War both fascinates and revolts. War in history is as much politics, strategy, battles as it is the experience of the combatant, or of the civilian who suffers the consequences of conflicts. The work by M. de Fritsch and O. Hubac, Wars and men. Ideas received over 25 centuries of conflict (Le Cavalier Bleu), aims to tackle this complex subject through prejudices and preconceived ideas.
The “Received Ideas” collection and the authors
Edited by the Blue Rider, the "Received Ideas" collection now has more than two hundred titles. Its ambition is "To disentangle the true from the false in all fields: society, economy, environment, health, education, culture, sciences, etc.", by reaching out to a large audience.
The two authors are Saint-Cyriens. Marc de Fritsch is a colonel in the Army and deputy director of the Delegation for Strategic Affairs; he also ordered the 4e special forces helicopter regiment. Olivier Hubac, lawyer, is a consultant at CEIS. We owe him, for example, in collaboration with Mr. Anquez, The Afghan issue. The forbidden defeat (ed. A. Versaille, 2010).
Following the principle of the "Received Ideas" collection, the authors begin by defining their (vast) subject, war, going back to the term Frank werra, which ends up replacing the bellum Latin from the 12th century. Then comes the evolution of the term, which goes from the confrontation between two princes to that between two (or more) nations, "In order to defend a territory, a right or to conquer them, or to make triumph an idea". To this, the authors add terms which today tend to replace war (too negative?), Such as "conflict", "crisis" or "operations".
War, like humanity?
The complexity of defining war, and the diversity of approaches to studying it, are discussed in the introduction to the book. The authors also insist on principles common to all cultures and eras, and they cite Marshal Foch for this. The latter, great architect of the French victory in 1918, defined three main principles: "the proportionality between the goals and the means", "the preservation of the freedom of action", "the economy of forces".
War is also a "Social activity", which leads M. Hubac to appeal to all the human sciences. Philosophy included, since war obviously poses the question of good and evil. The law, finally, since war is, according to the authors, "A derogatory state which however tends to be more and more framed by law". However, we will notice that today we no longer declare war, for example ...
Finally, war is of course the land of human passions, heroism, courage, as much as cowardice, cruelty or perversion. Which makes M. Hubac say that "War brings us back to our humanity in its most noble and abject qualities".
Ideas received over 25 centuries of conflict
The book is divided into three main parts, which do not necessarily follow all of the topics covered in the introduction.
The chapter "War and man: such an old bond" returns to the topos of the inseparable link between war and the history of mankind. The received idea "The war has existed since the dawn of time" asks the question of the very nature of man, and it is no coincidence that the authors introduce this part with a quote from Genghis Khan and not Rousseau. Other fundamental points are covered in this chapter, such as "What is needed is a good war", or "There are just wars", this last point being particularly interesting as the concept of "just war" has evolved over time.
The second chapter, "Is war easy? ", deals with the means and modalities of war, its "Nerve" (money), right down to its actors. Famous received ideas are discussed here, such as the quote from Clemenceau, "War is too serious a thing to entrust to the military", for which the authors offer a fairly enlightening rereading, especially coming from the military themselves.
The last chapter, finally, if it is called “War: still a bright future? ", rather a catch-all, even if the questions / received ideas treated are worth for some the turning. We will mainly remember "Let's eliminate the armies and there will be no more wars", "The war has become a great video game" or "Oil is a good reason to go to war".
In conclusion, Mr. Hubac assert that the common denominator of all wars, from prehistoric times to the present day, is "Organized violence aimed directly at the physical integrity of the adversary". We can, without being experts, still ask ourselves the question of the term “organized” because many conflicts, in particular civil wars, have shown explosions of violence far from being organized, even if the conflict itself. even might seem to be so as a whole, sometimes a posteriori. The authors place great emphasis on the law, but little on violations of this law (which has certainly evolved), which are recurrent in matters of conflict (use of prohibited weapons, degrading treatment of prisoners, etc.). On the other hand, the specificities of contemporary wars, and the evolution towards confrontations "By [the] hijacked weapons that are the economy or the information and communication systems", are discussed, and would have deserved even more development.
Notice of History for all
The subject is so vast and complex that the feeling of relative disappointment is quite logical upon reading Mr. Hubac's book. The approach not strictly historian, but rather military and political, even legal, can be just as embarrassing as the original, depending on what one expects from such a work. The difficulty of the topic treated gives a construction a little wobbly, but the received ideas treated in each chapter are for many interesting. The appendices, one of the good ideas of the "Received ideas" collection, are few in number, with a few maps and an interview between the specialist Gérard Chaliand and General Vincent Desportes. Finally, the bibliography is like the book, essentially made up of works by political scientists and soldiers, and very few historians.
So this is the main criticism we will make against Wars and men. Ideas received over 25 centuries of conflict : an approach that we would have liked to be more historic.
- M. de Fritsch, O. Hubac, at Wars and men. Ideas received over 25 centuries of conflict, Le Cavalier Bleu (coll. Ideas received), 2012, 198 p.