The Grand Decider

The Warrior Queens

by Antonia Fraser
Knopf, 383 pp., $22.95

A Country Made by War: From the Revolution to Vietnam
The Story of America's Rise to Power

by Geoffrey Perret
Random House, 629 pp., $22.50

The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home
From Valley Forge to Vietnam

by Richard Severo and Lewis Milford
Simon and Schuster, 495 pp., $21.95

Technology and War: From 2000 BC to the Present

by Martin van Creveld
Macmillan/Free Press, 342 pp., $22.95

The Price of Admiralty: The Evolution of Naval Warfare

by John Keegan
Viking, 292 pp., $21.95

War: Ends and Means

by Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla
Basic Books, 306 pp., $19.95

The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon

by Robert Jervis
Cornell University Press, 266 pp., $21.95

In Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare and John Fletcher apostrophized war as the

… great corrector of enormous times,
Shaker of o’er-rank states, thou grand decider
Of dusty and old titles, that heal’st with blood
The earth when it is sick, and cur’st the world
O’th’ plurisy of people!

The view of the clash of arms as the regulator of human affairs, the legitimate arbiter of conflicting state interest, and the instrument for eliminating the decadent, the feeble, and the corrupt influenced thinking about war from classical times until the First World War. In their widely separated times, both Polybius and Machiavelli drew from their recognition of the power of war to humble great states lessons of vigilance and military readiness that they preached to their readers. Advocates of empire from Cortez to Cecil Rhodes found in the superiority of their weapons a sufficient justification of their conquests; and moralists found in the rigors and sacrifice that war demanded a cure for the lethargy and flabbiness induced by peace. Tennyson welcomed the Crimean War because it ended a period in which “Britain’s one sole God [was] the millionaire” and wrote,

No more shall commerce be all in all, and Peace
Pipe on her pastoral hillock a languid note,
And watch her harvest ripen, her herd increase,
Nor the cannon-bullet rust on a slothful shore.
For the peace, that I deem’d no peace, is over and done,
And now by the side of the Black and the Baltic deep,
And deathful-grinning mouths of the fortress, flames
The blood-red blossom of war with a heart of fire.1

In 1914, when war burst upon Europe, there were many people who felt that, in Ernst Gläser’s words, “this was the providential lightning flash that would clear the air…. The war would cleanse mankind from all its impurities.”2

There was always, however, beneath the acceptance of war and the enthusiasm that if often inspired, a sense of disquiet, if not of dread. Clausewitz was not the first writer to recognize the danger of war bursting all human restraints and assuming its absolute form. Centuries before the German theorist had studied the explosive potential of Napoleonic warfare, the poet Virgil, an observer of the savage civil conflict of his time, wrote fearfully of how

here Germany, there Euphrates, awakes war; neighbor cities break the leagues that bound them and draw the sword; throughout the world rages the god of unholy strife; even as when from the barriers the chariots stream forth, round and round they speed, and the driver, tugging vainly at the reins, is borne along, and the car heeds not the curb! 3

During the last years of the First World War, reflective persons began to fear that a continuation of the conflict would destroy European civilization irretrievably, and the former British foreign secretary, the Earl of Lansdowne, and the German historian of…

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