Tag Archives: martin van creveld

Martin van Creveld looks at the propaganda fog that covers modern war

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld discusses the difficulty of finding the truth amidst the sea of propaganda that surrounds us. It’s an essential skill Americans seem to have lost. He concludes by examining the stories about the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.



The Facts of the Case

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 27 August 2014
Posted with his generous permission

Perhaps I should start this article with a little cautionary tale. Years ago I was teaching a course about the history of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I had just said that the kingdom of Jordan already had a Palestinian majority when a young student raised her hand and asked me, very politely, how I knew. To my shame, I must confess that the question took me by surprise — here in Israel everybody and his neighbor had been saying this for years, as they still do.

When I recovered I told her she was right and offered her a deal. She would look into the matter and do a research paper about it. In return, I would release her from the final exam. She agreed, and a few months later I received the paper which neither confirmed not contradicted my original claim. It did, however, draw my attention to some facts that I, and presumably many others as well, had never thought about.

First, there was and is no accepted definition of a Palestinian. One reason for this is that there are several different kinds of Palestinians — old ones, medium ones and new ones, all depending on the date at which they had arrived in the Kingdom. Second, Jordan being the only Arab country that has granted the Palestinians in its territory citizenship, there were many mixed marriages with offspring, making the question as to “who is a Palestinian?” even harder to answer. Third, the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior for its own reasons is keeping a very tight hand both on definitions and on figures, with the result that nobody knew.

Another personal story. Back in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada, my son had an American girlfriend who lived in Utah. One evening we were sitting in front of the TV when the phone rang. It was Christine. “Jonathan, there has been shooting in your town. Are you alright?” It turned out there had indeed been a few shots; but even though our town is rather small she, living on the other side of the world, knew it before we did.

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Martin van Creveld looks at Amazons: women warriors in the real world

Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at the accounts of women soldiers from the ancient Amazons to modern armies, cutting away the myths to real the facts. It’s a timely analysis, with the US radically revising the role of women in our military.

Peshmerga Women

Peshmerga Women by Jan Sefti. Published under a Creative Commons License.


By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 27 August 2015
Posted with his generous permission

I get feedback on my articles. For that I am grateful; it makes me think. Recently someone took issue with my claim that, in the military, where there are women there are no bullets and where there are bullets there are no women. How about the brave Kurdish women who are fighting Daesh? Don’t they make up 30-35%?

30-35% of what? I asked. After all, women make up nearly 30% of the Israel Defense Force. Nevertheless, in the so-called Second Lebanon War of 2006, 130 male soldiers were killed against just one female. The 66 IDF soldiers who died in operation Protective Edge in 2014 did not include a single woman. So just what do 30-35% mean?

Regarding the fighting Kurdish troops  he answered rather brusquely. In support he sent these sites:

I opened them. They did not mention any figures on the ratio of brave Kurdish fighting females to brave Kurdish fighting males. And the headline? “No Frontline Deployment for Female Kurdish Troops.”

What the article did say was that, in a place called Dobruk, there is or was a colonel who commanded “a 30-woman unit.” Strange, that: since when do colonels command platoons? Isn’t their job to command brigades in which there are normally 27 platoons as well as other units? Never mind.

The purpose of the unit? “To show,” says the colonel, “that we are different from IS, which will never let women fight.” In other words, propaganda. Though whom the propaganda is intended for, the Kurds themselves or their slavering Western admirers, is left unsaid.

That business disposed of, I decided to do a little research. And yes, I did find a Reuters photo report titled, “Kurdish women fighters wage war on Islamic State in Iraq.” It claimed that women made up some 30%. Thirty percent of exactly what? Military personnel (assuming that, in a place like Kurdistan, there is a clear distinction between the military and civilians)? All kinds of support troops? Fighters who actually hold a gun, fire at the enemy, and are fired at in return? The article provides no answers. What it does provide are nice-looking pictures of women posing with Kalashnikov assault rifles. So do a great many similar sites.

The words “photo report” are important. Many years ago, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels used to tell his public that “pictures do not lie.” That, of course, was itself the greatest lie of all. I do not want to imply that Reuters was lying. Only that doing so with the aid of pictures is, if anything, easier than with words.

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Martin van Creveld vacations & discovers what we’ve lost: freedom

Summary: Martin van Creveld vacations in Potsdam. Amidst its natural beauty he finds something we’ve lost as we’ve built the regulatory state. Something valuable, almost beyond price.

Free Butterfly


In Praise of Potsdam

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 20 August 2014

Posted with his generous permission


I am writing this from Potsdam, a smallish (160,000 inhabitants) German city southwest of Berlin where my wife and I go to stay for a month or so every year since 1999. Originally what brought us to Potsdam was the fact that it is home to the Bundeswehr’s historical service. They have the best military-historical library in Europe; enough said.

Potsdam, however, also has other attractions and it on them that I want to focus here. When we first visited back in 1992 it was a sad town. Many buildings were dilapidated; testifying to the fact that the very last battles of World War II took place in this area, many windows had not yet been repaired. The predominant color was grey.

It took me awhile to realize the reason for this. It was due to the fact that, in a country that had only recently emerged from communism, there were no commercial signs and no advertisements in the streets. In the entire city the only halfway decent hotel was the Merkur, located not far from the railway station which, like the rest of the town, had been heavily bombed in 1945 and never properly repaired.

The hotel itself consisted of a high-rise building not far from the city center where it formed, and still forms, a real eyesore. Originally its rooms did not have private bathrooms. By the time we stayed there they had been installed, but only at the price of making the rooms themselves rather cramped. In the entire central district of the city there was just one restaurant. Located on the central square, the Brandenburger Platz, in good East German tradition it only served a small fraction of the items theoretically on the menu.

Over the years, watching the city shed its communist dress and put on a modern, liberal and commercial one has been a feast for the eyes. Potsdam is not nearly as wealthy as some of its West German counterparts. But like all small German towns it is clean and orderly. One can cycle wherever one wants. In the suburbs, especially Rehbruecke where we stay, many houses have flourishing gardens.

The buses run, the trams arrive on time. Everything functions — to someone coming from the Middle East, that is anything but self-evident. Still I would not have written about Potsdam if, in addition to these qualities, there had not been some things which set it apart.

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Martin van Creveld sees the Rise and Fall of History, followed by Amnesia

Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at one of the great phenomena of our time, one which has seriously damaged our world — the death of history (the study of history). He describes how it happens. See the posts at the end for examples of its ill effects.

Minerva's Owl


The Fall and Rise of History

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 16 July 2014

Posted with his permission

I well remember the time when I fell in love with history. This was 1956 and I was ten years old, living with my parents in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. While rummaging in a storage room, I came across a book with the title (in Dutch), World-History in a Nutshell. Greatly impressed by the story of the small, but brave, ancient Greek people fighting and defeating the far more numerous Persian army, I quickly read it from cover to cover. Much later I learnt that the volume was part of a series issued by the Dutch ministry of education and updated every few years. To the best of my memory the one in my hands did mention World War I but not Hitler; hence it must have dated to the 1920s when my parents went to school.

It was World-History in a Nutshell and the wonderful tales it contained that made me decide I wanted to study history. In 1964 this wish took me to the Hebrew University where I started thinking seriously about what I was trying to do. From beginning to end, my aim was always to understand what happened and why it happened. Though it took me a long time to realize the fact, in doing so I, like countless other modern historians, was following in the footsteps of the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).

The Rise of History

Hegel’s most important propositions, as I came to understand them, could be summed up as follows.

  1. The past had a real, objective existence. It was, so to speak, solidified present, more or less covered by the sands of time; which meant that, given sufficient effort was devoted to removing the sand, “the truth” about it could be discovered.
  2. In the main it consisted not of the more or less accidental, more or less cranky deeds of individuals but was pushed ever-onward by vast, mostly anonymous, spiritual, economic — this was Marx’s particular contribution — social and technological forces none could control. Men and women were carried along by it like corks floating on a stream; now using it to swim in the right direction, now vainly trying to resist it and being overwhelmed by it.
  3. The past mattered. It was only by studying the past that both individuals and groups of every kind could gain an understanding as to who they were, where they had come from, and where they wanted to go and might be going.

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Martin van Creveld looks at Hand-to-hand combat from classical Athens to modern Israel

Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at the history of the martial arts in the west, from their origin to the use of Krav Maga by the Israel Defense Forces. He discusses their value and limitations. It’s a surprise to those of us whose knowledge of these things comes from Hollywood.

Krav Maga


Hand-to-Hand Combat:
A Short History

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 16 April 2014

Posted with his generous permission

Not long ago, I was approached by an Austrian-German-Dutch producer who wanted me to participate in a TV program he was preparing about Krav Maga (Hebrew: “touch combat”) as practiced in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Doing a Google search I was surprised at the number of references to it, not only in Hebrew but in various other languages as well. It turned out that Israeli instructors in the field are active in many countries and that their services are in demand. Given the obvious public interest in the subject, I thought a short survey of its role in the history of war in general, and in the Israeli military in particular, would not be out of place here.

The ancient history of “touch”

The term “touch,” or hand-to-hand, or close, combat is misleading. In reality it comprises two very different things. One is combat without weapons, as in various kinds of martial arts; the other, combat conducted at such close quarters as to enable the combatants to look into the whites of each other’s eyes, as the saying goes. To avoid confusion the two must be kept separate.

Martial arts have been practiced for thousands of years. They may, indeed, go back all the way to our ape-like ancestors. Ancient Egyptian soldiers engaged in regular wrestling matches which were sometimes attended by the Pharaoh in person. The window from which Ramses III (ca. 1187-56 B.C.) watched the bouts still exists. In the Iliad, boxing is mentioned. The champion, a certain Epheios, was the same man who later built the Trojan horse. During classical and Hellenistic times martial arts, including wrestling, boxing and pankration, a form that allowed the use of both arms and legs, formed an important part of sport. At Olympia, the site of the famous games, the statue of Agon, contest or struggle, stood right next to that of Ares, the god of war.

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Martin van Creveld asks what do soldiers do during war? Rape.

Summary: Here Martin van Creveld reviews a book about an important new book documenting rape by US troops during WWII. With the passage of time we’re slowly able to see the full horror of the “good war”, the dark deeds done by both sides. This clear sight of the past can hep us prevent it repeating, providing an antidote to the glorification of war that arises as when we blank out these memories.

What Soldiers Do


Human All Too Human

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 9 April 2014

Posted with his generous permission

Review of What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France by Mary Louise Roberts (2013).

What alerted me to the existence of this book was a radio program to which I happened to listen one fine Saturday morning. The way it was presented, Mary Lou Roberts, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had caused a stir by drawing her readers’ attention to the sexual misbehavior of American troops in France during the period from June 1944 to VE Day. Another feminist tear-jerker about bad men abusing poor innocent women, I thought.

As it turned out, the book is anything but. In her introduction, Prof. Roberts dwells on the realistic premise that any attempt to understand the relationship between the United States and France as it developed after the Normandy landings cannot limit itself to high-level diplomatic exchanges alone. It should, instead, look at the way GIs — as many as four million of them, serving under General Eisenhower — interacted with the French population and the French population, with the GIs. The more so because those interactions both reflected and created the images both sides formed of each other; images which in turn were not without impact on high-level diplomatic exchanges and decisions.

Speaking of interaction, the problem of sex neither can nor should be avoided. And it is on sex that Prof. Roberts trains her telescope.

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Martin van Creveld: learning to say “no” to war

Summary:  In his fourth post about the real revolution in military affairs, the evolution of western armies into pussycats, Martin van Creveld looks at the increasing number of men who refused to fight — first for religious reasons, later often for ethical reasons — and the State’s increasingly willingness to accommodate them.

Christ is anti-war


Pussycats IV: Learning to Say No

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 29 October 2014

Posted with his generous permission


The first Pussycat article dealt with the frequent defeats of modern Western armed forces at the hand of irregulars in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and pointed out some of the underlying causes behind this phenomenon. Pussycats II explained how war was associated first with excellence, then with honor, then with wisdom (“the ultimate experience”) and then with PTSD. Whereas Pussycats III traced the way in which, time after time, rude but brave conquerors were turned into soft, lazy, effeminate losers. Here I want to analyze the contribution of yet another factor: to wit, the rise of the right to say no.

Principled resistance to military service can be traced as far back as early Christianity under the Roman Empire. Whether, at that time, it was rooted in moral objections to war as such or in religion has long been moot. The fact that, no sooner did the empire turn Christian in the fourth century A.D, many Christians started joining the army suggests that the latter interpretation is closer to the truth. Once God had told Emperor Constantine that in hoc signo vinces most problems disappeared. From the time of Charlemagne’s campaigns in Spain and Saxony to that of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War, countless Christians went into battle under the sign of the cross. In 1999, the Serbs did so still.

Following the Reformation, some Protestant Sects took the opposite tack. Citing Jesus’ command to “love your enemies,” they asked to be exempted from military service on religious grounds. Among them were the Anabaptists, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and others. In the Netherlands, in Switzerland, and in parts of Germany they often got their way, normally in return for paying a special tax.

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