Summary: Martin van Creveld is one of our generation’s leading military historians, whose insights illuminate the some of the major trends of our time. His new book sums up a lifetime of observation and thought, especially about the use of history to understand the present and future.
Martin van Creveld discusses his new book:
Clio & Me: An Intellectual Autobiography.
Now a Kindle ebook; hard copy soon.
Posted from his website with permission.
Relatives, friends, students, colleagues, and journalists have often asked me what I see in the study of history, particularly military history, and how I ever got into that esoteric field. I always answered as best I could, but never thought I would try to put my answer down in writing. In my family people only write their memoirs when they are very old and ready to go, which I am not (yet).
Years ago, my stepson and best friend, Jonathan Lewy, was bitten by the scholarship bug. As an undergraduate student of history at Hebrew University, he read Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft, which, as he was not slow to point out, was written when Bloch was exactly as old as I was in 2003. Jonathan has often asked me why I did not try to produce a similar work, and I have often evaded the question even in my own mind.
Jonathan, who in the meantime earned his PhD and did a post-doc at Harvard, is nothing if not persistent. But I did not want to produce yet another volume on the philosophy of history and the technique of teaching it. Instead, I decided I would try to answer the above questions, and others like them, by writing an intellectual autobiography.
Why and how did I come to be a historian? What does the study of history really mean to me? Why, in my view, does it merit being studied, what for, and how? How did I master my craft? What problems did I meet, and how did I try to solve them? Where do I get my ideas? What does “scientific” history mean, and how does it differ from other kinds? What does it take to write a book, and what is doing so like? Can history be used for looking into the future, and, if so, how does one go about it? How should history, in fact the humanities and social sciences in general, be taught at the university level? What are the differences between civilian universities and military ones? How does one prepare a talk, and how does one deal with the media? What are the advantages of the scholarly life, and what are the disadvantages? Should one take it up?
As I got to work, I soon found myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I did not want to appear as some sort of disembodied spirit. Like anybody else, I do have a life outside the purely intellectual one. Moreover, the two are interrelated. I have often wondered about the impact health may have on creativity and vice versa. So, incidentally, did Friedrich Nietzsche, to mention but one.
On the other hand, I did not think my personal life is of great interest either to Jonathan, who already knows it all, or to other people. In the end I compromised. I tried to put in only as much of my non-professional life as I considered absolutely essential to explain where I come from and to make the narrative coherent. Unlike a few writers whom I consulted and to some extent used as my model, I do not think it matters who attended to my bodily needs when I was a child. Like them, I shall be very happy to strike out the name of anybody who feels offended by what I have to say. With the aid of word processing and e-books, which most of them did not have, doing so is easy enough.
I very much hope that this book will have something to offer the type of young, earnest students with whom it has been my great good fortune to work throughout my academic career. Nevertheless, in the end it was Jonathan whom it was written for. Therefore, whatever the reaction of others, I pray that he at any rate will not be disappointed.
About the Author
Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.
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. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.
Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war in the fascinating Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (see the chapters about modern gaming, wargames for the people).
Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.
He has written three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.
Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.
He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than ours!), Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?. and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West (2016).
And perhaps most important for 21st century America, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.