Air & Space Power Journal

The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe edited by Clifford J. Rogers. Westview Press, Inc., 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, Colorado 80301-2877, 1995, 387 pages, $69.95.

In recent years, interest has arisen—first in the former Soviet Union and then in the United States—in what is referred to as the military technical revolution (MTR) and the revolution in military affairs (RMA). It is fashionable to argue that the Gulf War furnished a vision of a future in which the technology of what is trumpeted as the "Information Age" would combine with military doctrine and training to produce an RMA. A plethora of writings from various and sundry defense analysts (among others) attempts to define exactly what an RMA is and then offers suggestions for future military forces. But the vast majority of these writings has ignored the debate over military revolution that has raged among historians—military historians in particular—since 1955.

On 21 January of that year, military historian Michael Roberts delivered a lecture before the Queen's University of Belfast. Published as an article in 1956, "The Military Revolution, 1560–1660" has fueled debate in historical circles for almost four decades. Roberts's concept of a military revolution became "orthodoxy" in early modern military history and remained virtually unchallenged until Geoffrey Parker published his article "The `Military Revolution, 1560–1660'—A Myth?" which is reprinted in The Military Revolution Debate. Subsequent studies also failed to disprove Roberts's basic thesis. In 1988 Parker published The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800. In this volume, Parker poses the question that shaped the ensuing debate: How was the West—initially so small and deficient in most natural resources—able to overcome this situation through military and naval power and conquer global empires? In The Military Revolution Debate, Clifford Rogers does not attempt to include every relevant article from the last four decades or provide an exhaustive examination of the minutiae of the debate. Instead, he brings together the most important of the articles that have appeared since 1956.

This masterful collection of several difficult-to-obtain studies includes David Parrott's "Strategy and Tactics in the Thirty Years' War: The `Military Revolution'" and Colin Jones's "The Military Revolution and the Professionalisation of the French Army under the Ancien Regime." However, Rogers does not stop there. To fill what he perceives as gaps in the presentation, he includes newly written essays by Thomas Arnold, Jeremy Black, and former Air Force lieutenant colonel John Guilmartin, Jr., among others. Together with a concluding rejoinder by Geoffrey Parker that defends his vision of the RMA, these articles present the reader with an overall framework which both solidifies understanding and highlights questions not yet fully answered by the debate.

Divided into three sections, The Military Revolution Debate's first four articles estabish the limits of that debate. The first is Michael Roberts's classic "The Military Revolution, 1560–1660" followed by Geoffrey Parker's rejoinder "The `Military Revolution, 1560–1660'—A Myth?" which provided the proverbial spark. Articles by both Jeremy Black and Clifford Rogers then establish the range of the argument, which develops more fully in "Aspects," the second section, wherein lies the genius of this collection of essays. Drawing upon previous (and sometimes difficult-to-obtain) essays, Rogers persuades several eminent historians to contribute their thoughts on the watershed between the medieval and modern world. However, outside the narrow field of early modern history, just what is the importance of this newest offering in the debate on early modern military revolution?

The questions raised by these historians concerning the rise of the West and its expansion into worldwide empires during the early modern era embrace today's RMA arguments as well. Although different technologies may obscure the similarities between the RMA of the early modern era and what seems to be an RMA brought about by the Information Age, the basic conceptual framework and the process for historical analysis of the early modern military revolution are applicable to today's debate. As both a military historian and one who is involved in today's hot debate over the military in the Information Age and over so-called information warfare, I have found this small volume to be extremely useful in providing a framework to analyze the vision of war in the Information Age. The historical debate is about the changes that transformed the armies and navies of the West into the most powerful war-making entities of their time. Today's RMA debate is also about change, and this is the key to both debates. I strongly advise anyone interested in today's debate to carefully read the arguments both pro and con presented in The Military Revolution Debate.

Maj M. J. Petersen, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama


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