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The Transformation of War: The Most Radical…

The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed… (1991)

by Martin L. van Creveld

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Martin van Creveld has written a brilliant, prophetic book that is marred by a weak conclusion and a misogynic aside about women and war (a topic he further treated in a strange failed book). Its relevance to the Middle East crisis and terrorism is haunting.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter distinguishes three forms of contemporary wars: nuclear War, conventional war and low intensity war. Creveld's thesis is that the first two become progressively more irrelevant. Current armies are ill-prepared for low intensity wars. To illustrate his thesis, Creveld gives an excellent overview of the history of war in the following chapters.

Chapter two "by whom war is fought" shows that the so called trinitarian war as a unity of people, state and army only dates from the time of Clausewitz. Before, the common people did not participate in war as they were the ruler's personal affairs not the states'. Creveld postulates that this unity will dissolve. Already, in most low intensity wars, the state is only a spectator among warring factions. Chapter three "what war is all about" deals with misconceptions about prisoners, non-combattants and weapons. There have always been rules how prisoners and non-combattants (especially women) were treated, which weapons were deemded suitable or honorable, even if they were vastly different from today. If commanders make or let soldiers transgress the rules, they will suffer a collapse in morale (as the strong will be appalled by the mistreatment of the weak). Guerillas, however, do not feel constrained and will use the most brutal force at their disposal. This makes low intensity wars unwinnable for conventional forces as they alienate the civilians if they use force and if they don't, they are unable to defeat the guerillas.

Chapter four "how war is fought" is a brilliant discussion of the futility of the concept of "interest" and "strategy" in the context of total war and low intensity wars. If a population bears any burden for victory, a conventional force using rational goals cannot win. Chapter five "what war is fought for" distinguishes between Clausewitzian political and non-politcial war. The latter has throughout history been the more important. Men die for religion and give their lives for specks of dirt. The concept of "interest" thus is flawed in an all-out war. Chapter six "why war is fought" examines the thesis that warriors need a noble opponent using brilliant examples from the Troian War. Defeating the weak is not honorable and will destroy morale. Conventional armies will suffer a breakdown in low intensity wars. Going from victory to victory will lead to defeat. The chapter ends in a borderline case of the discussion of women as soldiers. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes bizarre.

Chapter seven "future war" is the weakest and an unworthy ending to a fine book. Creveld pessimistically sees low intensity wars and guerilla forces dismantle the state. While I agree that the number of low intensity wars will rise, Conventional armies are unsuitable for this task. Solid police work and reasonable dialogue, however, can lead to the collapse of the guerilla support. Creveld should study the British example in Northern Ireland instead of the dialogue des sourds between Israel and Palestine. ( )
4 vote jcbrunner | Aug 21, 2006 |
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