978-0-684-84502-9 / 9780684845029

The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny


Publisher:Free Press



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About the book:

On first glance, The Soul of Battle appears to be three different books: biographies of two well-known generals--Sherman and Patton--and one who is virtually unknown today, the ancient Greek leader Epaminondas. Yet Victor Davis Hanson, a classics professor and author of The Western Way of War, makes a compelling connection between these three men. They were "eccentrics, considered unbalanced or worse by their own superiors" who led democratic armies on missions of freedom. Epaminondas crushed Sparta's military dominance of Greece in a single winter, Sherman delivered a deathblow to the slaveholding South in the U.S. Civil War, and Patton was the general most feared by his Nazi enemies in the Second World War. Hanson disputes the conventional notion that soldiers fight only for their buddies, rather than abstract ideals. He writes: "Theban hoplites, Union troops, and American GIs were ideological armies foremost, composed of citizen-soldiers who burst into their enemies' heartland because they believed it was a just and very necessary thing to do. The commanders who led them encouraged that ethical zeal, made them believe there was a real moral difference" between what they and their opponents stood for. Epaminondas, Sherman, and Patton each became extremely controversial for his success, but Hanson argues persuasively that their efforts demonstrate "that on rare occasions throughout the ages there can be a soul, not merely a spirit, in the way men battle." With this idiosyncratic approach, Hanson makes a unique contribution to our understanding of not only these three men and their troops, but also the role of the military in a democratic society. --John J. Miller

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