Top critical review
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Interesting, but fundamentally flawed.
on 7 August 2008
This book is not a history of warfare at all, but a political-military treatise, heavily biased to a single point of view. However, it is an interesting read and also thought-provoking - so I gave it 2-stars.
Keegan makes a range of claims in this book which are fundamentally incorrect. Three such lines of argument are discussed below, but there are many others and I wonder if Keegan has even misinterpreted some of the 'facts' he suggests about tribal warfare in South America.
1. He claims that there is no Clausewitzian way of interpreting, or applying, nuclear force. Nuclear force is applied to give weight to political and military bargaining. The threat of use provides its power. In the case of the Cold War, the East-West military balance in Germany was primarily ensured through the West's nuclear armament offsetting the East's conventional armament. The lack of use of a weapon does not make it irrelevant.
2. He over-simplifies the role of the castle. He contends that the use of gunpowder made the castle obsolete. This is again incorrect. The castle approach may be no substitute for mobility, but the principle has been applied widely (if poorly), even in the 20th Century. Further, his claim that it was impossible to take a castle prior to the arrival of the cannon is also flawed - as history shows a range of methods which were applied successfully (such as at the successful seige of the 'impenetrable' Rochester castle in 1215).
3. He denegrates the role of citizen armies. This flies in the face of 20th Century and 21st Century history and is, quite frankly, dangerous. The proof of history is that citizen armies are vastly more trustworthy and loyal to their homeland than their alternatives.
This book is very anti-Clausewitz, which is not helpful at all. I suspect that it was Keegan's intention to make an impact by attacking a giant of the genre. This is rather like the Clausewitz vs. Sun Tzu debate - which I also find counter-productive.
A true premier work on this subject would be one which could take existing theories and meld them into something new. This book neither attempts nor succeeds in doing any such thing. One for the vaults...