Because we love Carl von Clausewitz and the center of gravity concept, we need to grant them a divorce- for our sake. We tried for years to make it work, but it’s time to face reality, together they are just too abstract and confusing for us to embrace.
The center of gravity concept, a mainstay of the US military “operational art” since 1986, has never fully satisfied doctrine’s intent. According to Dr. Alex Ryan, a former School of Advanced Military Studies instructor, the concept is, “so abstract to be meaningless” Now if a ‘mainstay’ is so ‘abstract’ that subject matter experts declare it ‘meaningless’ we have a doctrinal problem. The genesis of this problem is a doctrinal foundation built on dubious authorship and editing, underdeveloped theory, imprecise metaphors, and flawed translations.  This Clausewitzian foundation, which was never very solid, is now collapsing under the weight of 21st century warfare. For this reason it’s time to end our reliance on Clausewitz’s On War as the authority on the center of gravity concept.
Doctrine writers recognizing the potential utility of the center of gravity concept understandably turned to the concept’s originator to provide the intellectual and theoretical base. This established the Clausewitzian foundation. However, overtime shortcoming in this course of action became more apparent and has reached the point where some advocated removing the concept from doctrine. The problem is the Clausewitzian foundation’s has four cracks, On War’s questionable writing and editing, underdeveloped theory, reliance on metaphors, and the continual evolution of meaning, context and translation. These four cracks argue against a reliance on Clausewitz and support the need for a divorce.
Crack One. Clausewitz did not write On War. His widow, assisted by military colleagues collected his notes and manuscripts after his death and compiled them. They eventually produced 10 volumes of which the first three became On War. On War is not Clausewitz’s magnum opus. It is a third party’s interpretation of his notes, manuscripts, and incomplete drafts without the benefit of Clausewitz reviewing or editing it. At best On War is an incomplete first draft forever waiting revision by the author.
Crack Two. Prior to his death Clausewitz wrote a note saying his manuscripts were nothing more than, “a mass of conceptions not brought into form…open to endless misconceptions.” His note was a warning that his ideas and theories were incomplete and any attempt to comprehend or draw conclusions from them would be full of errors. It is clear he hadn’t finished forming his theories and was not ready to stand behind them as authoritative. If Clausewitz was not willing to stand behind the work credited to him why should we?
Crack Three. Clausewitz was trying to explain 19th century European social-political theory and the phenomena of war –the ultimate social-political contest to military officers whose formal education was generally in engineering, not the social sciences. So he resorted to mechanical metaphors that successfully conveyed the social-political concepts to Prussian officers grounded in engineering. The metaphors, while imperfect as all metaphors are, worked for 19th century military officers. The problem today is many military officers now have soft sciences backgrounds and mechanical metaphors confuse rather than clarify as they did in Clausewitz’s time. If a metaphor has to be explained then the use of a metaphor is inappropriate to begin with.
Crack Four. Another problem is flawed translations. Clausewitz never used the term “center of gravity”, or in German, “Gravitationspunkt”, he used the word schwerpunkt, which means weight of focus or point of effort which is different from center of gravity, hubs or sources of power.  But it is easy to understand how an English translator when picturing this point of effort could think of a center of gravity which further illustrates the danger of metaphors. Milan Vigo in Joint Operational Warfare Theory and Practice provides a detailed analysis of the evolution of schwerpunkt from focus of effort to center of gravity which is summarized below:
- Schwerpunkt – main weight or focus or one’s efforts.
- Mid 19th century, schwerpunkt is associated with an enemy’s capital as the point of focus. Germans and Austrians used the word schwerpunktlinie to mean a line of main weight or effort that links one’s base of operations to the enemy’s capital. This is where the schwerpunkt as ‘the target’ understanding comes from.
- Late 19th century it comes to mean a section of the front where the bulk of one’s forces are employed to reach a decision. Schwerpunkt is now the ‘arrow’ not the target. This is a subtle shift from the point of focus on a target, to the arrow or what is focused. Count Alfred von Schlieffen and German military practice used the ‘arrow’ understanding up to WW II.
- Colonel J.J. Graham’s 1874 English language translation of On War mistranslated Schwerpunkt as “center of gravity”
- Post World War I German military progressively adds a new meaning using schwerpunkt to mean the focus of planning efforts. This is a natural evolution of the late 19th century hybrid of ‘the arrow’ and the ‘target’ understandings.
- The Bundeswehr (German Army) now uses the English term “center of gravity” while the Austrian Army uses the German term “Gravitationspunkt” which translates to “center of gravity”.
Hence, English translators took Clausewitz’s “schwerpunkt”, ‘the target or point of focus’ meaning mistranslated it into center of gravity which morphed into the source of power or ‘the arrow’ meaning.
So the concept of the center of gravity or schwerpunkt evolved from focus of effort which became the enemy’s capital, to a location on the battle field where the forces were most concentrated, to a planning effort focus, to a hub or source of power. This continuing evolution is clear evidence of a ‘conception not brought into form.’ The fact that the concept has changed several times since the publication of On War and has been adapted to fit different environments is sufficient reason challenge On War’s authority on the subject.
Clauswitzian scholar Dr. Christopher Bassford describes the problems associated with any translation, especially those dealing with theoretical concepts.
“Any translation from one language to another necessarily involves interpretation not only of the language but of the conceptual content. Even the most honest and competent translation inevitably includes both technical errors and arguable or controversial—if not flatly wrong—conceptual interpretations. And not all translators are honest and/or competent. Further, even editors working in the original language have been known to take liberties with the writer's original words, sometimes because the writer (like most authors) genuinely needed editorial assistance. Other editorial interventions are prompted by political fear or ambition, conceptual confusion, or contrary conviction (of either a technical or ideological nature). Changes in the native version obviously can be reflected in translations. All of these factors have certainly had an impact on the translation of Clausewitz, so which edition you get can be important.”
To illustrate Dr. Bassford’s point the phrase, “the hub of all power and movement” that is closely associated with the current definition is actually the invention of translators Michael Howard and Peter Paret, not Clausewitz. There are many other instances in their translation On War where grievous errors were made and were never corrected, e.g. Meldungen are translated as intelligence instead of “reports”; Kriegschauplatz is translated as theater of operations (a term Clausewitz never used but Jomini did) instead the correct translation “theater of war.” Another example of how translations change context and meaning is when Colonel J.J. Graham’s 1874 English translation is compared to Michael Howard and Peter Paret’s 1976 translation. Graham says, “…this center generally lies in the capital.” While Howard and Paret say, “the center of gravity is generally the capital.…” ‘Lies in’ and ‘is generally the capital’ have very different meanings.
In addition to translating and editing problems there is the simple problem of correctly understanding 200 year old context and usage. Understanding Clausewitz’s German is challenging even for modern native speaking German scholars such as Dennis Prange of the Munich Foundation who explained even correct literal translations contain errors in meaning and context. For example early 19th century German officers would have understood Schwerpunkt as the target while early 20th century German officers saw it as the arrow because usage, not meaning, evolved over time.
These factors have so confused the meaning of the center of gravity that the concept is practically useless. Yet the concept has tremendous potential and can still become the mainstay of Operational Art that doctrine intended. But to reach this potential we need a Clausewitz-center of Gravity divorce so we can establish a new center of gravity relationship based on modern military theory and the imperatives of the 21st century warfare.
 Dept of the Army, FM 100-5, 10, Appx B 179-180
 Dr, Alex Ryan, email to LTC Celestino Perez, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, passed on to Dale C. Eikmeier, 13 October 2011.
 Author’s conclusion based on the changing definitions and descriptions of the center of gravity in both US Army and Joint Doctrine from 1986 through 2011 (FM 100-5 1986/1993, JP 5-00.1 2002, JP 5-0 2006/2011) and the number of articles and critiques on centers of gravity (Strange, Echevarria, Vego, Eikmeier,)
 Discussions at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas during the winter and spring 2010 among Command General Staff College instructors, and the Deputy Commandant’s Initiative Group on the implementation of ‘Design’ in the US Army’s FM 5-0 The Operations Process. The issue was whether or not the design methodology and its “problem frame” would replace the center of gravity.
 B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, (Meridian, New York, New York, 1991), 344
 Presentation by Lars Falk, Swedish Defense Research Agency, “Centers of Gravity and Clausewitz’s Model of War” 2nd Annual Conference on Terrorism and Global Security, Washington D.C., Ambivium Institute on Security and Cooperation. 14-15 September 2011. http://www.ambivium.org/events.html
 Author’s experiences as a student and instructor at the Army’s Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies, as an instructor at the Army War College and as an operational level planner. The mechanical meaning of center of gravity would have to be explained so use of the metaphor could be understood. If a metaphor has to be explained the use of a metaphor is in appropriate to begin with.
 Milan Vego, “Clausewitz's Schwerpunkt: Mistranslated from German Misunderstood in English”, on line at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBZ/is_1_87/ai_n27135952/ (accessed 10 January 2012). and Antulio J. Echevarria II, “Clausewitz’s Center Of Gravity: Changing Our Warfighting Doctrine—Again!”, (Carlisle Barracks, PA, Strategic Studies Institute September 2003), 6
 Milan Vego, Joint Operational Warfare Theory and Practice, (Newport, RI, US Naval War College, September 2007), VII-37 –VII-48
 Colonel J.J. Graham’s 1874 English translation of On War, 144, 151, 331, available as an ebook at www. Gutenberg.org
 Dr. Joe Strange and Colonel Richard Iron, Understanding Centers of Gravity and Critical Vulnerabilities, National Defense University 2003, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/usmc/cog1.pdf .7 (accessed 15 December 2011).
 Email and phone discussions between Dr. Milan Vego, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island and Dale C. Eikmeier, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on 13 February 2012
 Dr. Joe Strange and Colonel Richard Iron, 10
 Dennis Prange, Munich Foundation discussions with the author at the 2nd Annual Conference on Terrorism and Global Security, Washington DC. Ambivium Institute on Security and Cooperation. 14-15 September 2011. http://www.ambivium.org/events.html