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by Victor D. Hanson

Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times--from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive--Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world.Looking beyond popular explanations such as geography or superior technology, Hanson argues that it is in fact Western culture and values–the tradition of dissent, the value placed on inventiveness and adaptation, the concept of citizenship–which have consistently produced superior arms and soldiers. Offering riveting battle narratives and a balanced perspective that avoids simple triumphalism, Carnage and Culture demonstrates how armies cannot be separated from the cultures that produce them and explains why an army produced by a free culture will always have the advantage.
Download Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power epub
ISBN: 0385720386
ISBN13: 978-0385720380
Category: Politics
Subcategory: Politics & Government
Author: Victor D. Hanson
Language: English
Publisher: Anchor (August 28, 2002)
Pages: 544 pages
ePUB size: 1373 kb
FB2 size: 1670 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 588
Other Formats: azw rtf mbr docx

I have been reading VDH political opinions for years and listen to him on talk radio whenever I can. I think he has an awesome intellect and his views on the current political issues match up with mine. So not surprisingly I thought this book was a well written, well argued and engaging text about the western way of waging war, what has made western armed forces generally more successful when engaging in military actions against other cultures. He highlights 10 decisive battles in which in most cases, although outnumbered, on foreign ground with extended supply lines, western expeditionary forces from Alexander the Great to the British in South Africa to Cortez in Mexico were able to successfully rout the enemy.

The standard answer for why the western way of war is so lethal and in the most part triumphant against other cultures is "superior technology". VDH digs deeper than that offering up the western liberal ethos of political freedoms, capitalism, individuality etc as underlying factors in western military campaigns.
Hanson is at once one of our most learned historians of world conflict and also one of its sharpest writers on its many small conflicts. This equips him well to address their meaning and significance. Those who flinch at the very idea of American (or most to the point Western) exceptionalism, will find their views powerfully challenged in Mr. Hanson's pages. The most fragile among them may find his book akin to a "trigger," for the delicate sensibilities of cultural relativists, who tend to be innocent of the experience of actual armed conflict, aren't prepared either to tender or critically evaluate claims that a nation's record in war, its military history, can be any kind of proxy for that nation's cultural merit. But that's what Hanson attempts here. That attempt is audacious -- and also successful. By surveying battles from Salamis to Tet, with a stopover in the Zulu War and WWII's Battle of Midway, Hanson makes a convincing case that cultural norms such as consensual government, personal freedom, and independent intellectual inquiry, as they relate to a nation's ability to innovate, pay a dividend in history's vast colosseum of warfare. The results stand as a verdict on the merits of a culture. As technologized style of warfare becomes more deadly, the threat Hanson sees as most dangerous is not the primitive reprobates of ISIS blowing up cafes, but a wider war between powerful Western nations. Short of that, if our "rationalist tradition" can hold a peace (in the larger picture), we can hope that Western nations' talent for war will serve civilization rather than endanger it.

On the whole an thoughtful, stimulating, eye-opening, conversation-starting book.
During the past six months, I have read two of VDH books and watched several of his appearances on Youtube. I have also read several of his shorter pieces on US politics, International Relations and Global Security.

My background in the study of history and warfare is modest at best. However, many of his arguments and insights appear reasonable. They also cast an optimistic light on the future of the West, capitalism and republican democracies.

The book "Carnage and Culture" is an excellent primer on conflicts. I highly recommend this book, in particular for it's analysis of "what the past can teach us". As I interpret it, for VDH the study of History is not only an end in itself, but can teach us much about the challenges we face today. There are similarities between conflicts in Greece and ancient Rome, and those faced today by the US in the Middle East.

As an Argentine citizen, It was interesting to read (short) comments on the Falklands (Malvinas) 1982 conflict. VDH thesis on the superiority of the "West" (Great Britain) over Argentina appears validated on some (but not all) counts:

(1) Superior fighting skills of a democracy over a "dictatorship" (military government)

(2) The idea that "non-West" (¿¿Argentina??) combatants emphasize excellence in "single combat": this is probably validated by the substantial damage caused by Argentina Air Force and Naval pilots to GB fleet. This last point is not mentioned by VDH but I bring it to the attention of readers.

(3) The miscalculation of the Military Junta on GB reaction possibly a consequence of the junta not understanding GB tradition in the "Western" way of war, as opposed to procrastination, negotiation, etc.The sinking of the ARA Belgrano in effect closed all negotiations, and resulted in a head to head battle.

(4) Classical infantry approach to battle in Goose Green, Mount Longdon, Two Sister and Tumbledown, reminiscent of infantry battles of olden times.

(5) Reading Argentine accounts of land battles, I find some support for VDH idea that free exchange of ideas in military forces of consensual governments contribute to success -- in some cases Argentine junior officers voice objections to strict "top down" command from higher-ups.

However, I have some objections on VDH claim that Argentina had important advantages over GB, advantages that GB superior military skills were able to overcome:

(1) The Malvinas are closer to Argentina than to GB, OK. But this not mean that Argentina had air superiority. On the contrary, Argentine planes flying from the continent had only minutes of autonomy over the islands. This was not the case for carrier-based Harrier jets.

(2) GB received support from the US (last generation Sidewinder missiles, satelite intelligence). GB also receive substantiaal support from Chile (intelligence). Argentina had to hold in reserve in the Argentine-Chile border troops well adapted to cold weather.

(3) From the sinking of the Belgrano onwards, the islands were effectively isolated: nuclear submarine made sea transport impossible. Supplies were carried with extreme difficulty, and in minuscule amounts by air. The Goose Greene garrison did not have 120 mm heavy mortars or field artillery. Several army contingents (such as the one in Gran Malvina) were in danger of running out of food (short rations resulted in "survival" mode, many of the troops losing significant weight).

Summarizing, I am not sure whether "military excellence" per se was the defining factor in land battles, or a combination of excellence (professional soldiers of a First World NATO country vs conscript army of a less-developed economy), as well as considerably more abundant resources + help from US and Chile.

Having said that, VDH book clearly illustrates the nature of war, and in the case of Malvinas is useful for understanding why what happened happened.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A captivating way to propose and defend the theory that culture plays a large part in the successes of the Western armies over the past few millennium. Each chapter is sort of a case study that progresses the theory from the Greeks war with the Persians up to modern-day wars.

The only complaint was the over-sensitive parts that had the author apparently frantic to deny he was being racist. Some of these went on for pages and it was basically him saying the same thing over and over again: there is no inherently superior qualities between people of different races, but the Western military power is in fact due to it's culture and the roots that culture came from. If I thought the book was racist I would have decided that in the first part of the book and stopped reading. After that, it should be understood that I accept his argument and don't need to be reminded of it each time he compares Western warfare to anything other style.

Other than that recurring hiccup that had me struggling through tens of pages at a time, it was a great book and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in military history.