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Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power

4.3 23
by Victor Davis Hanson

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Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times--from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive--Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world.

Looking beyond popular explanations


Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times--from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive--Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world.

Looking beyond popular explanations such as geography or superior technology, Hanson argues that it is in fact Western culture and values–the tradition of dissent, the value placed on inventiveness and adaptation, the concept of citizenship–which have consistently produced superior arms and soldiers. Offering riveting battle narratives and a balanced perspective that avoids simple triumphalism, Carnage and Culture demonstrates how armies cannot be separated from the cultures that produce them and explains why an army produced by a free culture will always have the advantage.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Vivid . . . ambitious . . . Challenges readers to broaden their horizons and examine their assumptions. . . . [Hanson] more than makes his case.”--The New York Times Book Review

“No one offers a more compelling picture of how wars reflect and affect the societies, including our own, that wage them.” —National Review

“Hanson . . . is becoming one of the best-known historians in America . . . [Carnage and Culture] can only enhance his reputation.” —John Keegan, Daily Telegraph (London)

“Victor Davis Hanson is courting controversy again with another highly readable, lucid work. Together with John Keegan, he is our most interesting historian of war.” —Jean Bethke Elshtain, author of Women and War

Military historian Victor David Hanson answers the question many historians have asked: Why are the ideas and practices of the West proliferating around the world? The reason, according to Hansen, is a simple one: "the Western knack for killing." Hanson recounts nine pivotal battles between Western and non-Western armies that turned the tide for the West, including the Greek victory against the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C., Hannibal's defeat of the Romans at Cannae in 216 B.C., Cortes's conquest of the Aztecs at Tenochititlan in 1521, and the battle of Midway during WWII. Each battle is presented in the trademark Hanson style, putting the reader squarely in line of fire.
Publishers Weekly
"The Western way of war is so lethal precisely because it is so amoral shackled rarely by concerns of ritual, tradition, religion, or ethics, by anything other than military necessity." Ranging from Salamis in 480 B.C. to the Tet offensive in Vietnam, Hanson, a California State at Fresno classics professor, expands the scope of his The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, offering a provocative look at occidental aggression as illustrated by nine paradigmatic battles between Western and non-Western armies. Hanson sheds the overly romanticized view of battles as nationalist or ethnic honorifics and vividly portrays the deadly killing machines Western powers evolved for the destruction of non-Western opponents. Throughout, Hanson stresses the technology based lethality of Western warfare, and the role of individual initiative as opposed to the more collectivist strategies of the Persians, Carthaginians, Arabs, Turks, Aztecs, Zulus, Japanese and Vietnamese opponents who get a chapter apiece. The single Western defeat chronicled in these pages, of the Romans in Cannae in 216 B.C., shows a victorious Hannibal unable to capitalize on his win. (The idea of the citizen/soldier, the role of civic militarism and the republican ideals of Rome seem to be the reasons why not.) A number of Hanson's conclusions will engender debate, such as his claim that America won in Vietnam, but failed to recognize it, as well as the larger claim that "free markets, free elections, and free speech" have led directly to superior forces. The book's last few chapters are fairly driven by that idea, which, along with precise, forceful writing, sets it apart from the season's secondary-sourced,battle-based military histories. (Aug.) Forecast: Hanson's direct, literate style and his evenhandedness should appeal to the liberalist middle of the left and right alike. By isolating the ingredients of military success via elaborate examples, the book can potentially draw on two separate military-history readerships: those looking for theory and those for action. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Examining a select group of battles throughout history, Hanson (classics, California State Univ., Fresno; coauthor, Bonfire of the Humanities) maintains that Western nations are the world's best when it comes to waging war. From Salamis in 480 B.C.E. to the Tet offensive in 1968, Western forces have prevailed. Western soldiers typically have more of a commitment to the cause for which they are fighting, and they use technologically superior weapons, Hanson argues. Countries in Asia and Africa are not prepared to wage war on the same scale as Western nations because their governments are not as stable, funding is not as great, and the tradition of militarism does not exist. Hanson's ultimate concern is not with conflict between East and West but with the increasing possibility of civil war within Western nations, which might result in bloodletting on a scale previously unknown. Though victim of the occasional error (e.g., a Russian AK-47 does not resemble an American M-16), he makes a cogent argument for keeping a cautious eye on future conflicts. However, while he claims that this book is written for the general public, his style is difficult for the average reader. Only large public and academic libraries collecting in this area need to consider. Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fascinating study of the way Western values have translated into Western military victories against non-Western cultures. Hanson (The Soul of Battle, 1999) meticulously analyzes nine epic battles, from Salamis in 480 b.c. to Tet in 1968. In each account he shows how Western liberalism influenced military tactics and brought Western armies crucial victories against conservative or despotic foes. Some readers will catch an offensive triumphalism here, but most will find Hanson's point insurmountable. Why has the core of Europe never been invaded by non-Western peoples? Why have other cultures mimicked Western militaries (rather than the other way around)? From ancient Greece to the present day, Hanson argues, Western armies have enjoyed a number of cultural advantages over their enemies. Western armies were most often composed of free men, for example, rather than slaves or mercenaries. Free men were inventive by nature and more likely to develop new weapons; they were also more loyal since, rather than being compelled, they chose to fight. Being more loyal, Western warriors were thus more disciplined and developed close-ranked shock tactics (the phalanx being the earliest example) that served Europeans well against the erratic, mob-like battle techniques of other civilizations (e.g., Islamic horsemen or African Zulus). Lastly, Western countries tended to fight wars of annihilation, whereas more warlike, despotic societies (such as the Aztecs) tended to have ritualized styles of fighting that led their armies to engage and then withdraw once their prowess has been displayed. Westerners may be slow to fight, writes Hanson, but once they start they seek to utterly destroy their opponent'sfighting capability. If one finds it hard to see a connection between the Aztecs and, say, the Japanese, consider that the Japanese could have delivered far more damage to the American navy at Pearl Harbor. Instead, after merely crippling the fleet and leaving its most potent vessels (the aircraft carriers) unscathed, the Japanese armada steamed away, expecting the soft, democratic US to sue for peace. A matchless study that combines the brutal facts of war with persuasive findings.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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First Anchor Books Edition
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Read an Excerpt


Why the West Has Won

When the trumpet sounded, the soldiers took up their arms and went out. As they charged faster and faster, they gave a loud cry, and on their own broke into a run toward the camp. But a great fear took hold of the barbarian hosts; the Cilician queen fled outright in her carriage, and those in the market threw down their wares and also took to flight. At that point, the Greeks in great laughter approached the camp. And the Cilician queen was filled with admiration at the brilliant spectacle and order of the phalanx; and Cyrus was delighted to see the abject terror of the barbarians when they saw the Greeks.

--Xenophon, Anabasis (1.2.16-18)


EVEN THE PLIGHT of enterprising killers can tell us something. In the summer of 401 b.c., 10,700 Greek hoplite soldiers--infantrymen heavily armed with spear, shield, and body armor--were hired by Cyrus the Younger to help press his claim to the Persian throne. The recruits were in large part battle-hardened veterans of the prior twenty-seven-year Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.). As mercenaries, they were mustered from throughout the Greek-speaking world. Many were murderous renegades and exiles. Both near adolescents and the still hale in late middle age enlisted for pay. Large numbers were unemployed and desperate at any cost for lucrative work as killers in the exhausted aftermath of the internecine war that had nearly ruined the Greek world. Yet there were also a few privileged students of philosophy and oratory in the ranks, who would march into Asia side by side these destitute mercenaries--aristocrats like Xenophon, student of Socrates, and Proxenus, the Boeotian general, as well as physicians, professional officers, would-be colonists, and wealthy Greek friends of Prince Cyrus.

After a successful eastward march of more than 1,500 miles that scattered all opposition, the Greeks smashed through the royal Persian line at the battle of Cunaxa, north of Babylon. The price for destroying an entire wing of the Persian army was a single Greek hoplite wounded by an arrow. The victory of the Ten Thousand in the climactic showdown for the Persian throne, however, was wasted when their employer, Cyrus, rashly pursued his brother, Artaxerxes, across the battle line and was cut down by the Persian imperial guard.

Suddenly confronted by a host of enemies and hostile former allies, stranded far from home without money, guides, provisions, or the would-be king, and without ample cavalry or missile troops, the orphaned Greek expeditionary infantrymen nevertheless voted not to surrender to the Persian monarchy. Instead, they prepared to fight their way back to the Greek world. That brutal trek northward through Asia to the shores of the Black Sea forms the centerpiece of Xenophon's Anabasis ("The March Up-Country"), the author himself one of the leaders of the retreating Ten Thousand.

Though surrounded by thousands of enemies, their original generals captured and beheaded, forced to traverse through the contested lands of more than twenty different peoples, caught in snowdrifts, high mountain passes, and waterless steppes, suffering frostbite, malnutrition, and frequent sickness, as well as fighting various savage tribesmen, the Greeks reached the safety of the Black Sea largely intact--less than a year and a half after leaving home. They had routed every hostile Asian force in their way. Five out of six made it out alive, the majority of the dead lost not in battle, but in the high snows of Armenia.

During their ordeal, the Ten Thousand were dumbfounded by the Taochians, whose women and children jumped off the high cliffs of their village in a ritual mass suicide. They found the barbaric white-skinned Mossynoecians, who engaged in sexual intercourse openly in public, equally baffling. The Chalybians traveled with the heads of their slain opponents. Even the royal army of Persia appeared strange; its pursuing infantry, sometimes whipped on by their officers, fled at the first onslaught of the Greek phalanx. What ultimately strikes the reader of the Anabasis is not merely the courage, skill, and brutality of the Greek army--which after all had no business in Asia other than killing and money--but the vast cultural divide between the Ten Thousand and the brave tribes they fought.

Where else in the Mediterranean would philosophers and students of rhetoric march in file alongside cutthroats to crash headlong into enemy flesh? Where else would every man under arms feel equal to anyone else in the army--or at least see himself as free and in control of his own destiny? What other army of the ancient world elected its own leaders? And how could such a small force by elected committee navigate its way thousands of miles home amid thousands of hostile enemies?

Once the Ten Thousand, as much a "marching democracy" as a hired army, left the battlefield of Cunaxa, the soldiers routinely held assemblies in which they voted on the proposals of their elected leaders. In times of crises, they formed ad hoc boards to ensure that there were sufficient archers, cavalry, and medical corpsmen. When faced with a variety of unexpected challenges both natural and human--impassable rivers, a dearth of food, and unfamiliar tribal enemies--councils were held to debate and discuss new tactics, craft new weapons, and adopt modifications in organization. The elected generals marched and fought alongside their men--and were careful to provide a fiscal account of their expenditures.

The soldiers in the ranks sought face-to-face shock battle with their enemies. All accepted the need for strict discipline and fought shoulder-to-shoulder whenever practicable. Despite their own critical shortage of mounted troops, they nevertheless felt only disdain for the cavalry of the Great King. "No one ever died in battle from the bite or kick of a horse," Xenophon reminded his beleaguered foot soldiers (Anabasis 3.2.19). Upon reaching the coast of the Black Sea, the Ten Thousand conducted judicial inquiries and audits of its leadership's performance during the past year, while disgruntled individuals freely voted to split apart and make their own way back home. A lowly Arcadian shepherd had the same vote as the aristocratic Xenophon, student of Socrates, soon-to-be author of treatises ranging from moral philosophy to the income potential of ancient Athens.

To envision the equivalent of a Persian Ten Thousand is impossible. Imagine the likelihood of the Persian king's elite force of heavy infantry--the so-called Immortals, or Amrtaka, who likewise numbered 10,000--outnumbered ten to one, cut off and abandoned in Greece, marching from the Peloponnese to Thessaly, defeating the numerically superior phalanxes of every Greek city-state they invaded, as they reached the safety of the Hellespont. History offers a more tragic and real-life parallel: the Persian general Mardonius's huge invasion army of 479 b.c. that was defeated by the numerically inferior Greeks at the battle of Plataea and then forced to retire home three hundred miles northward through Thessaly and Thrace. Despite the army's enormous size and the absence of any organized pursuit, few of the Persians ever returned home. They were clearly no Ten Thousand. Their king had long ago abandoned them; after his defeat at Salamis, Xerxes had marched back to the safety of his court the prior autumn.

Technological superiority does not in itself explain the miraculous Greek achievement, although Xenophon at various places suggests that the Ten Thousand's heavy bronze, wood, and iron panoply was unmatched by anything found in Asia. There is no evidence either that the Greeks were by nature "different" from King Artaxerxes' men. The later pseudoscientific notion that the Europeans were racially superior to the Persians was entertained by no Greeks of the time. Although they were mercenary veterans and bent on booty and theft, the Ten Thousand were no more savage or warlike than other raiders and plunderers of the time; much less were they kinder or more moral people than the tribes they met in Asia. Greek religion did not put a high premium on turning the other cheek or on a belief that war per se was either abnormal or amoral. Climate, geography, and natural resources tell us as little. In fact, Xenophon's men could only envy the inhabitants of Asia Minor, whose arable land and natural wealth were in dire contrast to their poor soil back in Greece. Indeed, they warned their men that any Greeks who migrated eastward might become lethargic "Lotus-Eaters" in such a far wealthier natural landscape.

The Anabasis makes it clear, however, that the Greeks fought much differently than their adversaries and that such unique Hellenic characteristics of battle--a sense of personal freedom, superior discipline, matchless weapons, egalitarian camaraderie, individual initiative, constant tactical adaptation and flexibility, preference for shock battle of heavy infantry--were themselves the murderous dividends of Hellenic culture at large. The peculiar way Greeks killed grew out of consensual government, equality among the middling classes, civilian audit of military affairs, and politics apart from religion, freedom and individualism, and rationalism. The ordeal of the Ten Thousand, when stranded and near extinction, brought out the polis that was innate in all Greek soldiers, who then conducted themselves on campaign precisely as civilians in their respective city-states.

In some form or another, the Ten Thousand would be followed by equally brutal European intruders: Agesilaus and his Spartans, Chares the mercenary captain, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and centuries of legionary dominance, the Crusaders, Hernan Cortes, Portuguese explorers in Asiatic seas, British redcoats in India and Africa, and scores of other thieves, buccaneers, colonists, mercenaries, imperialists, and explorers. Most subsequent Western expeditionary forces were outnumbered and often deployed far from home. Nevertheless, they outfought their numerically superior enemies and in varying degrees drew on elements of Western culture to slaughter mercilessly their opponents.

In the long history of European military practice, it is almost a truism that the chief military worry of a Western army for the past 2,500 years was another Western army. Few Greeks were killed at Marathon (490 b.c.). Thousands died at the later collisions at Nemea and Coronea (394 b.c.), where Greek fought Greek. The latter Persian Wars (480-479 b.c.) saw relatively few Greek deaths. The Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.) between Greek states was an abject bloodbath. Alexander himself killed more Europeans in Asia than did the hundreds of thousands of Persians under Darius III. The Roman Civil Wars nearly ruined the republic in a way that even Hannibal had not. Waterloo, the Somme, and Omaha Beach only confirm the holocaust that occurs when Westerner meets Westerner.

This book attempts to explain why that is all so, why Westerners have been so adept at using their civilization to kill others--at warring so brutally, so often without being killed. Past, present, and future, the story of military dynamism in the world is ultimately an investigation into the prowess of Western arms. Scholars of war may resent such a broad generalization. Academics in the university will find that assertion chauvinistic or worse--and thus cite every exception from Thermopylae to Little Big Horn in refutation. The general public itself is mostly unaware of their culture's own singular and continuous lethality in arms. Yet for the past 2,500 years--even in the Dark Ages, well before the "Military Revolution," and not simply as a result of the Renaissance, the European discovery of the Americas, or the Industrial Revolution--there has been a peculiar practice of Western warfare, a common foundation and continual way of fighting, that has made Europeans the most deadly soldiers in the history of civilization.


War as Culture

I am not interested here in whether European military culture is morally superior to, or far more wretched than, that of the non-West. The conquistadors, who put an end to human sacrifice and torture on the Great Pyramid in Mexico City, sailed from a society reeling from the Grand Inquisition and the ferocious Reconquista, and left a diseased and nearly ruined New World in their wake. I am also less concerned in ascertaining the righteousness of particular wars--whether a murderous Pizarro in Peru (who calmly announced, "The time of the Inca is over") was better or worse than his murdering Inca enemies, whether India suffered enormously or benefited modestly from English colonization, or whether the Japanese had good cause to bomb Pearl Harbor or the Americans to incinerate Tokyo. My curiosity is not with Western man's heart of darkness, but with his ability to fight--specifically how his military prowess reflects larger social, economic, political, and cultural practices that themselves seemingly have little to do with war.

That connection between values and battle is not original, but has an ancient pedigree. The Greek historians, whose narratives are centered on war, nearly always sought to draw cultural lessons. In Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War, nearly 2,500 years ago the Spartan general Brasidas dismissed the military prowess of the tribes of Illyria and Macedonia, who confronted his Spartan hoplites. These men, Brasidas says of his savage opponents, have no discipline and so cannot endure shock battle. "As all mobs do," they changed their fearsome demeanor to cries of fright when they faced the cold iron of disciplined men in rank. Why so? Because, as Brasidas goes on to tell his soldiers, such tribes are the product of cultures "in which the many do not rule the few, but rather the few the many" (Thucydides 4.126).

In contrast to these enormous armies of screaming "barbarians" without consensual governments and written constitutions--"formidable in outward bulk, with unbearable loud yelling and the frightful appearance of weapons brandished in the air"--"citizens of states like yours," Brasidas assures his men, "stand their ground." Notice that Brasidas says nothing about skin color, race, or religion. Instead, he simplistically connects military discipline, fighting in rank, and the preference for shock battle with the existence of popular and consensual government, which gave the average infantryman in the phalanx a sense of equality and a superior spirit to his enemies. Whether or not we wish to dismiss Brasidas's self-serving portrait of frenzied tribesmen as a chauvinistic Western "construct" or "fiction," or debate whether his own Spartan oligarchy was a broad-based government, or carp that European infantrymen were often ambushed and bushwhacked by more nimble guerrillas, it is indisputable that there was a tradition of disciplined heavy infantrymen among the constitutionally governed Greek city-states, and not such a thing among tribal peoples to the north.

In an analysis of culture and conflict why should we concentrate on a few hours of battle and the fighting experience of the average soldier--and not the epic sweep of wars, with their cargo of grand strategy, tactical maneuver, and vast theater operations that so much better lend themselves to careful social and cultural exegesis? Military history must never stray from the tragic story of killing, which is ultimately found only in battle. The culture in which militaries fight determines whether thousands of mostly innocent young men are alive or rotting after their appointed hour of battle. Abstractions like capitalism or civic militarism are hardly abstract at all when it comes to battle, but rather concrete realities that ultimately determined whether at Lepanto twenty-year-old Turkish peasants survived or were harpooned in the thousands, whether Athenian cobblers and tanners could return home in safety after doing their butchery at Salamis or were to wash up in chunks on the shores of Attica.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He is the author of The Soul of Battle, An Autumn of War, and Ripples of Battle, all published by Anchor Books. His most recent book is The Savior Generals (Bloomsbury 2013). Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Bradley Prize in 2008, as well as the William F. Buckley Prize (2015), the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award (2006), and the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002). He divides his time between his farm in Selma, CA, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
NativeSon More than 1 year ago
? "The culture in which militaries fight determines whether thousands of mostly innocent young men are alive or rotting after their appointed hour of battle." (7) ? "Why Iraqi adolescents were targets in the flashing video consoles of sophisticated American helicopters, and not vice versa, or why GI's from icy Minnesota were better equipped to fight in the desert than recruits from nearby sweltering Bagdad, is mostly a result of cultural heritage, not military courage much less an accident of geography or genes." (8) ? ".the more logical argument that [Aztec] culture did not practice a type of warfare that could thwartsuch a radically different foe [Spanish]." (216) ? "Numbers, location, food, health, weather, religion-the usual factors that govern success or failure of wars - have ultimately done little to impede Western armies, whose larger culture has allowed them to trump man and nature alike." (441) ? "These advantages were immediate and entirely cultural, and they were not the product of genes, germs or geography of a distant past." (444)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could read about the Ancients, especially the Ancient Greeks, for 100,000 years without ever once tiring or losing interest, but I think my down time is nearing its end. Feels kind of like seeing an ex where things never really clicked.
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seadogLP More than 1 year ago
Because Carnage and Culture covers such a grand segment of history, by necessity it must deal in themes and trends. Given its general nature it lacks the incisive precision of R. H. S. Stolfi’s Hitler’s Panzers East, the benchmark in persuasive writing. Carnage and Culture falls into the category of historical survey, more akin to John Keegan’s A History of Warfare, raising intriguing questions, which beg further analysis. What Carnage and Culture may lack in depth is amply compensated by sheer eloquence. Chapter Two, examining the battle of Salamis begins with the sentence “It must be a terrible thing to drown at sea – arms thrashing the waves, lungs filling with brine, the body slowly growing heavy and numb, the brain crackling and sparking as its last molecules of oxygen are exhausted, the final conscious sight of the dim and fading, unreachable sunlight far above the rippling surface” making real the horror of 40,000 doomed Persian sailors. Such vivid language immediately draws the reader into the story where he remains transfixed. Each succeeding chapter receives the same exquisite treatment. Such rich detail is, in itself, worth the read. All in all I found Carnage and Culture informative, thought provoking and a pleasure to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Remarkable book. Hanson narrative allows his reader to visualize the battles he recounts. He marshals his facts effectively to support the theses of this book---the importance of a culture which promotes private property, capitalism, a spirit of enterprise, a respect for autonomy of the individual, a critical spirit which allows for innovation and to learn from military mistakes--a culture where there is respect for the rule of law---which has made Western armies so lethal. Wonderful book and great read!!
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Ducfir More than 1 year ago
Finally, a solution to the centuries old thesis of "white" superiority. Dr. Hanson clearly demonstrates that it was not superiority of race, as has been supposed for centuries, but superiority of a culture. A mind opening idea.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
In Carnage and Culture, Victor Hanson regularly warns his readers that he is not interested whether the primacy of the West on the battlefield is morally superior to, or far more despicable, than that of its Non-Western adversaries (pg. 6, 21, 130, 213). Hanson¿s originality and genius lies in his systematic (to some readers ad nauseam) demonstration that the military superiority of the West mirrors larger social, economical, political and cultural practices that at first glance have not much relevance to the art and science of warfare (pg. 6). Unlike most historians, Hanson rightly believes that this superiority of the West is not merely due to superior weapons (pg. 12, 208-209, 290). Only the Western culture has had the discipline, morale and sheer technology expertise in perfecting its killing know-how over time as Hanson efficiently demonstrates through his narration and analysis of nine landmark battles (pg. 9). Hanson makes clear that he has not selected a few battles that by coincidence or sheer luck prove his point (pg. 11, 443). Hanson also drives the point home that he does not downplay the courage that adversaries of the Western armed forces have often displayed for naught on the battlefield (pg. 10, 128, 130, 232, 316-325, 365-368, 448). Sometimes, the West was outsmarted temporarily but ultimately regained its supremacy over its Non-Western enemies because of its cultural institutions (pg. 20, 121-126, 364). Hanson convincingly shows that not even battlefield inexperience, lack of courage, outnumbered troops or poor command has had any lasting impact on Western dominance in battle (pg. 23, 96-97, 102, 105-106, 182, 253-254, 283, 305, 332-333, 398-402, 432-433, 441-444). Citizens systematically turn out to be history¿s deadliest killers (pg. 130-132, 168-169, 179, 189, 254, 288, 325, 331, 355, 368, 371, 404, 444-445, 463). Reaction, innovation, initiative and individualism have often outweighed the merits of method, consensus and adherence to hierarchy and protocol (pg. 355, 368, 381, 384-388). Furthermore, Hanson states that the West was not naturally smarter than the rest of the world (pg. 10, 15). Unlike some historians, Hanson rightly does not believe in a deterministic approach to Western military superiority based solely on biology, geography and guns (pg. 15-18, 215, 222). In his examination of the Battle of Tenochtitlan, Hanson however acknowledges that disease and hunger helped Hernan Cortes and his men finish the job and overcome the resistance of Amerindians (pg. 183, 193, 216). However, the victory of Spain over Mexicas was primarily due to the military brilliance, ruthlessness and courage of Cortes and his main lieutenants in 1520-1521 (pg. 83, 96, 178-179, 184, 207, 216, 220-221). Evolving capitalist and democratic institutions, free inquiry as well as rationalism, have often given Western capitalists and scientists a pragmatic and utilitarian umbrella protecting them from religious fundamentalists, state censors or stern cultural conservatives (pg. 20, 22, 56, 196, 229-230, 252, 255, 260, 266, 269-275, 341, 368, 438-439, 446-447). The West has not hesitated to incorporate the best military practices of its adversaries into its wars of annihilation or improvise on the battlefield with deadly effect (pg. 120, 168, 215, 227-228, 257). Western military forces have almost always been interested first in the decisive crushing and destruction of their adversaries, and then in social recognition, religious salvation and cultural status (pg. 97, 117, 165, 198, 225, 254, 305, 309, 354, 363-364, 379, 405, 432-433, 446-452). Hanson shows that Alexander the Great discarded Western rationality in favor of Asian theocracy during his Asian conquests in the fourth century BC that ultimately resulted in plutocratic god-kingdoms, unstable Hellenism in Asia and the destruction of embryonic democracy in Greece. Like Hitler, Alexander was a military genius and self-acclaimed mystic, intent
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hanson's examination is enlightening. He shows the significance of the ideals presented by Western culture and its dominance in the world throughout time. He also informs the reader a great deal about the examples he uses to pose his theory. His examination shows not only the positive aspects of Western culture but he also sheds light on many of the negative traits as well. Hanson points out the significance of cultural ideas and values and their use in the operations and effectiveness of the military. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in cultures and their development or anyone with an interest in military history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was worth my time and I read it closely. But caution is required. For example, Hanson has Alexander as a representative of the western way of war, even while telling us that he broke all the rules. If there is another edition, and I hope there will be, I would like his thoughts on our future, when the elites will not serve, and when so many people are left without any meaningful place in the economic system. Hanson makes a good case for the resilience of the Roman republic when it was founded upon a landed infantry, but he forgets that the republic of small holders gave way to a decadent empire of the displaced, and of and elites, who did not serve.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr Hanson attempts to answer the question as to why the West has dominated other regions, particularly in warfare. The examination, for instance, of Cortez, with a miniscule army operating at the end of an over-extended line of communication, is an interesting exercise. However, Dr Hanson focuses only on the 'virtues' of Western tradition (which I agree are formidable and largely praiseworthy), yet the sociology of Aztec society must be assigned a large dollop of responsibility for the collapse of the Aztec Empire under Cortez's assault. Dr Hanson assigns too much credit, I think, to the superiority of the West and not enough blame to shortcomings of its opponents.

I also suspect that he ignores counter-examples. For instance, he lists the Battle of Tours as one of his examples of the superiority of the Western way of warfare over the the Muslims. In 1099, several hundred years later, Jerusalem falls to the First Crusade. However, over the next several hundred years, the Western enclave is slowly eradicated from the Levant. How does this repulse of the West fit into his thesis?

The Ottomans penetrated deep into Europe, threatening Vienna in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and remained rulers of most of Eastern Europe for roughly three centuries. Where is the Western military might?

Dr Hanson doesn't quite know what to do with Russia - is it Western or not? He asserts that the Soviet tank designs of World War II were based on Western designs. I don't think that the T-34, perhaps the most innovative tank design of the War, was the product of much Western influence.

My comments above are largely negative. Dr Hanson makes some very good points, and I agree that the virtues of the West must be assigned a large role in the domination of the West. I just don't think that his thesis is entirely proven in this book. I am jealous of my limited reading time - the time and effort spent with this book was well worth it.

Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the finest history books written during the last decade. Hanson describes why and how Western powers won most of their battles and what effect it had on culture. A few fellow academics may gripe with his reasoning because it's not politically correct. However, as Mr. Hanson clearly shows, truth is not always PC. An exceptional book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to buy this book for a class. We started reading it last week and I am not looking forward to reading the rest. This is great though, for those who like to read from a historians point of you.