A History of War as Culture

Image by Ancient Origins, Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, there is only one warrior culture. Its evolution and transformation over time and place, from our beginnings to arrival in the contemporary world, is the history of warfare.

By Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan
Military Historian

Easter Island

Easter Island is one of the loneliest places on earth, a dot in the southern Pacific more than 2000 miles from South America and 3000 from New Zealand, the nearest large land masses. It is also one of the world’s smallest inhabited places, a triangle of extinct volcanoes about seventy square miles in extent. Despite its isolation, it belongs firmly within the culture of Polynesia, a highly developed New Stone Age civilisation of the central Pacific which in the eighteenth century embraced the thousands of islands which lie between Easter Island, New Zealand and Hawaii, the three apices of the Polynesian triangle, distant from each other by thousands of miles in space and hundreds of years in date of original settlement.

Easter Island Maori / Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Creative Commons

Polynesian civilisation was extraordinarily adventurous. Its European discoverers and early ethnographers could not at first believe that a people without a written language could have colonised such an enormous area — thirty-eight major archipelagos and islands spread over twenty million square miles of ocean; elaborate explanations, all false, were devised to deny that the Polynesian canoe sailors had achieved feats of navigation akin to those of Cook and La Pérouse. Polynesian culture remained, nevertheless, remarkably congruent: not only were the languages of widely separated islands evidently cognate, but the social institutions flourishing on Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island remained constant and startlingly similar.

Polynesian society is theocratic in structure. Chiefs, who are believed to be descended from the gods, in turn deified or supernatural forefathers, also hold the office of high priest. As high priest the chief mediates between god and man to bestow on his people the fruits of the soil and the sea; his power of mediation — mana — entitles him to sacred rights (tapu or taboo) over land, fishing-grounds, their produce and much else that is good or desirable. Mana and taboo assured remarkably stable and peaceful societies in normal circumstances and in the happiest Polynesian islands theocracy safely regulated relations between chiefs and people, as well as among the clans that had descended from the original chief.1

Yet there was never a Polynesian Golden Age. Even in the benevolent Pacific, circumstances were not always normal, if normality means that resources were always sufficient to accommodate populations. Populations grew, though islanders regulated their numbers by birth control, infanticide and the encouragement of emigration, which they called ‘voyaging’. Times came when fertile land and productive fishing-grounds were fully exploited and no nearby or known island beckoned. Then serious trouble began. The word for a warrior, toa, is identical with that for the ironwood tree, from which clubs and other weapons were made — and used to settle the quarrels, over insults, property, women and succession to position, to which man is naturally prone. The mana of a chief had always been enhanced if he were a notable warrior. But in times of trouble warriors who were not chiefs broke taboo to seize what they needed or wanted, with disastrous effect on the Polynesian social structure. Sub-clans might become dominant and in extreme circumstances a clan might be driven from its territory altogether.

The worst case was played out on Easter Island, and with particular deadliness. How the Polynesians, perhaps in the third century AD, had found the island, 1100 miles distant over open ocean from the next nearest settled place, remains a mystery. Find it they did, however, bringing with them the staples of island life, sweet potatoes, bananas and sugar cane. They cleared land under the three peaks, harvested fish and seabirds and founded settlements. About AD 1000 they also embarked on the most elaborate veneration of the theocratic principle found in the Polynesian world. Though the population of Easter Island seems never to have exceeded 7000 souls, it succeeded over the course of the next 700 years in carving and raising more than 300 giant statues, typically five times life-size, on extensive temple platforms. In the final stage of statue-raising on Easter Island, during the sixteenth century AD, the islanders also invented a script, which appears to have been used by priests to help memorise oral traditions and genealogies. This was the culmination of a civilised time in which the perceived power of the gods, mediated through living chiefs, imposed peace and order.

Then something went wrong. Imperceptibly a growing population denuded the island’s environment. Forest clearance reduced rainfall, and the fields yielded less; it also reduced the yield of timber from which canoes were built, thus diminishing the harvest of the sea. Life on Easter Island started to become brutish. A new artefact appeared, the mata’a, a flaked obsidian spearhead of deadly effect.2 Warriors, called tangata rima toto, ‘the men with bloodied hands’, became dominant. The pyramid of clans descended from the founding chief coalesced into two groups, which from separate ends of the island warred incessantly. The paramount chief, descendant of the founder, became a symbolic figure, whose mana no longer impressed. In the course of social disintegration through warfare, the statues were systematically toppled, either as an insult to the mana of an enemy clan or as a token of rebellion by commoners against the chiefs whose mana had failed them. Eventually a bizarre new religion, utterly at odds with the stately theocracy of Polynesia, emerged: ‘the men with bloodied hands’ competed to be the first to find an egg of the sooty tern, thus winning chieftainship — for a year only.

When the Dutch voyager Roggeveen landed on Easter Island in 1722, anarchy was already far advanced; by the end of the nineteenth century, degeneration — compounded by European slave-raiding and the diseases the Europeans had introduced — had reduced the population to 111 persons, who retained but the sketchiest oral traditions of their remarkable past. From what they told, and from the dramatic archaeological evidence, anthropologists reconstructed a doleful picture of Easter Island society in what they called its Decadent Phase. Not only did it show endemic warfare and betray signs of cannibalism; it also revealed the physical extent of the efforts some islanders made to escape from the effects of warfare altogether. Many of the natural caves and tubes in the lava had been closed with dressed stones taken from desecrated statue platforms, to make personal or family refuges, and at one end of the island a ditch had been dug to separate a peninsula from the mainland, surely a strategic defensive undertaking.

Map of Jacob Roggeveen’s voyage in 1722, by Carl Friedrich Behrens / Wikimedia Commons

Refuges and strategic defences constitute two of the three forms of fortification that military analysts recognise; only the third, the regional stronghold, is missing from Easter Island. Its absence does not denote a missing dimension of warfare that the Easter Islanders failed to practise. It is merely an index of how small the theatre of war was. Within the island’s tiny compass, the islanders appear to have taught themselves the full logic of Clausewitzian warfare by bloody experience. They certainly learnt the importance of leadership, which Clausewitz so emphasised; the existence of the entrenchment at the Poike peninsula suggests that some of them agreed with his dictum that the strategic defensive is the strongest form of warfare; they may even, given the extraordinarily sharp decline in their numbers during the seventeenth century, and the mass-production of the newly invented obsidian spearhead, have attempted Clausewitzian warfare’s crowning act, the decisive battle.

Yet to what self-defeating purpose! Clausewitz may have believed that war is the continuation of politics. Politics, however, is practised to serve culture, and the Polynesians, in their wider world, had devised a culture as beneficent as any within which men have lived. Bougainville, when he arrived at Tahiti in 1761, proclaimed that he had found the Garden of Eden and his account of beautiful people living happily in a state of nature became so influential that it contributed to the cult of the ‘noble savage’ which nourished intelligent European society’s impatience with their own ordered but artificial eighteenth-century world. Out of that impatience grew the political dissent and Romantic ideology that together overthrew the kingly states in which the devotees of noble savagery had been raised.

Clausewitz, in his exaltation of the dramatic act — decisive battle — and of the egotistic individual — the leader, Napoleon in particular — was as Romantic as any enemy of the ancien régime. In his dedication to king and regiment, however, he remained bound by mana and taboo to an extent of which he was quite unaware. In monarchical Europe, before the French Revolution, the regiment was a device for restraining the violence of warriors and harnessing it to the purposes of kings. Because Prussia, of which Clausewitz was a servant, was peculiarly disfavoured with the good things of this world, its greatest king, Frederick the Great, had encouraged his officers to practise warfare with a ruthlessness which exceeded the bounds other kings thought proper. The propagation of hismana, as it were, required a violation of taboo which fellow kings thought improper.

Frederick, however, never put himself beyond the pale. He merely pushed warfare in the prevailing code to the limits of acceptable ruthlessness. Clausewitz, raised in a world in which royal mana and military taboos had been extinguished apparently for good, found the words to legitimise the new order. That it was no order at all, and that his philosophy of warfare was a recipe for the destruction of European culture, he failed to perceive altogether. How can he be blamed? The Easter Islanders, isolated in space and time from the larger, more benevolent Polynesian world, no doubt felt, had they been able to articulate the idea, that changed circumstances required a cultural revolution. They may even have invented a word equivalent to ‘politics’ to describe the ferment of loyalties which followed the succession to power of the annual finder of the first egg of the sooty tern. We cannot now say. The degenerate state to which the survivors of endemic warfare found by the first anthropologists had been reduced was not conducive to a measured analysis of the evolution through which their culture had passed. Nevertheless, there is this observation to be made. Clausewitzian warfare did not serve the ends of Polynesian culture. That culture, though it was not free, democratic, dynamic or creative in any of the Western senses of those words, nevertheless adjusted local means to chosen ends in a fashion almost perfectly adapted to the conditions of Pacific island life. Mana and taboo fixed a balance between the roles of chief, warrior and clansman, to the benefit of all three; and if their interrelationships can be called the ‘politics’ of Polynesian life, then war was not its continuation. War, when it came in a ‘true’ form to that corner of Polynesia called Easter Island, proved to be a termination first of politics, then of culture, ultimately almost of life itself.

The Zulus

Zulu régiment in attack formation at Isandlwana, by Charles Edwin Fripp, c.1879 / Wikimedia Commons

The Easter Islanders played out their deadly, self-invented experiment in total warfare unseen by the outside world. The Zulus, by contrast, were drawn through the military revolution their society underwent at the beginning of the nineteenth century into a highly coloured confrontation with Western civilisation, in a tale which has grown with the telling. Its beginnings were a little too late for Clausewitz to have been aware of the drama unfolding in southern Africa — as he ought to have been of the story of the Mamelukes which comes next. Its culmination has become one of the great popular history stories of modern times, and a potent element in the myth of the Afrikaner people, in whose great marble shrine at Pretoria the figures of the Zulu warriors the Voortrekers fought are quite as idealised as those of the Boer heroes themselves. That is not surprising; the myth of the Afrikaners requires that their enemies should have been both noble and terrible and, in the course of their rise as a nation at the beginning of the nineteenth century until their catastrophic overthrow in the war of 1879, the Zulus became very terrible warriors indeed.

In their origins the Zulus led a gentle, pastoral way of life. The Nguni people from whom they rose, cattle-herders who had migrated to the south-east African coast from the distant north in the fourteenth century, were described by shipwrecked Europeans three centuries later as ‘in their intercourse with each other … very civil, polite and talkative, saluting each other, whether male or female, young or old, whenever they meet’.3 They were kind to strangers, who might travel in perfect safety among them, as long as they took the precaution not to carry iron or copper, which were so rare that they gave ‘inducement to murder’, and they were notably law-abiding, particularly in personal relations. Slavery was unknown, revenge had ‘little or no sway’, and disputes were referred to the chief, whose word was accepted ‘without a murmur’. Chiefs themselves were subject to law, and might be fined by their counsellors or have their decisions overturned by a higher chief.

Though their early European visitors noted that ubuntu — humanity — was their most important value, the Nguni did fight and they did wage war. The casus belli was usually a quarrel over grazing, the essential resource in a society where cattle may well outnumber people, and the loser ended up on new and poorer land. As is typical with primitive people living in underpopulated country, the result was not slaughter but displacement.

Battles tended to be ritualised, conducted under the gaze of old and young, begun with an exchange of insults and finished when casualties were inflicted. There were natural as well as customary limitations on the level of violence: because metals were scarce, weapons were made of fire-hardened wood, thrown rather than used hand-to-hand; and should a warrior happen to kill an opponent, he was obliged at once to leave the field and undergo purification, since the spirit of his victim would certainly otherwise bring fatal illness to him and his family.4

Suddenly in a few decades at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this typically ‘primitive’ style of warmaking was overturned. Shaka, chief of the Zulu, a small Nguni tribe, became the commander of an army of savagely disciplined regiments that waged battles of annihilation, and his Zulu kingdom became a power in southern Africa; the chiefdoms it displaced were reduced to fugitive tribes, wandering hundreds of miles in a chaos of social disorganisation to find some place of refuge.

Europeans who witnessed the rise of Shaka, like the navigators baffled by the Polynesians’ mastery of maritime skills, sought some explanation for it which denied a spontaneous cause. Shaka, it was said, had met Europeans and learnt of European military organisation and tactics. That was certainly untrue.5 But what was true was that the benevolent conditions enjoyed by the northern Nguni in their idyllic pastoral phase changed for the worse at the end of the eighteenth century. Cattle, by which the Nguni measured their wealth, had grown in numbers to exceed the supply of ‘sweet’ grazing. To the west rose the dramatic barrier of the Drakensberg, approached by ‘sour’ grazing inhospitable to a pastoral economy. The tsetse fly belt, on the Limpopo River to the north, denied expansion in that direction. The introduction of maize, brought to Africa from America in the sixteenth century, led to an increase in population among the southern Nguni, and further south the Boers of the Cape were blocking, with firearms and grim determination to find Lebensraum, any opportunity to move in that direction. To the east lay the sea.6

Some adjustment of their free-and-easy way of life had already occurred before Shaka rose to fame. A previous chief had abolished the system by which warriors, when called to serve their chief in war, went with others from their locality to muster at his kraal. Instead he formed ‘age regiments’, of men born in the same years. Their separation, during military service, from their potential brides reduced the birth rate; it also increased the power of the chief and the amount of the tribute — in cattle, produce and hunted game — due to him, since the warriors’ labour was his while they were under arms.

Shaka institutionalised these changes to an extreme degree. ‘Age regiments’ became permanent bodies, living apart from civil society in military barracks. Warriors were denied marriage not for the duration of a campaigning season or two but until their fortieth year, when they were allotted wives from the equivalent of women’s regiments that Shaka also formed.

The old restraints on battle were also cast aside. Shaka designed a new weapon, a stabbing spear, with which he trained his men to close with and kill their opponents. (It may be that, with the advance of the Boers out of the Cape, iron had become more plentifully available than thitherto; this is an aspect of the intensification of Nguni warfare which does not seem to have been explored by historians. The stabbing assegai would certainly have required more iron in its manufacture than the throwing spear previously used.)

Hand-to-hand fighting with edged weapons requires close-order tactics. These Shaka invented also. He had already obliged his men to discard sandals and learn to run long distances on hardened feet. In battle he formed his regiments into two wings with a strong centre and a reserve in the rear; when the moment for engagement came, the centre charged in dense ranks to fix the enemy, while each wing raced to encircle him from a flank. The purification ritual was abandoned until after the battle was over.7 When the killing started, a warrior disembowelled his victim, to ensure death, and then went on to the next. Disembowelling was the traditional means of releasing the spirit of the dead, which it was believed would otherwise drive the killer insane.

A traditional Nguni village in South Africa, c.1900 / Wikimedia Commons

Shaka did not shrink from killing women and children, a practice repugnant to his Nguni forebears, but in general he was content to kill the men of a neighbouring tribe’s ruling family, together with the warriors who gave battle; survivors were incorporated into his growing kingdom. His purpose was to build a nation out of the Nguni kin who would accept his authority, and to extend the lands they occupied.

Beyond the spreading borders of Zululand this system caused catastrophe. Shaka’s methods cured overpopulation in Zululand, but among his neighbours his methods set in train a series of displacements which robbed one people after another of their traditional homelands and their settled ways of life. ‘The rise of the Zulu kingdom had repercussions from the Cape Colonial frontier to Lake Tanganyika. Every community throughout approximately a fifth of the African continent was profoundly affected, and many were utterly disrupted.’8

These awful effects of Zulu imperialism became known as the Difaqane, ‘forced migration’. ‘By 1824 most of the country between the Tukela and the Mzimkhulu [rivers], the Drakensberg and the sea, was devastated. Thousands of people had been killed; others had fled further south; and others had been absorbed into the Zulu nation. In Natal organised community life virtually ceased.’9 This is not a small area; it measures about 15,000 square miles. Its dimensions are as nothing, however, to the distances over which fugitives from the Zulus fled. One group terminated their flight on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, 2000 miles from their starting-place. In the course of their wanderings, some groups had lost their cattle altogether and been forced to subsist on weeds and roots; some had been driven to cannibalism; many had found themselves caught up in ‘hordes’, which stripped the land like locusts, marking the course of their passage by a trail of dead and dying.

Young Zulus remained true to Shaka’s military system and ethos for some time after his fall in 1828. It is a besetting fault of triumphant warrior systems that fail to fund economic and social diversification from the fruits of victory, that they become fossilised in their moment of glory. Why that should be is a theme of this book; in the case of the Zulus it was undoubtedly the result of their having to live, as was said of the Prussians, toujours en vedette — so threatened by equally potent military powers (which happened in nineteenth-century southern Africa also to be at a more advanced stage of economic development) that they continued to concentrate all their energies in an exclusively military form. As so often elsewhere, the form was that which had determined their rise. The Zulus did eventually acquire firearms but they failed to adapt their tactics to the new weapon, persisting in the mass attack with the stabbing assegai as their means to battlefield supremacy.

Shaka was a perfect Clausewitzian. He designed a military system to serve and protect a particular way of life, which it did with dramatic efficiency. Zulu culture, by making warrior values paramount, by linking those values to the preservation of a cattle-herding economy, and by locking up the energies and imagination of the most dynamic members of the community in sterile military bondage until well past maturity, denied itself the chance to evolve and adapt to the world around it. In short, the rise and fall of the Zulu nation offers an awful warning of the shortcomings of the Clausewitzian analysis.

The Mamelukes

The Charge of the Mameluks on The Second of May 1808 in Madrid by Jacques Onfroy de Bréville, 1929 / Wikimedia Commons

Bondage, in a stronger or weaker form, is a common condition of military service. Among the Zulus it reached an extreme. Shaka’s warriors were not slaves, since it was custom, reinforced by terror, rather than law that bound them in servitude. Nevertheless they were, in a functional sense, slaves to Shaka’s will. Soldiers might, however, be slaves under the law in past times, however contradictory their status seems to us today. Slavery in the modern world implies the absolute deprivation of the individual’s liberty, while possession of weapons and mastery of their use are means to the individual’s liberation. We do not perceive how a man may be armed and at the same time bereft of his freedom. In the medieval Muslim world, however, no conflict was perceived between the status of slave and soldier. Slave soldiers — Mamelukes — were a feature of many Muslim states. In the nature of things, they often became the rulers of such states, their leaders remaining in power for generations, yet far from using the power they enjoyed to make themselves legally free, they were adamant in perpetuating the Mameluke ‘institution’ and resisted all pressure to change its nature. There were understandable reasons for their resistance. They owed their dominance to their monopoly of elaborate skills of horsemanship and archery, which to abandon for the commoner practices of musketry or fighting on foot might have toppled them from their position. It was the narrowness of their military culture, like that of the Zulus, which nevertheless brought them down in the end. Though their political power derived from their military exclusivity, they preferred to persist in their outmoded warrior style rather than adapt to new ways in warfare. The Clausewitzian analysis, in their case as in that of the Zulus, was stood on its head. The holders of power made politics a continuation of warfare. Practically that was a nonsense. Culturally the Mamelukes had no alternative.

In the Islamic as in the Greek and Roman worlds, slavery took many forms, some quite benign; a slave might be a respected craftsman, a teacher, a businessman trading in part for himself, a confidential secretary. Islam, however, took the diversity of slavery further than the Greeks or Romans had done. Under the government of the caliphs — the ‘successors’ of Muhammad who exercised worldly as well as religious authority — a slave might become a high government official. It was an extension of this practice that made slaves soldiers and it was only within the Islamic world that such soldiers were to form a military élite.

That they came to do so derives from the conflict that quickly emerged within Islam between the morality of warmaking and its practice. Muhammad, unlike Christ, was a man of violence; he bore arms, was wounded in battle and preached holy war, jihad, against those who defied the will of God, as revealed to him. His successors perceived the world as divided into Dar al-Islam — the House of Submission, submission to the teachings of Muhammad, collected in the Koran — and Dar al-Harb, the House of War, which were those parts yet to be conquered.10 The early Arab conquests of the seventh century extended the frontiers of Dar al-Islam in whirlwind leaps, so that by AD 700 the whole of what is now Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa had been brought within it. Thereafter the progress of jihad became more difficult and more problematical. The original Arab conquerors were few in number, too few to sustain the pace of conquest at its initial intensity. They also proved in victory to be prone to the weaknesses of ordinary humanity, keen to enjoy victory’s fruits in peace yet ready to quarrel over the succession to their leadership.

Leadership was invested in a caliph, or ‘successor’ to Muhammad. The early caliphs found a means to satisfy the claims of their veterans, who wanted ease without war, in the diwan, a pension list for Arab warriors financed from the fruits of conquest. They were less successful in averting conflict among those who disagreed about who should be caliph. They quickly fell into a passionate dispute on the matter, in a fundamental disagreement on the nature of authority — should it be hereditary, from Muhammad, or should it derive from the consent of the community, the umma? — which persists to this day in the division between Shi’i and Sunni Muslims. What made the dispute irresolvable was a third and indisputable factor in Muslim belief, the prohibition on Muslim fighting Muslim. War, to the Muslim, could only be jihad, a holy struggle with those who would not submit to revealed truth. War between those who had submitted was a blasphemy.

Yet some Muslims persisted in carrying their disagreements over the caliphate to the point of war, while divided Islam later came to wage outright struggle for territory. In the face of both developments many pious Muslims withdrew from secular life altogether. Arabs of the heroic tradition would not serve as soldiers because the diwan made it not worth their while, while most Muslim converts would not serve either, out of piety; and yet claims to the succession by dissidents, as well as the continuing imperative ofjihad, made war unavoidable. The caliphate was driven to expedients. Quite early in the conquests Islam had made use of warriors who were not Arabs, converts who had attached themselves to an Arab master (later these converts inevitably formed the majority of Muslims).

Islam had also, by the same principle, made use of slaves, since they too were attached to Arab masters, and now it became a natural alternative to enlist slaves directly. How early is a matter of dispute, but certainly by the middle of the ninth century Islam instituted what was to be a unique policy in military recruitment: the acquisition as slaves of non-Muslim youths to be raised in the faith and trained as soldiers.11

These Mamelukes were recruited, almost exclusively, on Islam’s border with the great steppe of Central Asia, between the Caspian Sea and the mountains of Afghanistan (later also from the northern shore of the Black Sea), an area populated, when the Caliph al-Mu’tasim began systematic enlistment in the ninth century, by Turks. ‘No people in the world’, he is supposed to have said, ‘are braver, more numerous or more steadfast.’ The Turks were a tough lot, as modern Turks remain, and were themselves already on the march westward, in what was to become a tide of conquest even wider than that of the Arabs. They had other qualities to commend them to the caliphs. If they were not yet Muslims, they knew of Islam, because the steppe frontier was not a fixed barrier, but a diaphragm through which Turk and non-Turk raided and traded and, in the case of Turks, frequently emigrated to better themselves. The Islam they knew, moreover, retained its heroic character. The ghazis, frontier warriors, prosecuted the holy war in easy conscience, without any of that tendency to what Daniel Pipes has called ‘inwardness’, the alienation from the secular power of Islam, which Muslims in the heartlands displayed.12 But what was most admired in the Turks was less their personalities than their practical skills: mastery of the horse and of the techniques of fighting from horseback. The riding horse originated on the steppe; the Turks rode it as if part of themselves — legend had it that Turkish women conceived and gave birth on horseback — and they used with unmatched deadliness the mounted warrior’s weapons, the lance, the composite bow and the curved sabre (on which, in a forgotten tribute to the steppe warriors’ invincibility, the British general officer’s Mameluke sword is patterned). The Turks had their drawbacks. They were insatiable plunderers, by reaction from the extreme frugality of their life on the steppe, which yielded little but milk and meat, and the chance to plunder was a strong inducement to a Turk to accept enslavement; indeed, once the ‘Mameluke institution’ was a going concern, much of the supply of military slaves was undertaken by Turkish rulers and heads of families, whose willingness to curry favour and profit with the power of Islam by the trade was matched by the readiness of those they sold to take up a secure and respected career.

Harun al-Rashid receiving a delegation sent by Charlemagne at his court in Baghdad. Painting by German painter Julius Köckert[31] (1827–1918), dated 1864 / Maximilianeum Foundation, Wikimedia Commons

Most of the great Muslim states employed military slaves. By far the most important of them was the Abbasid caliphate of Egypt, restored there after the overthrow of the Baghdad caliphate by the Mongols in 1258, whose Mamelukes ruled the country under their own sultans from the middle of the thirteenth until the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Mamelukes had chosen the right side in a dynastic struggle. They held on to it because they won a truly decisive battle at Ain Jalut in 1260, which established them as the saviours of the Muslim and, indeed, much of the rest of the civilised world, their opponents being the same Mongols, kinsmen of the recently deceased Genghis Khan, who had dethroned and murdered the Baghdad caliph two years before, and whom no other military power, not even the professional Christian warriors who had the Crusader kingdom in the Holy Land, had been able to withstand. What made the Mamelukes’ victory particularly remarkable was that many of the horsemen in the Mongol army were themselves Turks, the Mongols’ steppe neighbours, who were enthusiastically exploiting the chance to plunder that Genghis Khan’s break-out from Central Asia had brought; thus at Ain Jalut they were, as the Arab historian, Abu Shama, observed, ‘defeated and destroyed by men of their own kind’.13 It would be truer to say they were defeated by men of their own race, for upbringing and training made the Mamelukes soldiers of a very special kind indeed.

Most of the Mamelukes at Ain Jalut were Kipchak Turks from the north shore of the Black Sea (Baybars, the greatest of them, was a Kipchak), who had been sold as slaves in childhood or adolescence and brought to Cairo for their training. Secluded like novices in a monastic barracks, they were first taught the Koran, the code of Islamic law and the Arabic script; at manhood, they began instruction in the furusiyya, the system of riding, horsemastership and mounted skill-at-arms which underlay Mameluke prowess on the battlefield.14 The furusiyya, in its emphasis on uniting horse and rider, inculcating dexterity and precision in the handling of weapons from the saddle and fostering tactical cohesion among mounted comrades, bore close comparison with the schooling of men-at-arms in Christian Europe; indeed, to what extent chivalry as a code both of arms and honour was common to the knight of the Cross and the faris of the Crescent is a fascinating question of medieval military history.

Yet, this devotion to cavalry warfare was to spell their doom. As a group they were shielded from military developments in the wider world, which might have warned them that the days of the horsemen were numbered; unlike the armoured knights of western Europe, they made no encounter either with primitive gunpowder weapons or with upstart, common infantrymen demanding their rights. Until the end of the fifteenth century their status, both political and military, remained unchallenged, to such an extent that, though a Mameluke would go nowhere but on horseback, the exercises of the furusiyya fell into decay.

There was one excellent feature of the Mameluke system. It was entirely unhereditary. Though Mamelukes could marry and father free children, indeed themselves became legally free on graduation (though not free to leave the institution or choose another master than the sultan), no son of a Mameluke could become one. That ought to have ensured an infusion of new ideas as well as of new blood. In practice it did nothing of the sort. New Mamelukes continued to arrive in Egypt from the steppe frontier throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but after their training in the novitiate and the furusiyya, they became indistinguishable from their predecessors. There were good reasons for that. The status of the Mameluke was highly privileged. The institution had seized power and privilege, as it was in the logic of military slavery that it should. No doubt its members thought that these were best retained by an unwavering dedication to the practices that had made them great in the past.

Then, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Mamelukes were simultaneously confronted by the gunpowder revolution in its developed form from two different directions. Their control of the Red Sea was contested by the Portuguese, who had sailed around Africa in ships mounting heavy cannon. And the security of the frontiers of Egypt was threatened by the Ottoman Turks, whose cavalry armies had been heavily supplemented by well-trained musketeers. In haste, the Mameluke sultan tried to repair a century of military neglect. Large numbers of cannon were cast. Units of gunners and musketeers were formed. The furusiyya exercises were revived and the Mamelukes set to re-learning the skills of lance, sword and bow with intensity. But, fatally, the re-militarisation of the Mamelukes and the espousal of gunpowder were kept quite separate. No Mameluke was trained or would train in any use of firearms whatsoever; gunners and musketeers were recruited from outside the Mameluke caste, from black Africans and people of the Maghreb, the Arab west.15

The outcome was predictable. The gunners and musketeers who went to the Red Sea achieved considerable success against the Portuguese, who were fighting in confined waters, which did not favour their ocean-going ships, and at the extreme limit of their lines of communications. The Mamelukes who rode out to confront the Ottoman gunpowder armies at the battles of Marj Dabiq in August 1515 and Raydaniya in January 1516 were utterly defeated. The ‘institution’ was overthrown and Egypt became a province of the Ottoman empire.

The two defeats at Marj Dabiq and Raydaniya took a similar form. In the first the Ottomans, commanded by Sultan Selim I, placed their artillery on the flanks and their musketeers in the centre, and waited for the Mamelukes to attack them. They did so in the traditional Turkish crescent deployment and were thrown back in rout by Ottoman firepower. In the second, the Mamelukes, who had assembled some artillery, hoped that the Ottomans would attack them but found themselves outflanked and were tempted to make a cavalry charge again. Its impetus broke one Ottoman wing, but firepower saved the day; 7000 Mamelukes were killed and the survivors fell back on Cairo, which they were shortly forced to surrender.

The tactics of the two battles are much less interesting than subsequent Mameluke lamentation over the means by which they were defeated. Ibn Zabul, the Mameluke historian who deplored his caste’s downfall, speaks for generations of preux chevaliers in the speech by the Mameluke chieftain, Kurtbay, which he contrives:

Hear my words and listen to them, so that you and others will know that amongst us are the horsemen of destiny and red death. A single one of us can defeat your whole army. If you do not believe it, you may try, only please order your army to stop shooting with firearms. You have here with you 200,000 soldiers of all races. Remain in your place and array your army in battle order. Only three of us will come out against you … you will see with your own eyes the feats performed by these three … You have patched up an army from all parts of the world: Christians, Greeks and others, and you have brought with you this contrivance artfully devised by the Christians of Europe when they were incapable of meeting the Muslim armies on the battlefield. The contrivance is that musket which, even if a woman were to fire it, would hold up such and such a number of men.… And woe to thee! How darest thou shoot with firearms at Muslims!16

Bayard at the Battle of Garigliano (1503), by Philippoteaux / Palace of Versailles, Wikimedia Commons

Kurtbay’s lament echoes the disdain for mechanical weapons of the French knight Bayard, chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, who habitually had crossbowmen prisoners killed, and anticipates the spirit of the ‘death charge’ of von Bredow’s cavalrymen into the muzzles of the French rifles at Mars-la-Tour in 1870. It is the defiant cry of the warrior horseman, in the twilight of the warhorse, from around the world. Yet there was more to Kurtbay’s outburst than caste pride, resistance to change, religious orthodoxy or contempt for underlings. There was recent and solid experience that edged weapons could overcome gunpowder by their mediation through the martial qualities which the Mamelukes believed made them fit to lord it over the rest of the world. In 1497 a boy sultan, Sa’adat Muhammad, had formed in Cairo a regiment of black slave musketeers, accorded them privileges and used them in faction fights. It may be that he foresaw the gunpowder revolution; it may be simply that he thought firearms made him strong. Whatever the case, the Mamelukes were outraged and when Sa’adat married a favourite black, Farajallah, to a Circassian slave girl — most Mamelukes were by then Circassians — their temper broke.

The Royal Mamluks [recorded the historian al-Ansari] expressed their disapproval to the Sultan, and then they put on their steel and armed themselves with their full equipment. A battle broke out between them and the black slaves who numbered about five hundred. The black slaves ran away and gathered again in the towers of the citadel and fired at the Royal Mamluks. The Royal Mamluks marched on them, killing Farajallah and about fifty of the black slaves; the rest fled; two Royal Mamluks were killed.17

Yet as the Mamelukes were to discover, when men of equal worth fight on unequal terms, the side with the better weapons wins. That was the lesson of Marj Dabiq and Raydaniya. That was to be the lesson, 400 years later, of the Japanese war against the Americans in the Pacific when, at their last gasp against the power of American industry, Japanese suicide pilots wore their samurai swords in the cockpits of the kamikaze aircraft they flew against the enemy’s aircraft-carriers. It was to be the lesson of both Germany’s world wars in the twentieth century, when their military caste’s contempt for their enemies’ superiority in the Materialschlacht — battle of attrition — ultimately availed their soldiers’ courage not at all.

The Mamelukes would not take this lesson to heart. The Ottoman victories of 1515–16 did not mean the end of the Mameluke institution, since its form was too useful for the Ottomans to dispense with it. Indeed, it could be argued that Islam, until infected by the essentially antipathetic concept of nationalism in the twentieth century, could accommodate no system of professional military organisation not based on slavery. In any event subordinate Mameluke dynasties not only crept back to power in Ottoman Egypt but achieved it also in other distant conquered provinces like Iraq, Tunis and Algiers. Though they might regain position, however, they proved irreformable as soldiers. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, the Mamelukes again rode out to oppose cannon and musket with the exercises of the furusiyya and were, of course, routed in the Battle of the Pyramids; Napoleon, enchanted by their noble savagery, took one of them, Rustum, to be his personal attendant to the end of his reign. The surviving Mamelukes, still ready to defy the modern age from horseback, were eventually massacred by the ruthless Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman satrap who had no qualms about practising ‘Christian’ methods of warmaking, in Cairo in 1811.18

The Battle of the Pyramids certainly, the Cairo massacre of the Mamelukes probably, were events of which Clausewitz was aware. Each ought to have been an indication that culture is as powerful a force as politics in the choice of military means, and often more likely to prevail than political or military logic. But Clausewitz, if he knew the facts, did not draw the inference. By an odd twist of circumstance, his pupil, Helmuth von Moltke, was to witness the culmination of Muhammad Ali’s role as an agent of Ottoman power in the old Mameluke lands, in a series of events which demonstrates how much more persistent culture is than political decision as a military determinant.

Moltke was sent in 1835 by the Prussian army on a mission to help modernise Turkish military organisation and practice. He found the experience dispiriting. ‘In Turkey,’ he wrote, ‘even the least gift becomes suspect, as soon as it comes from the hand of a Christian.… A Turk will concede without hesitation that the Europeans are superior to his nation in science, skill, wealth, daring and strength, without it ever occurring to him that a Frank might therefore put himself on a par with a Muslim.’ In military affairs this attitude translated into mulish disrespect. ‘The colonels gave us precedence, the officers were still tolerably polite, but the ordinary man would not present arms to us, and the women and children from time to time followed us with curses. The soldier obeyed but would not salute.’

Moltke was to accompany the Turkish army in the expedition which the Ottoman sultan sent to Syria to bring Muhammad Ali, the rebellious ruler of Egypt, to heel in 1839. It was a bizarre encounter. The Ottoman army was superficially modernised, or ‘Christianised’, but the Egyptian one very much more so. Muhammad Ali was, indeed, himself a European, a Muslim Albanian, who had first learned the superiority of ‘Christian’ methods in the Greek War of Independence; some of his confederates in the war against the Mamelukes, like the French Colonel Sève, were renegade Philhellenes. Muhammad Ali’s army disposed of the Ottomans in a battle, at Nezib, in Syria, at which Moltke found himself a bystander; the spectacle of the Turks — mainly conscript Kurds — fleeing in disorder before the Egyptians sent him back to Prussia profoundly disillusioned by the resistance of the Ottoman sultan’s peoples to necessary reform.

Ottoman Turkey did nevertheless eventually succeed in creating a modern army, though only at the expense of restricting membership of it to ethnic Turks proper. That arbitrary limitation of the relationship between his peoples and the sultan greatly undermined the authority of the Ottoman government over its Muslim but non-Turkish subjects. That narrowing of his basis of power was certainly a major contribution to the strains that the Ottoman empire underwent when, as commander of a ‘Christianised’ army, the Sultan-Caliph was drawn into war on the side of Germany in 1914. The outcome of the war left Turkey without an empire, and soon without a sultan or caliphate. All that was left of it was the army it had sacrificed everything to create.

There was an ultimate irony in any impatience that the successors of Clausewitz and Moltke felt with their Turkish pupils. For the collapse of the Turkish empire in 1918 coincided, of course, with the collapse of their own, and through exactly the same medium: the deliberate choice of war for misconceived political ends. The ‘Young Turks’ — all deeply involved in the ‘Christianisation’ of the Sultan’s army — went to war on Germany’s side because they believed that would help to make Turkey strong. Germany had gone to war because it believed that going to war was a means in itself of making Germany strong. Clausewitz, too, would doubtless have felt the same. This cultural distortion of outlook spelled death equally to traditional German culture and to that of the servants of the Caliph.

The Samurai

Samurai and defensive wall at Hakata. Moko Shurai Ekotoba, (蒙古襲来絵詞) c. 1293 / Wikimedia Commons

At much the same time that the Mamelukes were going under to gunpowder, another military society at the opposite end of the world assured its survival by outrightly defying the circumstances that threatened it. In the sixteenth century the Japanese sword-bearing class was confronted by the challenge of firearms; it contrived means to rid Japan of firearms and thereby to perpetuate its social dominance for another 250 years. While the Western world, which touched it briefly in the sixteenth century,commercialised itself, voyaged, industrialised and underwent political revolution, the Japanese samurai closed their country to the outside world, extirpated such bridgeheads of foreign religious and technical influence as had intruded, and entrenched the traditions by which they had lived and ruled for a thousand years. The impulse is not without parallels — it was strongly felt in China in the nineteenth century — though the achievement is unique. For all its uniqueness, however, the achievement is evidence that political logic need not dominate warmaking, that, on the contrary, cultural forms, when they find strong champions, may prevail against the most powerfully besetting temptations to choose technical expedients as a means to victory, particularly when the price of victory is that of overturning ancient and cherished values.

The samurai were, in crude terms, Japan’s feudal and knightly class. They owed their origins to Japan’s insular isolation and to the internal subdivision of the Japanese islands by their mountain chains. The leaders of Japan’s valley clans (akin to the ‘valley lords’ of Ottoman Anatolia) gave allegiance to an emperor whose ancient lineage was deeply revered but whose power was purely nominal. From the seventh century AD, when a clan chief, Fujiwara Kamatari, instituted a central government modelled on that of the T’ang dynasty in China, it was effectively administered by a clan family, at first his own, later by more successful rivals. Rivals could compete for and eventually usurp the Fujiwaras’ power because of their tax-raising powers: in a misguided concession to Buddhism, a state-sponsored import from China, the Buddhist monasteries had been exempted from tax, and their secular neighbours soon extracted similar rights for themselves, at the same time enforcing the practice of making the peasants pay tax directly to the local clan lord. With the wealth that tax-raising brought, first one, then another lordly family came to dominate the imperial court, until in the twelfth century the current power-holder prevailed on the then ruler, a boy emperor, to grant him the title of Sei-i tai-Shogun, or generalissimo. Yoritomo, the first shogun, had already established a new seat of government, the Bakufu, literally the ‘camp office’, and thereafter it exercised central authority until the nineteenth century, when, at the Meiji restoration, real power was returned to the court, if not the emperor, by its overthrow and then that of the last valley magnates.

The shoguns, the leaders of the other military clans who repetitively competed with them for dominance, and their samurai followers (the large warrior class whose members, distinguished by their right to wear two swords, insisted on their gentlemanly status) were not mere thugs, as their equivalents in medieval Europe so often were. They were certainly fierce and talented warriors. Proof of that was originally given by their decisive defeat of the Mongols who, at the opposite extremity of their push into the Arab world in 1260, succeeded in setting foot on the Japanese archipelago in 1274. When they returned in 1281 a typhoon destroyed much of their fleet and they departed never to return.

‘Style’ was central to the samurai way of life — style in clothes, armour, weapons, skill-at-arms and behaviour on the battlefield; in that they did not much differ from their chivalric contemporaries in France and England. In their cultural outlook, however, they differed very greatly. The Japanese were a literate people and the literary culture of the samurai was highly developed. The greatest nobles of Japan, those who resided at the court of the powerless god-emperor, did not seek military reputation at all, but strove for literary glory. Their example set the tone for the samurai, who commonly wished to be known both as swordsmen and poets. Buddhism in its Zen form, that adopted by the samurai, encouraged a meditative and poetic outlook on the universe. The greatest warriors of feudal Japan were therefore also men of the mind, the spirit and the cultivated senses.

Feudal Japan was politically chaotic, because of the endemic competition for the shogunate, but chaotic within accepted limits. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, however, feuding had got out of hand and the social order was threatened; established leaders were being overthrown by upstarts, some mere bandits; the shogun’s power became as fictional as the emperor’s. Order was restored in the years 1560–1616 by a succession of three outstanding strongmen, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, acting in the name of the shogun. They systematically put down the power of the Buddhist monasteries, the errant clan leaders, and the lawless bands of lordless men. Ieyasu’s pacification concluded with the siege of the fortress of Osaka in 1614, last stronghold of his opponents, after which he decreed the destruction of all non-residential castles in Japan. Such was his authority that decastellation, which took kings decades in Europe, was completed in a few days.

Superior generalship was not the only explanation of the restoration of central power. The three strongmen were also exponents of a new weapon. Portuguese voyagers had brought cannon and firearms to Japan in 1542. Oda Nobunaga was greatly impressed by the power of gunpowder, rapidly equipped his armies with muskets and peremptorily deritualised the mode of battle-fighting in Japan. Thitherto Japanese battles had traditionally begun, in the ancient and almost worldwide fashion of warmaking between champions, by the leading men on each side shouting challenges to each other, identifying themselves and displaying their weapons and armour. The ritual continued even after the introduction of firearms, but Oda Nobunaga would have none of it. He taught his musketeers to unleash volleys in ranks of up to a thousand and, at the decisive battle of Nagashino in 1575, swept away the enemy in a torrent of fire.19 This was a revolutionary change from the battle of Uedahara, in 1548, when the side possessing firearms missed the chance to use them because the other charged with swords the instant the rituals had been concluded.

Commodore Matthew Perry’s “Black Ship”, between 1860 and 1900 / Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons

The dominance established by the strongmen might have ensured that of firearms, but exactly the contrary was the outcome. By the end of the seventeenth century the use of firearms had become almost extinct in Japan, the weapons themselves great rarities. Only a handful of Japanese knew how to make firearms or to cast cannon, and most surviving cannon dated from before 1620. That state of affairs continued until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the arrival of Commodore Perry’s ‘black ships’ in Tokyo Bay in 1854 peremptorily reintroduced the Japanese to the imperatives of gunpowder. In the intervening 250 years, however, the Japanese had done without gunpowder altogether. The impetus to self-denial had come from the last of the strongmen, Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose campaign of pacification had culminated in his accesssion to the shogunate. How and why had he outlawed the gun?

The ‘how’ is simple to explain. First came a general disarming of the populace instituted in 1587 by Ieyasu’s predecessor, Hideyoshi, who decreed that all non-samurai were to hand in all weapons — swords and guns alike — to the government, which it was announced intended to use the metal in the construction of an enormous statue of the Buddha. The purpose of the programme was, of course, to further the pacification of Japan by restoring a monopoly of arms to the military class, which was under government control. European governments enacted similar measures in the gunpowder age, though they took decades to achieve their object. In Japan, where justice was savage and peremptory, it was achieved at once.20

Then, from 1607 onward, Ieyasu instituted a system that centralised the manufacture of firearms and cannon and denominated the government as the only authorised purchaser. All gunfounders and gunsmiths were ordered to take their workshops to the city of Nagahama, the four chief gunsmiths were promoted to samurai rank, thus securing their loyalty to the sword-bearing class, and a decree was promulgated that no order for a weapon could be filled unless approved by the Commissioner for Guns. He, in turn, proved willing to approve only those orders placed by the government, which in its turn progressively decreased its purchasing, until by 1706 Nagahama production in even years was 35 large matchlocks, in odd years 250 small ones. Distributed among a warrior class of some half a million — by which they were used chiefly in ceremonial processions — such numbers proved insignificant. Gun control had worked. Japan retreated from the gunpowder age.

But why? This is a much more complex question. Guns were unquestionably a symbol of foreign intrusion. They were associated, illogically but inescapably, with the spread of Christianity by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, who were judged to be harbingers of invasion — invasion on the scale which had recently made the Philippines a Spanish possession — and Ieyasu’s successor, Hidetada, rigidly enforced the suppression and expulsion orders that his predecessors had belatedly introduced. The shogunate’s suspicion of Christianity and all its appurtenances was reinforced by the Shimbara Rebellion, raised by native Christians in 1637 and fought with gunpowder. When it was over, the Tokugawa shogunate’s authority was not challenged again for more than 200 years, and the closing of the country against foreigners and foreign influences it had imposed the previous year became complete.

An additional inclination towards chauvinism may have been exerted by Japan’s only foreign-policy adventure, an invasion of Korea in 1592, apparently intended as the preliminary to an over-ambitious aggression against China, which ended unsuccessfully in 1598. Yet more important than the rejection of things foreign, and profoundly underlying it, was the recognition that the gun made for social instability. A gun in the hands of a commoner or freebooter could topple the lordliest noble, as every European knight of the gunpowder age knew. Cervantes has Don Quixote condemn ‘an invention which allows a base and cowardly hand to take the life of a brave knight’.21

The third reason for gun control in Japan was that it could actually be imposed. European warriors might deplore the effects of gunpowder on their chosen way of life, but with an open frontier to the south-east, against which the Ottoman Turks battered enthusiastically with great cannon, they had no option but to batter back if Christendom were to survive. Once Christendom was divided by the Reformation at the precise moment when technology made cannon mobile and personal firearms reliable, inhibitions against Christian shooting at Christian were dissolved. No such factors impinged on Japan. Distance and the military reputation of its people protected it from the European voyagers; China had neither the navy nor the inclination to invade it; there were no other potential invaders. Domestically, the Japanese, though divided by class and faction, formed a single cultural unit. Gunpowder was therefore not essential to national security, nor was it sought as a means to victory by factions opposed to each other ideologically.

Gunpowder was also irreconcilable with the ethos of the Japanese warrior when that ethos had strong protectors. The Tokugawa shogunate was more than a political institution. It was a cultural instrument. The cultural historian G.B. Sansom wrote:

Not confining [itself] to the functions of raising revenue and keeping order, [it] undertook to regulate the morals of the people and to prescribe their behaviour in the minutest detail. It is doubtful whether previous history records a more ambitious attempt on the part of a state to interfere with the private life of every individual and so to control the thoughts as well as actions of a whole nation.22

Particular attention was given to regulating the thoughts and actions of the sword-bearing class, and the only manual of arms compatible with polite learning in Japan was that of the samurai sword. The Tokugawas and their predecessors may have used gunpowder for reasons of Realpolitik; once it served their purpose of winning them power, it and all firearms became detestable.

The cult of the sword had many sources. It was fostered by Zen Buddhism, which stressed ‘two supreme ideals — fidelity and an indifference to physical hardship’. It was reinforced by the culture of the warrior class, ‘a culture that paid meticulous attention to the formal, the ceremonious, and the elegantly expressed in life and art’; Japanese swordplay, like that of the European fencing-master, was as much an art as a skill, governed by rules of deportment and gesture which epitomised the Japanese concern for ‘style’ in every aspect of existence.23 It seems to have partaken of the Japanese belief in the importance of unity with nature and natural forces, since muscular effort is ‘natural’ while the chemical energy of gunpowder is not. It undoubtedly coincided with the Japanese respect for tradition, since not only was swordplay traditional, but the best swords themselves were often ancient heirlooms with their own personal names, handed on from father to son just as the family name — in itself a distinction restricted to sword-owners — was as well.

Such swords have become collector’s items today. Yet they remain more than beautiful antiques. First-quality samurai swords were the best edged weapons that have ever been made. Observes a historian of the anti-gunpowder campaign:

There exists in Japan a film showing a machine-gun barrel being sliced in half by a sword from the forge of the great fifteenth-century maker, Kanemoto II. If this seems improbable, one must remember that smiths like Kanemoto hammered and folded and rehammered, day after day, until a sword blade contained something like four million layers of finely forged steel.24

It is, of course, impossible to disarm a population completely when scythes and flails lie to hand. But the tools of everyday life make poor implements of combat against such specialist weapons. In ensuring that warriors had a monopoly of swords, the Tokugawa were guaranteeing the samurai’s place at the pinnacle of Japanese society.

The Tokugawa’s logic was not Clausewitz’s logic. Though he apparently believed that his analysis of the nature of warfare was value-free, he had nevertheless been infected by the contemporary European belief that mankind is naturally drawn to ‘politics’ or ‘political activity’ and that politics is intrinsically dynamic, indeed ‘progressive’. This was a view that the Duke of Wellington, a natural conservative and principled opponent of the French Revolution, endorsed with the full weight of his disapproval. Clausewitz did indeed seem to perceive politics as an autonomous activity, the meeting-place of rational forms and emotional forces, in which reason and feeling are the determinants but in which culture — that great cargo of shared beliefs, values, associations, myths, taboos, imperatives, customs, traditions, manners and ways of thought, speech and artistic expression which ballast every society — plays no determining role. The Tokugawa reaction proves how wrong he was, demonstrating as it does so well the truth that war may be, among many other things, the perpetuation of a culture by its own means.



  1. M. Sahlins, Tribesmen, New Jersey, 1968, p. 64
  2. S. Engleit, Islands at the Centre of the World, New York, 1990, p. 139
  3. M. Wilson and L. Thompson (eds.), Oxford History of South Africa, Vol I, Oxford, 1969
  4. K. Otterbein, ‘The Evolution of Zulu Warfare’, in B. Oget (ed.) War and Society in Africa, 1972
  5. Wilson and Thompson, op. cit., pp. 338–9
  6. G. Jefferson, The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom, London, 1979, pp. 9–10, 12
  7. E.J. Krige, The Social System of the Zulus, Pietermaritzburg, 1950, Chapter 3 passim
  8. Wilson and Thompson, op. cit., p. 345
  9. Ibid., p. 346
  10. D. Ayalon, ‘Preliminary Remarks on the Mamluk Institutions in Islam’, in V. Parry and M. Yapp (eds.), War, Technology and Society in the Middle East, London, 1975, p. 44
  11. Ayalon, ibid., pp. 44–7
  12. D. Pipes, Slave Soldiers and Islam, New Haven, 1981, p. 19
  13. P. Holt, A. Lambton and B. Lewis (eds.), The Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge, 1970, Vol. IA, p. 214
  14. H. Rabie, ‘The Training of the Mamluk Fans’, in Parry and Yapp, op. cit., pp. 153–63
  15. D. Ayalon, Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Kingdom, London, 1956, p. 86
  16. Ibid., pp. 94–5
  17. Ibid., p. 70
  18. A. Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 60–72
  19. N. Perrin, Giving Up the Gun, Boston, 1988, p. 19
  20. R. Storry, A History of Modern Japan, London, 1960, pp. 53–4
  21. J. Hale, Renaissance War Studies, London, 1988, pp. 397–8
  22. Sansom, op. cit., p. 192
  23. Storry, op. cit., p. 42
  24. Perrin, op. cit., pp. 11–12


  • Ayalon, D. Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Kingdom, London, 1956
  • Engleit, S. Islands at The Centre of the World, N.Y., 1990
  • Hale, J. Renaissance War Studies, London, 1988
  • Holt, P., A. Lambton and B. Lewis (eds.), The Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge, 1970
  • Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali, Cambridge, 1982
  • Otterbein, K. ‘The Evolution of Zulu Warfare’, in B. Oget (ed.) War and Society in Africa, 1972
  • Perrin, N. Giving Up the Gun, Boston, 1988
  • Pipes, D. Slave Soldiers and Islam, New Haven, 1981
  • Jefferson, G. The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom, London, 1979
  • Krige, E. J. The Social System of the Zulus, Pietermaritzburg, 1950
  • Sahlins, M. Tribesmen, N.J., 1968
  • Storry, R. A History of Modern Japan, London, 1960
  • Wilson, M. and L. Thompson (eds.), Oxford History of South Africa, Vol I, Oxford, 1969

From A History of Warfare, by John Keegan (Vintage, 11.01.1994), published by Erenow, public open access.