The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq
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One of the most influential experts on military history and strategy has now written his magnum opus, an original and provocative account of the past hundred years of global conflict. The Changing Face of War is the book that reveals the path that led to the impasse in Iraq, why powerful standing armies are now helpless against ill-equipped insurgents, and how the security of sovereign nations may be maintained in the future.
While paying close attention to the unpredictable human element, Martin van Creveld takes us on a journey from the last century’s clashes of massive armies to today’s short, high-tech, lopsided skirmishes and frustrating quagmires. Here is the world as it was in 1900, controlled by a handful of “great powers,” mostly European, with the memories of eighteenth-century wars still fresh. Armies were still led by officers riding on horses, messages conveyed by hand, drum, and bugle. As the telegraph, telephone, and radio revolutionized communications, big-gun battleships like the British Dreadnought, the tank, and the airplane altered warfare.
Van Creveld paints a powerful portrait of World War I, in which armies would be counted in the millions, casualties–such as those in the cataclysmic battle of the Marne–would become staggering, and deadly new weapons, such as poison gas, would be introduced. Ultimately, Germany’s plans to outmaneuver her enemies to victory came to naught as the battle lines ossified and the winners proved to be those who could produce the most weapons and provide the most soldiers.
The Changing Face of War then propels us to the even greater global carnage of World War II. Innovations in armored warfare and airpower, along with technological breakthroughs from radar to the atom bomb, transformed war from simple slaughter to a complex event requiring new expertise–all in the service of savagery, from Pearl Harbor to Dachau to Hiroshima. The further development of nuclear weapons during the Cold War shifts nations from fighting wars to deterring them: The number of active troops shrinks and the influence of the military declines as civilian think tanks set policy and volunteer forces “decouple” the idea of defense from the world of everyday people.
War today, van Crevald tells us, is a mix of the ancient and the advanced, as state-of-the-art armies fail to defeat small groups of crudely outfitted guerrilla and terrorists, a pattern that began with Britain’s exit from India and culminating in American misadventures in Vietnam and Iraq, examples of what the author calls a “long, almost unbroken record of failure.”
How to learn from the recent past to reshape the military for this new challenge–how to still save, in a sense, the free world–is the ultimate lesson of this big, bold, and cautionary work. The Changing Face of War is sure to become the standard source on this essential subject.
From the Hardcover edition.
arrogant Israelis, they may say, had it coming. But would any other armed force of any other Western country, pitted against a highly motivated and well-trained guerrilla force, have done better? Of course it is impossible to be sure. However, the mere fact that much IDF jargon was translated directly from English should be enough to raise suspicion. More seriously, “the record of failure” (see section 6.2 of the present volume), as well as ongoing events in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes one doubt
Der Deutsche Generalstab in Vorbereitung und Durchfuehrung des Weltkrieges, Berlin, Mittler, 1920, pp. 205–8. 4. T. N. Dupuy, Numbers, Predictions, and War, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1979, p. 28 table 2-4. 5. According to S. C. Tucker, The Great War, 1914–1918, London, UCL, 1998, p. 32. 6. Quoted in M. Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History, New York, Holt, 1994, p. 112. 7. T. Ashworth, Trench Warfare, 1914–1918, New York, Holmes & Ashworth, 1980, pp. 57, 116; J. Schindler,
operations. Still, Russia was by far the largest and most populous among the European powers, and it clearly had the potential to dwarf everybody else. From the 1890s, the time when it began to industrialize very rapidly, it appeared bent on doing exactly that. During most of the nineteenth century, first Russian–Prussian and then Russian–German relations had been amicable; as also manifested by the fact that, in the period from 1909 to 1914, German-made goods formed no less than 42 percent of
Soviets, the German Luftwaffe was not organized by type of aircraft—bomber command, fighter command, and so on—but divided into air divisions, air corps, and air fleets, each including machines of all types with organic ground support. Accordingly, they could be moved from one theater of war to another without any need for reorganization. All that was needed was to build the physical infrastructure, and even for that, the Luftwaffe was able to rely partly on its own resources. As in several
under attack by more than half a million first-class US, British, and French troops, the Iraqis turned out to be third rate. At the time, the Iraqi air force had as many as seven hundred reasonably modern, French- and Soviet-built combat aircraft. However, after a few of them had been shot down during the early phases of the war, they hardly dared take off again. So desperate were the Iraqis that more than a hundred aircraft escaped to Iran, the enemy they had just finished fighting; there, for