A History of Warfare.Social historians and military historians have had a difficult time establishing common intellectual and ideological ground. To be sure, some areas of warfare, such as the belief system of the "common soldier" (Keegan's own 1976 book The Face of Battle is a landmark here) and the assimilation of minority groups into the mainstream military system, have been the subjects of excellent recent monographs. Still, the subject of war sui generis [Latin, Of its own kind or class.] That which is the only one of its kind.
sui generis (sooh-ee jen-ur-iss) n. Latin for one of a kind, unique. has been a difficult one for social historians to grapple with to enter into contest with, resolutely and courageously.
See also: Grapple . Perhaps this is so because the dominant mode for the study of warfare has come from military historians who emphasize generalship gen·er·al·ship
1. The rank, office, or tenure of a general.
2. Leadership or skill in the conduct of a war.
3. Skillful management or leadership.
Noun 1. , tactics, and military technology, all subjects tangential tan·gen·tial also tan·gen·tal
1. Of, relating to, or moving along or in the direction of a tangent.
2. Merely touching or slightly connected.
3. at best to the study of social history. In his latest book, A History of Warfare, John Keegan Sir John Keegan OBE (born 1934) is a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He has published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle. offers one of the best works yet from a new perspective, one which may begin to bridge the gap between military and social history.
Keegan's book focuses on the cultural determinants of warfare rather than the political and economic. While not denying the importance of the latter two, Keegan stresses that culture, a factor heretofore neglected by most mainstream military historians, must be brought more fully into histories of warfare because "cultural forms, when they find strong champions, may prevail against the most powerfully besetting be·set·ting
Constantly troubling or attacking.
adjective chronic temptations to choose technical expedients as a means to victory, particularly when the price of victory is that of overturning ancient and cherished values" (p. 41). It is in this argument for the importance of cultural forms that a meeting of the military and social historical minds can be achieved.
Keegan did not create the idea that culture should be understood as a determinant of warfare, but he is the first to make the case over such an expanse of time and space, from Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia to western nuclear deterrence Noun 1. nuclear deterrence - the military doctrine that an enemy will be deterred from using nuclear weapons as long as he can be destroyed as a consequence; "when two nations both resort to nuclear deterrence the consequence could be mutual destruction" theory. The book's greatest virtue is Keegan's synthesis of some of the best recent interdisciplinary work on warfare to provide a coherent framework to understand non-political, non-technological studies of the subject. Social historians, concerned as they are with how culture is created, diffused, and altered, have much to contribute.
Keegan makes his case for the cultural basis of war by creating an intellectual straw man out of the nineteenth-century writings of Karl von Clausewitz Noun 1. Karl von Clausewitz - Prussian general and military theorist who proposed a doctrine of total war and war as an extension of diplomacy (1780-1831)
Clausewitz , the author of the often-misunderstood dictum, "war is the continuation of policy by other means." Keegan's constant, and at times trifling, battle with Clausewitz is intended to demonstrate the shortcomings A shortcoming is a character flaw.
Shortcomings may also be:
The case of the Japanese rejection of firearms in the sixteenth century to preserve the culture of the Samurai is one famous and already well-researched example, but Keegan provides others. Aztec warfare, for example, included the ritualized wounding of combatants who were taken prisoner and subsequently sacrificed to the gods. Aztec weapons were designed to wound rather than kill, and Aztec warrior culture punished by death the act of "giving" a prisoner to a comrade who had failed to make a capture of his own. It is not hard to imagine the result when Aztecs came into contact with the Spanish, whose own warrior culture stressed pitched battle to the death, a concept inherited from Greece, Rome, and the Crusades.
Keegan's examples come from four periods, each separated by a revolution in the material basis of warfare - stone, (horse) flesh, iron, and fire (gunpowder). Rather than accept the technological determinism of much military history, Keegan argues that a change in the nature of warfare is possible only when the material change meets a culture willing and able to exploit it, such as that of the horse people of the steppe steppe (stĕp), temperate grassland of Eurasia, consisting of level, generally treeless plains. It extends over the lower regions of the Danube and in a broad belt over S and SE European and Central Asian Russia, stretching E to the Altai and S to or of western Europeans and their dominance of gunpowder. His examples are designed to show that there is no linear progression toward a more ruthless, more technological way of warfare. Throughout its history, Keegan conclusively shows, war has been shaped, restrained, and indeed, sometimes rejected by culture.
For all of its strengths, the book is not without its flaws. Surely his points about culture could have been adequately made without the distracting beating of the dead Clausewitzian horse. Furthermore, Keegan explicitly refuses to address women in this study, content instead to argue that they "have always and everywhere stood apart" (p. 76). Such a blanket exclusion undermines his own powerful logic; it is unreasonable to argue that technology, tactics, and leadership in war can be influenced by culture, but that the role of women cannot. Surely Keegan must realize this, but he nevertheless chooses to oversimplify o·ver·sim·pli·fy
v. o·ver·sim·pli·fied, o·ver·sim·pli·fy·ing, o·ver·sim·pli·fies
To simplify to the point of causing misrepresentation, misconception, or error.
v.intr. and dismiss a very complicated and potentially illustrative subject. Still A History of Warfare has propelled and energized the study of war. In bringing cultural determinants to the foreground, Keegan offers a way of examining warfare more familiar to most social historians. The bridge is certainly not complete, but more work in the direction Keegan advocates promises to span the chasm which currently divides historians of warfare.
Michael Neiberg Carnegie Mellon University Carnegie Mellon University, at Pittsburgh, Pa.; est. 1967 through the merger of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (founded 1900, opened 1905) and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (founded 1913).