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  • The Barbarization of Warfare
  • Jeremy Black
The Barbarization of Warfare.Edited by George Kassimeris . New York: New York University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8147-4797-3.Notes. Index. Pp. xii, 321. $19.00.

This is an interesting but very mixed work. Intended to help develop what Jay Winter in the epilogue terms a fuller understanding of the barbarism of total war, the collection includes general essays on barbarisation and warfare (George Kassimeris, Joanna Bourke), more specific pieces on World War Two (Richard Overy, Hew Strachan, Mary Habeck, Amir Weiner), discussion of recent American conduct (Marilyn Young, Paul Rogers, David [End Page 1253] Simpson, Anthony Dworkin), and three other essays: Niall Ferguson on prisoner taking and prisoner killing, which is devoted to the two world wars, David Anderson on collaboration and atrocity in Kenya's Mau Mau war, and Kathleen Taylor on brainwashing, a piece focused on the relationship between war and terrorism.

The general thrust of the volume may be questioned at least in so far as the range of topics is concerned. Too much possibly on the twentieth century, on World War Two and on Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, and insufficient, certainly, on other examples. It was not always, after all, the "advanced" societies that experienced greater mobilization, as conflict among "tribal peoples" could embody the essence of total war, and the slaughter and enslavement of civilians was widespread in pretwentieth century conflict, even if the source material is often patchy. For example, aside from such instances of Central Asian campaigning as that by Timur which should have been discussed in this book, in addition, in Africa, the elderly, women, and children were caught up in long cycles of raiding war every bit as much as fighting men. Moreover, although Churchill subsequently wrote of World War One, "Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific Christian societies had been able to deny themselves," in one light, these exceptions, which essentially remained the case thereafter, were aspects of the physical contact between combatants that had become less important in Western conflict. Furthermore, casualty figures in post-1945 counter-insurgency struggles did not approach those of such earlier episodes as the German suppression of opposition in Southwest Africa and Tanganyika in the early 1900s. In part, this was because, despite the impression created by several essays in this book, the killing of large numbers of civilians by Western forces had become not only unacceptable to public opinion but also relatively uncommon.

The individual chapters in this book deserve attention. Weiner argues that Soviet Communism overwhelmed and politicised every sphere of public and private life and institutionalised violence, offering its citizens something to die for and much to kill for. The publisher is to be congratulated on the pricing, but I am not convinced by the central argument of the book.

Jeremy Black
Jeremy Black University of Exeter
Exeter, United Kingdom


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1253-1254
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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