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Culture of War

Page history last edited by Bob-RJ Burkhart 7 years, 10 months ago Saved with comment

The Culture of War

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a human being    "there was too much for one person to do"

(Old Testament) a giant Philistine warrior who was slain by David with a slingshot    

a Japanese warrior who was a member of the feudal military aristocracy    

(ancient Rome) the leader of 100 soldiers    

a warrior who engages in a holy war    "the Crusaders tried to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims"

a North American Indian warrior    

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Martin van Creveld. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008.

Notes. Index. 466 pp.

Reviewed by Rear Admiral William J. Holland Jr. U.S. Navy (Retired)


Even those who spend their lives in military pursuits rarely appreciate the philosophy of war or the underlying aspects of war's nature. While not as prescriptive as his Command in War or as predictive as his Transformation of War, this volume of Martin van Creveld's is in some ways a survey and summation of his previous 17 books on military history and science. The thread throughout the book is van Creveld's assertion that much of military thought and practice is as old as mankind and bears only peripheral relation to the affairs of state. The implements may be new, but the same motivations are at work in modern soldiers as they were in tribal warriors.


Central to his theme and one that all professional military officers will recognize is his assertion that "any army is a separate organization held together by bonds, which we have called culture of war, that civilian society shares, if at all, only to a limited extent." But he also makes clear that unthinking adherence to the culture has its dangers. Using as an example the dilapidation of the Prussian officer corps after Frederick the Great, he warns that the effect of mechanical application of that culture's features made officers "conceited, timid, and unwilling and unable to think."


Van Crevald is critical of Carl von Clausewitz and others who write that wars are fought for well-defined political purposes. Only someone with the author's immense understanding of warfare in general and military history in particular could make this argument so effectively. While many of the insights are based on informed speculation, he never loses a chance to advocate that, "The culture of war is alive and well" as he sets out to argue that war is a natural event, more admired than peace.


Van Creveld restricts himself to the soldier's point of view. There is no citation of Alfred Thayer Mahan, only one mention of Sir Julian Stafford Corbett, and not a single allusion to a sea battle or campaign save one mention of the Battle of Salamis. Even those instances in which sea power contained the essence of a conflict, as in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, or determined the dominance of one civilization over another as Rome did over Carthage, find no mention, while engagements of tribes in the millennia before Christ provide fodder for the author's arguments.


Buried in the middle of the book is a succinct discussion of nuclear deterrence, its history, and its future relevance. Advancing his argument that nuclear weapons have made war between nuclear-armed states unthinkable, he writes, "The sudden (and entirely unexpected) waning of major war between major states constitutes a reversal of historical trends that go back to the early Middle Ages. If there ever was a world-historical event, this is it."


This is the heart of van Creveld's conclusion,

which he has advanced in previous works, that the wars of the future will be waged only by weak or undeveloped states or non-state organizations. While nuclear weapons may limit major wars, they will not eliminate armed conflict, because they cannot change the nature of man.


Though not for the dilettante, The Culture of War is readable history with valuable insights that a professional officer or military historian will find enlightening.


Admiral Holland has been a regular contributor to Proceedings since 1987.


Smith, John Victor (1912-1989)

Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Based on nine interviews conducted by John T. Mason, Jr., from January 1976 through May 1976. The volume contains 556 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1977 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

This is a revealing memoir because of the candor with which Admiral Smith discusses his career. Graduated from the Naval Academy in 1934, he served in the destroyer Perry under future CNOs Denfeld and Fechteler and then was in the first crew of light cruiser Honolulu. He makes a point of discussing poor Navy war preparations in the late 1930s. 


During the war he was in destroyer Shubrick in the Med and commanded DD Brush in Pacific. Served as aide to Fleet Admiral Leahy, including at Yalta Conference. Had ordnance PG training and served at Dahlgren. After staff college, he was on H.M. Martin's Seventh Fleet staff in Korean War. Later commanded destroyer division, transport Rockbridge, and cruiser Newport News. 


Served in OpNav, helped reorganize Naval Academy curriculum , and headed leadership program at BuPers. As flag officer, he commanded cruiser-destroyer flotilla, was in plans and policy in OpNav, and negotiated with North Koreans after USS Pueblo was seized. Had three-star billets as Commander Amphibious Force Pacific and Industrial College commandant.


Future Shock "Forgiveness Instinct" "Beyond Revenge" "Art of War"


Title Information

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How many lightbulbs does it take to change an engineer?

This written by Stephen Summers, one of our Principal consultants, has been widely published

in the media including Industry Magazine, Railway Strategies and Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

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Why We Fight can refer to:



Comments (3)

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 5:49 pm on Dec 6, 2012

Early 1969 experiences as an extra during filming “Tora! Tora! Tora!” at Pearl Harbor inspired my seeking ROOT causes of GlobalBrain inter-regional warfare! @ http://geoventuring-lnt.blogspot.com/2009/03/podstock-planetu-interdependence.html

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 4:15 pm on Dec 16, 2012

EarthSea Keeping “WhalesTale” - Acctts
If we could just SLOW down enough. to consider what's ...
If we treat each other with respect,. and more often ... When you're eulogy's being read. with your life's ...
Source-URL: http://www.acctts.com/geoscout/NEKS-EcoFutures-Hyperport_HOAC-BSA-RimRockTrail-ROCS_5228pm.htm

Bob-RJ Burkhart said

at 4:28 pm on Dec 16, 2012

Also see The Dash Poem (Read by Author) @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVLqkExH5ww

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