Martin van Creveld ranks high among military historians, and given the changes in technology since Napoleonic times, his work is a necessary supplement to Clausewitz. His reflections have influenced strategists and grand tacticians since his first books appeared, and as an Israeli historian, he has been in a unique position to observe the changing nature of modern warfare on both the grand strategic and tactical levels, particularly with regards to asymmetric warfare. Scholars and military planners ignore his thoughts at their peril.
I don’t entirely agree with him on the effectiveness of guerilla operations absent a sanctuary, or with his conclusions concerning Viet Nam, which I consider to be a victory won, then given up. And while the Iraq War was certainly unwise, I don’t believe that it was necessarily unwinnable, as the U.S. military was given an impossible mission, then undermined by political errors made above their pay grade. That being said, if winning is defined as a nation being better off after the war than it was before, it is hard to see how winning in Iraq was ever possible. So perhaps we agree after all.
But whatever your position on modern conflicts might be, Martin van Creveld’s writings are worth reading and they are vital to reaching informed conclusions about the art of war.
Studio City, California
Castalia House has published a lot of books over the last twelve months. I’m proud of those books and I believe all of them are worth reading by at least one specific group of readers or another. But most books, even the excellent ones, are not what I consider to be absolute must-reads by everyone of sufficient intellect to comprehend them. Such books are very few and far between; the last one we published that I personally felt this strongly about was AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND by John C. Wright.
I feel much the same way about A HISTORY OF STRATEGY: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind by Martin van Creveld, although for very different reasons. Most of you are aware that I am very well-read in strategic matters. I read Caesar and Mahan and Oman for entertainment, I rely heavily upon Frontinus, and to a lesser extent, Onasander and Vegetius, in my fiction, and I am no stranger to the great works of military strategy and tactics from the ancients to the moderns.
And yet, in A HISTORY OF STRATEGY, van Creveld not infrequently cited military thinkers of whom I’d never even heard before, let alone read. This is not a history of war, but a history of thinking about war, and it is arguably one of the most masterful summaries of a single millennia-spanning train of thought ever written. It’s not long, it’s not deep, and it’s not hard to follow, but it is an education in 116 pages. Read this and you will be better-informed on the subject of war than 99.99 percent of the human race.
Better still, you will be in a position to dive deeper into any one of a hundred areas and to understand where you are diving as well as the historical significance of that area. Van Creveld begins at the beginning, with the ancient Chinese, and proceeds methodically through time, crediting each cognitive breakthrough to its author before explaining its significance as well as its consequences.
I highly recommend this book, especially to parents who are homeschooling teenage boys. Featuring the foreword by Dr. Jerry Pournelle quoted above, it is available for $4.99 at Castalia House in both EPUB and Kindle formats and at Amazon.