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20161022 A History of Warfare

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to answer question “what is war?” and demonstrate that it is not continuation of politics by other means, but rather it is separate phenomenon related to politics only in very special circumstances applicable only in Western society and only in very limited period of time. This phenomenon is mainly cultural and changes from people to people and from time to time. The society’s culture defines all aspects of war making and is always based on available technology whether it is horse and chariot or horse and saddle or stone axe or tank and nuclear weapon. Eventually war becomes outdated and for humanity to survive the global politics and diplomacy should remove war as method of achieving any conceivable objectives.

DETAILS:

Introduction

This is the story of author’s personal involvement with military and war mainly as historian and professor at Sandhurst Military Academy. The main point here is that from extensive interaction with military professionals, studying or teaching in the Academy, author learned that war is a tribal affair, when in contemporary world tribe is substituted by military unit.

  1. War in Human History

The first question author explores here is Clausewitz’s definition of war as a continuation of politics. He rejects this idea, initially analyzing behavior and attitudes of irregular forces as Cossacks and then moving to idea of war as culture that he discusses using examples of Easter Island, Zulus, Mamluks, and Samurai. After that author looks at Western culture that somehow developed new and unusual methods of conflict resolution without war: via politics, democracy, and diplomacy. While for extended time Western culture developed as two parallel and somewhat segregated parts of war and non-war with war being rules based method of continuation of politics, now with invention of nuclear weapons it moved to complete elimination of war. This idea worked fine, albeit not right away, and so far there were no wars between countries with dominant western culture since WWII However it had a very limited success when non-western countries and cultures are involved.

Interlude: Limitations on Warmaking

In this interlude author discusses limitation on war that always existed, albeit highly diverse at different times and in different places. He looks at geographical, climatological, economical, and religious factors that caused these limitations.

  1. Stone

Here author explores human nature to answer question “why do men fight?” He even looks at biology, neurology, and anthropology trying to answer to this question. He discusses ideas of primitive warfare versus civilized, and then reviews results of anthropological research on existing hunter-gatherer tribes like Yanomamo and historical research on Aztecs and Maoris. The conclusion is that war between tribes for territory historically had a constant presence, but was very limited and often quite ritualistic, mainly because of absence of economic resources that tribe could allocate to war and very limited benefits that such war could produce. Only with development of agriculture war become a very productive way to acquire resources such as land and slaves for victorious tribe, leading to creation of states with significant stress on war making abilities, eventually leading to creation of civilization.

Interlude: Fortification

This interlude looks at fortifications and siege warfare and their development over time.

  1. Flesh

This chapter is about use of animals – mainly horses and related technology. It looks at historical use of horses initially in chariots and then later developments of cavalry. The main point here that use of horses supported military superiority for people who managed to do it earlier than others starting with Egyptians and their chariots and all the way to Mongols and armed Knights. Eventually horse people’s military declined quite dramatically due to improvements in various projectile technologies from crossbows to firearms.

Interlude: Armies

This is discussion of various types of human organizations for military purposes. It looks at European armies of XIX centuries with their ability of population mobilization, militarized societies as Cossacks, feudal military gangs based on relationships, mercenary armies, and others from point of view of MPR (Military Participation Ratio). Author also discusses issue that often missed in historical writings – special personality types geared to soldiering.

  1. Iron

This is discussion of technology and tactics on battlefield. It looks at historic development of materials used in close manual combat encounters from bronze to iron with tactical use of phalanx and psychological / sociological conditions required to support this tactics. It also reviews Greeks amphibious strategy that allowed numerically inferior Greek forces to succeed against Persians. Lots of attention also paid to Roman imperial military, its successes and its role as prototype of future mass military forces. At the end author analyses medieval Europe, which militarily speaking, was continent without armies that were substituted by poorly organized feudal gangs involved in limited scale warfare with fluidly changing sides.

Interlude: Logistics and Supply

This is review of development of logistics from earlier natural form when armies lived off the land by plain robbery that could support only minimal concentrations of troops to XX century warfare involving complex planning, production, and transportation operations when millions of people work under top down command structure. The results were highly effective in terms of ability of one society practically annihilate another, but highly inefficient due to impossibility to control systems of such level of complexity.

  1. Fire

The fire here means pretty much chemistry used in warfare either in form of direct use of fire as Greek fire, napalm, and such or use of chemistry to send projectile or produce explosion. Author looks at interplay between gunpowder and fortification, development of firearms and their application, and, most important, change in use of violence caused by simplification of its use. This simplification, when use of firearm becomes as deadly in hands of poorly trained conscript as in hands of professional soldier, led to creation of mass armies of XIX and XX centuries. Eventually with development of nuclear weapons the war lost meaning as a tool to acquire resources because losses would exceed any conceivable gains for all sides. Consequently it kind of suppressed in Western societies and put under restrain by international law that would probably be valid only as long as countries with secular and pragmatic values have overwhelming control over nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

There is no simple way to define war since it is different for different cultures and peoples. However the war as we know it is mainly Western way of war and it become outdated and inapplicable because currently achieved level of weapons power makes it meaningless. However another types of war: guerilla wars, religious wars, and other will force international community to continue use of peacemakers and peacekeepers who should learn to use all form of warfare starting with the most primitive.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that war should and could be eliminated from human live, but it is possible only if developed western countries reassert dominance of their civilization, if necessary by use of force, to establish world wide its cultural achievements dearly paid for in blood and treasure over the centuries: peaceful conflict resolution through negotiations, tolerance to ways of other peoples, and forfeiture of any attempt to dictate to others how to live, what gods to believe in not only at the level of societies, but at the level of individuals. In my view currently the main impediment to the peace is paradox of extreme tolerance to intolerance demonstrated by Western countries. Whether it is Islamic supremacists or Communists or some other *ists who use violence to force other people to comply with their ideas, the outcome will always be war as soon as they feel ready to initiate it. The only way to stop war is extreme intolerance to intolerance so it would be eliminated before it acquired enough power to start a war.

 


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