A new and revised edition of Dyer’s classic book, widely regarded as one of the most compelling analyses of the history of armed conflict.
“War is part of our history, but it is not in at all the same sense part of our prehistory. It is one of the innovations that occurred between nine and eleven thousand years ago when the first civilized societies were coming into being. What has been invented can be changed; war is not in our genes.”
With this provocative statement, Gwynne Dyer launches his brilliant discussion of the history and nature of war. He traces the growth of organized warfare through history, showing conclusively that the basic tenet has remained unchanged — war is an act of mass violence applied against an enemy so that he will do what you want him to do. The only real change has been technological, permitting us to make war on a mass scale.
At the height of the Cold War, just such a global conflagration seemed almost inevitable. But the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the ensuing political changes have forced a re-examination of the accepted fundamentals of history. Will open access to the channels of mass communication create enough shared values that we can move beyond mass warfare? Is the threat of terrorism a red herring designed to preserve the military status quo? Are our traditional military and administrative hierarchical structures still relevant?
Now, more than ever in our post–September 11 world, we need Gwynne Dyer’s expertise to understand the greatest and most human drama — the act of war.
Excerpt from War
The Siamese twins, army and state, have never been separated since they were born some eight or nine thousand years ago — and most of the time the state is the stronger of the twins. Armies exist to serve the interests of the state that owns them and their legitimacy comes solely from the fact that they belong to states; similar groups of armed men, if self-employed, are generally known as rebels or bandits. This is the context in which warfare, as opposed to casual and illegitimate violence, must be seen: it is something states do, and have always done, because they believe it serves their interest.
A chronicle of organized human aggression gets a timely update in this new edition of a seminal book originally published 20 years ago. As Dyer covers the history of human warfare-from primitive tribal skirmishes and the "total war" of WWI and II to the imbroglios of the past 30 years (including the current one in Iraq)-a sense of cyclical inexorability begins to creep in, of history repeating itself again and again. One is struck by the notion that the only changes in the historical narrative of humans at war are new strategies necessitated by new, and exponentially more deadly, technologies. Implicit in Dyer's argument is the idea that, in war, humans have become increasingly subjugated to the increasingly awesome power of their machines, so that the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War becomes a logical extension of the deadlock of WWI trench warfare. Dyer is an accomplished military historian who bolsters his extensive knowledge with a rhetorical style that is at once invisible and entirely convincing. Structurally, the book accordions in and out from the psychology of individual soldiers, to the workings of whole armies, to broader historical movements and how they change (and stay the same) through time. It is a powerful effect, and one that ultimately makes this book at once a valuable historical treatise and a fervent and compelling call toward pacifism.
Customer ReviewsSee All
A remarkably interesting book, well researched, thoughtfully presented. Dyer's knowledge of Cold War policy development shows how close we were to Armageddon. He was still able to end on a hopeful note