Published: 1 June 03
Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2003
Warfare in the Western World, 1882–1975 by Jeremy Black. Indiana University Press (http:// www.indiana.edu/~iupress), 601 N. Morton Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47404, December 2001, 256 pages, $45.00 (hardcover), $19.95 (softcover).
This synopsis of military history, from the British conquest of Egypt in 1882 to American involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, is Jeremy Black’s third in a trilogy of studies on war and society. He offers what is in essence a concise primer but one that takes a wider, more systemic swath than the traditional focus on operational military history. Although the principal emphasis is on the Western European experience, the book provides some coverage of other arenas. The primary argument is that contextual awareness is essential when one studies the development and interaction of military forces. National success or failure in war is driven by the complex interplay of cultural and physical geographic elements: politics, demographics, economics, and religion, to name a few. In each of these areas, gains and losses can occur as a result of war, and each can play a significant part in the outcome of war, sometimes independent of technological developments.
It has been postulated- and, indeed, inculcated- in US national-security policy and strategy that democracies are less bellicose than totalitarian regimes. Yet, once engaged in war, they may be much better at fighting and winning- witness their performance in the two world wars. Although totalitarian systems may have the advantage of initially focused agendas to concentrate technological and managerial efforts, they may suffer from less ability to adapt to and anticipate the many proclivities experienced in war that Clausewitz, the master theorist, so effectively articulated. War is a struggle between societies as much as armies.
Therefore, just as societies decisively affect war, so is war a major force for social change. Perhaps in no other period of history than the twentieth century has war been so pervasive in molding gender and racial progressivism, at least in the Western world. Countless social standards, now fundamental to our culture, have direct linkage to wartime necessities.
Despite such military/social ties, Black questions correlations or causality between military developments worldwide. Against the tempting trend to draw threads of continuity, he sees no linear progression, no direct patterns of change, and no osmotic diffusion of development. This stance represents a fairly radical departure from convention, for military historians have traditionally assumed- as has the military itself- a fairly clear developmental chronology based on observation and interaction between belligerents and allies. For example, in electronic warfare the development of electronic countermeasures and countercountermeasures has for decades involved a back-and-forth series of achievements that has been anything but chaotic or random. Furthermore, one notes countless instances of the effects of espionage, for example, as well as myriad other types of interactions that have resulted in patterns of change. The revolution in airpower and mechanized warfare in general had not only linearity but also geometric progression that spread rapidly to many geographically disparate areas. Consequently, Black’s theme is provocative, and its broad historical perspective and contextual focus on the complex interaction of social forces and war provide a valuable contribution to historiography.
Col Eric Ash, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.