Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Monday, May 28, 2007

On the Changing Face of War

Informative and rather dark. Martin van Creveld provides a concise historical overview which seats itself in 1914 on the eve of the Great War and transcends the major conflicts of history right up until present day (well, 2006) Iraq. In 270 pages he builds a framework of historical analysis pointing out the many glaring failures and few triumphs of the strategies that entail post-modern conflict as nation states learned and evolved or simply refused to learn and evolve from each succeeding conflict.

Throughout the first 90% of his volume van Creveld maintains a scholarly and yet direct prose very much unafraid to interject his own opinions. This saves his analysis from an encyclopedic quality that should define a book that entails so much information in so few pages.

In reading this it was hard not to flip forward past all the historical analysis to the "good part" which for me entailed present day. This is much more a reflection upon the reader than the author as van Crevelds lengthy prelude to what I refer to as "the good part" is both valuable to his conclusion and very much informative.

The last 10% of the book is where van Crevelds informative prose gains steam and culminates into a conclusion that led me to think "yeah! Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout!" and yet "wait. wait, that's it?"

Van Creveld settles his account of post modern warfare with a quick study of counter insurgency. He explores two avenues of approach, after lamenting upon the fact that most counter insurgency strategies are based upon failed tactics rather than the successful. His exploration entails the thirty year struggle between the British commonwealth and the IRA revolutionary resistance in one respect and the massacre in Syria under Hafez al-Assad in the other.

In the former exploration van Creveld suggests police action as opposed to military action and pushes the ideology of non-kinetic tactics. (That's not nearly a complete overview of his exploration but I'll let you read the book for that.)

It's in the latter that van Creveld, perhaps, makes his extreme impatience at the paramount idiocy of conventional cold warrior-hood very apparent. His Professor prose turns to a very aggressive one in which he slams down, very unapologetically, some Machiavellian principles. To wit:

"The first rule is to make your preparations in secret or, if that is not feasible, to use guile and deceit to disguise your plans..."

"The third is to strike as hard as possible within the shortest possible time; better to strike as hard as possible within the shortest possible time; better to strike too hard than not hard enough..."

I could go on, but I won't as this post is already entirely too long.

Martin van Creveld's unapologetic secondary approach was refreshing. War, as they say, is hell and the idea that it possesses "rules" has always seemed foreign to me. It is here that van Creveld truly engages his reader and it his here that van Creveld leaves his reader a bit confused and wanting.

My hope is that Martin van Creveld will follow this volume up with another related approach that explains how exactly his secondary (sorry but the first approach in light of either Iraq or Afghanistan is for naught) approach can be delivered. While van Creveld gives a nod to the citizens that elect our government in referring to the media he does little else to provide a framework for conscripting the American populace to support something beyond their frenetic intellectual means. No doubt that is the heaviest of tasks but it is paramount to any effort in the projection of American power.