Max Boot's War Made New

Boot writes of Europe's old feudal order having been based upon heavy cavalry. The estates of noblemen produced and supported mounted warriors. Then came the use of infantry, which took battlefield dominance away from men on horseback. "English longbowmen and Swiss pikeman" writes Boot, "proved to be more than a match for cumbersome cavalry." He writes that war began to be democratized during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and that "politics and society would soon follow."

Then came gunpowder and firearms. These, writes Boot, ended the power of Mongol archers on horseback. Cavalrymen with bow and arrows were no match for infantrymen with firearms. A part of what Boot describes as "the gunpowder revolution" was artillery, which could knock down castle walls – the nobility's power center. In response to aggression with artillery, low-slung earthen defensive barriers were built, with artillery positioned to fire at an enemy from different angles. These were fortresses that an aggressor could overpower only with an army of great size, the kind of army that the "petty lords of Europe" could not afford. Monarchs put together these larger armies, and they expanded territorially. The modern state came into being. Boot quotes Charles Tilly: ''War made the state, and the state made war."

Boot describes Europe as having been transformed by methods of warfare, with war becoming nationalized, the role of privateers and mercenaries reduced, and the discipline required of big armies affecting governance: namely the rise of absolute monarchs.

Boot gives his reasons for Britain's success against the Marathas in India. The Marathas had plenty of guns – more field guns, actually, than the British -- and they had 30,000 cavalry against 1,200 for the British. But the British had the "edge in tactics and discipline." He describes the Marathas as handicapped by warrior tradition:

From a traditional warrior's standpoint, there was little sense in fighting anonymously in the ranks where no one could see your feats of courage. If you did fight, it should be to gain loot or to protect your clan. Why risk your neck for an abstract cause or a distant ruler? Especially if the odds of getting killed were so high. 

Despite the British being vastly outnumbered, the British won against the Marathas, suggests Boot, because of what historian John Lynn calls their "battle culture of forbearance." Much of the Maratha military remained traditional. Some had not given up the bow and arrow. Their hit and run tactics did not work against a resolute line of British infantry and guns. They were uncoordinated. Rather than a single commander giving direction the Maratha chieftains acted at cross-purposes. Moreover, they lacked a system for supplying their  troops. Most of their soldiers were not paid regularly. The individual Indian soldier was brave, but they had reason to be less confident.

The British, writes Boot, had advanced their military organizationally because of their curiosity, rationalism and desire for efficiency, not an innate superiority perhaps but part of a development in an age of expanding trade and the liberalism that accompanied free trade. "Staying abreast of the latest developments in military technology requires a certain amount of intellectual freedom and scientific inquiry," writes Boot "which would have been incompatible with the absolute rule of the Maratha nobility." Boot adds:

Even if the Marathas had had more officers schooled in Western tactics...overall control still would have been exercised by tribal chiefs who were more influenced by reading chicken entrails than by reading any treatise on strategy.

"Defeat," he writes, "has often been a spur to innovations, from the Prussians in the Napoleonic Wars, to the Germans' humiliation in World War I, to the Americans' humiliation in the Vietnam War."

One point that Boot makes that I would like to question is his description of Britain's failure to move from battleships to aircraft carriers and this having "hastened the fall of the British Empire." I doubt that the British would have defended their empire much better with aircraft carriers than they did without them. Empires were on their way out after the Second World War for reasons other than limitations in naval power.

The book is 478 pages with 127 pages of bibliography and notes. Boot is an award-winning historian, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor to the journal Weekly Standard. He has a B.A. in history from U.C. Berkeley and a master's degree in diplomatic history from Yale. According to the book's jacket, he lectures at numerous military schools and advises the Department of Defense on transformation issues. The book was published in 2006.