Soldiering onward in the quest to mould the future

Introduction to Global Military History
June 15, 2007

This is a refreshingly wide-ranging treatment of warfare in the modern world, which testifies to Jeremy Black's impressive skills as a synthesist and builds on his already extensive writings on the topic. The book fits into the admirable category of a properly integrated "global" study, extending well beyond "the West", as exemplified by C. A. Bayley's approach in The Birth of the Modern World (2004).

Black sets out his intention right at the start, aiming to treat, for example, Asian developments as integral to his narrative. This is well displayed in his chapter on the mid-19th century, "Moulding States 1830-80", where the Taiping Rebellion in China is examined next to the American Civil War (though, no doubt with a shrewd eye on his potential market, Black gives the former only two pages to the latter's seven).

Sometimes the comparisons are a little forced, as in one between 19th-century Prussia and Paraguay, and there is a slight sense that in each chapter Black has had to include a mention, however passing, of every part of the world ("Must include Polynesian warfare here" sort of thing), but the intention is sound, and in many cases the range of examples is genuinely illuminating. The text is enlivened with excellent illustrations and some handy text boxes on particular case studies. These are deliberately designed to stimulate discussion. One, on "amphibious warfare", provokingly suggests future possible operations including a Communist Chinese invasion of Taiwan or US intervention in Cuba after the death of Castro, and Black is not afraid to pose provoking "what if"

questions - for example, highlighting how closely run the American War of Independence was.

Although for the most part very clearly written, Black occasionally lapses into the jargon to which the topic is notoriously prone. A glossary of technical terms could have been provided to explain such inelegant constructions as "littoral force projection" and "'high-tempo' symmetrical warfare". The index - important in a textbook - is also disappointing.

While there is an entry for "cultural turn", there is none for such topics as chemical weapons, deception, ethnic cleansing, insurgency, intelligence or even rifles, although all are covered in the text, some extensively. The single page reference for "guerrillas" does not match the two dozen or so places where guerrilla warfare is treated. The book promises "annotated references from the latest publications in the field" but merely provides lists of works, with occasional comments. There are seven attractive though not especially useful colour maps and 21 monochrome ones that are more to the point, although there are some unexplained variations in place-name spelling between them and in the text, which might confuse students. They will look in vain for "Beijing" on five of the six maps showing the Chinese capital.

With its global range, this book has no direct competitors, and it would make a good text for first or second-year undergraduate courses on "war in the modern world" and a lively supplementary text for more general surveys.

Students, however, should be advised to avoid the phrase "was comprised of", which appears on page 61.

Keith Jeffery is professor of British history, Queen's University Belfast.

Introduction to Global Military History: 1775 to the Present Day

Author - Jeremy Black
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 320
Price - £16.99
ISBN - 9780415353953

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