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 war Hans Delbrück each launched a private campaign—vainly as it turned out—to persuade his government to seek negotiations for peace. During the second global conflict, such fears were given new credibility, and the prospect was opened of war the great regulator curing the pleurisy of people by eliminating humankind completely.

In these circumstances, does it make sense any longer to talk about the art of war or about war as an instrument of policy? This is a question that hangs over much of the recent literature about military affairs, so that not even purely historical studies are entirely free from reflection upon it. Thus John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, which deals with the experience of the ordinary fighting man at Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, ends with the words: “The suspicion grows that battle has already abolished itself.”4 It is perhaps indicative of a pervasive feeling that war has passed beyond human control that studies of leadership, a subject to which Clausewitz devoted one of the most brilliant chapters in his treatise On War, are not as numerous as they once were, and that the Delbrückian tradition of writing about war in the frame of political history, the predominant theme of such distinguished modern historians of war as Gerhard Ritter, Sir Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, seems to be losing its primacy to studies of the institutional nature of armies, their social composition, and their role in society.

Even more modish are studies of war and technology, a favorite theme of which is the preemption of the human function by the weapons themselves. Nor is it surprising that not only has the coming of the nuclear age engendered a plethora of studies of the practicality of war under modern conditions, of nuclear strategies and deterrence and escalation, but that there has been a new interest in the ethics and morality of resort to nuclear weapons in time of war. The books under review here reflect all of these tendencies.


Antonia Fraser’s The Warrior Queens is perhaps an exception, for it deals with leadership, although of a special kind. Fraser is concerned with those women who have intermittently in the course of history risen to a position in which they combined both elements of rule and martial leadership. Her exemplar and the center of her book is Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, a British tribe that occupied territories in what are now Norfolk and northern Suffolk in the first century AD, who, when Roman authorities brutalized her and her two daughters after her husband’s death, led the tribe in revolt, sacked the towns of Camulodunum (Colchester) Londiniuin (London), and Verulamium (St. Albans), and shook the whole structure of Roman rule in Britain before her undisciplined hordes were caught and forced to battle by the legions of Suetonius Paulinus, and fled, after suffering losses that Tacitus estimated at 80,000 dead. Boadicea’s eastern counterpart was Zenobia, third-century queen of Palmyra, also a widow and a rebel against Rome, whose generals captured Egypt, Syria, and much of Asia Minor before they were defeated by the armies of Emperor Aurelian and their queen taken back to Rome as a captive.

Other warrior queens who engage Fraser’s attention are Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, a doughty fighter for the cause of Pope Gregory VII in his struggle with Emperor Henry IV (the famous submission at Canossa took place on her territory); the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I of England and unsuccessful contender for the English crown; Tamara, twelfth-century queen of the Caucasian kingdom of Georgia; Isabella of Castile; Elizabeth of England; Jinga Mbandi, who at the turn of the seventeenth century fought with the Portuguese for control of what is now Angola. Finally Fraser deals with three illustrious eighteenth-century rulers—Catherine the Great, Maria Theresa, and Queen Louise of Prussia—the Rani of Jhansi, who lost her life leading her troops in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and a trio of what she calls “iron ladies” from our own time, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Mrs. Thatcher.

Even in the case of those members of this company who exercised effective command of troops, and not all of them did, Fraser has little to say about their military talents, the qualities of determination and patience and presence of mind in the realm of uncertainty, the lightning look that sees opportunities and the energy and will to exploit them that Clausewitz defines as military genius. She is interested rather in what can be called the numinous qualities of her heroines, their ability when they appear before their followers in martial dress to inspire them with feelings of awe or horror or ecstasy, and to suggest a relationship with ancient deities and figures of myth—with the female High Ones celebrated in the epics, with the Amazon queens Hippolyta and Penthesilea, and with Camilla of the Volscians. It is not, indeed, by chance that so many of them exploited such images. Eleanor of Aquitaine rode on a white horse before the crowds at Vézelay in 1146, when the proclamation of the Second Crusade was read, dressed in imitation of Penthesilea, with buskins on her feet and plumes in her hair. Louise of Prussia symbolized patriotic opposition to French domination in 1806 by appearing before her cheering regiments, as Napoleon sneered, “dressed like an Amazon.”

These associations were not the only sources of their fascination, and Fraser shows how their authority also rested on their ability to inspire among their rough soldiery feelings of chivalric devotion, of protectiveness, of shame at being outdone by a mere woman, and of sexual fantasy. The note struck by Elizabeth at Tilbury at the time of the Armada (“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King”) was identical with that sounded by Maria Theresa after Frederick II’s attack upon Silesia and had the same effect. Catherine of Russia, a woman notorious for her wantonness, could assume the role of little mother of her armies without any loss of credibility; indeed, the very ambivalence heightened the effect. Camilla’s chastity doubtless impressed Aeneas’s troops and made them reluctant to aim their javelins at her, but the unnatural lusts attributed to Queen Jinga probably had a similar demobilizing effect upon her enemies. The most successful warrior queens were always the ones who knew how to exploit the biological difference.

About the contemporary period and its problems Fraser does not have much to say, except to suggest that if, as John Keegan has suggested in his The Mask of Command,5 the nuclear age requires a new kind of leadership, then “women might now make more suitable leaders (being strong enough not to press the button).” This might be more plausible if her three “iron ladies” were not known to have had such very short fuses and if Britain’s modern Boadicea had not plunged so enthusiastically into a war that escaped disaster by the slenderest of margins.


Charismatic leadership does not have much place in Geoffrey Perret’s book, which is concerned with military institutions in their social setting. On one level, the author has provided us with what he modestly calls “a military history, resounding to the sound of drum and trumpet”—a workmanlike and highly readable account of America’s war and military engagements from Concord Bridge to the fall of Saigon, with major emphasis upon the principal conflicts but not excluding appropriate attention to the Navy’s attacks on the Algerian pirates, the Indian and Mexican wars, and the Philippine insurrection. Of the last of these he notes that it divided America more than any other conflict between Appomattox and Vietnam, that nearly every combat group and the whole of the officer corps saw service in the Philippines, and that for this reason it was a school of application that trained the Army for its future tasks.

Despite his attention to the purely military aspects of his story, Perret emphasizes the ways American military institutions reflect national prejudices and cultural traits and the manner in which the wars themselves have changed aspects of American life, in small and big ways. Of the war against Mexico, he writes that it

introduced American soldiers to the moustache, the cigaritto and chewing gum. It was the first steamboat war, the first telegraph war, and it saw the first widespread use of anesthetics, thanks to army doctors. And a new brand of scribbler emerged from the conflict, the modern war correspondent, sending eyewitness dispatches from the front lines by wire.

This is a theme to which he returns at the book’s end, when he writes that

the average American cannot move without bumping into the country’s military past. Take a man reading this book. If he is sitting down, he is probably sitting on a wallet, with greenbacks in it—a memento of the Civil War…. The wristwatch he wears was popularized among American men by the army in World War One. The standardized tests he took in high school and college have the same provenance. The title deeds to his house and car were issued by state governments whose authority is in every case traceable to victory by American forces in some war. If he has a computer, he has a direct link with World War II…. When he pays his taxes a large slice of what he hands over will go to defray the cost of wars long concluded.

In generalizing about the success of American arms, Perret argues that it is owing to unique faith in three things: education, firepower, and what he calls the dual technology, that which serves the military but contributes equally to the development of the national economy. Even if this is true, it is questionable that there is anything characteristically American about this, and it would be difficult to deny that it applies equally to the history of the Prussian-German army. But is it true? It is worth noting that, while the number of American military officers holding Ph.D.s and M.A.s is impressive, there has been a precipitous falling off in the educational level of the rank and file; that faith in firepower is balanced by a preference for having it used by machines (Perret notes that in World War II “the biggest problem American officers encountered in the field was getting their men to fire at other human beings”); and that the theory of the dual technology no longer works in a time when the national economy is suffering from the excessive amount of research and development resources that are poured into weapons research.

Perret is aware that things are not going well with the military establishment and that its performance has declined steadily since the Korean conflict. He has hard things to say about the conduct of the Vietnam War and dismisses Grenada with an embarrassed shrug, noting caustically that more medals were awarded for the operation than there were troops on the island. But he insists that there is a reciprocal relationship between the performance of the military and the nature of the culture that supports it, and that things are sure to go wrong when society seems to lose interest in anything except money and material possessions. “In a free country,” he writes, “the military cannot perform well, no matter how much is spent on it, when government, the banks, the big corporations, the schools, the colleges, the courts, the police and the media perform badly.”

The defensive tone sounded here is doubtless caused by a spate of recent books criticizing the military establishment for inefficient performance, not least of all in its economic administration. Perret does not try to minimize this, remarking that “there is never a shortage of procurement idiocy and profligacy.” He might have added that the United States on the whole has been remarkably tolerant of this failing, while often refusing to match its generosity to military contractors with a similar regard for the well-being of those who fought its wars. In The Wages of War, Richard Severo and Lewis Milford document this niggardliness. It may perhaps be claimed that they are biased in their approach, since Mr. Milford was for five years a lawyer for the National Veterans Law Center and represented Vietnam veterans in federal court and before Congress on many issues, including that of Agent Orange, and Mr. Severo, a veteran newspaperman with a strong interest in scientific and environmental issues, also won recognition for his coverage of the Agent Orange affair.

If their book resembles a brief, however, it is a powerful one, and its thesis—that, from the time of the American Revolution to our own days, American veterans have had to struggle against unsympathetic state governments and federal agencies and a largely indifferent public opinion for the recognition of their rights or the satisfaction of their grievances—is well documented. The authors begin with the Shays’s rebellion, a muddled rising of protest against farm foreclosures and inequitable taxation in 1786 in Massachusetts, led by a former captain who had served with gallantry at Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and Stony Point, where his valor won him an ornamental sword from Lafayette, which, however, he sold because he needed the money; and it ends with an account of the Agent Orange affair, in which the claims of veterans whose lives had been endangered by that substance were in the end worn away by the evasive tactics of the federal bureaucracy.

In between, there is much that makes for painful reading—about the scandalous mistreatment of fever-stricken veterans of the war in Cuba, who were quarantined in a camp in Montauk that did not even have a reliable water supply, let alone competent medical care; about the discrimination against women in both world wars and the denial to them of veterans’ privileges until 1977 (too late for the benefits of the GI Bill); about the inveterate prejudice against black troops; about the blanket accusations of collaboration with the enemy that were made against soldiers who were imprisoned and tortured during the Korean War; about the mistreatment of returning Vietnam veterans. Except in the Vietnam case, not much has been said about all of this. As the authors write in their conclusion:

The problems that veterans have faced after most wars have been largely ignored by most political and social histories. When veterans in postwar periods are mentioned, it is usually in terms of their “readjustment,” a bureaucratic word that apparently refers to their capacity not to ask anybody for anything.


In his discussion of the discontents of the most recent period of military history, Perret touches upon the American approach to the management style of war, which he intimates was notoriously unsuccessful in its application in Vietnam, but he neither defines it nor investigates its origins and development. Martin van Creveld makes good this deficit in his brilliant short history of technology and war in which he points out that the military managers of our time were in some sense produced by technical breakthroughs that lie as far back in time as the invention of paper, printing, cartography, and timepieces, as well as of the coming of gunpowder and the reciprocal development of ordnance and fortification, all of which promoted military professionalism and began the division between the fighting man and the specialist. The improvement of communications, which made the employment and movement of large armies possible but complicated the tasks of mobilization and supply, requiring precise and articulated logistical and strategic plans, accelerated the process. Even in the nineteenth century, an increasing number of officers found it advantageous to acquire specialized education and expert training in such fields as engineering and business administration, and by the mid-twentieth century, van Creveld writes, “perhaps the majority of commanders actually became almost identical with engineers and managers.”

The dangers of this convergence were apparent as early as 1914. If the telegraph and the railway had pretty well turned war into a question of managing complex systems, efficiency and safety seemed to require a high degree of correlation between one’s own systems and those of the enemy and a calibration of responses to their impulses. This was justified in the name of exercising better control but in actuality encouraged a dangerous degree of automaticism. The fateful sequence of mobilization orders that drew all Europe into war in 1914 is a case in point. That did not discourage the drive for more elaborate systems. Indeed, the two world wars of this century seemed proof that the most efficient nations of the future would be those that could devise systems that would embrace and integrate the whole of society for the purpose of waging war, a process that, if achieved, would, of course, have eliminated politics as a controlling factor. We have perhaps been saved from this by the manifest inefficiency of the “systems approach” in Vietnam, where the military’s love affair with the computer (which van Creveld explains by the appeal of binary on-off logic to the military mind, adding that if computers could only stand to attention and salute, they would make ideal soldiers) backfired. This was largely because of the tendency of computer-based quantitative analysis to disregard everything that cannot be quantified.

Technology is perhaps best understood, van Creveld notes in a fine passage,

as an abstract system of knowledge, an attitude toward life and a method for solving its problems. There is no doubt that, just as the earliest Stone Age civilizations already had a technology of sorts, the conduct of war has always involved the use of technical devices. However, the idea that war is primarily a question of technology and so ought to be waged by technicians, that it should employ technologically-derived methods, and must seek victory by acquiring and maintaining technological superiority—that idea [is] neither selfevident, nor necessarily correct.

The coming of the nuclear age and the modern fascination for advanced technology has made us forget that, while the logic of technology is linear, the logic of war is paradoxical. Vietnam and Afghanistan have already demonstrated that the realitites that lie below the level of high technological sophistication can defeat the most foolproof systems. With his mind obviously on guerrilla warfare and terrorism, van Creveld writes:

Let him who has ears to listen, listen: the call Lucifer ante portas already reverberates, and new forms of warfare are threatening to put an end to our delicate civilization.

If van Creveld concentrates on the systematization of war and its increasing remoteness from realities, Robert L. O’Connell is more interested in weapons and their development, and he starts by reminding us that there were weapons before there was war. They were developed in the first instance for use in hunting game rather than against other human beings, a fact that seems to have lodged itself deep in the human consciousness, so that long after war came to dominate human affairs there was a tendency to ritualize it as far as possible (as in the age of chivalry and in the eighteenth century, and even in the nuclear age, where the challenges and responses are often symbolically menacing) and a preference for reserving real violence for wars against inferior peoples. Even so, large animals could best be killed by hunters working as groups, and in this practice the roots of military organization are to be found, and once tribes settled down as agricultural communities they found group action useful for self-defense and for expanding their holdings. Even before this, the throwing stick, the harpoon, the sling, and the bow had made their appearance. Indeed, all of the major implements of war used prior to the invention of firearms, except the sword and body armor, which required metal, and the crossbow, were available before the age of hunting and gathering came to an end.

The subsequent evolution of weapons was as much a matter of culture as of technical invention, and despite their effectiveness certain weapons acquired a stigma that forbade their use. Thus the Homeric model of warfare, which persisted for centuries in human memory, made the bow a dishonorable weapon because it had been used by Paris of Troy. This may account for the fact that in 53 BC, when M. Licinius Crassus crossed the Euphrates on a punitive expedition against the Parthians, he had no archers in his army, and the Parthian mounted bowmen killed all but 10,000 of his force of 43,000 men. At a later date, the effectiveness of the crossbow was so repugnant that it was effectively banned from use in armies by papal decree.

In general, O’Connell argues, military men have not liked revolutionary break-throughs in weaponry, preferring their evolutionary development within stable functional categories, and he suggests that this enables them to be fitted into the cultural tradition without one’s having to justify their use or to answer awkward moral questions. This continued to be true after the coming of fire power, and it is interesting to note, for example, that there was relatively little development in basic weapons between the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 and the middle of the nineteenth century, a period of effective arms control, even if passively administered.

The tumultuous development that began after the latter date may have been accelerated by the spirit of the new age, one of intensive nationalism and imperialism and interstate friction, in which the last remnants of the ancient antipathy against the killing of one’s own kind—what O’Connell calls intraspecific warfare—may have disappeared. In any event, it was now that “technology laid its hands on the affairs of men, and its grip was like a vice.” It was now that “in their prodigious capacity to kill, weapons gradually took control of events.” Military planners, unable to control the proliferation of new weapons, took refuge in symmetry and counting, demanding that their governments provide them with weapons as destructive as those of their potential antagonists and in the same or, if possible, greater numbers, a practice they continue today. Politicians, terrorized by prevalent jingoism, gave them what they wanted. Back in the fifteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci had filled his notebooks with sketches of fantastic weapons like undersea boats and mortars and armored vehicles and winged chariots and Gatling-like guns, “a Renaissance version,” O’Connell writes, “of the slick ‘wish lists’ our own military establishment periodically floats through Congress.” By 1914 all of those weapons were in the arsenals of the major powers, ready to contribute to the bloodletting that has characterized the subsequent period.

O’Connell’s book, with its implicit argument that cultural restraints upon the development of the instruments of war are effective only intermittently and imperfectly, is as somber as it is informative, and it is almost a relief to turn to John Keegan’s study of the evolution of naval warfare in the modern period. Written with the verve and the mastery of detail that we have come to expect of this author, The Price of Admiralty concentrates upon four decisive encounters on the high seas: Trafalgar, which ended Napoleon’s power on the sea and made idle all his dreams of an invasion of Britain; Jutland, the crucial encounter between the Royal Navy and Tirpitz’s battle fleet, whose competition had contributed so much to the coming of the First World War; Midway, a turning point in the war in the Pacific; and the largest of all U-boat engagements in the war of the Atlantic, the battle for convoys HX229 and SC122.

The vigor with which Keegan analyzes the strategic setting of these operations and describes the tactics of the fighting and the fortunes of the commanders and their crews should not conceal the fact that this book too is a study of the remorseless advance of technology, and that it is informed by a melancholy as deep as O’Connell’s, telling as it does the story of the disappearance from the surface of the sea of the great battle fleets that once bestrode it. At the end of his account of Nelson’s victory, Keegan suggests that perhaps the real heroes of Trafalgar were as much the ships as the men who manned them. He writes:

Nelson’s wooden walls…exemplify a triumph of human ingenuity for which one would seek far to find a parallel. Some 300 years before Trafalgar was fought, iron and bronze founders had perfected instruments of destruction before which the castles that had dominated Europe’s strategic landscape for 500 years were to topple in a few decades…. It would require a revolution in the techniques of fortification and military drill and discipline to offset the power that cast cannon brought to land warfare before equilibrium was restored…. The art of the shipwright, by contrast, was to undergo no such upheaval. Altogether without prescience, European shipbuilders had already…arrived at a form of wooden ship design which assured its capacity to breast great waters and the elements which disturbed them, to sustain the shock of artillery discharge in broadside and to absorb the impact of solid shot that broadside battery threw.

Victory sustained eighty shot-holes “between wind and water” during the battle, all of which were plugged by her carpenter’s crew, and damage to her spars had reduced her sailing qualities, but she was still seaworthy and capable of firing her guns.

But the coming of explosive projectiles spelled death to wooden ships, and an end to the command of the sea that they had given Great Britain. Their successors, steam-driven ironclad navies, were infinitely more fragile instruments of national security, capable of being outmatched by nations with greater resources or technical ingenuity (at Jutland German naval technology was proven to be superior to Britain’s) and vulnerable, as Winston Churchill said, to defeat “in an afternoon.” The dominance of the dreadnought was far shorter than that of the wooden ships, and the destruction of Admiral Yamamoto’s ambitions by the torpedo- and dive-bombers of Yorktown and Enterprise in the battle of Midway heralded the dawn of the supremacy of the aircraft carrier.

This supremacy may be of even shorter duration, for the Falklands campaign demonstrated how vulnerable the carrier is to land-based aircraft and missiles. That leaves the submarine, which showed its destructive potential and its elusive durability in both the Atlantic and the Pacific in World War II, and whose era as the predominant weapon of power at sea seems already to have begun. As a citizen of a country in whose capital Nelson’s Column is, as he tells us, the centerpoint of traffic, Keegan can hardly relish the prospect of a future war in which the high seas are swept clean of navies and merchant fleets alike. It is surely no comfort to reflect, as he does, that “the oceans’ emptiness will be illusory, for in their deeps new navies of submarine warships, great and small, will be exacting from each other the price of admiralty.”


At the beginning of his book on weapons, Robert O’Connell writes:

War has fallen upon hard times…. Two centuries of increasingly pointless, financially disastrous, and above all, lethal conflicts, culminating in the discovery and proliferation of nuclear weapons, have rendered this venerable institution virtually incapable of performing any of the roles classically assigned to it.

This is a view that would be flatly rejected by Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla, who believe that war is in good condition and very much a part of our society (which would be hard to deny, given the fact that, as of 1985, there were some 150 conventional wars since 1945, causing some twenty million casualties).6 They argue that it is an effective instrument of policy as long as men have the intelligence to make it so, and that resort to nuclear warfare is feasible and, in certain circumstances, justifiable. In this spirit, they have undertaken to write a book that will “reintroduce a generation of Americans that has come to think of peace as its birthright to thoughts about war: why nations fight, what happens to them when they do, how they fight, and how they make peace.” They admit that this is an enterprise that some will find obscene and say that they “agree that the subject matter is shocking. But if citizens of a great democracy shun it, we thereby deliver control of our future to tyrants inured to it.”

This is a laudable purpose, and it is a pity that Seabury and Codevilla are so sensitive to the thought that there are people who won’t approve of it that they spend an inordinate amount of energy jeering at moralists, “the pacifist passions: self-indulgence and fear,” universities that teach Marxism, “usually implicitly,” deterministic social scientists, “propagandists with hidden agendas,” and “American statesmen, who believe victory is an archaic concept.” Neither this nor the occasional striking of the tough-guy attitude (“The bottom line in war and hence in political warfare is who gets buried and who gets to walk in the sun”) is really needed to validate their enterprise. It is well known that for more than a generation now American universities have given negligible space in their curricula to military history and studies of war and that most of their graduates are consequently ill-equipped to make reasoned judgments about military and security questions. Nor is there much doubt that in view of the lack of a clear strategy shown in American military and political operations from Vietnam to Ronald Reagan’s Nicaragua policy we need all the informed critics we can produce.

War: Ends and Means is well designed to promote that purpose. It is clearly written and its theses vigorously argued and often supported by historical arguments and examples. These last, unfortunately, are not invariably accurate. The decisive factor in England’s victory over the Spanish Armada was not that its ships possessed superior keels but that that they had four-wheeled truck carriages for their guns that gave them a much higher firing rate than the long heavy Spanish guns, which were too cumbersome to run back and forth easily and be reloaded inside the ships.7 The battle of Königgrätz in July 1866 was not, because of the confusion in the transportation of troops by rail, a blind collision “like a giant freeway pile-up on a foggy day.” Königgrätz is in Bohemia; Moltke’s rail deployment, a key factor in the Prussian victory, was completed on the other side of the Lusatian Mountains and the Riesengebirge; and the Prussian concentric convergence on the battlefield was effected by marching through the passes.8

The book would have benefited from a copy reader who was knowledgeable about the genders and endings of Latin nouns. These slips are annoying because they are distracting, but they are no more than that, and the important thing is that the authors have written a book that dispels any number of misconceptions about the causes of wars and is shrewd in its analysis of the relationship between strategy and operations. Particularly successful are the long central section on “How Wars Are Fought” with its reflections on Clausewitz’s concept of “the fog of war” and its solid and informative chapters on the political and material conditions of battle, political warfare and intelligence, and the informative and provocative final section on making peace.

The chapters most likely to attract substantive criticism are those that deal with military operations in the nuclear age and with the concept of the just war. Seabury and Codevilla assume that Soviet-American antagonism is a law of nature. They criticize American policy in the face of this with being “schizophrenic and fitful,” and show no faith in any kind of deterrence that is not based upon clear nuclear superiority. “Nuclear superiority,” they write,

covers” all of one’s military-political moves, and smothers the enemy’s….It would cover US military operations all over the world, and perhaps even convince the subjects of the Soviet empire that they could detach themselves from it with impunity.

Precisely how such nuclear superiority is to be achieved they do not say. In the chapter on the just war, they take the position that the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which is the policy of this country, is not only unsound, in view of Soviet cheating, but immoral as well, since, if war actually came, it would violate all of the rules of discrimination, with respect to targets, and proportionality, with respect to means and ends, which are associated with the classic doctrines of just war, killing millions of innocent people. On the grounds of both effectiveness and morality, they find counterforce strategies—that is, attacks against Soviet military installations and nuclear silos rather than against population centers—preferable, and elsewhere in their book they argue also for the morality of preemptive strikes.

In behalf of these views, they advance an argument that sounds unconvincing in this post-Chernobyl period.

There is no basis for the speculation that the widespread use of nuclear weapons would alter the world’s climate or significantly poison the environment beyond the areas where they would be employed for more than a few weeks. Nuclear weapons certainly do inflict collateral damage. But the effects of nuclear weapons, both direct and collateral, are finite and calculable. Moreover, these effects vary widely according to the design of the weapons and how they are used. Thus, to speak about the ethics of using nuclear weapons as if there were no difference between a 1-kiloton-enhanced radiation weapon delivered precisely on tanks attacking a town and a 1-megaton weapon delivered on a square mile of high-rise apartments makes no sense.

Seabury and Codevilla will find little support for their ideas about warfare in the nuclear age in the sober and closely reasoned book of Robert Jervis (too closely reasoned, perhaps, since it is largely made up of articles written for learned journals, and the author has not always been mindful that his lay readers may not understand his references to political science models like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which he talks about at baffling length). Jervis believes that the possibility of mutual destruction of the superpowers in a nuclear war has created a real revolution in military strategy and international politics, and that its extent is not fully appreciated, least of all by American military planners, who believe that nuclear weapons are essentially like conventional ones, and by people like Seabury and Codevilla, who keep talking about superiority and comparing the number of warheads in the opposing armories. As far as Jervis is concerned, MAD is not a policy but a fact—if either superpower launched a nuclear attack it would have to assume a strong possibility of vastly destructive retaliation by the other side-and, this being so, the concept of strategic superiority makes no sense and cannot be given meaning by new technological breakthroughs.

Mutual vulnerability exists and casts an enormous shadow. This condition is not subtle nor does it depend on the details of the strategic balance or targeting that may loom large to academics or war planners; such details are dwarfed in the eyes of decision makers by the danger of overwhelming destruction. The policy choice is whether or not to try to develop limited options. At the present time, neither the United States nor the USSR seems to have much faith that nuclear war or even a large-scale conventional conflict could be kept limited…. At least so far, the possibilities of limited use of nuclear force seem simply irrelevant to international politics.

This is not to deny that the balance between the superpowers is a volatile one. Crises between them do arise and, unless they are managed wisely on both sides, these may eventuate in low-level nuclear exchanges that will lead to escalation (a concept not adequately considered by Seabury and Codevilla) and all-out war. Effective management will require a much greater degree of psychological insight into the nature of crisis instability than has informed statecraft in the past, as well as serious reflection upon Thucydides’ perception that the means by which states try to make themselves more secure often have the undesired and unintended consequence of making others less secure, which is even truer in the nuclear age than it was in that of the Greek historian. Jervis insists that “Clausewitz’s central point that armed violence makes sense only if it serves political ends must remain our guiding insight” and argues that “military advantage can threaten our goals and values.”

This takes a certain amount of confidence in the possibility of the other side’s seeing things in the same way. But Jervis has faith in the passing of time and the capacity of crises to teach restraint and of arms control negotiations to build confidence and undermine the idea that nuclear war between the superpowers is inevitable. With an optimism that Seabury and Codevilla would doubtless challenge, he writes:

Just as the two sides’ fates would be linked together in a nuclear war, their general levels of security are also linked: if one is highly insecure, so will the other be…. Gorbachev [has said] there can be “no security for the USSR without security for the United States.” If both superpowers will act on these principles the world will be safer.

As for the question of morality, Jervis admits that the nuclear revolution has created insuperable moral dilemmas, and he would agree with Fred Ikle, who has written that “it is a tragic paradox of our age that the highly humane objective of preventing nuclear war is served by a military doctrine and engines of destruction whose very purpose is to inflict genocide.”9 But if the doctrine of deterrence continues to prevent war as it has for the last forty years, the genocide will never come, and to see that that continues to be true should be the focus of all our efforts rather than the devising of war-fighting scenarios.

In any case, Jervis is inclined to the view that

the question of the morality of making threats which, if effective, would reach moral goals but which, if they were implemented, would be immoral is largely a nonproblem, the modern equivalent of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

Moreover, leaving aside the question of whether it is more moral to kill a simple private in the army than a housewife in a town, it is important to note that the nuclear revolution and the possibility of any nuclear strike escalating have undermined the principles of discrimination and proportionality. In these circumstances, moral arguments for this or that nuclear strategy are apt to be based upon hidden empirical assumptions.

In restricting nuclear war, morality doubtless has a role, although it cannot hope to be other than modest. Jervis cites Stanley Hoffmann’s view that “it is good to remind statesmen that the ends do not justify all means, that restraints should be observed even in an angry war, that humanity must somehow be preserved.” He believes that morality can help statesmen avoid pseudo-realism, the preoccupation with power and interest narrowly conceived. Beyond that, not much can be expected. “It is hard,” Jervis concludes, “to fit our best impulses to the basic facts of nuclear weapons. Morality seeks to limit harm; international coercion seeks to threaten if not inflict it. The two can never be entirely reconciled.”

  1. 1

    Maud: A Monodrama, Part 3, II, IV.

  2. 2

    Ernst Gläser, Jahrgang 1902 (Berlin, 1929), pp. 188–189.

  3. 3

    Georgics, I, 510–514. English translation by H. Rushton Fairclough.

  4. 4

    John Keegan, The Illustrated Face of Battle (Viking, 1989), p. 294.

  5. 5

    Reviewed in The New York Review, April 28, 1988.

  6. 6

    Lawrence Freedman, Atlas of Global Strategy (Facts on File, 1985), p. 51.

  7. 7

    J.R. Hale, “1588 and All That,” The New York Review (February 16, 1989).

  8. 8

    Gordon A. Craig, The Battle of Königgrätz (Lippincott, 1964).

  9. 9

    Cited in Ian Clark, Waging War: A Philosophical Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 100.