Art of War: War and Military Thought (Smithsonian History of Warfare Series)

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The art of making war is among humankind's earliest professions, stretching far back before the written word, when heroic deeds in battles were carved on stone or recited through poem or song.In this sweeping, lucid history, Martin van Creveld explores military thought and strategy, from the earliest Chinese military thinkers to 20th-century perspectives on terrorism. This incredibly comprehensive book provides the reader with a gripping narrative of how war has been waged in ages past and a glimpse of what war ...

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Overview

The art of making war is among humankind's earliest professions, stretching far back before the written word, when heroic deeds in battles were carved on stone or recited through poem or song.In this sweeping, lucid history, Martin van Creveld explores military thought and strategy, from the earliest Chinese military thinkers to 20th-century perspectives on terrorism. This incredibly comprehensive book provides the reader with a gripping narrative of how war has been waged in ages past and a glimpse of what war may come to look like in the future.

  • Military theories from Chinese thinker Sun Tzu to experts on guerrilla warfare and the terrorism of today
  • Strategies of the Greeks and Romans as they worked to raise armies, discipline them, arm them, and provide them with the means for victory
  • The work of military geniuses Adam von Buelow, Antoine Henri Jomini, and Karl von Clausewitz, theorists who devised strategies still in use today
  • Modern armored air, naval, and nuclear warfare — how technology has changed the face of battle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060838539
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/23/2005
  • Series: Smithsonian History of Warfare Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 0.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Van Creveld, born in the Netherlands, has lived in Israel since 1950 and is Israel's most prominent military historian. He holds degrees from the London School of Economics and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he has been on the faculty since 1971. He is the author of fifteen books on military history and strategy, including Command in War (1985), Supplying War (1977), and The Sword and the Olive (1998).

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Read an Excerpt

The Art of War (Smithsonian History of Warfare)

War and Military Thought
By Martin Van Creveld

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Martin Van Creveld
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060838531

Chapter One

Chinese Military Thought

As already indicated in the Introduction, the earliest knownwritings on the subject of war did not constitute theoretical treatises. Instead they took the form of narratives: either poems that had been written down - such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Homeric poems - or prose accounts commemorating individual campaigns and battles such as may be found inscribed on ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Assyrian monuments. Both prose accounts and poems were intended to record and glorify events which may or may not have been historical but which, even in the case of the Epic of Gilgamesh with its array of gods and godlike heroes, may have contained some kernel of truth. In addition, the poems in particular served the purpose of inspiring the young to deeds of excellence.

In China, which is where our survey must start, a third type of writing on war developed and enjoyed prominence. China after the fall of the Chou (c. 400 bc) was divided into a large number of warring principalities. Fighting each other tooth and nail, these principalities developed standing professional armies as well as expert generals. Between about 400 and 200 bc several of these generals appear to have put their methods down in writing; alternatively they had various texts, written by others, attributed to them by way of enhancing those texts' authority. In some cases, including that of Sun Tzu as the greatest of their number, it is possible that the generals themselves were not historical figures but merely legendary pegs on which anonymous authors hung their own thoughts. This method is still often used in China today. To make your case, don't stress your originality, as many a modern Westerner would do; but, on the contrary, attribute what you are saying to somebody who lived long ago and whose fame is greater than yours.

Once composed or written, both martial poems and prose accounts of war constituted public possessions which were recited, read, or even displayed by being inscribed on stone. Not so the Chinese texts, which, precisely because they claimed to lay bare the methods which famous generals used in order to gain their victories, were treated as state secrets. Their nature is evident from their names: 'Ta'i Kung's Six Secret Teachings', 'The Methods of the Ssu-ma', 'Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung' and the 'Military Methods' attributed to Sun Pin. All these, as well as several others, were the product of the period of the warring principalities. They tended to disappear into royal archives where they were made available to the elect; there, given that they were written on strips of bamboo and joined together by having strings passed through holes in them, there was plenty of occasion for them to fall into disorder. Only during medieval (Sung) times were seven of the surviving texts copied or printed on silk and disseminated, serving as textbooks on which the annual military examinations were based. One, by Sun Pin, disappeared altogether and only came back to light in 1972 when a Han tomb was opened and a copy of it was discovered.

Some of the texts that have come down to us are presented in the form of lectures given by commanders to rulers into whose employ they wanted to enter. Wu Tzu, for example, persuaded the Marquis of Wei to listen to what he had to say, and, while seated on a mat with a glass of wine, he opened his exposition. Other texts consist of short, pungent phrases which had come down from, or else were attributed to, some outstanding general and were then surrounded by the comments of others who expanded on his words or illustrated them by means of historical examples. In some cases we can see a discussion unfolding as a ruler, by way of testing his would-be general, presents him with increasingly difficult questions to answer. The more of the material one reads, the more one feels that not all of it is meant to be taken seriously; some of it has a playful character as questions, examples and attributions are piled on each other, joining into regular mental battles. To help the student keep the essentials in mind mnemonic devices are often employed, for example 'the five principles', 'the six preservations', 'the nine manoeuvres', and the like.

Finally, the texts in question cannot be understood without bearing in mind the underlying way in which Chinese culture approaches war. War was neither a means in the hands of policy nor, and much less, an end in itself. Instead it was regarded as an evil, albeit one that was sometimes rendered necessary by the imperfection of the world. 'Weapons are instruments of ill omen,' said Sun Tzu, the oldest and most famous general of all, who may or may not have been a historical figure. 'However vast the state, he who takes pleasure in the military will perish,' added Sun Pin, reputed to have lived a century or so after Sun Tzu and to have been the latter's direct descendant. As Wu Tzu told the Marquis of Wei in their first interview, a ruler might not have a liking for military affairs, but not to prepare for war was to fail in his duty: 'When the dead lie stiff and you grieve for them, you have not attained righteousness.' 'War is of vital importance to the state,' said Sun Tzu. Therefore, in the words of Sun Pin, 'military affairs cannot be but investigated'.

Constituting a necessary evil, war was at the same time a temporary departure from 'cosmic harmony', or Tao. By definition, Tao can only be restored by Tao. Hence the war will be won by the side possessing the greatest Virtue, Virtue itself being but another translation of Tao. 'You should cultivate your Virtue ... and observe the Tao of Heaven,' said Ta'i Kung in his Opening Instructions. 'In general, warfare is a question of Heaven, material resources and excellence,' said Ssu-ma ...

Continues...


Excerpted from The Art of War (Smithsonian History of Warfare) by Martin Van Creveld Copyright © 2005 by Martin Van Creveld.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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