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Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power Paperback – August 27, 2002
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Though technological advances and superior weapons have certainly played a role in Western military dominance, Hanson posits that cultural distinctions are the most significant factors. By bringing personal freedom, discipline, and organization to the battlefield, powerful "marching democracies" were more apt to defeat non-Western nations hampered by unstable governments, limited funding, and intolerance of open discussion. These crucial differences often ensured victory even against long odds. Greek armies, for instance, who elected their own generals and freely debated strategy were able to win wars even when far outnumbered and deep within enemy territory. Hanson further argues that granting warriors control of their own destinies results in the kind of glorification of horrific hand-to-hand combat necessary for true domination.
The nine battles Hanson examines include the Greek naval victory against the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C., Cortes's march on Mexico City in 1521, the battle of Midway in 1942, and the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. In the book's fascinating final chapter, he then looks forward and ponders the consequences of a complete cultural victory, challenging the widespread belief that democratic nations do not wage war against one another: "We may well be all Westerners in the millennium to come, and that could be a very dangerous thing indeed," he writes. It seems the West will always seek an enemy, even if it must come from within. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Hanson makes the case that western military capabilities (currently on display in Afghanistan) are a function of culture going back to the rise of the Greek city-states. He asserts that the combination of a polity in which the warriors vote on going to war in which they will serve (in effect the property owning voters were the heart of the Greek Phalanx so they were voting to put themselves at risk). They needed to have a short campaign between the planting and harvest seasons since the warrior-farmers had to both sustain the economy and the battle creating a style of war which involved short direct shock actions (the Greek phalanx so brilliantly portrayed in Pressfield's the Gates of Fire). This reliance on infantry combat by disciplined units in direct shock assault was compounded by the economics of Greek geography. Faced with the reality that in small valleys surrounded by mountains you could produce ten infantrymen for every cavalrymen because horses are far more expensive than humans, the Greeks really emphasized the development of high technology (long spear, short stabbing sword, big shield, very tough helmet) infantry combat with extremely disciplined teams.Read more ›
He argues that Western success on the battlefield is a cultural phenomenon, not just the result of good fortune in the allocation of resources or the serendipity of technology. Free nations produce leaders and soldiers who take the initiative. Citizens who are protected by law against arbitrary action feel free to "audit" battles and criticize soldiers, leading to improved strategy and tactics. Western military commands are heirarchical, but not unduly so, so that they adapt well to changing circumstances. The result is an approach to battle that has been evolving since the time of the ancient Greeks, and that now involves applying maximum disclipline and violence at the point of engagement in order to annihilate, not merely defeat, an opponent.
Hanson discusses a series of battles to illustrate the differences between the "Western" style of war and the practices of cultures that he deems to be "non-Western": Salamis (480 BC); Gaugamela (331 BC); Cannae (216 BC); Poitiers (732); Tenochtitlan (1520-21); Lepanto (1571); Rourke's Drift (1879); Midway (1942) and Tet (1968). Each of these struggles illustrates a Western preference for decisive battle that inflicts enormous and disproportionate casualties on the loser.
Throughout, Hanson is very careful to stress that the losers are brave, smart individuals--he is not a racist and goes out of his way to explain that, person for person, the citizens of the West are no better than their non-Western counterparts.Read more ›
Carnage and Culture belongs in the second category.
Before I attack Carnage and Culture straight-out, I should probably mention the good aspects of this work. Hanson, like always, has written an engaging book. It is highly readable, and though Hanson turns a tad repetitive before his work is done, he moves at a pace fast enough to work around his own cyclical thought process. Carnage and Culture's bibliography is suitably large for the subject matter. Indeed, Hanson's greatest triumph lies in his ability to translate his survey of the extensive historical literature surrounding his subject into terms readily understood by a high school graduate. That the reader does not need any previous knowledge concerning Archimedean Persia, Aztec "Flower Wars", or the naval tactics of the Second World War to understand the arguments presented in Carnage and Culture is a testament to Hanson's place as a master historical writing.
Yet it is the sheer readability and inclusiveness of the book that troubles me. Carnage and Culture does not encourage further investigation of the events, ideas, or peoples discussed. Only rarely does Hanson admit that there are gaps or biases in the historical literature, and never does he stop to acknowledge that many of the arguments that he is making are controversial and contested.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Through detailed accounts of nine world changing battles, Salamis to Viet Nam, Hanson shows that Western culture has been superior to others in developing the art and practice of... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Gderf
He is an amazing storyteller. The conclusions he draws are hard to refute, and he makes points I never would have thought to consider.Published 8 months ago by Tyger Zarkowski
Gives a great prospective of how the western civilization beganPublished 10 months ago by Joseph R. Schram
Great book by a great author. Really goes into detail and helps a reader visualize each location and those involved. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Greg
Excellent book with great analysis of some of the pivotal battles of the western experience. Hanson uses the battles to show us why Western militaries have been so successful for... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Dan
Extraordinary book. Detailed and timeless in its message. One can only hope, as I do for all our children and grandchildren, that the qualities in our culture that have seen us... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Andrew M. Klein
I enjoy the writing style of Victor Hanson. His reasoning is sound, and the book is well researched. I highly recommend reading all of his writings.Published 16 months ago by Amazon Customer