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School for Fighting

by Victor Davis Hanson

Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War, by Eliot A. Cohen (Free Press, 432 pp., $30)

What does the “Western Way of War” — or its subset the “American Way of War” — mean? Most have inferred from the phrase a dynamic military tradition of some 2,500 years that dates back to the dawn of the Greek city-state. Despite frequent detours and occasional dead-ends over the centuries, it bestowed on Europeans — including Alexander the Great, the Successors, Roman legions, Hernán Cortés, and the 19th-century British imperialists — innate advantages over their non-Western enemies.

On any given day, a greater commitment to decisive battle, discipline (as defined by drill and solidarity of rank), superior technology (made possible through devotion to the rational tradition), plentiful supply (which is a dividend of free markets), the more frequent civic audit of consensual government, and emphasis on freedom and individualism might, on the battlefield, trump even enemy advantages in manpower, logistics, location, and generalship.

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