16 April 2008

So I just last week finished John Keegan's The Face of Battle. It was a fascinating read, examining what combat was like in three key eras, that of medieval warfare, as shown in the Battle of Agincourt, as well as gunpowder warfare, demonstrated with the Battle of Waterloo, and modern mechanized warfare, examined through the Battle of the Somme from World War One.

One of the things that I found interesting is the fact that warfare, even spanning a time frame of 500 years, has not changed much. Modern technology has obviously added complexities and variations, but the simple fact remains that humans behave basically the same way, with the same motivations, desires, and actions in combat as we had even in medieval times.

Another idea Keegan suggests is actually an optimistic, even hopeful outlook on future combat, and by implication, future war. Given the technological advancement of war fighting, Keegan suggests that simply the pace of future combat, it's nature and duration, may neutralize armies before they even meet on the battlefield. This book was first published in 1976, so we now have over thirty years worth of case studies to examine this suggestion. I find it interesting that there are historical trends which lend support to this idea. Gone are the days of massive infantry formations charging in a large frontal assault, or vast armadas of tanks and other mechanized war vehicles crushing all opposition in their path. Advances in technology are widely responsible for our return to smaller groups of well-trained soldiers accomplishing limited objectives with limited casualties.

A very interesting book, with wonderful insights for anyone who is interested in studying military history. As a matter of fact, this book would probably be good for anyone even remotely interested in foreign relations.

For my next book, I have chosen Karen Armstrong's A History of God.

I am super psyched about it too.

"Yet my study of the history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the same time as they created works of art. This was not simply because they wanted to propitiate powerful forces; these early faiths expressed the wonder and the mystery that seem always to have been an essential component of the human experience of this beautiful yet terrifying world. Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to. Like any other human activity, religion can be abused, but it seems to have been something that we have always done. It was not tacked on to a primordially secular nature by manipulative kings and priests but was natural to humanity. Indeed, our current secularism is an entirely new experiment, unprecedented in human history."

And that's just from the introduction! What do the rest of the 399 pages have in store?


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