Wednesday, 9 December 2015

On War!

Captain Carl von Lackwitz, commander of Gross Schnitzelring's garrison regiment and aspiring military philosopher strides slowly around the capital's eastern bastion, reading carefully from a small book. Next to him, one of his soldiers on watch, a Private Stensch, peers through a telescope. Lackwitz pauses in his reverie.

'Anything out there, private?'
'No sir', says Stensch. 'The capital is absolutely safe, sir. I'll wager, sir, that the war will never, ever reach these walls'.
'Just so, private, just so'. Lackwitz reads a little more from his book, nodding and then muttering under his breath 'Genius. Words of genius'.
The private risks some further conversation.
'Good book, sir?'
Lackwitz nods emphatically. 'It is quite the most significant work of military philosophy that has ever been written. Every word is illuminating. It is an intellectual lantern. A cerebral lighthouse, its words, like golden rays, banishing the inky blackness of ignorance, allowing the ship of ... thingy ... to come safely ... into know'.
'Would I know the author, sir', says the private, impressed.
'Oh yes', says the captain. 'It's me'.
'Crikey, sir. You're a real life author! Read me something clever!'
'I couldn't really, private ... it would be embarrassing: one doesn't want to blow one's own trumpet'.
'Fair enough'.
'But seeing as you've asked - how about this'. Lackwitz draws himself up, strikes a pose, and then begins to read.

'War is a continuation of pottery by other means'.
Stensch chews his lip for a moment, ruminating. 'Well, um, it's just ... well, is it? Like pottery?'
Lackwitz pauses, brow furrowed, and then nods. 'Dammit, you're, right'.
Stensch  nods. 'Well, it's just that I thought the word 'policy' might be a better ...'
Lackwitz continues pacing. 'Yes, I'm reaching. Pottery to too broad, too all-encompassing. It lacks rigour. But if I narrow the comparison down, should I then associate war with, say, purely cooking-related pottery? Or perhaps even just bowls? Or is the comparison that I'm looking for milk jugs. "War is a continuation of jugs by other means"'.
'I've certainly seen a fair few fights over the right kind of jugs ...' nods Stench. 'But no, sir. I think I mean that war seems to me to be less a piece of pottery, and more some kind of structured violence pursued by society for purposed defined by policy. Or whatever'.
'Interesting,' says Lackwitz, nodding. 'But no. It's definitely more like pottery. Or at least, some kind of general clay-related phenomena. We can say therefore in consequence that, "war is more than a true milk jug that slightly adapts its characteristics"'.
Stensch twiddles nervously with his telescope (something else that couldn't safely be done in Grand Fenwick). 'Well, sir - wouldn't a better point of comparison than a milk jug be something like a...a ... chameleon -  that changes a bit if you put it into a different context'.
'Do you have a chameleon?' says the captain.
'Well no, sir: not on me'.
'Have you ever seen a chameleon?'
'Well, no; but then perhaps that's because they change to blend in with the background. I've read about them.'
'Are they dangerous?' says Lackwitz looking around nervously.
'I don't know sir. But I don't think there are any around here'.
'Yes, but you said that you can't see them.' Lackwitz moves so that his back is against the wall. 'I mean, there could be hundreds of them. Right here. Right now. And we'd never know'.

Stensch intervenes quickly, trying to re-direct the conversation back onto a safer subject. 'So, has your book any advice on how we might win the current war, sir?'
The captain forgets invisible lizards and returns animatedly to his masterpiece. 'Yes, yes! Listen to this from page twenty two: "To achieve victory we must mass our forces at the hub of all power and movement. The enemy's centre of gravity or, as it might be more properly known, his testicles"'.
Stensch nods. 'So all war should focus on our enemy's gonads?'
'Without a doubt. Just give them a good kicking. Because, as I go on to note on the next page: "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to sod right off"'.
'Or perhaps', suggests the private, "to compel our enemy to do our will?"'
'Well, if our will is that they should sod right off, then yes'.
'"Will" sounds like it might fit better, sir'.
Lackwitz laughs. 'Ah, amusing: I'm sure it would to you, soldier. But then, you don't have the benefit as I do of a university education.'
'No sir, I don't', says Stensch. 'Ahh, the dreaming spires of Naffdorff.  How I should have liked to go to university, captain. The long hours of study. The exhaustive reading. Intensive engagement in lectures and discussion.'
Lackwitz frowns. 'No. no. I said 'university'. Thirty thousand thalers to go wandering around Naffdorf for three years, drinking wine and wearing a sedan-chair cone on my head. Marvelous. Only thus was I able to develop a honed, razor-like intellect capable of forensic, focused ... oooh shiny' he says and bends down to pick up a silver button.
Stensch notices something on the horizon and raises his telescope once again.

Lackwitz continues to pace the bastion. 'The key thing in war, though, is getting the right background music. I have a whole chapter on that: "No one starts a war - or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so - without first being clear in his mind where he will get an orchestra from and how he intends to conduct it".
Stensch look back distractedly. 'Music? But isn't there more to military success than that?'
The captain nods. 'Intellectuals like myself can look into war and see its essence. We know that war is composed of a fascinating trinity'.
At this, Stensch looks genuinely interested. 'Oooh yes sir: I can see it: primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which might be regarded as a blind natural force; the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason'.
Lackwitz looks at the private as if the latter had just started flapping imaginary wings and making noises like a little pig. 'Where do you get this nonsense from? No, private, war is composed, in my experience of a cheese and ham sandwich'.
'Isn't that just one thing?' asks Stensch.
Lackwitz spells it out as if to a child. 'Cheese. Ham. Sandwich. Three things.'
'Oh. Is it ...', and here the private's face becomes furrowed, like a monkey doing quadratic equations, 'a ... a ... metaphor?'
'I don't know', says Lackwitz suspiciously, 'is it?'
'Well', says the private. 'I suppose "cheese" could encompass the enduring nature of war; "ham" is its changing character; and the slices of bread the concept of military genius that manages the interaction between the two.'
'It's possible, but unlikely', says the captain furiously crossing out some text and scribbling something new.

'Blimey, look what I can see!', says the private suddenly.
'Exactly', says Lackwitz triumphantly, 'I have opened your mind to the wonders of military philosophy!'
'I mean, philosophically, I can see lots of musketeers and Croats over there beyond the stream'.
Lackwitz looks around nervously. 'Are there any chameleons?'
'I think captain, that we've become overly fixated on camouflaged reptiles ...Those troops are ours: and they seem very excited about something. There's dirty work afoot. Call out the guard!'
Suddenly, to the west, comes shouting, some shots, and then the blowing of horns accompanied by the sound of the ancient Gelderland military cry of alarm: 'The enemy - they're everywhere! Flee! Flee! Out of the way old woman! Run! Run!'
Stensch turns. 'War, captain! Now you can put your theory into prac ...' he begins to say. But he is alone on the bastion. A small book lies on the ground, thrown aside carelessly, its pages flapping gently in the breeze...


  1. A private arguing with Gelderland's foremost military thinker? The temerity of the man! He should be forced to run the gauntlet and, if he has any brains left, discharged from the service and banished from Gelderland! We cannot have the lower orders questioning their betters and, anyway, everyone knows that von Lackwitz's milk jug theory has advanced the theory of war considerably...

  2. Though rumour has it that Lackwitz's magnum opus was actually written by his wife, Esmerelda. Reputedly, Lackwitz drew the pictures.

  3. I have often remarked on the fine engravings in his volume. A talented man indeed: a writer and an artist...

  4. Yes, although his wife has often had cause to chastise him for colouring outside of the lines.