Academic journal article Military Review

The Origins of Major Wars

Academic journal article Military Review

The Origins of Major Wars

Article excerpt


WARS, Dale C. Copeland, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2000, 311 pages, $45.00.

Dale C. Copeland, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, defines major wars as high intensity conflicts in which national existence as a great power, if not a sovereign country, is at stake. His is a simple thesis that is not simple minded: from antiquity through World War II, major wars have been a preventive policy by which a government seeks to preserve its military status against a potential rival on the ascent.

The classic case, to which Copeland devotes two chapters, is that of Imperial Germany on the eve of World War I. Although Germany clearly had the best army in the world, it could not match Russia in the realm of potential economic power-land, raw materials, and size of population. If it did not reduce Russia's capabilities while it still had the capacity, Germany's future would have been dim indeed. Worst of all, in 1914, Germany's future was near-term. Russia's army and economy was modernizing, thanks to French capital investment.

Not willing to select only specific examples that obviously support his general thesis, Copeland takes on the Napoleonic Wars and World War II (Europe), supposedly begun by megalomaniacs wanting to dominate the globe, not simply to protect the temporary status of their nationstates. If Copeland can prove that the actions of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and German dictator Adolf Hitler were essentially defensive and that their wars were preventive, not imperialistic, he could prove his case.

Copeland gives it a good effort, reproducing quotations that proved these leaders' fears of domination, whether by England's commercial power in the 1800s or the Soviet Union's industrial capacity circa the 1930s. …

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