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Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change (Changing Face of War)

5.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0313348457
ISBN-10: 0313348456
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Editorial Reviews


"What makes Vlahos essential reading is his perception, based on a profound personal and scholarly knowledge of the contemporary U.S. military as well as history ancient and modern, that while there may be technocratic strategists, there are no technocrat soldiers." - The American Conservative

"Vlahos is an innovative voice in strategic studies, with a distinguished career dating back 30 years at the US Navy, CIA, and State Department, as well as Johns Hopkins University, where he is currently senior fellow of national security analysis. In his novel, controversial, but often quite compelling attempt to unearth 'why we are losing our wars' . . . . Vlahos argues that the post-9/11 world reveals the extent to which the US nation-state has itself become a sacred identity, competing with other (in this case, Islamic) religious identities. . . . Vlahos's challenging style may feel overblown and inaccessible to some undergraduates, but the argument is worth the effort. . . . Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and up." - Choice

"Vlahos (applied physics, Johns Hopkins U.) reflects on the conflict of the US with non-state actors by reframing war as society's central ritual of identity and the sacred, and looking at the national narrative of the US alongside the sacred histories of her enemies. His perspectives include idea, identity, method, field work, them, us, and fit." - Reference & Research Book News

". . .original and thought-provoking. . ." - Survival


"Throughout the era that Michael Vlahos calls 'The 9/11 War,' he has been remarkable in always keeping sound judgment and always pointing toward broader connections and deeper historical-cultural roots in the challenges that Western democracies face. He has already earned public gratitude for his books and essays of the last decade. 'Fighting Identity' is another important and original contribution in helping Americans understand how their conscious and unconscious national beliefs affect their strengths, vulnerabilities, and possibilities in meeting this era's threats." (James Fallows National Correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly)

"If history repeats itself, someone should tell the politicians. Fortunately, someone has-Michael Vlahos. It's obviously too late for some pols, of course. But others still have time to learn from the mistakes, and the successes, of the past. And the rest of us, too, can learn much from a book that illuminates the past to enlighten the future. Military history needs its own Gibbon, and it has found one in Vlahos." (James Pinkerton
Fellow with the New America Foundation
Contributor to the Fox News Network)

"Michael Vlahos has written a bold, hard-hitting, thought-provoking book about the vitally important topic of the violent struggles that pit great powers against non-state actors. Written with verve and passion, this work is bound to provoke and attract attention." (Dr. John H. Maurer
Chair, Strategy and Policy Department Naval War College)

"In this book Vlahos provides a disturbing analysis of why the U.S. is struggling in its war against terrorism. Identity, he argues, is the key driver both for the U.S. and for its new, non-state adversaries in a conflict widely misunderstood. While it is easy to believe we are doing better, his powerful analysis raises the spectra of what will happen when the next major terrorist attack hits us. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the new, dangerous world we are living in--and what to do about it." (A. Lawrence Chickering
Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
Co-author, Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life)

"This is a powerful study of the generative force of narrative in armed conflict. It might well change the way we look at warfare and the communities that engage in it." (Dr. Antulio Echevarria, Director of Research, U.S. Army War College)

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Product Details

  • Series: Changing Face of War
  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger (December 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0313348456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0313348457
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,240,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By C. V. Pena on April 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Sun Tzu wrote "Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself, In every battle certain defeat." Michael Vlahos has written an important book if we are going to be able to avoid that defeat. Most importantly, he recognizes that we have to take a hard and honest look at ourselves to understand our enemy. The conventional wisdom is that our enemy, the "other," is separate from us. Vlahos, however, understands that just because the other is different (culturally, economically, or otherwise) does not mean that it is separated from us. Indeed, we need to understand how we shape them and that there is a symbiotic relationship that we ignore at our own peril. Ultimately, "Fighting Identity" is not about how to fight the identity of the other, but about coming to grips with our own identity of what it means to be American beyond the shallow jingoism of politics and punditry. Even if one doesn't completely agree with Vlahos's prescription of national service (and I don't, but I understand and agree with the underlying reasons that lead him to call for it), his diagnosis of the problem is absolutely correct. What Vlahos so clearly and eloquently grasps is that the real defeat we have to worry about is not one inflicted by the enemy but one we would bring upon ourselves.
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Format: Hardcover
No one is smarter or more incisive than Michael Vlahos -- his intellectual credentials are absolutely brilliant. Every book he has writter has opened my eyes to a more nuanced view of the world around me, especially as it connects to history, culture, language, anthropology, geography, and strategy.

If we are to *win* the ongoing ideological struggles that have thus far dominated the unfolding 21st century, we must understand why the ideas we espouse -- freedom, liberty, justice, progressive economics -- are indeed the *right* ideas. To do that, we must understand the competing ideas. Michael Vlahos is the best guide through those very troubled waters, and this new volume is his best work to date.

We live in a world in which war is deconstructing before our ideas. This book begins our intellectual process of reconstructing it in our understanding.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading `Fighting Identity, Sacred War and World Change' by Professor Michael Vlahos stirred several emotions within me. The book is written with not only a profound personal and scholarly knowledge of the U.S. military as it exists today but with a well honed appreciation for history ancient and modern. As I sit here trying to write this review, I am having some difficulty coming to terms with the many jolts of emotional turmoil and honest self analysis, and I am laid bare. For you see, I was one of the few who sat in the audience with Prof. Vlahos together with my fellow Naval War College classmates during the showing of the movie `300'. I completely identified with the 300 Spartans defending their homes, their families, and most importantly, their belief in the sacred oath that is America.

As Prof. Vlahos writes, the symbolism of the movie `300', accurately depicts in the simplest of terms, the motivations and religious fervor that accompany a devotion to country, to service before self, that appears so foreign to much of America. The movie was in a very real sense a religious experience. The emotional and passionate symbolism is so profound that it expands consciousness and washes over you warming the soul as the sun breaking out from a cloud. To not only believe but to really know that there ARE ideas and causes that ARE worth sacrificing and dying for. For those who have worshiped and suffered at the Alter of Liberty, God and Country are synonymous. As John Stuart Mills writes, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things." With a depth of historical and anthropological context seldom seen, this book accurately identifies the decayed and degraded state of our `Sacred Identity'. The enemy is us and we have met the enemy.
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Format: Hardcover
I consider this book one of the most important books of our time, for it takes on "the Borg" at an intellectual level in a cultural context, and in so doing, speaks truth to power: our Emperors ("the Borg") are naked and ignorant.

Early on he points out that ours is not the first globalization, and that previous globalizations have demonstrated that new identities rise within globalization and *cannot be put down* (his emphasis). New ideas, counter-establishment ideas, cannot be suppressed, and ultimately triumph in new consciousness at multiple levels. States struggle vainly, equating everything "new" with being a "threat," and ultimately collapse under the weight of their own ignorance and inability to adapt.

The first few chapters suggest that our reaction to 9-11 opened a Pandora's box, that AF-IQ are our Waterloo, and that "non-state actors" is a generic term for all that is outside the state.

He specifies six "identity" migration paths: networks of conversion and subversion (e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood and the Pentecostals); autonomous urban subcultures (e.g. gangs); emerging nations; fighter fraternities; militarized Bucellani (vandal elites, e.g. the Taliban, a state within a state); and our own cross to bear, intercessor security sub-cultures (e.g. our military-industrial complex to which I would add, a Congress lacking in integrity).


1. The US Military is no longer Of, By, and For We the People, no longer a collective citizenry that is armed--in brief, the militarization of national policy has made us arrogant, ignorant, and repugnant.

2. By resisting change we are promoting change. I cannot help myself, I think of the anti-Borg from outer space that grows when we nuke it, shrinks when we show love.
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