The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. Some of the best known are Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and  Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict. He’s written books about the technical aspects of war, such as Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? He’s written some of the most influential books of our generation about war, such as The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (which I consider the best work to date about modern war) and The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq.

His magnum opus is the dense about mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century. For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

My favorite is The Culture of War which explains the 4GW hellfire infecting so much of the world — while the rest of us enjoy peace and a rate of economic growth not seen since the invention of agriculture.  And what their passion for war might mean for us.

Contrary to what Clausewitz and so many “realists” believe, war is not simply a means to an end. It is that, but it also exercises a powerful fascination in its own right; out of this fascination grew, and continues to grow, an entire culture.  That culture ranges from the shapes and decoration of the armor of ancient Spartan warriors to today’s high tech “tiger suits;” from war games played by the ancient Egyptians to today’s violent video games; and from the Biblical commandments as to how one should treat one’s enemies all the way to the numbered paragraphs of today’s international law.  It also includes countless great works of art, books (both fiction and history), films, and much more.

Renowned author and war historian Martin van Creveld argues that, in spite of cultural, technological, and tactical changes, the culture of war, far from being obsolete, is more alive today as it has ever been.  Conversely, a society which, for one reason or another, loses touch with this culture will be helpless in front of one that has retained it and relishes in it.

For one application of his work, a demonstration of their utility, see How to accurately forecast trends of the Iraq War. Also see the Wikipedia biography of van Creveld.

Here are links to his works that are available on the Internet — all of these are very much worth reading!

Major works online:

  1. The Fate of the State“, Parameters, (Spring 1996), summary of his magnum opus Rise and Decline of the State
  2. Through a Glass Darkly” (2000), summary of Transformation of War (perhaps his second most important work)
  3. Naming a New Era: the New Middle Ages“, (Foreign Policy, Summer 2000)
  4. “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Martin van Creveld, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000; 29 (subscription only here; free Scribd PDF here)

“On Counterinsurgency” from Combating Terrorism, …edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005). It’s in four parts:

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Other articles:

  1. “`Shooting’ at the Wrong Target: A Response to Van Creveld”, Bethke Elshtain, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000 #29 (subscription only here; free Scribd PDF here)
  2. Only a wall will keep them from each other’s throats, Telegraph (17 March 2002)
  3. Sharon’s plan is to drive Palestinians across the Jordan, Telegraph (28 April 2002)
  4. These nuclear weapons are preventing a war, Telegraph (26 May 2002)
  5. How Not to Fight Terrorism, Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, September 2003
  6. Iraq: a lost peace : When the Americans leave, International Herald Tribune  (19 November 2003)
  7. Into the Abyss (2004) — forecast of the Iraq War
  8. Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did (2004)
  9. Modern Conventional Warfare: An Overview“, presented at the workshop on the “Changing Nature of Warfare“, part of the National Intelligence Coucil’s 2020 Project (25 May 2004)
  10. Sharon on the warpath : Is Israel planning to attack Iran?, International Herald Tribune  (21 August 2004)
  11. In Troubled Time (2005) — ethnic cleansing ended the Moorish crisis for the Spanish Crown; might it work for modern France?
  12. Costly Withdrawal is the price to be paid for a foolish war, The Forward   (25 Nov 2005)
  13. Brutality or Restraint, Internationale Politik (Spring 2006) — subscription or purchase only.
  14. Knowing Why Not to Bomb Iran is Half the Battle, The Forward   (21 April 2006)
  15. In this war, too, victory is unlikely, International Herald Tribune (2 August 2006)
  16. The coming U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, International Herald Tribune (16 November 2006)
  17. Make a Deal With Syria and Weaken the Iran-Hezbollah AxisThe Forward  (26 January 2007)
  18. Motivated army overcame the odds, Jewish Standard   (8 June 2007)
  19. Let Palestine Split into Two,  The Forward  (12 June 2007)
  20. The World Can Live with a Nuclear Iran, The Forward  (24 September 2007)
  21. Actually, Iran is not so tough, Tribune Media Services  (24 October 2007)
  22. Israel’s War With Hezbollah Was Not a Failure, The Forward     (30 January 2008)
  23. Peace Is Worth the Risk Of Withdrawing From the Golan, The Forward  (29 May 2008)
  24. Sonshi interviews Martin van Creveld (date unknown) – discussion of his work in context with other great military theorists.

7 thoughts on “The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld

Leave a Reply