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The Culture of War

The Culture of War

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by Martin van Creveld

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A respected scholar of military history and an expert on strategy, Martin van Creveld recently explored the modern world’s shifting method of combat in The Changing Face of War. Now, in The Culture of War, he argues that there is much more to war than just soldiers killing one another for whatever reason.

War has always been a topic of deep intrigue. Fighting


A respected scholar of military history and an expert on strategy, Martin van Creveld recently explored the modern world’s shifting method of combat in The Changing Face of War. Now, in The Culture of War, he argues that there is much more to war than just soldiers killing one another for whatever reason.

War has always been a topic of deep intrigue. Fighting itself can be a source of great, perhaps even the greatest, joy; out of this joy and fascination an entire culture has grown–from the war paint of tribal warriors to today’s “tiger suits,” from Julius Caesar’s red cloak to Douglas McArthur’s pipe, from the decorative shields of ancient Greece to today’s nose art, and from the invention of chess around 600 A.D. to the most modern combat simulators. The culture of war has its own traditions, laws and customs, rituals, ceremonies, music, art, literature, and monuments since the beginning of civilization.

Throughout the ages, the culture of war has usually been highly esteemed. Not so in today’s advanced countries, which tend either to mock it (“military intelligence is to intelligence what military music is to music”) or to denounce it as “militaristic.” This provocative book, the first of its kind, sets out to show how wrongheaded, and even dangerous, such attitudes are. The Culture of War argues that men and women, contrary to the hopes of some, are just as fascinated by war today as they have been in the past. A military that has lost touch with the culture of war is doomed not merely to defeat but to disintegration.

Innovative, authoritative, and riveting, this is a major work by one of the world’s greatest and most insightful military historians.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Advance praise for The Culture of War

“This splendid volume affirms what we already know: Martin van Creveld is the most creative, most insightful, and most important military historian writing in English today.”
–Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War

“For more than thirty years Martin van Creveld has been one of the world’s foremost military thinkers. In The Culture of War, van Creveld once more shows an exceptional mastery of his subject as he explores a vital but rarely acknowledged aspect of war, its deep-rooted culture. As he did in his provocative The Transformation of War, van Creveld argues against the premise that wars are fought only for political ends fails to recognize that war is also an end in itself. Van Creveld presents his case powerfully and convincingly with a rich mixture of historical and contemporary examples. Citizens and soldiers alike will find this book informative, novel, and thought-provoking.”
–Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

“Martin van Creveld continues to give us insight into the many facets of war. Each time he adds another dimension, sharing his broad knowledge and brilliant analytical mind. The Culture of War brings us another step into understanding the underlying issues.”
–Dr. Joel P. Wyler, chairman, Granaria Holdings B.V.

Publishers Weekly

Hebrew University's van Creveld remains unsurpassed as a scholar of war. In this provocative volume, he challenges perhaps the subject's single greatest shibboleth-at least in Western culture. Since the Enlightenment, war has been described as a means to an end, serving essentially rational interests. Nothing, van Creveld asserts, could be further from the truth: "war exercises a powerful fascination in its own right." To dismiss this is to overlook that war has generated a distinctive culture, from uniforms to war games to parades, that is despised and regularly denigrated as atavistic and irrational. Van Creveld demonstrates that war is an essential element of history, rooted in psychology. In a tour de force of scholarship and insight, he takes readers through the processes of preparing for, waging and commemorating war. That culture makes men face death willingly, even enthusiastically, because it is an end in itself. "[T]o be of any use, the culture of war must be useless." Its traditions and rules are not constructions, but part of the fighter's soul-and as such, for better and worse, part of the human condition. Illus. (Sept. 30)

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Kirkus Reviews
In a lengthy but never boring volume, prolific military historian van Creveld (History/Hebrew Univ.; The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, from the Marne to Iraq, 2007, etc.) offers a rich, satisfying examination of the role war has played since the Stone Age. He begins with a sneer at "bleeding hearts" who believe war is a loathsome aberration unworthy of study, but he sneers equally hard at conservative "neo-realists" in government who, in their ignorance, treat it as a macho extension of diplomacy and lead nations into catastophe (the author is no friend of the Iraq War). Van Creveld emphasizes that war has always fascinated humans. Beginning before the dawn of history, societies have surrounded it with ceremonies, decoration, play and other affectations often irrelevant, and sometimes counterproductive, to strategy. Military dress, parades and even weapon design bear only a distant relation to battlefield practicalities but occupy a significant role in every culture. Even in today's gender-neutral world, the author notes, education emphasizes martial virtues (the importance of taking risks, teamwork, sacrifice, etc.). Van Creveld then moves on to the culture of warfare itself: the ritual of transition into war and back to peace, the pleasure of fighting and the rules of engagement. Despite the pacifist claim that true war is lawless slaughter and that no sane person enjoys it, van Creveld argues that the opposite is true. He points out that antiwar beliefs have always existed but only became politically correct in the 18th century, adding that history contradicts the stock accusation that self-seeking national leaders inflict war on an unwilling population or thatdemocracies never fight each other. Neither pro- nor anti-, the author treats war as a natural human activity and makes a good case in this well-delineated account of the traditions, rituals and laws that accompany it. Agent: Leslie Gardner/Artellus Limited

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Martin van Creveld, professor of history at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, is one of the best-known experts on military history and strategy. He has written eighteen books, which have been translated into fourteen languages; most notable among them are The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, from Marne to Iraq; Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton; Command in War; and The Transformation of War. Professor van Creveld has consulted to the defense departments of numerous governments, including that of the United States. He was the second civilian expert ever to be invited to address the Israeli General Staff, and has lectured or taught at practically every institute of strategic military study. Van Creveld has appeared on CNN, BBC, and other international networks and has been featured in many magazines and newspapers, including Newsweek and the International Herald Tribune.

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Culture of War 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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