The character of Levitt quotes frequently from Carl von Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (On War), his most notable work, unfinished at the time of his death. Clausewitz was born on June 1, 1780 in the Kingdom of Prussia to a lower middle-class family. He was a professional soldier but his legacy is that of a military strategist and theorist. The book concentrates on Napoleon extensively. Clausewitz was impressed with how Napoleon was able to change the conduct of war by influencing the general population and utilizing the resources of the state.
Clausewitz's influences in The Wars have largely to do with what is called "the fog of war", a term that has come to mean that much of military intelligence is questionable at best and frequently wrong. This ties in to Findley's idea in the novel that what is observed is not necessarily what is true. Perception becomes as much a hindrance as a guide. Clausewitz's conclusions were formed largely because of his experiences in the Prussian army. While fighting Napoleon, the Prussians frequently found themselves at a loss for military intelligence. This was due to Napoleon's strategic superiority but also to the nature of war itself.
Findley demonstrates that war is not only chaotic and complex but also mad. The human mind frequently races to try to comprehend what war brings about in rapid succession. This effort to try to process the implications and relevance of what happens during war is also a contributing factor to the "fog". Findley concludes that to understand war completely is not a realistic or even desirable goal. To look upon war and not be shocked or horrified speaks to the loss of our humanity.
Clausewitz saw warfare as a social construct. He is famously quoted as saying, "War is the continuation of politics by other means." However, he made distinctions between "real war" and "total war". Clausewitz argued that war could not be fought in a limited fashion. Each side would need to utilize all its resources to ensure victory, but Clausewitz saw this as dangerous. War, in his opinion, could be waged to gain specific goals or to render one's enemy militarily or politically impotent. Essentially, destroying one's enemy was not always a realistic or advisable goal. Consider this when Findley describes the fiery destruction that the war brings upon the city of Bailleul.