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Book Review: An Instinct for War

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  • Book Review: An Instinct for War

    Review by Rick Baillergeon, discuss it here!

    Dr. S.
    Imagine a ball of iron, the size of the sun. And once a year a tiny sparrow brushes its surface with the tip of its wing. And when that ball of iron, the size of the sun, is worn away to nothing, your punishment will barely have begun.

    www.sinisterincorporated.co.uk

    www.tabletown.co.uk

  • #2
    This book has been a long time coming, but it has been worth the wait. I first met Roger Spiller when he taught a course at the US Army Command and General Staff College titled, "Men in Battle". The course required a great deal of reading, and we read as much fiction as we did nonfiction. Roger's pursuit was to understand the individual in battle and what they went through. It did not matter whether that understanding came from fiction or nonfiction. So it is not surprising he used a fictional vehicle to share his years of study in a manner that would allow him to mix and match aspect of men in battle through the ages.

    SLA Marshall's book, Men Against Fire was one of our nonfictions. Roger at one point was going to write a biography on him, but when he went through Marshall's papers at the University of Texas at El Paso, he could not find any statistical analysis to support his quantitative conclusions. He published an article on that in the British publication RUSI--the article rippled through the military community.

    We read The Red Badge of Courage, The Killer Angels, All Quiet on the Western Front, Dispatches and compared them with societal perceptions of soldiers. At the time we had the Vietnam movies, Deer Hunter, Platoon, which had the message that war turned soldiers into animals who could not assimilate back into society. Too many from many wars have for that to be so, but one found it in the literature.

    Read the book, you cannot believe the amount of erudition he brings to a very unique ficitonal aspects war through the ages(and to the future).
    Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 05 Mar 06, 11:06.
    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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    • #3
      DS have you read the book yet? I think you would like the chapter on "Human Rain".
      Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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      • #4
        I haven't read it personally, but when I was loading the review up I thought it looked interesting.

        Dr. S.
        Imagine a ball of iron, the size of the sun. And once a year a tiny sparrow brushes its surface with the tip of its wing. And when that ball of iron, the size of the sun, is worn away to nothing, your punishment will barely have begun.

        www.sinisterincorporated.co.uk

        www.tabletown.co.uk

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        • #5
          The "Human Rain" Chapter deals with the Russo-Japanese War, 1905. Not only does the book provide fascinating moments and imagery, but also selects military history just off the beaten path. DS, have you secured your copy yet?
          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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          • #6
            'Instinct for War' 4 deep knowledge on war

            Originally posted by Doctor Sinister
            Review by Rick Baillergeon, discuss it here!

            Dr. S.
            Based on the enthusiastic reviews above I bought the book a couple of weeks ago and still haven't finished it. This for once is a meant as a compliment: the book is so full of food for thought that I only read a chapter and then need a couple of evenings to digest what I read before moving on to the next chapter.
            'Instinct for War' consists of a set of beautifully composed 'capita selecta' of war stories through the ages. These 'capita', like the the great books in history, can be read and interpreted at different levels.
            The periods in which professor Stiller chose to set his stories are crucial periods in history during which the nature of warfare changed.

            What I found extra attractive is that in these stories the spirit of the ages described is caught beautifully; achieved through an exquiste use of language. E.g. the Greek warrior-scholar addressing an audience of young Athenian commanders in classical antiquity sounds like what you get when translating Thucydides; while letters from a field hospital in the US Civil War read like they are composed in that period with all its politesse and piety.

            This book is IMO one of the most remarkable 'war books' which has appeared recently and I hugely recommend it to any student of history of war who wants to receive deep knowledge on his subject; to be devoured slowly for optimal digestion.
            BoRG

            You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by captainsennef
              This book is IMO one of the most remarkable 'war books' which has appeared recently and I hugely recommend it to any student of history of war who wants to receive deep knowledge on his subject; to be devoured slowly for optimal digestion.
              Agree. The book has so much depth, that one will be able to read, wait, re-read with more personal experience, and will receive new insights. It was Roger who taught me that books are like a mirror, if a jackass looks in, a genius does not look out. He has crafted a masterful mirror.
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by captainsennef
                Based on the enthusiastic reviews above I bought the book a couple of weeks ago and still haven't finished it. This for once is a meant as a compliment: the book is so full of food for thought that I only read a chapter and then need a couple of evenings to digest what I read before moving on to the next chapter.
                'Instinct for War' consists of a set of beautifully composed 'capita selecta' of war stories through the ages. These 'capita', like the the great books in history, can be read and interpreted at different levels.
                The periods in which professor Stiller chose to set his stories are crucial periods in history during which the nature of warfare changed.

                What I found extra attractive is that in these stories the spirit of the ages described is caught beautifully; achieved through an exquiste use of language. E.g. the Greek warrior-scholar addressing an audience of young Athenian commanders in classical antiquity sounds like what you get when translating Thucydides; while letters from a field hospital in the US Civil War read like they are composed in that period with all its politesse and piety.

                This book is IMO one of the most remarkable 'war books' which has appeared recently and I hugely recommend it to any student of history of war who wants to receive deep knowledge on his subject; to be devoured slowly for optimal digestion.
                Capt S,

                You comments moved to pick up Spiller's book again; I read it when it first came out to see what he chose to write. This time I can savor the thoughts and writing.

                We used to talk about the dangers of intelligence estimates in the face of a commander's preconceived notions, and he talked about the dangers of telling historical truths. His favorite example was a short passage in Daniel Boorstin's "The Discoverers" on Ssu-ma Ch'ien, a Royal Astrologer(who doubled as historian) in the second century B.C.:

                "A single imprudent word was enough to ruin his life. Once after the general Li Ling had lost a great and bloody battle "the Emperor could find no flavor in his food and no delight in the deliberations of his court." The other generals met in an imperial council to commiserate on the defeat and put th eblame on Li Ling. But Ssu-ma Ch'ien considered him a paragon of loyalty and of virtue, and believed the battle had been lost despite Li Ling's bravery. When called into the imperial council, Ssu-ma Ch'ien (by his own account) "took the chance to speak of Li LIng's merits...hoping to broaden His Majesty's view and put a stop to the angry words of the other officials." For these ill-considered remarks he was thrown into prison, accused of "defaming the Emperor," for which the penalty was death. "May family was poor," Ssu-ma Ch'ien explained, "and lacked sufficient funds to buy commutation of sentence."

                "Ch'ien begged a reprieve so that he could finish compiling his history. The Emperior, reluctant to lose so expert and energetic an Astrologer Royal, graciously ordered that instead of being executed, Ch'ien should be castrated."

                Now you know the seed for the first chapter.

                rna
                Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 20 May 06, 17:04.
                Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong
                  Capt S,

                  You comments moved to pick up Spiller's book again; I read it when it first came out to see what he chose to write. This time I can savor the thoughts and writing.

                  We used to talk about the dangers of intelligence estimates in the face of a commander's preconceived notions, and he talked about the dangers of telling historical truths. His favorite example was a short passage in Daniel Boorstin's "The Discoverers" on Ssu-ma Ch'ien, a Royal Astrologer(who doubled as historian) in the second century B.C.:

                  "A single imprudent word was enough to ruin his life. Once after the general Li Ling had lost a great and bloody battle "the Emperor could find no flavor in his food and no delight in the deliberations of his court." The other generals met in an imperial council to commiserate on the defeat and put th eblame on Li Ling. But Ssu-ma Ch'ien considered him a paragon of loyalty and of virtue, and believed the battle had been lost despite Li Ling's bravery. When called into the imperial council, Ssu-ma Ch'ien (by his own account) "took the chance to speak of Li LIng's merits...hoping to broaden His Majesty's view and put a stop to the angry words of the other officials." For these ill-considered remarks he was thrown into prison, accused of "defaming the Emperor," for which the penalty was death. "May family was poor," Ssu-ma Ch'ien explained, "and lacked sufficient funds to buy commutation of sentence."

                  "Ch'ien begged a reprieve so that he could finish compiling his history. The Emperior, reluctant to lose so expert and energetic an Astrologer Royal, graciously ordered that instead of being executed, Ch'ien should be castrated."

                  Now you know the seed for the first chapter.

                  rna
                  This will teach me to have some more faith in my fellow ACG members!
                  When I read the above story in Spiler's book, its cast with a strong willed and Chinese emporor whose army had just suffered defeat, a hesitant astrologer and a traditional bound and defeated general, the story sounded vaguely familiar but couldn't for the life of me recall where I had read it before, as might have been over 20 years ago. I was thinking of asking for help in the forum but decided against it as the changes of getting an answer seemed very slim. Now the solution is presented to me on a silver tray. Thanks.
                  BoRG

                  You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

                  Comment

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