Book Review: Warfare and Culture in World History


by Wayne E. Lee, editor

New York: New York University Press, 2011. Pp. viii, 232. Maps, notes, index. $89.00. ISBN: 0814752772

The Interrelationships of Culture and War

Prof. Lee (Chapel Hill) and a number of other distinguished historians, among them John A. Lynn II and Mark Grimsley, give us nine essays on the ways in which culture and warfare have interrelated across the ages. The work opens with an introductory essay on them, which is followed by eight case studies which examine the various ways in which culture has influenced warmaking during specific conflicts from ancient Assyria through the present “war on terror.”

  • “The Last Campaign” addresses the fall of the Assyrian Empire from seemingly supreme power in 620 BC to dissolution by 609 BC, an outcome strongly dictated by the Assyrian “culture” of victory engendered by several hundred years of virtual immunity from invasion.

  • “Disciplining Octavian” discusses the cultural influences that shaped the rise of 19-year old Octavian into the supreme ruler of the Roman world against such older, more experienced and seemingly capable opponets as Cassius, Brutus, and Marc Antony.

  • “Of Bureaucrats and Bandits” examines how “office politics” helped bring about the fall of Tang China.

  • “The Battle Culture of Forebearance” explains the cultural influences Western Europe’s “limited” approach to warfare from the late seventeenth through most of the eighteenth centuries

  • “Success and Failure in Civil War Armies” discusses the influence of an inherent “civlianism” of Civil War soldiers, officers and even generals on the conduct of operations

  • “German Military Culture and the Colonial War in Southwest Africa” considers how German military culture affected, and was affecgted by the war the the Herero and Nama in what is now Namibia, which ended in a genocidal bloodbath.

  • “Connecting Culture and the Battlefield” examines the influence of British and Commonwealth military operations on the Western Front in the final hundred days of the Great War helped shape Imperial and Commonwealth identities.
  • “The American Culture of War in the Age of Artificial Limited War” takes a look at America’s seeming inability to understand the concept of “limited war”.

While not necessarily for the armchair historian, anyone trying to understand the nature of war and how culture influences and is influenced by war will find this useful reading.

Note: Warfare and Culture in World History is also available in paperback, $25.00, 978-0-8147-5278-4, and several e-editions

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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