Don't Panic!: What happened to the planned U.S. offensive in Kandahar?


Maybe I’m just an old fuddy duddy, but back when I was coming up, surprise was considered an essential element of successful warfare.

In fact, I can still recall that glorious day when I learned about the importance of surprise in war. It was 1832 and, just for fun, I downloaded the great Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz’s then-newly published “On War” to my Kindle. We didn’t have TV then, so we read German books for fun.

Anyway, it’s right there in Book Six, Chapter Three. That’s where Clausewitz lists “surprise” as one of the main factors of strategic success in warfare. In case you’re curious, the other five elements are terrain, strength of forces, popular support, morals, and an uplifting, jingoistic tune, preferably by Lee Greenwood.

Why the heck should you care what an old, dead German dude thinks of war? Well, before they were only good at cars and spicy mustard, Germans were also awesome at war. In fact, Clausewitz is probably the most influential western military thinker of the past 200 years after Edwin Starr. Though the modern battlefield would be almost unrecognizable to Clausewitz, his strategic principles still enhance our knowledge of how wars work.

To understand the importance of surprise, consider three of the most pivotal battles of the 20th century. Would Nazi Germany have so quickly trounced the French if Hitler had broadcast six months ahead of time that he was sending his blitzkrieg around French defensive fortresses? Of course not.

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