A noted student of ancient warfare considers the long-term effects of three battles on the Western world.
A battle, writes classicist Hanson (An Autumn of War, 2002, etc.), “is not merely a logical continuance of politics, but an abnormal event in which thousands of warriors . . . attempt to kill each other for a few hours, a dramatic and strange experience bound to change their lives and the fate of their families and friends for centuries thereafter.” And so it does. One of his cases in point is the Civil War battle of Shiloh, when generals and privates alike learned the folly of charging in formation against enemies tucked away behind rocks and trees—and from which William Tecumseh Sherman developed the doctrine of total warfare on the enemy’s economic base, a program followed by many generals since. Another is the Battle of Okinawa, when a massive American armada assembled to crush Japanese resistance close to home; Hanson likens the kamikaze pilots who flew their aircraft into American ships to the hijackers of September 11, 2001, all “fighters who deliberately seek death in battle,” though he points to important differences between the two groups. Hanson’s third case is the disastrous Battle of Delium, when, in 424 b.c., Athens was bested by the rustic Thebans in a savage slaughter that, he argues, had important effects on both Western thought (inasmuch as Socrates was a survivor) and military culture. Davis considers all three battles at leisure, and the lessons he draws from them will be of much interest to students of warfare. Only the last chapter, which revisits recent events in the light of the past, and which takes unnecessary jabs at the cultural relativists who supposedly allowed the disaster of September 11, seems rushed and undercooked.
Overall, though, a worthy—and timely—outing in military history.