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The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero (review)

From: The Journal of Military History
Volume 70, Number 1, January 2006
pp. 250-251 | 10.1353/jmh.2006.0037

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The Journal of Military History 70.1 (2006) 250-251

The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero. Edited by John W. Steinberg et al. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005. ISBN 90-04-14284-3. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Index. Pp. xxiii, 671. $216.00.

In World War Zero, (volume 20 in Brill's "History of Warfare" series) editor John Steinberg has woven together the contributions of a multinational cast of thirty-three scholars to produce a broad if inevitably eclectic series of essays recounting the Russo-Japanese War.

The work itself is divided into four parts. In part one, the long-term diplomatic interests and activities of Russia and Japan are succinctly brought together in a series of perceptive essays—pride of place going here to David Goldfrank's "Crimea Redux," which argues that many of the same assumptions that guided Russian policy in 1853—"the other side would not fight; or Russia could win; and at any rate Russia simply could not cede on such issues" (p. 101)—were the lodestars of Russian diplomacy half a century later.

In part two, "War on Land and Sea," the familiar story of the war is submitted to fresh analysis. Bruce Menning persuasively argues that the war cannot simply be viewed in terms of the implementation of—or as a competition between—the strategies of Moltke and Mahan. The asymmetries between the two sides that invariably are a part of modern war meant that neither theorist alone offered the elusive key to victory. Oleg Airapetov offers a perceptive analysis of the Russian Army's "fatal flaws," first among them the triumph of the military bureaucrat over the warrior. Yoshihisa Matsusaka adds a fascinating essay on the myth of "human bullets": the alleged Japanese preference for mass infantry assaults as a tactical norm. Matsusaka shows how the apotheosis of General Nogi—mutatis mutandis a sort of successful Japanese Ambrose Burnside—after the war prevented the emergence of the real story of the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, an account that would have emphasized Japanese bravery to be sure, but would also have highlighted the inadequacies of Japanese command. Treatment of the naval war is limited to two essays on Russian planning and operations in the Far East. Of great interest is an essay on the Japanese High Command's attempt to foment subversion inside the Russian Empire during the war.

Part three, the home front, deals with topics so vast that of necessity the treatment is highly selective. John Bushnell's analysis of the link between the war and the 1905 revolution provides nuance to an important result of the war. The call-up of reserves in 1904, not the news of defeats in Manchuria, prompted the first violence against the regime, and the ultimate deployment of a million regular troops to the East meant that the regime was short of reliable soldiers to deal with the incipient rebellion.

"The Impact," part four, concentrates on Japan and Russia. In "Inspiration for Nationalist Aspirations?" however, Paul Rodell provides important caveats to the oft-reiterated claim of the war's role in inspiring nationalism in the Far East.

Altogether, World War Zero is an important collection. While the present volume concentrates most heavily on Russian sources, a second volume promises to redress this imbalance. Sadly, the volume's formidable price may limit its availability.

Gary P. Cox

Gordon College
Barnesville, Georgia


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