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Martin van Creveld on “The Culture of War”

Culture of War.jpg

There’s another good book review from the NY Sun (hat tip), which, by the way, is in serious financial trouble, and I don’t think that the Fed is planning to bail it out. Of all of the professors and scholars in Israel, probably the one who might be the most well-known and influential around the world is Martin van Creveld (his website). He is not a scholar of Jewish Studies, rather he is a military historian and theorist. He has had a tremendous influence on cadres of military officers and historians around the world. While military history is quite far removed form rabbinic literature, his writings are always interesting and challenging. I also happen to agree with his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His most recent book is The Culture of War. Here are some excerpts from the NY Sun review.

Mr. Creveld’s methodology has been to start with a counterintuitive, if not quirky, proposition, and then give a whirlwind tour through history to substantiate it. But if in the past there has been an occasional determinism to his work — that perhaps the examples are chosen to fit, rather than lead to, the premise — “The Culture of War” (Presidio, 485 pages, $30) reads as an entirely empirical investigation. Indeed, it is the most persuasive, engaging — and controversial — of all Mr. Creveld’s substantial studies. In it, he makes the convincing case that, despite the claims of many activists, warfare is a natural and necessary feature of human life.

Second, and far more contentiously, Mr. Creveld argues against both the modern, anthropological doctrine that assumes wars fulfill a cultural or ritual need, and realists who follow Clausewitz in thinking that war is a mere means to achieve political objectives. For Mr. Creveld, war is instead a natural and human enterprise, an impulse that resides within the individual. If it fills any need, it is inside the human psyche, and thus brings a certain sort of satisfaction ipso facto to those who engage in it. This, Mr. Creveld suggests, is why people — though mostly men — seem to enjoy trying to kill each other, and why most other bystanders are fascinated watching or thinking about it. “War, and combat in particular,” Mr. Creveld writes, “is one of the most exciting, most stimulating activities that we humans can engage in, putting all others in the shade; quite often that excitement and stimulation translate themselves into pure joy.”

In sum, “The Culture of War” is as disturbing a book as it is endlessly provocative and fascinating.

2 Responses to “Martin van Creveld on “The Culture of War””

  1. 1

    I’ve always wondered if that impulse has an outlet through competitive sports – either playing or watching.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I don’t remember where, but I saw an article about violent video games, and the claim was that they can be an outlet for, rather than the cause of, aggressive behavior. More and more people are playing violent video games, yet the level of violent crime is decreasing.




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