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June 25, 2010

Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World

From Marathon to Waterloo
Edward Shepherd Creasy - ISBNs below

Beyond doubt, this is the most famous work of military history written in the nineteenth century (published in 1852.) My copy (ISBN - 0880291486) was a re-release by the Military Heritage Press years ago. It was republished in 2008 by Barnes and Noble (9780486461700) and by Nabu press (9781146922531) in 2010. (I'd encourage you to see if you can find a good copy, used, before you ante-up for the new versions, since the Nabu press version appears to be the best, and it is $33 in paperback! A quick "used" search yields at least 6 copies for $1-2 and a handful more for <$7.)

Creasy is a renowned military historian, and this particular work, his best, is diligently researched. His choice of battles upon which to report, and the strength of his narrative is what makes the book such a classic. I decided to reread it recently, and would encourage you to consider it the topic interests you. There is no finer work of this genre. It obviously omits important battles after Waterloo, though it would be interesting to know which battles, aside from Midway, he would choose as changing the course of more modern history, and what he might think of Reagan's "win" of the Cold War.

He is able to skillfully take you into the historic period, and forthwith into the battle details which make for such a wonderful read. Following each battle he gives a thumbnail sketch of happenings up until the next important encounter.

In retrospect, his introduction is unduly hopeful: "It is an honorable characteristic of the spirit of this age [Waterloo in 1815, to 1852] that projects of violence and warfare are regarded among civilized states with gradually increasing aversion." Oops! Me thinks he spoke too soon, maybe?

He describes human courage, honor and nobility along with the agony and destruction of war. As well, he reviews advances in military technology. Mostly, however, he gives the conflicts historic context, explaining who and how, and what impact these events had on the future history of the world.

What, for instance, would the world be like had the Greeks been strangled in their crib by the Persians--an incident prevented by the Greek victory at Marathon? And what of the German "barbarians"--Celts and Teutons who influenced the Saxons, and along with the Normandian Vikings became modern England--if Arminius (Herman the German) had not prevailed over the Romans in 9 A.D. Same so at Orleans, when St. Joan prevailed over the English; the British defeat of the Spanish Armada, and finally the several battles which "settled" the British Empire and set the stage for modern Europe. Granted there is an undercurrent of Britain, the victor, but Creasy was English, and from 1600 on, the Brits were the people to beat, notwithstanding their loss at Saratoga . . . without which, of course, the United States probably would not be.

Unlike more modern "What ifs," Creasy doesn't go too far into alternate realities. He simply reports upon what didn't take place, having set the stage for what might have.

Amongst my favorite passages of the book is his radical insight into "Oriental" (middle and far east) civilizations, which bears mightily upon our current conundrum: "A monotonous uniformity pervades the histories of nearly all Oriental empires. . . . They are characterized by the rapidity of their early conquests, by the immense extent of the dominions comprised in them, . . . by an invariable and speedy degeneracy in the princes of the royal house, the effeminate nurslings of the seraglio succeeding the warrior sovereigns reared in the camp, and by the internal anarchy and insurrections which indicate and accelerate the decline and fall of these unwieldy and ill-organized fabrics of power. It is also a striking fact that the governments of all the great Asiatic empires have in all ages been absolute despotisms. . . . the paternal government of every household was corrupted by polygamy . . . Fathers, being converted into domestic despots are ready to pay the same abject obedience to their sovereign which they exact from their family."

He goes on to opine that "Had Persia beaten Athens at Marathon . . . the infant energies of Europe would have been trodden out beneath universal conquest, and the history of the world, like the history of Asia, have become a mere record of the rise and fall of despotic dynasties, of the incursions of barbarous hordes, and of the mental and political prostration of millions beneath the diadem, the tiara, and the sword.

Keep that insight in mind when you consider the "unimportance" of modern Persia . . . Iran! They are capable of great menace . . . and malice. And they're back for another go-round in their ancient conflict. They haven't forgotten. Have we?

There is no such thing as compromise with these people!

Posted by Curmudgeon at June 25, 2010 12:45 PM