Bravo for Joel Achenbach's article "War and the Cult of Clausewitz" {Style, Dec. 6}. But I must note that Carl von Clausewitz's aphorism -- "War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means" -- is historically false and morally abhorrent.

War has been at times a religious experience as among the Aztecs and the Crusaders, at other times a ritual game as among the Amerinds and the tribes of Borneo, or yet the only worthy occupation of men as among the Vikings and Huns. Communists saw war as the result of socio-economic forces. The Kellogg-Briand Pact and Nuremberg suggested that war is a crime, a conclusion I find personally persuasive.

Present-day American cultists have embraced Clausewitz because his basic premise seems seductively congruent with our tradition of civilian control over the military. They forget that Clausewitz wrote against the background of the Napoleonic Wars and the emergence of Prussia in which there were no distinctions between the government and the commander in chief.

They also worship at his altar because Clausewitz, hewing to the method of orthodox philosophical exposition, discussed war in the extreme. He called war an "act of utmost violence" and condemned any moderation of the bloodbath. This neatly dovetails with the American military tradition of overwhelming the enemy with men and materiel instead of defeating the adversary, and it also justifies the use of atomic weapons.

The bonanza that neo-Clausewitzians like Col. Summers reap from their saint is, of course, the inevitable conclusion that Vietnam was not a professional military failure. In Vietnam, the objectives of national policy were not clear, and the use of force was essentially limited to South Vietnam. Ergo, we lost because of the mistakes of the civilians.

Now the cultists tempt us again with the lure of Clausewitz's adage, playing down the quintessential evil of his philosophy. Clausewitz erased all moral distinctions between the means for conducting policy. Diplomacy, reason, persuasion and deterrence are all lumped together under the common rubric of "means" for conducting policy -- all equally moral, all equally useful and all equally available to the policy makers.

In the Nuclear Age, war had become "unthinkable." With the end of the Cold War, Col. Summers and his cohorts tell us that war is again something rational a` la Clausewitz. And the results have been predictable -- Grenada, Panama and now Desert Shield.

I am not satisfied with a purely rational philosophy of war. Perhaps it has a place at Carlisle Barracks, but it has no place in the White House. That's where I look for moral leadership.


Now I know why Tom Clancy sticks with fiction. He doesn't seem to know much history. About his quote: "It's just fashion. Clausewitz is just the trendy thing at the time. Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven't won a war since 1871?"

Is he kidding? "Trendy"? "On War" has been required reading for essentially all military schools for nearly 200 years. A trend perhaps -- but not trendy.

By the way, Clausewitz was not German. He was Prussian. The Prussians are renowned for their military expertise and for brilliant victories against superior odds. Maybe Tom Clancy was being sarcastic. He'd better stick with lasers and smart bombs.