Book Review: Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think


by Victor Davis Hanson

New York: Doubleday, 2003. Pp. 278. Illus., biblio., index. $27.50. ISBN:0-385-50400-4

Battles have a lot of effects. In many cases, they may turn the tide of a war (like Midway did), but in some cases, they also change how the people of a country (or a civilization) view war. But how do these battles effect change?

Victor Davis Hanson, a frequent contributor to National Review Online, attempts to answer those questions in Ripples of Battle. This is focuses on three battles: Okinawa in 1945, Shiloh in 1862, and Delium in 464 B.C. The first battle has a bit of a personal connection for Hanson: His uncle was killed in action during it. The selection of Shiloh is one that seems quite inspired, particularly given the transformation in thinking that William Tecumseh Sherman went through. Delium’s choice seems obscure, though, as does his selection of a battle from the Peloponnesian War to begin with.

Hanson presents his case in a very thorough fashion, tying it in to present events. Of particular note is the way that he connects Japanese kamikaze pilots with the Islamist murder-suicide bombers of today. He also generally exonerates William Tecumseh Sherman of many of the most serious charges laid against him (usually from Southerners) during his “march to the sea” in 1864-1865. In a very real sense, Hanson manages to explain the development of modern warfare in his first two examples.

These first two portions of this book, with their relevance to the modern way of warfare, make up for the third portion and its delving into Greek culture that tends to make a reader pass over some of the more relevant aspects to the warfare of today, particularly an early justification of preemption and an interesting revelation concerning “blue-on-blue” engagements.

Overall, this is a superb book, showing the effects that the battles selected have had on modern warfare. It is well worth reading – particularly for the look into the workings of the kamikaze attacks during Okinawa, which have a particular relevance to the War on Terror.r

Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison   

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