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Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History Paperback – December 26, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Thanks to its recent experience of quagmires that drain into simmering truces, America has forgotten that triumph is the proper way to end a war, argues this brash study of military blowouts. Surveying six conflicts, from the Persian invasion of ancient Greece to WWII, historian Lewis (Early Greek Lawgivers) contends that lasting peace requires a shattering victory, a display of overwhelming force that expose[s] the physical and ideological bankruptcy of the losers and precipitates an immediate collapse in [their] will to fight. Lewis's analysis of war as a psychological struggle and clash of moral purposes is lucid and forceful; it's especially telling in his incisive account of Sherman's march through Georgia, and especially provocative in his defense of the atomic bombings of Japan. (To break the Japanese leaders out of their ideological blinders... American leaders needed to kill a lot of Japanese in a visibly shocking way.) He's less cogent when he tries to distill profound moral purposes from the murk of the Second Punic War or Roman emperor Aurelian's squabble with Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. Lewis's tight yoking of military success with moral superiority sometimes veers close to the notion that might makes right. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Lewis' analysis of war as a psychological struggle and 'clash of moral purposes' is lucid and forceful; it's especially telling in his incisive account of Sherman's march through Georgia, and especially provocative in his defense of the atomic bombings of Japan."--Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
"Rome was wrong; the peace of Scipio Africanus was good, and the Romans could have preserved it by just mediation of the Carthaginian complaints. The Romans appointed a successor to Masinissa in 149; they could have ended the Numidian attacks. It is to Romans' eternal shame--there is no credit due here--that they slaughtered a former enemy that had accepted peace and was living by its word.
"Readers tempted to interpret the thesis of this book as the need for total destruction of an enemy's population centers should consider the decades that followed the Second Punic War, when former enemies were at peace, with the needless sacrifice of that peace in the destruction of Carthage--and the civil unrest and violence that followed in the next generation for the Romans. . . .
"The Second Punic War remains the example of a successful victory," says Lewis at chapter's end. The Third was "a needless and unforgiveable slaughter."
The idea that "might makes right" is nowhere in the above. Nor is it to be found elsewhere in the book. Lewis in fact explicitly states that the opposite is true. After showing how the "relative commitment of each side to its moral cause . . . affected the outcome of [each] conflict," Lewis says that something more than just commitment is involved. "The truth," according to Lewis, "matters"--"the strongest power belonged to those who were, in fact, right, if those who were right knew it."
"This may be unfashionable to say today--in an intellectual climate that sunders fact and value, and understands moral claims as inherently contested matters of opinion--but it remains a demonstrable fact that the Spartan and Confederate slave systems were morally debased and that the freedom upheld by the Thebans and the Union was good.
"The political autonomy upheld by the Greeks, as well as the political relationships between Rome and its Italian allies, was superior to the alternatives presented by Persia and Carthage. Certainly, the war between America and Japan in 1945 was not fought over morally equivalent options--not if peace and prosperity for millions of people are valued.
"The tragedy of Munich is in the failure of the British to recognize that their own moral norms could become weapons when manipulated by a vicious dictator. The British and the Americans--like the Greeks--became truly unbeatable when they grasped how right they really were. As the war progressed, public exposure of the enemy's actions strengthened the victor's knowledge of its own moral rectitude and discredited their former enemies' failed policies in their own eyes."
The overall lesson of Lewis's book is to take ideas seriously, especially moral ideas. Those interested in how such ideas have influenced history will enjoy this clearly-written and often-engrossing book. But they should not look forward to or reject it on the grounds that it supports a "might makes right" viewpoint. It does not. And hopefully this review--or "response" to be correct--shows that.
here we are 200 years later bombing the sons of the ottomans, isis at the very same spot we stopped in 1804, sirte, with our most moden weapons, b2's. the casus belli ist unchanged: piracy and kidnappings, evil. in between lie 200 years of incessant wars from atatuerk to rommel and eisenhower and hillary clinton.....incredible. but wait, theres more: carthago and the punic wars, then the visigoths....i think libya has been plowed over for centuries by swords and bombs and tanks. and there is no end in sight....nothing unless we get total unconditional victory there!
i hope victor davis hansen completes that book!
In a wide survey of history beginning with the Theban Wars (382 BC) and culminating with the successful occupation of Japan (1945), John David Lewis argues that protracted warfare is never a necessity, but rather a result of flawed strategy and political failure. War is always quick when fought with proper objectives and aimed at the enemies ideological center of gravity.
"The lives of soldiers and civilians depend upon clear statements of the objectives to be achieved and a commitment to create the resources necessary to prevail," Lewis argues. "Without clearly stated, rational objectives," war becomes "a circular process of bloodshed rather than a goal-directed offense, and military victories on the battlefield [become] irrelevant to the outcome..." Lewis explains that in all of his examples, aggressors launch wars "bent on loot, conquest, or slaves" and that the defenders were unable to act as long as they failed to properly identify the threat. In fact, the defenders "abetted the slaughter as long as they failed to confront the true source of the attacks. Once they did, the battle and the conflict turned quickly in their favor."
Dr. Lewis is a visiting associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics at Duke University. He draws on over 2,000 years of Western History to demonstrate the need for quick, decisive victory.
For example, in 208 B.C. the Romans had been invaded by Hannibal, and lost during every attempt to oppose him directly. The Roman leader Quintus Fabius implemented a defensive strategy where towns were evacuated and burned that were in the path of Hannibal. Only this scotched-earth policy of "Fabian-delay" could manage Hannibal despite placing Roman civilians in the situation of having to accept an invading army on their soil indefinitely. This situation went on for 15 years with no hope of resolution in sight when Scipio Africanus finally developed a solution. He brilliantly overcame the false alternative of either accepting the roaming enemies on his soil verses launching ineffective attacks against Hannibal. Scipio decided to raise an army and launch a quick, decisive attack against Carthage itself. This resulted in Hannibal rushing back to Carthage to defend his homeland, and an ultimate Roman victory at Zama which ended of the war and established a lasting peace.
Although Lewis does not state the parallels, it is impossible not to see the relationship between our current "fortress America" of metal detectors and color-coded security warnings, and the situation the Roman's found themselves in during Hannibal's invasion when "an entire generation of Romans grew used to a foreign army on its home soil."
In one of the most compelling chapters, Dr. Lewis launches what is probably the most systematic ethical defense of the nuclear bombing of Japan ever written. Citing the projected casualty figures of the planned ground invasion of Japan, the suicidal last-ditch defense planned by Japanese Leaders, the fact that the Japanese-- not American soldiers-- were responsible for the war, and a myriad of other factors, John Lewis contends that the use of Atomic bombs was the only moral and practical course of action. Lewis explains that "the complete loss of hope was central to Japan's decision to surrender" and that only a demonstration that "Americans were willing and able to remain offshore and bomb Japan into the bedrock" could result in an immediate end to the war.
Military readers will come away with a better grasp of history, and will be compelled by the argument that war can only be won with a decisive attack on the enemy's ideological, political, and social center of gravity.
"These wars were fought by commanders who were oriented toward solid objectives and who used flexible strategies to pursue firm goals with an inflexible will..." summarizes Lewis. "Each struck to the center of his enemy's strength, and achieved a physical victory that extinguished the moral and ideological fire behind the fight."