Alphen, Netherlands, 15 January. My books are a bit like London buses. One waits a year or so for one and then two come along at once. Last week I published my book Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power. This week the paperback edition of my enormous Oxford Handbook of War has been published by Oxford University Press.
The Oxford Handbook of War is unique. My fourth book (of five) and my second for Oxford University, my alma mater, it took five years to research, plan, structure, prepare, write and edit. It is certainly no pot boiler being almost 600 pages in length and some 45 chapters the Handbook considers war in all its forms – strategic, historical, political, military, social and economic. Indeed the Handbook is a helicopter study of war as a phenomenon.
The Handbook was a joint collaboration with my old friend and co-conspirator Professor Yves Boyer of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. Who says the English and French never get on? ‘Research’ of course occasioned many hours sipping excellent French wine in Yves’s wonderful home overlooking the Loire Valley. Yes, I suffer for my art. Vive, l’entente intellectuelle!
In preparing the Handbook Yves and I were supported by over forty leading thinkers, policy-makers and leading civilian and military practitioners from across the globe - Brazil, China, Europe, India and the United States. Indeed, the Handbook is graced by chapters Chiefs of Defence Staff, as well as a former US Ambassador to NATO and NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. The Handbook was nominated for the prestigious Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, my second book to be so honoured.
So that’s the plug. Now, let me offer those of you contemplating the writing of a book a few words of advice, particularly as I have just enjoyed the delicious pain of writing yet another. One does not write a book, one lives it. One endures every comma, every word, every scintilla of a book – a word here or is it there? A book is a solitary affair and yet it is a movie, an epic involving a cast of thousands. And, like a movie one needs to believe, to put one’s heart and soul into ‘the project’ for many years before one sees the final cut...and one rarely becomes a millionaire.
The active support of an excellent publisher is vital as is the commitment of a lot of very busy senior people. The support of my publisher Oxford University Press was invaluable, particularly Dominic Byatt, Elizabeth Suffling and Sarah Parker. Thanks guys!
So, if you want to understand war then I humbly recommend a copy of the paperback Handbook because as Plato once so poignantly put it, “only the dead have seen the end of war”. Sadly, there is nothing I can see of this world that convinces me that war has been cast as a purely academic pursuit now the sole preserve of dusty historians with big titles. Nor is there glory in war. Yes, individual stories of daring-do shine through because war creates extreme experiences in otherwise ordinary lives. Perhaps that is why so many (including me) are obsessive sports fans.
War is dark, cold, and often boring, rent by sudden moments of terrifying, terrible terror which test for the instant but scar for life, leaving nightmares in many who then 'live' life unsure of where a mind’s day ends and night begins. Warriors of modern democracies walk amongst the society they fight to protect often made distant from society by the very act of protection they offered. The soldier pays an enormous price for the duty s/he owes. Indeed, as anyone beyond the moronic who has ever had any experience of war will tell you, there is no glory in war simply suffering for a purpose.
Equally, it is utterly naïve to believe wars need not be fought nor will be fought again. Be it the human condition, the shaky distinction between power and pauperism that humans create or simply that what is to come cannot be tolerated then war will continue to lurk amongst us all.
That is why Yves and I set out on this ambitious project; because war is important. Yes, the book seeks to prevent war through the better understanding of it. However, piety is for theologians; if war is to be fought it must be won and hopefully by those on the side of good. Only then will war be seen as an exception to the human rule not a tombstone on it.
The Oxford Handbook of War 2014; in all good bookshops now at a very reasonable price!