War: How conflict shaped us
Profile Books, $39.99 hb, 328 pp
‘If you want peace, prepare for war,’ Vegetius wrote in a fourth-century CE Roman military manual. From the classical world to the twenty-first-century Sino-American cold war, Margaret MacMillan’s book is broad in its sweep. Judging by the content, one might gain the impression that war is a purely European invention, but that would be erroneous; it is only because Europeans spent 2,400 years carefully archiving their literary, artistic, and technological endeavours in ‘the art of war’ that so much survives – except the victims. The soldiers and civilians are long gone, their names largely forgotten; what lives on is the representation of war in text, the visual arts, cinema, and oral history.
Every country has fought wars. Even the Swiss, traditionally neutral, ‘were the terror of Europe’ – for those who could afford them. Hitler wondered aloud about invading Switzerland, its vaults laden with gold, but thought better of an assault on a country surrounded by mountain peaks, where the national sport was sharp-shooting.