From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hebrew University's van Creveld remains unsurpassed as a scholar of war. In this provocative volume, he challenges perhaps the subject's single greatest shibboleth—at least in Western culture. Since the Enlightenment, war has been described as a means to an end, serving essentially rational interests. Nothing, van Creveld asserts, could be further from the truth: war exercises a powerful fascination in its own right. To dismiss this is to overlook that war has generated a distinctive culture, from uniforms to war games to parades, that is despised and regularly denigrated as atavistic and irrational. Van Creveld demonstrates that war is an essential element of history, rooted in psychology. In a tour de force of scholarship and insight, he takes readers through the processes of preparing for, waging and commemorating war. That culture makes men face death willingly, even enthusiastically, because it is an end in itself. [T]o be of any use, the culture of war must
be useless. Its traditions and rules are not constructions, but part of the fighter's soul—and as such, for better and worse, part of the human condition. Illus. (Sept. 30)
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From a respected military historian comes this probing inquiry of military culture. Marshaling evidence for its constancy, ranging from remote human history to the televised present, van Creveld asserts that group and societal reinforcements motivate soldiers to master fear and risk death. Van Creveld covers aspects such as training, military decoration, and commemoration of the dead, all of which are thought to motivate men to fight. A martial cultural tradition is vital, van Creveld argues, to cohesion at all levels; hence, the creation of martial music and war museums. But perhaps van Creveld’s most interesting discussions go against the derogation if not repudiation of martial values since World War II. Doubting that war will ever vanish from human experience, van Creveld emphasizes the intensity of its emotions, its centrality to the lives of those who endure and survive it, and the fascination its popularly exerts as reflected in war games, battle reenactments, collectibles, and military history and literature. A candid if uncomfortable appraisal of human nature, van Creveld’s astute analysis is a must-have on the military shelves. --Gilbert Taylor