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The Culture of War Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 30, 2008

3.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Presidio Press (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345505409
  • ASIN: B005FOFTK2
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,768,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jason S. Taylor on March 26, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In Greek myth the jurisdiction over war is divided. Athena Nike, as governess over the arts, crafts, and sciences is in charge of victory as a corrallary to being in charge of strategy and statecraft. Ares is in charge of war in itself-he likes the fury of war for it's own sake. And while many historians, understandably prefer to study Athena Nike, this book is devoted to studying the ways of Ares.
It has been said that war is an extention of politics. That is in a sense true, in so far as the one who gives the orders for the commencement of hostilities is usually a politician and therefore inspired by political motives. However it is less true that people fight for politics. People fight for more important things like duty, honor, country, faith, friends, family, comrades-in-arms and so on. And if these things are "delusions" as cynics say, it might be pointed out that much of cynicism is itself a delusion and not the most pleasant of them.
The book gives an overview of the customs of warriors throughout history and the recuring themes. It shows how the culture of fighting men, the subtle(and not so subtle) ways in which they boast of their prowess and assert their right to be recognized as men-among-men is has much in common worldwide. It gives examples of such things as traditions, decorations, and what not, all designed to give the suspicion that people do to some degree like to fight. It shows how no matter how far apart cultures are in technology or customs, some things remain the same(this struck me in the Movie Zulu when the Zulus were singing their war songs and the Welsh were singing "Men of Harlech" in reply).
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Format: Hardcover
Van Creveld's book doesn't really present anything new but it makes for an interesting read. First you have to understand that he comes from the school of thought that war is part of, if not caused by, human nature. "It's culture, rooted as it is in human psychology, is largely impervious to change." And while the function of culture is to make men willingly face death, "it can do so only if it is understood not as a means to an end but an end in itself."

What makes the book interesting is his contention that the culture that surrounds war, from the way societies prepare for war, fight wars, commemorate war, and portray war in popular culture, is not only necessary to successfully win, but to keep it under control.

But I have to admit that he could have made his point in half the time. At times it seemed he was going for the word count and wandered from point to point. Wait 'till it comes out in paper or get it at the library -- it's not one of his best works.
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Format: Hardcover
Martin van Creveld's latest book deals with "the culture of war" - a term he never defines explicitly - from ancient to modern times. It's an important subject, but most of the book's 400 pages are just a laundry list of war's accoutrements: uniforms, decorations, drills, rulebooks, paintings, monuments, video games, etc. It is unlikely that even the most dedicated reader will want to slog through this; the material is familiar, and the treatment superficial. For example (p. 207): "At all times and places war has formed a subject for literature par excellence. Some authors feared it, some eagerly anticipated it. Some hated it, some exulted in it." Why yes, and I have also discovered that the sun rises in the East.

The book's discussion of ancient and non-Western cultures is sketchy and contains at least one howler: on p. 256, van Creveld bluntly asserts that "[In ancient India,] warriors were considered the highest caste of all." No, the order is priests (brahmins) at the top, followed by warriors (ksatriyas), farmers (vaisyas), and serfs (sudras).

A few flashes, of the excellence one normally expects from this author, occur towards the end of the book, in his dissections of the 1990's war in Bosnia (pp. 349-351) and the Battle of Jena in 1806 (pp. 357-361). Overall, though, this book is his weakest effort to date.
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Format: Hardcover
The apparent purpose for this book is to argue against Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is an extension of politics by other means. By denying vociferously (in fact before each major portion of the book) that war is a means to an end and is undertaken based on a rational cost-benefit analysis, van Creveld seems to be implying that war is an end in itself, perhaps because it is the best way of perpetuating and casting light on the verities of human existence. His argument is only partially refuted by the fact that we have not had a general war since 1945 (by which I mean one involving all major powers at the same time), which would inevitably have resulted in the destruction of modern civilization, if not humanity itself.

The book is divided into five major parts. The first three are about how the culture of war makes possible respectively the preparation for war, the actual fighting of war, and the response to/commemoration of war. These segments contained neither major surprises nor major flaws. The best argument in them is that while there are many reasons (not generally susceptible to moral judgment) why men fight, the closest they ever come to fighting for what drives the politicians who order them into battle is a suprarational "cause" divorced from the cost-benefit analysis that drives the politicians. The fourth dissects the possibility of a world without war (Chapter 13, "The Waning of Major War," is about the impact of nuclear weapons) and the fifth is about the threats to the culture of war, of which van Creveld identifies four: the wild horde, the soulless machine, "men without chests" and feminism.

I found part five to be not only the most compelling but the most surprising.
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