Monday, March 1, 2010

John David Lewis' "Nothing Less than Victory"

John David Lewis is visiting associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics at Duke University, and senior research scholar in history and classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University. He is the author of Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens and Early Greek Lawgivers.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History, and reported the following:
Nothing Less than Victory begins with an observation: that the very idea of victory in war has fallen into disuse today. Despite over 100,000 dead, the United States has not won an unambiguous military victory in a war since 1945.

Many people today think that winning a victory over an enemy—and dictating the terms of the peace that follows to the defeated nation—will bring us to another war within a generation. But history suggests otherwise. Nothing Less than Victory takes a hard look at seven events from history—in six wars, stretching from ancient Greece and Rome to the American Civil War and World War II—in which a long-term, violent conflict that killed thousands or millions of people ended decisively, leaving long-term peace in its wake. Why, I ask, did each war end so decisively, and why did the peace that followed last as long as it did?

Following an introduction, each of the seven chapters deals with one of these major events, in an essay-length narrative. I have written this for anyone interested in history, not merely for experts, and I will consider it s great compliment if readers who are not historians find excitement, and value, in it.

Here is the opening paragraph to chapter one, dealing with the Greco-Persian Wars (490 BCC and following). This gives a flavor of my style, the kind of questions that interest me, and my overall approach to them:
It was the summer of 480 BC, and the Great King Xerxes, ruler of the mighty Persian Empire, son of Darius and heir to the Achaemenid throne, King of Kings and beloved of the deity Ahura Mazda, stood at the head of his army, looking down on the object of his revenge: the Greeks. He had every reason to be pleased, and to anticipate swift victory over a ragtag enemy. For months, the largest military force ever seen had marched and rowed to his command, drinking the rivers dry as city after city sent tokens of tribute and submission. The last of his Greek enemies would soon be ground under his feet. Yet within weeks everything had changed: the king was in full retreat, his dream in ruins, his navy scattered, and his army facing annihilation. It was as if all the energy of empire, once pushing forward in an unstoppable juggernaut, had stopped and turned inward on itself. Greece would never submit to this king’s will, and no Persian king would ever again invade Greece. Why this sudden turnaround? And, most important to the future of the Western world, why was it permanent?
Page 99 comes at the end of Chapter 3, which deals with the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). This was the second major war between ancient Rome and Carthage, in which the Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy, and the great Roman general Scipio Africanus ended the bloodshed by defeating Carthage on Africa. The result was over fifty years of peace, in which Carthage renounced all further aggression and lived in peace with Rome.

This is not the war in which Rome destroyed Carthage—that was the Third Punic War, 149-146 BC, which was a dishonorable, unnecessary and horrific massacre of the people of Carthage by the Romans. A proper military victory was achieved in the Second Punic war, not in the Third.

The first paragraph of page 99 is consistent, in content and style, with the rest of the book. Here I note that one of the reasons why Carthage surrendered so quickly and completely when the Romans landed in Africa was because their commitment to the war was far less than the commitment of the Romans. Here is that paragraph:
In the end, the Carthaginians at home never cared enough about Spain itself to apply the force needed to keep it in subjection—and they did not reinforce Hannibal enough in Italy to demonstrate an all-out commitment to his war. No Carthaginian fleet sailed into [the Roman port] Ostia to support Hannibal. In contrast, Romans of all types cared deeply about Italy; its loss would be the loss of everything, and they were willing to expend all of their resources to defend it. There was literally no place else to go. This fact set the bar very high for Hannibal; Rome itself would have had to be defeated, solidly and unambiguously, its leaders dead and its allies broken. Such a feat was beyond the capacity of Hannibal to achieve without serious support from Carthage, and from foreign allies.
The rest of the page, however, departs from the approach of the rest of the book. On page 99 I take issue with a prominent historian, Donald Kagan, over his interpretation of the Second Punic War. The departure here is that I am elsewhere rarely concerned with comparing my own conclusions with those of other historians. The rest of the book is my own narrative of events, and my interpretation of them. Of course I am deeply indebted to specialists in these periods, without whom I could not have produced my book—but my approach throughout has been to present my case, not either to elevate or to shoot down the conclusions of others.

It is a measure of my respect for Professor Kagan that I made an exception in this case, and presented (very briefly) his view, and stated my disagreement. I did so because my own views could be mistaken for his, and I decided that this clarification was necessary.
Read an excerpt from Nothing Less than Victory, and learn more about the book and author at John David Lewis' website.

--Marshal Zeringue