September 08, 2005

A History of Warfare, by John Keegan

This appears to be a remarkably good look at warfare and how it has changed through the ages. I say "appears to be" because I'm no authority on the subject; Keegan's version of history could have massive holes in it, for all I know. But it tallied with what I've read in the past, though there were some surprises. It's a complex subject and difficult to summarize, but I'll give it a go: chariots, horses, bows and arrows, walls, cannon, small arms, bayonets, trenches, tanks, airplanes, atom bombs.

The book is not without its faults. The first section is an extended reflection on Clausewitz' blind spots, the moral being that Clausewitzian total war is necessarily self-destructive. The author hopes that perhaps we've progressed beyond all that (the book was written in the peaceful years after the first Gulf War), and expresses a touching faith in the saving power of the United Nations, a power that in recent years has become rather tarnished by the oil-for-food scams, the presence of nations like Syria on the UN Human Rights committee, and such like. And his discussion of warfare in primitive societies seems more authoritative than is warranted by the scarce data.

On the whole, though, I found this to be a fascinating book, and well-worth the time I spent with it.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 8, 2005 08:13 PM