Blogs > Cliopatria > Robert Scales: Review of Max Boot's War Made New

Oct 31, 2006 7:49 pm

Robert Scales: Review of Max Boot's War Made New

The subject of technology in modern warfare has been covered by many scholars and soldiers before. But Max Boot takes a refreshingly novel approach in "War Made New." He uses battles as metaphors to demonstrate that revolutions in military affairs, or RMAs, have a pedigree. Tracing the history of warfare from the French invasion of Italy in the late 15th century to Afghanistan and Iraq today, Mr. Boot contends that RMAs are the preserve of Western militaries or of non-Western militaries, like Japan's, clever enough to mimic the Western style of war. These RMAs, he says, have been decisive agents of both military success and geopolitical change.

Mr. Boot is an insightful observer of the profession of arms, a gifted amateur who has learned to know war without experiencing it. His last major work was the excellent "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" (2002). "War Made New" concentrates on four RMAs that occurred over five centuries. The first began with the rise of European states that alone possessed the bureaucratic and technological capacity to equip armies and navies with gunpowder weapons. The Industrial Revolution fueled the next two RMAs: one powered by steel and steam (World War I) and the other by electricity and oil (World War II). The fourth turning point that made war new, Mr. Boot says, is the contemporary rise of information technology.

Mr. Boot takes a daring--and successful--tack in approaching his subject; rather than attempt to be exhaustively comprehensive, he treats battles like lily pads, jumping from one to the next in quick succession across the pond of history. Thus the warfare we read about includes the British defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Prussian victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866, the Japanese navy's vanquishing of the Russian fleet in the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, and the German invasion of France in 1940. Mr. Boot admits to selecting battles that reinforce his thesis. Thus to illustrate his point that the most determined enemy in the late 19th century could not stand against an army equipped with small-bore rifles and machine guns--gifts of the Industrial Revolution--the author chooses the butchering of the Mahdi Army at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 during the fight for British supremacy in the Sudan.

Mr. Boot exercises his skill as an editorialist to craft riffs, sort of cognitive connective tissue, that tie together his battlefield images. In three pages he gives a remarkably precise explanation of total war, as embodied by World War I, along with its social, political and economic repercussions. In five pages he distills the story of the U.S. Navy's creation of large-deck aircraft carrier materiel and doctrine. He succeeds in recounting the development of American armored doctrine during the interwar period in a single paragraph....

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