of mass destruction.

    • False. (0 points)
    • True. (-1000 points)

Clausewitz says:

“What is required of an officer is a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give.”

5. You are working on a group project at work. At the presentation, your boss takes all the credit for the end result. You:

    • Smile and nod. (0 points)
    • Catch the eye of your boss’s boss and mouth, me, me, it was all meeeeee, across the table at them. Later you buy them a coffee. (50 points)
    • Shove your chair back from the table while shouting, “Screw you, Grover.” (25 points)

Clausewitz says:

“Of all the noble feelings which fill the human heart in the exciting tumult of battle, none, we must admit, are so powerful and constant as the soul’s thirst for honor and renown…”

BUT:

“Excitable, inflammable feelings are in themselves little suited for practical life, and therefore they are not very fit for war.”

6. You go to see a movie with some people. They think it was great; you think it sucked. You discuss it over drinks afterwards. You:

    • Listen closely and attentively to what they have to say, and in the end are forced to admit that they have a point. (0 points)
    • Listen attentively and walk away still convinced that the movie sucked. (50 points)
    • Listen inattentively, interrupt a lot, and walk away convinced that you will never see a movie with these jackasses again, especially Grover. (10 points).

Clausewitz says:

“By this preference which in doubtful cases we give to first convictions, by adherence to the same our actions acquire that stability and consistency which make up what is called character.”

BUT:

“Obstinacy is a fault of the feelings or heart.”

7. How are you at parallel parking?

    • Awesome, I’m the best. (80 points)
    • Fine as long as there’s someone standing by the passenger window yelling vigorously at me. (15 points)
    • I will drive around the block looking for another parking spot for as long as it takes. (0 points)

Clausewitz says:

“[T]he commander in war must commit the business he has in hand to a corresponding space which his eye cannot survey, which the keenest zeal cannot always explore, and with which, owing to the constant changes taking place, he can also seldom become properly acquainted.”

8. Your planned revenges are:

    • Simple and swift. (200 points)
    • Elaborate and involving the purchase of products from the ACME Corporation. (15 points)
    • I prefer to avoid revenge altogether, spiritually triumphing over my enemy by the rigors of my workout regime. (0 points)

Clausewitz says:

“Therefore, far from making it our aim to gain upon the enemy by complicated plans, we must rather seek to be beforehand with him by greater simplicity in our designs.”

BUT:

“Let us not hear of generals who conquer without bloodshed.”

9. Your favorite co-worker is being harangued by your least favorite manager in the office kitchen. You approach:

    • From behind your co-worker. (0 points)
    • So that Grover does not see you coming until you’ve got your hand on his shoulder. (50 points)

Clausewitz says:

“Every one knows the moral effect of a surprise, of an attack in flank or rear.”

10. You have been known to run out the clock in order to eke out a trivia win.

    • True. (20 points)
    • False. (0 points)

Clausewitz says:

“In general, an action inclines in one direction from the very commencement, but in a manner little observable. This direction is also frequently given in a very decided manner by the arrangements which have been made previously, and then it shows a want of discernment in that general who commences battle under these unfavorable circumstances without being aware of them.”

11. Your daydreams are:

    • Extensive, specific, and lavish and I can’t stop myself from engaging in them. (30 points)
    • Brisk and to the point. (20 points)
    • I try to avoid daydreaming whenever possible, but whenever I imagine myself back in Ms. Smith’s classroom I can still see the gleam of the pencil sharpener. (100 points)

Clausewitz says:

“The perception no doubt is formed partly by means of the physical eye, partly by the mind, which fills up what is wanting with ideas derived from knowledge and experience, and out of the fragments visible to the physical eye forms a whole; but that this whole should present itself vividly to the reason, should become a picture, a mentally drawn map, that this picture should be fixed, that the details should never again separate themselves—all that can only be effected by the mental faculty which we call imagination.”

12. You are arguing with a friend about the name of the bear that A.C. Green had with him on the bench in that one Lakers title run, and you are starting to doubt the wisdom of your initial position that A.C. referred to him as Sir Cares-A-Lot. You say:

    • “You know what, actually, I’m not so sure any more.” (0 points)
    • “Fuck you, Grover, I know what I’m talking about.” (50 points)

Clausewitz says:

“The reader will readily agree with us that, supposing an equal degree of discernment to be forthcoming in a certain number of cases, a thousand times as many of them will end in disaster through over-anxiety as through boldness.”

Scoring

500 and above: Congratulations! You ARE his dream general. As though your desire for renown, steely determination, and constant habit of courage were not reward in themselves! Still, be careful of Moscow in winter!

200 to 500 points: You will probably not achieve the success of a Bonaparte or a Frederick. You will, best case, find yourself snugly ensconced in some kind of captaincy. Still, even you can have your use in the building of a dream army! Don’t give up hope.

Fewer than 200 points: You are not Clausewitz’s dream general. You are the opposite of Clausewitz’s dream general. But diligent study of geometry might transform you into the dream general of his contemporary, Dietrich Heinrich von Bülow, whom Wikipedia describes as writing with “cosmopolitanism hardly to be distinguished from high treason.” A magical prospect! Clausewitz is kind of mainstream, anyway!


Felix Kent is not, it turns out, Clausewitz’s dream general.

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