WAR MADE NEW: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today

Article excerpt

WAR MADE NEW: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today, Max Boot, Gotham books, New York, 2006, 624 pages, $35.00.

The prospect of a "revolution in military affairs" dominated American military thought during the final decade of the 20th century, as Soldiers, scholars, and journalists argued for various interpretations of how wars might be fought in the new millennium. Some of these theories have, in fact, proven their utility in combat, but necessity, not theory, remains the mother of invention. The ongoing "long war" has demonstrated and inspired a host of military innovations, from netcentric and asymmetric warfare to unmanned vehicles and improvised explosive devices.

In spite of these dramatic changes, the study of military affairs languishes on American college campuses. Nevertheless, the topic has become enormously popular in other venues, from the pages of major newspapers and magazines to cable news shows and best seller lists, and military analysis now seems omnipresent.

Enter Max Boot. A distinguished scholar and veteran journalist, Boot lends a particularly clear and pragmatic voice to our national conversation. His first book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (Basic Books, New York, 2003), revisits the many lesser known conflicts that have shaped America's military character and her problematic geopolitical status. His latest effort, War Made New: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today, casts an even wider net, examining how science has changed war over the past half-millennium.

Beginning with the French invasion of Italy at the height of the Renaissance, the author marches briskly through an interesting series of major and minor conflicts to illustrate how new and improved ideas deliver success on the battlefield and quickly inspire imitation and improvement. French artillery, for example, overwhelms the previously impregnable walls of city states such as Florence and Rome, leading to the development of new and better artillery, along with new and better fortifications to defend against it. Similarly, the Japanese navy borrows the idea for a carrier-launched attack at Pearl Harbor from the British success at Tarranto and is in turn driven from the seas by American naval power, particularly carrier battle groups. U.S. ship yards, notes Boot, launched more than 100 new carriers by the end of the war.

Better technology and greater industrial capacity are ingredients within this formula for military superiority, but social factors also play an important role, favoring those nations that foster public and private innovation. Empires that stifle intellectual curiosity (and ambition), such as the Hapsburgs and the Chinese, consequently lose their power and influence. …