John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1993), 432pp., $ 27.50
Bruce D. Porter, War and the Rise of the State (New York: Free Press, 1993), 350pp., $24.95.
Many historians and social scientists harbor a strong antipathy toward the serious study of war and its influence. Their dislike is based not only on understandable emotional and moral considerations, but also on intellectual ones. The history of wars and warfare as it is taught in most general high school and college history courses appears not only repulsive, but sterile, repetitive and boring. The same countries always seem to be marching their armies across Europe and fighting big, bloody but inconclusive battles--the names to be memorized for the final exam. One war and battle follows another all waged by kings and generals with easily forgettable names over equally arcane and forgettable issues: "the Habsburg-Valois struggle," "the Austrian Succession," "the Schleswig-Holstein Question." Even before the era of music videos and computer games, this was the kind of stuff guaranteed to induce terminal boredom in any red-blooded high school or college student.