Book Review: The Changing Face of War

Eminent Dutch-Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld has the rare distinction among historians of having been more right about the future than he has been about the past. His earlier 1990’s works, The Transformation of War and The Rise and Decline of The State were radical interpretations for military history and clashed somewhat with the views of Europeanist and late Medieval specialists but they pointed to the current state of global affairs with great prescience and scholarly authority.

Van Creveld’s latest book, The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat From the Marne to Iraq is not an example of a historian resting on his laurels but of expanding and extrapolating upon previous ideas. In this book, Dr. van Creveld analyzes the evolution of twentieth century warfare up to it’s WWII apex and subsequent decline to a 21st century nadir of shrunken conventional armies, overloaded with goldplated technology but unable to beat shadowy terrorist groups and ragtag insurgencies armed with homemade bombs.

The perspective here is theoretical ( “trinitarian” vs. “non-trinitarian”), systemic and Germanocentric. Van Creveld clearly admires the technical and cognitive martial prowess of the Wehrmacht and the old Imperial German Army that stamped itself so heavily on the bloody history of the twentieth century. He clearly relates the connection between effective logistical coordination between a mass production, capitialist, industrial economy and the armies in the field, unlike most historians, accurately crediting the Kaiser’s Quartermaster-General, Erich Ludendorff ,for having had the breakthrough insights into the political economy of Total War.

The most interesting chapters are the last ( here I agree with William Lind) where Van Creveld takes premier military historian John Keegan to task and critiques the performance of American arms in Iraq. Van Creveld is returning the warm embrace that the Fourth Generation Warfare school has given his body of work in disputing Keegan’s contention that a Nazi-occupied Europe could not have been liberated by indigenous partisan forces. In my view, van Creveld is correct that the Manhattan Project would have rendered the whole question moot but is wrong in overestimating the ability of partisans to have overthrown Nazi domination.

Assuming the defeat of the USSR, Hitler would have simply liquidated the Serbian people as an example, incorporated the Scandinavian countries into a racial confederation system with Greater Germany, and been satisfied with a National Socialist “Findlandization” of the rest of Europe. Except for Russia, which Albert Speer indicated in his final book had been slated for depopulation and Slavic enslavement with no fewer than 30 million eliminated or worked to death building massive transnational autobahns. Preponderant force would have been used by the Nazis to quell open resistance to the ” New Order” but most European countries would have resembled Denmark or Vichy France, not Poland’s rump state “General Gouvernment”.

Van Creveld’s assessment of American performance in Iraq is bitterly harsh, bordering on vicious, but it is accompanied at the very end by a wise set of ” rules” for counterinsurgency warfare ( van Creveld advises throwing out the bulk of COIN literature as having been written by ” losers”) that merit widespread dissemination. One case study of successful counterinsurgency he points to favorably is the British experience in Northern Ireland where the use of military force was highly economized ( a case he omits, curiously, was El Salvador, where it was not), a general consideration for winning at the “moral level of warfare” when powerful state forces seek to defeat a “weak” opponent.

While The Changing Face of War is not the pathbreaking text that The Transformation of War represented, it is highly accessible to the layman, clearly written and coherently argued. It fits well on the shelf of any serious student of military history.

Cutting Edge Military Theory: A Primer (Part III.) – UPDATED
William Lind review at DNI
Fabius Maximus review at DNI

Gregarious gluttony

From a book review by Caitlin Flanagan:

As for what they [female college students around 1900] ate — just about anything that wasn’t nailed down, apparently. One cannot read this book and continue to believe that the “disordered eating” that besets so many college women is a recent phenomenon. Today it may be marked by grimly endured starvation campaigns or bulimia, but in decades past it was the stuff of a strange glee: festive communal gorging. The midnight suppers or “spreads,” once a major pleasure of college girls’ lives, were conducted around a chafing dish — by the 1890s, it was a popular gift for a college-bound girl — in which the hostess cooked rarebits, omelets, and (most popular of all) pan after pan of fudge. By the early 20th century, groups of female eaters commonly gave themselves nicknames: the Stuffers, the Nine Nimble Nibblers, the Grid L. Kakes. While college men during the same period were forging friendships through cane rushes, fraternity hazing, and other acts of ritualized violence, the girls ate — and ate — their way to community and affection.

Sounds like fun, and much healthier than anorexia or bulimia.

Zielenziger – Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

Zielenziger, Michael, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, Doubleday: New York, 2006. 340 pp.

While Michael Zielenziger was the Tokyo bureau chief for the Knight Ridder chain of newspapers during the 90s, he learned of an unusual pattern of reclusive behaviour in young Japanese men — the so-called hikikomori (literally, “pulling away, being confined“). Numbering in the thousands, they were shutting themselves off in their rooms — from friends, family, career, and society in general — for years at a time. As a Western journalist he found himself largely alone, at the time, in taking an interest in the subject. It was all but ignored by the Japanese media.

In talking to Japanese sociologists and health professionals, Zielenziger found that this behaviour seemed to be a relatively new phenomenon. It didn’t appear in the global bible of mental health disorders (the DSM IV). Its particular set of symptoms didn’t appear in Western countries, nor in Japan’s Asian neighbours. Japan’s increasing affluence in the 70s and 80s seemed to correlate roughly with a baffling new behaviour afflicting those most likely to benefit from the country’s economic success. The economic downturn of the 90s seems to increase rather than decrease the incidence of hikikomori.

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