ACTS OF WAR: The Behavior of Men in Battle by Richard Holmes

ACTS OF WAR: The Behavior of Men in Battle

Email this review


Warfare from the point of view of the officers and enlisted men whose ""blood, sweat and tears"" have stained battlefields from Thermopylae to the Falkland Islands. Holmes, the Senior Lecturer at England's Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, investigates the courage and cowardice, the loyalties and resentments, the excitement and boredom, the religious consolations and deep-seated fears that sustain or cripple men in combat. This comprehensive study, the first of its kind, is an impressive personal document, too, recounting wartime experiences that are alternately moving and infuriating, shocking and uplifting. In putting his book together, Holmes interviewed veterans of both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands and the Arab-Israeli conflicts. Their firsthand reminiscences reveal both the similarities and differences that have marked 20th-century attitudes toward warfare. The author also re-creates the more distant past by examining an extraordinary mass of military memoirs. Caesar and Clausewitz, Xenephon and Wellington, Frederick the Great and Marshal de MacMahon are all cited, commenting on their careers and their beliefs. Many of the most affecting passages, however, are drawn from the diaries and letters of lesser-known warriors--French poilus, German artillerymen, Israeli tank drivers, RAF bombardiers, American Gl's. Holmes' text traces the military experience from the ritual of induction, through the hardening processes of basic training, the fostering of loyalty to units and superior officers, the traumas and satisfactions of combat, and finally the problems of readjustment to peacetime. Along the way, such topics as male bonding, discipline, perceptions of the enemy, drug use, mutiny, fatalism, hysteria, atrocities and decorations are dissected. In this wide-ranging fashion, Holmes is able to encompass the contradictions that have always seemed to exist under the sign of Mars--why in battle, for example, some find manhood; others, madness. Neither a pacifist polemic nor a Rambo-esque celebration of violence, this is an unflinching look at the human face of war.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan