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The Culture of War Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 30, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
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).Read more ›
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'm a big fan of Van Creveld but this is not one of his best. Lots of random observations not brought together.Published 23 months ago by Bruce Farcau
Book was received in excellent condition. Even though I have had time to read it, I have heard many excellent comments.Published on March 21, 2011 by Judy Bishop
As usual, van Creveld is strong in his opinions, some of them thought provoking, some of them on or over the edge IMHO. Read morePublished on September 17, 2009 by S. Kreuger
This book goes against the popular grain about war. So many today define war as a function of machines and CNN clips. Read morePublished on July 22, 2009 by Thomas M. Magee