Wars are not won by military genius or decisive battles

BOOK REVIEW

The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost, Author: Cathal J Nolan.

By Cathal J Nolan – War is the most complex, physically and morally demanding enterprise we undertake. No great art or music, no cathedral or temple or mosque, no intercontinental transport net or particle collider or space program, no research for a cure for a mass-killing disease receives a fraction of the resources and effort we devote to making war.

Battles also entice generals and statesmen with the idea that a hard red day can be decisive, and allow us to avoid attrition, which we all despise as morally vulgar and without redemptive heroism.

Whether or not we agree that some wars were necessary and just, we should look straight at the grim reality that victory was most often achieved in the biggest and most important wars by attrition and mass slaughter – not by soldierly heroics or the genius of command.

Winning at war is harder than that. Cannae, Tours, Leuthen, Austerlitz, Tannenberg, Kharkov – all recall sharp images in a word. Yet winning such lopsided battles did not ensure victory in war.

Hannibal won at Cannae, Napoleon at Austerlitz, Hitler at Sedan and Kiev. All lost in the end, catastrophically.

There is heroism in battle but there are no geniuses in war. War is too complex for genius to control. more>

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