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Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History Hardcover – February 14, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thanks to its recent experience of quagmires that drain into simmering truces, America has forgotten that triumph is the proper way to end a war, argues this brash study of military blowouts. Surveying six conflicts, from the Persian invasion of ancient Greece to WWII, historian Lewis (Early Greek Lawgivers) contends that lasting peace requires a shattering victory, a display of overwhelming force that expose[s] the physical and ideological bankruptcy of the losers and precipitates an immediate collapse in [their] will to fight. Lewis's analysis of war as a psychological struggle and clash of moral purposes is lucid and forceful; it's especially telling in his incisive account of Sherman's march through Georgia, and especially provocative in his defense of the atomic bombings of Japan. (To break the Japanese leaders out of their ideological blinders... American leaders needed to kill a lot of Japanese in a visibly shocking way.) He's less cogent when he tries to distill profound moral purposes from the murk of the Second Punic War or Roman emperor Aurelian's squabble with Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. Lewis's tight yoking of military success with moral superiority sometimes veers close to the notion that might makes right. (Mar.)
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"Lewis' analysis of war as a psychological struggle and 'clash of moral purposes' is lucid and forceful; it's especially telling in his incisive account of Sherman's march through Georgia, and especially provocative in his defense of the atomic bombings of Japan."--Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691135185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691135182
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Publishers Weekly writes many short blurbs for Amazon. And they usually do a great job. Unfortunately, their assertion that Lewis veers close to arguing that "might makes right" is completely wrong. Consider Lewis's take on the Third Punic War--which he says was not a war at all but rather a massacre:

"Rome was wrong; the peace of Scipio Africanus was good, and the Romans could have preserved it by just mediation of the Carthaginian complaints. The Romans appointed a successor to Masinissa in 149; they could have ended the Numidian attacks. It is to Romans' eternal shame--there is no credit due here--that they slaughtered a former enemy that had accepted peace and was living by its word.

"Readers tempted to interpret the thesis of this book as the need for total destruction of an enemy's population centers should consider the decades that followed the Second Punic War, when former enemies were at peace, with the needless sacrifice of that peace in the destruction of Carthage--and the civil unrest and violence that followed in the next generation for the Romans. . . .

"The Second Punic War remains the example of a successful victory," says Lewis at chapter's end. The Third was "a needless and unforgiveable slaughter."

The idea that "might makes right" is nowhere in the above. Nor is it to be found elsewhere in the book. Lewis in fact explicitly states that the opposite is true. After showing how the "relative commitment of each side to its moral cause . . . affected the outcome of [each] conflict," Lewis says that something more than just commitment is involved. "The truth," according to Lewis, "matters"--"the strongest power belonged to those who were, in fact, right, if those who were right knew it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John David Lewis takes the reader through the important steps of six separate wars in ancient and modern times ranging from the Greeks and Romans to the U.S. Civil War and World War II. In each case he illustrates in detail the importance of moral ideas as the necessary motivating factors in a decisive defeat of an enemy. Only a consistent, principled commitment to the rightness of one's cause and therefore a willingness to take the fight to the "center of gravity" of the enemy will result in the enemy's permanent surrender. The rightness of one's cause should not be arbitrary but be based on a rational, fact-based recognition of the moral superiority of one's civilization. Highly recommended!

One hopes that today and tomorrow's policy makers will read this book as well as Elan Journo's Winning the Unwinnable War: America's Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Lewis ought to be teaching military history at our war colleges. America would be invincible then and actually win wars, which we have not done since WWII.

In his book 'Nothing less than victory: Decisive Wars and the lessons of history', Dr, Lewis shows the concrete 'cases' of six wars in history, from ancient times to modern times, and analyzes how in each war only the true breaking of the will of the citizens behind the war, so not of the soldiers, lead to a permanent end of the hostile attitude of all those who initiated the wars.

Dr. Lewis shows, amongst others, how we failed to win WWI because we did not defeat the Germans truly by making them feel directly the horror of their own choices to commit war. No German territory nor civilians were attacked nor was Germany made to capitulate unconditionally in WWI. So the whole thing had to be revisited in WWII and, after initial attempts to appease the unappeasables, we finally figured out that only vanquishing our enemies unconditionally would end their irrationality. And we did.

Of course the great successful war leaders like Scipio and Sherman and their victories were also discussed as examples to show how to wage a war against an attacking enemy rightly and victoriously.

"Nothing Less Than Victory' shows us here that it is morally right, so in our selfish interest, to unconditionally defeat the enemies who attack us, and to do so brutally, without recoiling at hitting civilians, like we do now, that those enemies will not think of doing so again. His premise is that behind each war there are the civilians who either initiated and support it or just support it and, if they are stopped, the soldiers cannot continue.

I wonder why Dr.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I teach an Ethics and Homeland Security course and have used this as supplemental material in the discussions because it offers an excellent counterpoint to the classical authors in the Just War realm.

The book is persuasive and comprehensive but also easy to read non-consecutively.

I only own the Kindle version and it is well-organized with an excellent menu.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Ever wonder why not once since the end of World War II has the United States of America—having the most powerful military in human history—won what Professor John David Lewis in Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History calls an “unambiguous military victory?” We did not win it in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq—and have not against our recent terrorist enemies.

Positing what should be but isn’t generally understood, Lewis holds that “[b]oth war and peace are the consequences of ideas—especially moral ideas—that can propel whole nations into bloody slaughter on behalf of a Fuhrer, a tribe, or a deity, or into peaceful coexistence under governments that defend the rights and liberties of their citizens.” (Holzer emphasis.)

Professor Lewis quotes Lt. Gen. Harold L. George:

"[T]he object of war is now and always has been, the overcoming of the hostile will to resist. The defeat of the enemy’s armed forces is not the object of war; the occupation of his territory is not the object of war. Each of these is merely a means to an end; and the end is overcoming his will to resist. When that will is broken, when that will disintegrates, then capitulation follows."

Consider the Korean War. To say the least, President Harry Truman and his political and military cronies had an agenda that was not the defeat of either the North Korean invaders or the Chinese intervenors. Far from it. Truman and company may have wanted a war, but they did not want to overcome the Communists’ will to resist. Tens of thousands of U.N., South Korean, and American troops, not to mention literally countless civilians, fell victim to their Cold War Machiavellian calculations.

Consider the Vietnam War.
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