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Herberg-Rothe holds both that contemporary readings of Clausewitz are too selective, and that the characterization of contemporary conflict too readily dismisses the role of the state. Reconstructing Clausewitz, he argues that the concept of the ‘wondrous trinity’ (primordial violence, chance and politics), found at the end of Chapter One, Book I of On War, is Clausewitz’s true legacy and forms the basis of a general theory of violent conflict. Herberg-Rothe also points to the importance of Clausewitz’s lifelong preoccupation with Napoleon, expressed in his historical analyses of the latter’s campaigns in Prussia, Russia and during the Hundred Days, which together contain insights into and developments of Clausewitz’s never-revised theoretical masterwork. In developing this account, Herberg-Rothe notes important differences between the concept of trinitarian war, imputed to Clausewitz by critics like Martin van Creveld, which seems to be applicable only to inter-state wars, and Clausewitz’s wondrous trinity. Whereas in trinitarian war the three tendencies are incorporated into a hierarchy, in Clausewitz’s conception they are equal in standing. In terms of Clausewitz’s wondrous trinity, and taking into account that he understood the concept of ‘state’ in his world-renowned formula as any kind of warring community, it can be argued that every war is variously composed of all three tendencies, which differ in significance only in relation to social, historical and technological circumstances. This in turn renders the possibility of understanding all violent conflict in terms of a Clausewitzian differentiated coordinate system as relevant today as ever.

Herberg-Rothe’s analysis is too subtle to be drawn into direct comparisons between ‘old’ and ‘new’ wars, but it does invite reflection that, like Napoleon in Russia, the United States military is able to win almost any battle, and yet is not winning the war in Iraq. It captured the Iraqi capital without defeating enemy forces in a decisive battle, and now, as bombs explode across the country on a daily basis, politicians conspire to force it to pull out. It would be equally simplistic to compare personalities, and to equate Napoleon’s decision at Waterloo—to sacrifice his reserves so that he could escape—with the increased casualties suffered by George Bush’s reinforced surge aimed at stabilising the situation long enough to permit withdrawal. Nevertheless, implicit in all three aspects of Clausewitz’s wondrous trinity is an element of the personal and of the self.