“Vom Kriege,” better known as Carl von Clausewitz’s magnum opus “On War” was unlikely to be a candidate for anyone’s “Books to turn into children’s stories” Bingo card, but a nearly decade-long project by one artist has made that idea into a reality.
“The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz” is designed as a youth-friendly rendition of the works by the famed Prussian staff officer of the Napoleonic Wars, whose analysis on conflict between Europe’s mightiest powers laid some of the groundwork for the West’s modern military doctrine.
Clausewitz’s work is featured alongside classics like “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius and “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine in the “Canon” section of the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program, where it is hailed as “the most significant attempt in Western history to understand war, both in its internal dynamics and as an instrument of policy,” and credited with stimulating “generations of soldiers, statesmen, and intellectuals.”
Author and illustrator Caitlin Fitz Gerald first took interest in the project years ago after a Twitter conversation in which a friend’s child, combing through a parent’s copy of “On War,” questioned why it “didn’t have any pictures.”
Fast forward 10 years and “The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz” has arrived, with the officer taking the form of “Hare” Clausewitz, an enlightened rabbit imparting his warrior wisdom upon a forest-based class comprising a bear, fox, badger, boar, and otter, among other woodland creatures found in Clausewitz’s Prussia.
“While I think most of the enthusiasm for this project will be from adults who are interested in Clausewitz, I don’t think its concepts or subject matter are inaccessible to or inappropriate for children,” Fitz Gerald said in a video, adding that religious themes in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” and environmental motifs in Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” served as examples of children’s books tackling more challenging subjects.
Children “live in the same world we live in and need ways of interpreting it,” she said. “There’s a long history in children’s literature of books that help children understand and process difficult realities and complicated politics.”
The first volume of the new series is described as “an interpretation of the first three books of On War, which cover the nature of war, the theory of war, and strategy, respectively,” according to the Kickstarter project launched to fund the endeavor.
These concepts are delivered through art and language “accessible to a bright ten-year-old” and are “reinforced by evocative ink-and-watercolour illustrations on every page.”
Fitz Gerald said her work, which was continuously updated on a blog she kept to monitor its progress, was shared immediately by professors and students of numerous academies and war colleges, prompted boutique publisher Helios House Press to label the book as suitable “for military enthusiasts, precocious children, art lovers, national security professionals, and frustrated students of strategy alike.”
“The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz is an astonishingly original work that you will be proud to share with your children — or purchase for yourself!” the publisher wrote.
The Kickstarter project was launched with a goal of raising approximately $7,500. As of publication — and with 23 days left to go in the campaign — the amount raised stood at more than $35,000.