How would the world be different if certain critical battles had gone the other way? Two top military historians offer answers.
Institute of Defense Analyses consultants and lecturers Lacey (The First Clash: The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and Its Impact on Western Civilization, 2011, etc.) and Murray (Strategic Challenges for Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terrorism, 2012, etc.) are not interested in rehashing Agincourt, Waterloo or Gettysburg. Instead, they choose battles that, they write, made a decisive difference in history. Instead of close analysis of tactics, they look at what effect they had on creating our modern world. Most of their choices are hard to argue with: An Athenian loss to Persia at Marathon would likely have cut off what we think of as Greek civilization almost at its start. Likewise, it’s hard to deny that modern European history would be vastly different without the Norman victory at Hastings. Some of the authors’ other choices are more obscure; few except specialists are likely to know about Yarmuk, the first great victory of Muslim soldiers against Europeans. Breitenfeld, a battle of the Thirty Years War in which Gustavus Adolphus’ new methods of military organization routed superior numbers under the banner of the Holy Roman Empire, may be even less familiar. Lacey and Murray sometimes take a contrarian tack—e.g., their argument that Benedict Arnold was the best American commander of the Revolutionary War. More often, the authors take a conventional view, praising Grant’s generalship or criticizing the Allied commanders during the early stages of World War I. They also tend to criticize the decision-making of the losing generals, as in the Battle of Britain, where a German decision to stop bombing airfields allowed the RAF to continue the battle and eventually prevail. The final chapter, on the American victory in Iraq in 2003, predicts that it, too, will make a major historical difference, once its impact is fully known.
Will open interesting doors for casual readers and provide plenty of debate fodder for military-history buffs.