What Love Is

What is love? Throughout the ages, as many answers have been given to this question as there are poets. Here, motivated by the fast-approaching 31st anniversary of my wife and myself, it pleases me to provide my own answer. Much of it I learnt from her. Needless to say, there are many kinds of love. Red-Rose-02However, the following discussion only refers to the one between a man and a woman. Or perhaps—I have no experience in the matter—also in same sex unions.

The kind of love I am speaking about involves one’s entire being. It has two parts, a mental and a physical. Both are equally important. When everything works as it should, they reinforce each other. The former has the power to magically transform physical spasms into a union that almost deserves the name sacred. The latter seals the former. I would, however, add that, if, after all these years, I had been forced to choose, I would go for the former. And do so, what is more, without regrets.

Love is a miracle. What attracted Julia to Romeo and Romeo to Julia? Why him? Why her? What made each of them so unique as to inspire the other to sacrifice his or her life? Shakespeare does not say. Nor do ten thousand psychologists and their even more numerous studies. Probably it is better that way. In one sense, pre-determined love is not love at all.

We do not love the other because he or she is particularly well-shaped or beautiful. To the contrary: the other becomes beautiful and well-shaped because we love her or him. Says the Bible: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” Not just for a moment, which is something animals do as well as we do. But all the time, sharing both pain and joy.

One very peculiar thing love does is to turn the other’s faults—and who does not have them?—into virtues. One loves coming into the bathroom and see that the other has forgotten to shut the toothpaste tube. The other loves seeing the note, complete with its characteristic spelling error, left for him or her in the kitchen with instructions to do this or that. These and a thousand similar things remind each of the other. They make them smile to themselves, knowing that the feeling is mutual.

There are also some things lovers should never say or do to one another. Some depend on personality and differ from one case to the next. Others are common to everybody. Never pull rank. Never badmouth your other in front of others. Never try to make him or her jealous. If you feel that criticize you must, do it in such a way as to make your good intentions obvious (humor, but not sarcasm, helps). And so on. To be sure, being human we make mistakes. Therefore, if we say or do such things, we should apologize just as soon as we can. And make sure the error is not repeated.

Love seems to work on three different levels simultaneously. The first consists of our—at any rate my—need to have somebody to look up to who is more than I am. More intelligent (at least in some ways), better, kinder, nobler. That does not mean the other is superior in every respect. As Simone de Beauvoir once wrote, a relationship based on inferiority versus superiority is not love. All it means is that the other is better than I am in some ways and that, as a result, I value and adore her like a queen.

The second level is that of partnership. We all need somebody whom we can trust. Absolutely, unconditionally and until death us part. Somebody who will stand with us at the time, to quote the great early twentieth-century Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, when, having armed the prow, we cast off and sail ahead. Life is a voyage into the unknown, and often a pretty hazardous one at that. One which very few people can, or should, embark on without the kind of partnership I am talking about here.

The third level is that of trying to do what one can to make the other as happy as one can. Even to the point of spoiling him or her. Not just because what one gives is really needed. That would be either duty or charity, but not love. But simply because there is joy in giving.

Each of the three elements can and often does exist apart from the others. But it is only together that they amount to true love. They are symmetrical, i.e there is no difference between men and women. They also presuppose a certain kind of equality. That does not mean that each side must have exactly the same rights and duties. Rather, it refers to the kind of love that, making the strengths of each obviate the weaknesses of the other, enables both partners to make the maximum of their lives, both separately and together.

To this rule there is one very important exception. Physically men are considerably stronger and more robust than women on the average. Also, nature seems to value women’s lives more than men’s. These facts give women some rights men do not and should not have. Men are duty-bound to defend women. There used to be a name for that: chivalry. That is a word feminists, filled with hate and envy, have dragged through the mud as they have so many other things. The reverse does not apply. A man who lays down his life for a woman is looked upon as a hero, with good reason. A man who allows a woman go lay down her life for him becomes an object of derision. Also, in my view, with very good reason.

It is not enough to feel love. One must show one’s feelings. One early morning Richard Wagner had a small band assembled in front of his wife, Cosima’s, window. Waked by the music, she became the first to hear the notes of the Siegfried Idyll. How I envy him for being able to lay such a gift at her feet! Luckily we do not need to. A word of praise, a gesture of welcome. A smile, a hug, a kiss, a small present at the appropriate moment. Normally it should be done in private. However, here and there doing it when some others, friends, are present can cause no harm.

Finally, it is not true, as Freud and so many others thought and think, that time and habituation necessarily cause love to become tepid and wane away. Provided all the above elements are present, it is as likely to become stronger, deeper and more tolerant. But that does not happen on its own. It takes both goodwill and some effort.

For me, after thirty-one years, the most beautiful moments in life still remain the same. They are those in which she spontaneously breaks into song and I join her. Or the other way around.

The funny thing is, neither of us can sing very well.

On Domestic Violence

41WcoaJq1tLFirst things first. I want to put it on record that I am not trying to defend those guilty of engaging in domestic violence. To the contrary: I want to help reduce it and, if possible, eliminate it. For domestic violence to be eradicated, though, it must first be understood. Here, drawing on several years of research on my book, The Privileged Sex, I intend to explain some of what I have learnt.

Judging by what the media, which are pushed along by feminist organizations, have to say about the matter, one might think that domestic violence is directed almost solely by men against women. Not true. The greatest living expert on the subject is Professor Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire. His fame may be measured by the fact that a google.scholar search of his name brought 47,000 hits, no less. Along with his assistants, he has spent years investigating the topic in many different countries. The pattern he discovered is remarkably uniform. In about fifty percent of all cases the violence is mutual. The remaining fifty percent are initiated almost equally by people of both sexes. Poof! Goes myth number one.

Again judging by the media, women suffer more serious injuries than men (men’s injuries, in fact, are hardly ever mentioned). Not true. According to other investigators, it is men who usually suffer the more serious injuries. The reason is that women are more likely to use weapons, whereas men hit with their fists or their feet. Poof! Goes myth number two.

6cx0fduDomestic violence directed by men against women is often said to be underreported. True or not, there is no doubt that violence directed by women against men is even more so. The reason is simple: should a man dare complain, then if he is lucky he will be laughed at. If he is not then there is a good chance that he will get himself arrested, charged, tried, convicted and punished. I personally knew one such case, and there must be many others. Furthermore, whereas a man who beats up or kills his woman is said to commit domestic violence, women who do the same are said to engage in “reverse domestic violence.” Thus the stereotype, to use an expression feminists love so much, consists of men hitting women. That in itself may very well lead to over-reporting of such cases. Poof! Goes myth number three.

Supposedly men kill their girlfriends and wives, whereas the opposite is rare. Not true, or at any rate true only up to a certain point. Depending on the country, the ratio is about three or four to one. In other words, for every three or four women killed there is a man who loses his life. However, as is the case with domestic violence as a whole, there is some reason to think that the statistics fail to present the full picture. There are two reasons for this. First, more women than men use covert means such as poison which may not be detected. Second, more women hire other people (men) to do the killing for them. Though it is almost certainly true that more men kill their spouses than women, the ratio may not be as skewed as the headlines claim. Poof! Goes Myth number four.

Most people of both sexes who commit crimes of any kind try to cover their tracks as best they can. Not so men who kill their wives. To be sure, there are exceptions. However, most of them, instead of trying to escape, turn themselves in. Others commit suicide. They do so either on the spot, immediately after having committed the deed, or soon afterwards. No other class of criminals has displayed similar behavior. The question is, why?

Two answers present themselves. First, when a woman attacks her man and is brought to trial, she is invariably asked why she did it. That will enable her to explain how he made her life a misery and roll out all his misdeeds, real or imaginary. Often she will claim self-defense. For a man the situation is entirely different. Claiming self-defense, in most cases he will meet either ridicule or contempt. The same will happen if he lists his grievances. In many cases he, or his dead body, will be treated as if he deserved to be beaten or killed. In other words, men’s pain and blood are held to be cheap in relation to women’s. A woman who stands trial for engaging in domestic violence has a fair chance of being acquitted. A man stands hardly any.

The different views society takes of men and women who have been found guilty of domestic violence also explain the very different ways they are punished. Men who have killed are likely to suffer some of the worst penalties from death down. Women are much less likely to do the same. In quite some cases, instead of being executed or incarcerated, they will find themselves referred to psychological treatment either inside a closed institution or, less often outside its gates. That treatment having ended, she is likely to be freed. Her feminist sisters may even treat her as a heroine—as regularly happens each time some woman in a Third World country kills her husband and is threatened with execution.

All this gives much food for thought. We all agree that the objective should be to reduce domestic violence in general and killing in particular. To do so it is first of all necessary to understand why certain kill their spouses before committing suicide. The phenomenon must be investigated, its causes brought to light, and the appropriate remedies found. Or else, as sure as night follows day, the killings are going to continue and perhaps to multiply.

Bull—-

At first sight, ours is the healthiest period in history. Infant mortality, which depending on the time and the place used to affect as many as one out of five newborn babies, is way down. So is maternal perinatal mortality which for millennia was one of the main, if not the main, cause why young women in particular died. Many dreadful diseases that used to plague us have been all but eradicated. So much so that some doctors would not recognize them if they saw them. Others were made curable by antibiotics and other means. Physiotherapy, surgery, and whole armies of other treatments are daily performing miracles.

All this helps explain the population explosion that has taken place since 1945 in particular. Several times over the last three decades or so the alarm bells have been set ringing. First came AIDS, then SARS, then swine flu, then Ebola. And this list only includes a few of the better-known cases. Each outbreak led to apocalyptic predictions about the terrible things that would happen to humanity. In the event, thanks partly to the fact that the reports were exaggerated and partly to medical science, almost nothing happened.

As recently as 1800, even in developed countries such as France, life-expectancy stood at twenty-something years. Since then it has shot up until, in the West, it is now around eighty. The most impressive increases took place during the last few decades. So great were they that they generated a number of new problems. A good example is the rising incidence of various forms of cancer. One cause of the increase is probably the pollution generated by many modern industries. Another may be the simple fact that, until not so long ago, many more people died before they contracted the disease.

Blue_Nudes_Henri_MatisseYet good health also has another face that is seldom mentioned. I am referring to the almost divine delight of feeling one’s body in action while not having to worry about it. By that standard our health, far from being the best in history, is probably the worst. Countless millions worry about what insufficient stress/too much stress will do to their health. The same applies to not enough sun/too much sun, not enough physical activity/too much physical activity, not enough sleep/too much sleep, not enough sex/too much sex, etc. Not to mention the effects of radiation, various kinds of pollution, noise, and what not.

We have become addicted to devices that monitor our breath, our heartbeat, our blood pressure, and similar things on a twenty-four hour a day basis. We have legions of health professionals—bureaucrats, physicians, nutrition-experts, exercise coaches, psychiatrists, psychologists, what have you—looking after us. Often, and if only because their livelihood depends on it, instead of reducing our fears they reinforce them. That again helps explain why, in the U.S the “health-care industry”—over 8 million hits on Google.com—now accounts for almost 20 percent of GDP. Other developed countries are not far behind.

Living, it seems, is bad for your health. Here I want to focus on one of the things people worry about most i.e. their food. Superficially, never before have so many eaten so well. Partly that is because regulation has become far, far stricter than it used to be. Partly it is because, as the most cursory look at the media shows, people have become more interested in what they eat. That is why “food additives,” many of them totally useless, have become a huge industry that generates billions in profits. Tens of thousands of scientists around the world spend their entire working life trying to find out what is good for us and what is not. Especially, it seems, what is not.

Search and thou shall find, says the Bible. The number of bad foods has become almost infinite. Fat food is bad and should be avoided. The same applies to “junk” food, fast food, processed food, and genetically modified food (in Europe). Also to any kind of food that is not “natural.” This, incidentally, begs the question as to whether there also exist such things as un-natural and supernatural foods; what they are like; and who has the privileged of consuming them.

Meat is bad. Both salt and sugar are bad. So are some of the things used as substitutes for the latter. So bad are soft drinks that they have been called “the devil’s weapon against the body.” But water too is bad. Unless that is, it comes out of a plastic bottle and is fluoridated (or not, depending on whom you ask). In that case, provided it has sufficient minerals added to it and consequently costs ten times as much as it should, it becomes good. Tea is bad, but gracious nature has also created coffee. For many years it used to be bad; but recently it has changed its spots and become good.

Not just individual foods but many combinations of them are bad. By one list they include cheese and meat omelets; tomato and cheese pasta sauce; bananas and milk; yogurt with fruit; lemon dressing on cucumber and tomato salad; and melon with prosciutto. Whether these “facts” have anything to do with the widespread popularity of the combinations in question I leave for the reader to decide.

Especially in the U.S, the outcome has been to make people see pleasurable and healthy eating as mutually exclusive. If it tastes good it must be bad, and the other way around. Many foods that used to be good have suddenly turned bad. The prime example are potatoes. For several centuries past they were good—so much so that entire nations lived on them and starved if the crop failed. To this day, grateful citizens continue to put them on the grave of Frederick the Great who introduced them to Prussia around 1750. However, of late the chair of Harvard University Department of Nutrition, no less, in its wisdom has proclaimed that they are actually bad.

The same applies to bread and other wheat products such as pasta. Never mind that Italy where pasta is consumed as a staple food, is a Mediterranean country and that the so-called Mediterranean diet is supposed to be the best in the world. Never mind, incidentally, that Italians actually have a shorter life-span than do the inhabitants of several other European countries. Meat, which at many historical times and places used to be so desirable and so expensive that most people rarely ate it, has also become bad. Milk used to be very good—after all, we all lived on it when we were very young. Now it is good only, if at all, in case the cardboard or plastic container has the words non-, un-, de- or low- printed on it. Never mind, incidentally, that none of these products is “natural.”

Fortunately the opposite is also true. Thanks to the unceasing labors of the Harvard Department of Nutrition among others, many kinds of bad food have turned out to be good after all. Eggs used to be bad because they contained cholesterol. But they were rehabilitated when it became clear that some of the cholesterol is actually good. The same applies to alcohol (“a glass of red wine a day keeps the doctor away”) and chocolate. The first two have even performed the remarkable feat of moving from good to bad and back again. The most recent example is saturated fat. For years it was blamed for all kinds of terrible things from heart attacks down. But “many recent studies” have come to the conclusion that it is “mostly benign.”

Of a former Israeli minister it used to be said that he was normal two days a week, but one never knew which. Likewise, 95 percent of everything published on the subject of nutrition appears to be bull—-.

But which 95 percent?

 

*Henri Matisse, Blue Nude, 1952.

Reining in the Macho

640px-Margot_Wahlstrom_Sveriges_EU-kommissionarIn a recent speech, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström expressed the hope that, by adopting a “feminist foreign policy, Sweden would help rein in Mr. Putin’s “macho aggression.” It is, however, much more likely that the opposite will happen. Directly or indirectly, Putin’s macho aggression will put an end to feminism. In Sweden and abroad, the least it will do is to prevent it from spreading its tentacles more than it already Feminism is, and always has been, a peacetime luxury. Come war, or even the threat of war, and it disappears like raindrops off the back of a duck.

There are several reasons for this. It is not for nothing that, with some rare exceptions most of which merely prove the rule, women have never worn armor or uniform. Physically they are just not suitable for the task. In terms of strength (especially upper-body strength), robustness, aerobic capacity, running speed, endurance, and the ability to throw things only a few of the strongest women can keep up even with the weakest of men. To this must be added the fact that, for obvious anatomical reasons, men’s bodies are much better adapted for leading rough, filthy, unwashed lives in the field.

Here and there attempts have been made to ignore these facts by making women train as hard as men do. The outcome has been a rate of injuries much higher than that which men undergoing similar training sustained. Quite some of the injuries damaged the women’s ability to have children more or less permanently. A few proved deadly.

Partly as a result of this weakness, partly because somebody must look after hearth and children (or else waging war would be pointless to begin with), historically whenever war broke out women have remained at home. Or, else, in case the enemy was near and the opportunity still offered itself, they were evacuated as were the Athenian women in front of the Persian invasion. Staying at home, the last thing they had on their minds was feminism, here understood—and the number of different definitions is as large as, if not greater than, that of feminists—to mean the idea that women should be independent of men.

Again, there are a number of reasons for this. First, women were kept too busy doing all kinds of heavy, dirty, and sometimes dangerous work men normally do to get all kinds of ideas into their heads. Second, with the enemy ante portas even the dullest, man-hating women understood well enough that only men could protect them against conquest, subjugation, and rape (sometimes said, in my view wrongly, to be “a fate worse than death”). Third, with the men gone to the front, some never to return, women did much as they pleased in any case.

Surely it is no accident that Sparta, the most militaristic Greek city-state of all, was also the one where women enjoyed greater freedom and more rights than in any other. Indeed this freedom and those rights may not have been altogether unconnected to the famous Spartan woman order to her son, “come back with your shield of on it.” After all, the more Spartan men were killed in action the richer Spartan women became. Aristotle claims that women ended up by owning most of Sparta’s land. Enough said.

Too, the inverse link between the occurrence of war on one hand and the spread of feminism on the other has other implications. It helps explain why women apparently enjoyed greater rights in the large, massive Hellenistic monarchies than they did during the classical period when all city-states were constantly fighting all the rest. It also explains why the shift from republic to empire was accompanied by an improvement in the status of Roman women. It is no accident that Sweden, as perhaps the world’s leading feminist state, has not engaged in even one war for the last two hundred years.

And the future? Nobody knows. Currently, in spite of intensive efforts to recruit more, only about five percent of Sweden’s uniformed personnel are female. That is considerably less than is the case in the U.K (9 percent), Russia (said to be 10 percent, though the real number may be smaller), and the U.S (15-6 percent). It is much less than the Israeli figure which, counting conscripts only, stands around 25-30 percent. Even some countries where feminism is notoriously weak, such as China (7.5 percent) have more women in their armed forces than Sweden does. From Ms. Wallström down, Swedish women seem to be more inclined to claim their “equality” and “rights” than to defend their country, and of course the rights themselves, weapon in hand, against a “macho” enemy.

Such being the case, not a person in the world, perhaps not even Ms. Wallström herself, knows what a feminist foreign policy could mean. In her speech, all she did was utter some vague phrases about the need to adopt a “soft” foreign policy and put more women in charge of it. Whether doing so will greatly impress Mr. Putin with his 850,000 active troops, ballistic missiles capable of turning much of the world into a radioactive desert, and, last not least, black judo belt, is, to say the least, a little doubtful.

Personally I can only imagine one kind of Swedish feminist foreign policy: it is called appeasement. Not to use less polite terms. I wish it much success.

What War is Good For

I. Morris, War! What Is It Good For? New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, pp.xi+496.*

2014.07.13-Book-review-Ian-Morris’s-“War”

Morris, a professor of classics and of history at Stanford University, thinks he can distinguish between two kinds of war. The first kind, which he calls “counterproductive war,” is waged by non-state entities against each other and also against what more developed communities exist. It is the oldest form of war by far, consisting of skirmishes and raids and leading to little but death and destruction. It prevalence was responsible for the fact that, among the simplest known societies such as the Yanomamo of Brazil, as many as 10-20 percent of all people used to come to a violent end. It goes without saying that a population consisting of tribes, all constantly fighting each other for honor and for resources such as water, cattle and women cannot produce much by way of a civilization. As Morris, quoting Thomas Hobbes, says, its members’ lives are almost certain to be nasty, brutish and short.

Enter the other kind of war, which Morris calls “productive.” Productive war was made possible by certain technical and organizational innovations the first and most important of which was the invention of agriculture. It enabled the “stationary bandits” who best knew how to use them to break the cycle and set out on the way to empire-building. To be sure, doing so was a slow process with many ups and downs. Some 9,000 years, Morris says, had to pass from the time the first steps were taken to about 200 B.C. By that date four mighty empires had arisen. One in the Mediterranean (Rome); one in the Middle East (the Parthian); one in India the Mauryan); and one in the Far East (China). All had this in common that they were, or soon became, centralized organizations under a powerful monarch. All extracted money from the peasantry and used it to hire soldiers, set up standing armies, and pacify the country.

Life under absolute government was not always fun. Still that government, and the armies on which it rested, did enable towns, i.e. the kind of civilization in which at least some people do more than just scratch the earth, to exist and, quite often, to flourish. Even more important: as they did so, the proportion of people who met a violent end went down by as much as four fifths.

Unfortunately it did not last. By about 200 A.D all four empires just mentioned were in a state of decay. In all cases the decay was brought about by nomads who, seeking “living space” as well as riches, overcame the empires’ defenses and poured across the borders. Attempts to stem the flood by using some of the invaders against the rest might work in the short term but proved counterproductive in the long run. Furthermore, as the rulers of each empire were left helpless to assist their subjects the latter sought shelter with local grandees. The outcome was what the author calls “feudal anarchy.” As dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny principalities fought each other tooth and nail the number of war-dead increased in proportion.

It was not until 1400 that the wheel—one is tempted to say, the wheel of fortune—again reversed course. This time the main trigger was the invention of firearms. However much tribesmen might excel in using the weapons they had purchased or captured, producing them was beyond their capabilities. Combined with the re-construction of standing armies, firearms enabled their owners to expand their power on a scale not even the ancient empires had approached. By 1700 or so, says Morris, death-by-violence had again fallen to Roman levels, though in fact the figures are too uncertain to allow definite conclusions to be drawn.

More and more “leviathans” (as Morris calls them) appeared in various parts of the world. Some fell, some rose again, in an infinitely complex process. Often they waged bloody war both against each other and inside their own outlying provides; by the first half of the nineteenth century, though, things had developed to the point where one of them, Britain, was able to act as a “globocop” and maintain a Pax Britannica over much of the world.

After 1945, following two ferocious world wars, that role was assumed by the United States. Throughout this, starting somewhere in the seventeenth century, the chances of any single individual around the world of dying by violence gradually went down to the point where it is now much smaller than it has ever been. In this way, “paradoxically” as Morris says more than once, war, “productive war,” has acted as the basis not just of power but of civilization itself. Nowhere more so than during the post-1945 years which, so far, seem to have been the most peaceful in the whole of history.

So far, the past. How about the future? Will the “long peace” endure and expand? Or will the wheel of fortune turn back as it did after 200 A.D? At the end of World War II there were only about sixty states in the world. Now there are three times as many. The splintering process does not appear to be over yet. Some of the new states gained their independence by peaceful means. But many did so by using armed violence or, at the very least, threatening to do so. That, incidentally, is something even the saintly Mahatma Gandhi did on occasion.

A few of the new states went on to build highly successful modern societies with relatively low levels of violence. Good examples are Malta, Israel—which, its problems with the Palestinians apart, has a very low murder rate—and, above all, Singapore. Many others did not do so and became known as “failed” states. In them, as events in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Sudan, the Congo, and others show, politically-organized lethal violence, AKA war, remains as widespread as it has ever been. The fate of many others, including the Central Asian Republics and large parts of Africa, seems to hang in the balance. A political scientist who tells the people of these countries that theirs is the most peaceful period in history will just make them smile.

Furthermore, as past events in Yugoslavia and current ones in the Ukraine indicate, even Europe, long considered (along with North America, Australia and Japan) one of the most peaceful regions of all, is not necessarily immune. The more so because the American globocop, under which Western Europe has lived since 1945 and Eastern Europe since 1990, seems to be losing some of its power. And the more so because of massive immigration from less successful countries; a factor which, though Morris does not even mention in this context, is becoming more important every day.

As I have written elsewhere, the most significant military development of our times seems to be the decline, much of it due to nuclear proliferation and deterrence, of large-scale conventional interstate war. In its place we see the rise of “non-trinitarian” war. Those who wage non-trinitarian war are the barbarians of old; fanatical and organized in ever-shifting groups that operate in a decentralized way.

As the atrocities Daesh is committing show, in point of ruthlessness they have nothing to learn. Unlike some of their predecessors they are often at home with the most advanced technologies. That includes computers and communications as well as propaganda techniques. In fact one could argue that, given the ability of those technologies to cross borders, they are more suited for the use of all sorts of terrorists, guerrillas and insurgents than in helping states to put them down. Assuming that such is indeed the case, the future does not look at all bright.

Morris’ book is not quite as original as he, and those who provided him with blurbs, would like us to think. Similar ideas concerning the rise of the state have long been advocated by the sociologist Charles Tilly. Some of Morris’ assertions are erroneous or at least too sweeping. For example, his claim (which has by no means been proved) that the barbarians who brought down the Roman empire fought mounted; or when, seeking to show how events happened more or less simultaneously in different places around the world, he exaggerates the decline of China from the end of the Han dynasty on. Contrary to what he says, one could argue that, in spite of some interruptions, the T’ang centuries, and even more so those of Song and Ming, were precisely the ones under which Chinese civilization outshone all the rest. Thus they do not fit the timetable he has postulated.

At other times Morris goes into more tactical and operational detail than is needed to substantiate his thesis. That is particularly true of chapter 5, which is basically a politico-military history of the years 1914-1990 and does not have much new to say. Since he only uses footnotes for quotes, some of his data cannot be checked.

On the whole, the closer the text gets to the present the more questionable it becomes. Nevertheless, the book’s very title—the idea that war, or at any rate some kinds of war, may actually be good for something—poses a challenge not only to incorrigible peaceniks but to serious scholars as well. Thanks to the easy and sometimes breezy style in which it is written, it is also accessible.

If you are at all interested in war and its impact on history, do yourself a favor and get a copy.

 

* Thanks to Morgan Norval who first brought War! What Is It Good For? to my attention.