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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A SELECTION OF THE BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB AND THE HISTORY BOOK CLUB Why do men fight? What motivates an ordinary citizen to burn and kill? What, in the end, motivates an army to win? In "The Soul of Battle," Victor Davis Hanson, bestselling author of "The Western Way of War," answers these questions in a new and startling way. Hanson offers three incredible stories -- the sagas of history's greatest marches -- that coalesce into a single powerful theory of men and war. Each story involves a democratic army pulled together on short notice, which marched deep into enemy territory to overthrow a government whose morality was fundamentally repugnant to its own. Each army stunned the world by covering many miles and capturing huge numbers of its demoralized foes. In all three cases, Hanson argues, conviction (more than firepower) made the difference against long odds. Hanson's conclusion has far-reaching consequences in our convictionless times: "right makes might." Hanson's three armies were led by controversial figures: George S. Patton, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Epaminondas, a brilliant general from ancient Greece. Hanson describes all three in stunning detail. With only runners to communicate and his men's feet to carry them, Epaminondas's Thebans marched against the Spartan empire in columns up to twenty-five miles long. At the cost of a few hundred casualties, Epaminondas freed thousands of Messenians from Spartan domination. Sherman's famed march to the sea, Hanson says, was equally successful and has been misinterpreted as a destructive, almost criminal campaign. In fact, Sherman's men killed very few Southerners, instead wreaking enormous psychological damagewhile liberating thousands of slaves. Last, in Patton's breakneck race to the Rhine, American GIs willingly followed their flamboyant leader to hell itself to purge the world of the evil of the Nazis. What made these marches so successful? In these men and their stories, there are timeless absolutes -- a cause and true leaders. The leaders shared certain characteristics: grim asceticism, an audacity born of moral certainty, and the courage to lead from the front. They have been decried by their enemies as warmongers, yet are better seen as misunderstood geniuses -- humanists whose unorthodox approaches to warfare actually "saved" thousands of lives. The perfect combination of men and cause is uncommon in history and possible only in democracies. When it happens, the force unleashed cannot be stopped. "No country," warned Patton, "can stand against such an army." "The Soul of Battle" identifies a universal truth about war. Hanson shows that under the right conditions, democratic soldiers "can make war brutally and lethally beyond the wildest nightmares of the brutal military culture they seek to destroy." The reverse is equally true. Halfhearted wars are rarely won. Men kill best for a good cause -- and they are right to do so.

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