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Military Orientalism: Eastern War Through Western Eyes (Critical War Studies (Unnumbered))

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231154147
ISBN-10: 0231154143
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Editorial Reviews


Effectively challenges conventional cultural analyses... recommended.

(Choice 1900-01-00)

Overall, Military Orientalism is a... well-researched and thoughtful examination of the many misinterpretations by the military.

(May-Lee Chai Asian Affairs)

This is an accessible and well-written book for a wide range of audiences. The author has a solid grasp of the historical material and has bravely tackled a contentious yet persistent issue -- Orientalism -- through the lens of military conflict, and the reader is wiser as a result

(Dave Clemente International Affairs)


Military Orientalism seeks to expose the perils of using culture as a means to understanding war, whether it unfolds in the East or (implicitly) closer to home. It is a rich and wide-ranging text that displays a depth of historical reading to good effect and is beautifully written.

(Daniel Neep, University of Exeter)

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Product Details

  • Series: Critical War Studies (Unnumbered)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (August 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231154143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231154147
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,153,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Miles Ignotus on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a GREAT book.

Taking on those who see a distinct "Occidental" way of war, the author demolishes Western notions of "the Orient". He shows how, in reality, those notions make a hopeless mess of Arab Islamic, Chinese, and Japanese ways in warfare. Next he demonstrates how, in reality, "Oriental" ways of war are often the expression not of some alien culture but of rational strategic thought; finally, he explains how the West has often used its notions concerning "Oriental" methods in order to define itself and justify its own brutal behavior.

Well written and easy to read, this slim volume has something original to say on practically every page. I wish I had the wit to write it myself.
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Format: Hardcover
Patrick Porter's Military Orientalism provides an excellent analysis of the recent culturally-focused bent within western military thinking. "It is not a question of whether culture matters," writes Porter, "but how it matters, and how to conceptualise [sic:] it." This is expressed through several case studies: British perceptions and accounts of the Russo-Japanese War, interwar military thinking and the "lessons" of Ghengis Khan (particularly as expressed by Basil Liddell Hart), the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and finally Israel's experience in the 2006 Lebanon War.

Almost without exception, Porter does a fantastic job outlining relevancies, misperceptions, and the 'trap' that is overawareness of an enemy's culture. While there are certainly traditions and beliefs that inform the actions of say, al Qaeda, they are equally willing to preserve their own lives at the cost of their perceived traditions. Porter also goes on to demonstrate how a group like al Qaeda might encourage such unchanging assumptions, as then any deviation from those expectations will easily surprise their opponents.

However, it is the last of the case studies that might be a stretch. While Israel is certainly to be considered a part and an ally of the west, the circumstances and nature of their war in Lebanon is a bit tricky to use as an example of military orientalism. More than some sort of cultural bias, what the Lebanese experience shows is perhaps an overreliance on Israeli military history - a case of generals preparing to fight the previous war.

Nevertheless, Porter's book is an excellent counterpart to those professing to understand the "Arab mind" and other such monolithic nonsense, and recommended reading for anyone engaged in study on the middle east and eastern military history in general.
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Format: Hardcover
Military Orientalism by Patrick Porter was a book that I wanted to read as soon as it arrived from Amazon. It was a book that I knew very little about and even a quick search on the web did not turn up much about either the book or the concept. Patrick Porter has borrowed the term 'Orientalism' from authors like Edward Said and tweaked it slightly, although in essence it is still the defining of ourselves by the perception of what the East is. For instance Orientals are duplicitous while we are honourable.

I think at times the book could be sub-titled beware the Cultural snake oil seller, as he does list a number of examples of where cultural 'experts' have got it wrong, including General MacArthur's claims to understand the Asiatic mind in regards to leadership. For me I thought that Patrick Porter was too forceful here, almost implying that culture has nothing to do with the way that nations wage war. He does not say that, in fact his argument is more complex, pointing out that cultures do approach war differently but that military interaction does bring about a degree of conformity. His comments on the Taliban are very insightful when he points out that a movement that was painted as primitive and anti-modern in some segments of the media has embraced technology to prosecute its war. In addition, it has used women as combatants despite its view on women when it was in power.

After reading this book you will look scornfully at the next expert that tells you that an ethnic group only understands force. While Patrick Porter does seem to be very negative on people who have put themselves up as cultural experts where it relates to a military context he does also write about those who got it right, or mostly right.
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