Blogs > HNN > Fred Dews: Recent Military History Titles related to Middle East Issues …

Oct 8, 2004 10:44 am

Fred Dews: Recent Military History Titles related to Middle East Issues …


"I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends." —Pope Urban II, Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095

Whether or not the Crusades—featuring Christian and Muslim armies fighting in the Holy Land—bear at all on modern geopolitics or simply the modern imagination is a matter of considerable interest. Two new books about the Crusades take us into that past:

The First Crusade: A New History, Thomas Asbridge (Oxford, September 2004) [Publisher information]

Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., observed that,"There is an underlying assumption among commentators looking at the confrontation between Islam and the West that it has been engendered by the events of September 11, 2001. Thomas Asbridge, by tracing the roots to the First Crusade in his lucid and provocative 'new history,' helps us to understand the present by explaining the past." Prof. Asbridge is a lecturer at the University of London.

Crusades: The Illustrated History; Christendom · Islam · Pilgrimage · War, Thomas F. Madden, ed. (Michigan, September 2004) [Publisher information]

Eight authors, including the editor, contribute to this volume. The essays begin with an examination of the Christian and Muslim worlds, then progress through the five major crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries, plus ensuing campaigns through the fall of Acre in 1291. Particularly intriguing is the chapter titled"The Second Crusade: War Cruel and Unremitting," by John France, a scholar whose research focuses on the experience of warfare and crusading. The volume also covers crusades against heretics in Europe and the legacy of the whole enterprise.

… and Now

Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, Kenneth Pollack (Nebraska, 2002; paperback edition September 2004) [Publisher information]

Much attention has been paid to Iran's possible nuclear weapons ambitions, and U.S. officials believe that that Persian nation provides support to Shiite insurgents in Iraq. But Iraq's Arab neighbor to the northwest—Syria—is causing concerns as well. Newsweek reported this week that"Deep in the Pentagon, admirals and generals are updating plans for possible U.S. military action in Syria and Iran" [story link]. U.S. officials have just concluded talks with Syrian and Iraqi officials concerning foreign fighters infiltrating into Iraq from Syria. And Syria's government promised a response to Israel's recent killing of a Hamas leader in Damascus. These developments coincide with the release in paperback of Kenneth Pollack's Arabs at War, a detailed study of the performance of Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Libyan, Saudi Arabian, and Syrian armed forces in all their engagements from 1948 to the Persian Gulf War. Lawrence Freedman, reviewing the study in Foreign Affairs, described it as"an extremely valuable, compendious, and convincing military history of the contemporary Arab world" and"a standard work of reference" for understanding the historical and contemporary performance of Arab armies [review link].

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