"It is not a waste of time for those concerned with the military problems of today and tomorrow to improve their understanding of those of yesterday." The concluding sentence of Lord Carver's panoramic military history of the 20th Century is sound advice for national security professionals whose careers will shape the policies of the early decades of the next century. Methodology is critical to successfully pursuing a work of such scope, and Lord Carver's approach is quite sound, if somewhat tedious. The author seeks to paint a canvass composed of seven different, but overlapping, subscenes that equate to the histories of the armed forces of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States of America, Japan and China, from 1900 to 1986. The result is a work that requires no little patience on the part of the reader in order to wade through detailed and repetitious passages to glean the useful nuggets from the seven vignettes and, finally, to profit from viewing the effort as a single piece of historical analysis.
This book will make an excellent text for undergraduates in history, political science and reserve officer training courses. Here, again, Lord Carver's methodology comes into play. The concluding chapter is quite unsatisfactory when read apart from the body of the work. In fact, it should be read first and then reread at the end of the seven nation-specific chapters. This aspect of the work's organization, which will ensnare students (and book reviewers) into reading the bulk of the text, leads the reader to the "nuggets" mentioned above, which are usually buried in archives or obscure works that have not been translated into English. Lord Carver, for example, incorporates the equipment, doctrine, and command and control problems that plagued the French air force in September 1940 into his analysis when most overviews of that campaign simply ignore the subject altogether. The author's judgment that neither Hindenburg nor Ludendorff played a major role in the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914, but only exploited public perceptions of their contributions to the victory in their climb to power, is another example of his careful research. Finally, each chapter in itself provides an excellent summary of the relationship between the military and the political leadership in each country during the bulk of the 20th Century.