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"The Future of War: A History" Topic

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238 hits since 13 May 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP14 May 2018 9:37 p.m. PST

"Historian of science Richard Rhodes tells how Niels Bohr viewed physics not in terms of universal principles but as "a way of asking questions about Nature." Similarly, Lawrence Freedman portrays history as a way of asking questions about the Future, particularly the future of war. What makes his compelling book different from the chattering volumes about futurology is that it provides usable insights from how our predecessors have perceived and misperceived future conflict. Freedman reminds us that history "is made by people who do not know what is going to happen next." People in every age were woefully inept at predicting the future since they, like us, were imprisoned by their own experiences, anxieties, and biases. Sometimes they asked the right questions; often they made spectacularly wrong assumptions. So, this is a valuable book for those interested in how people in the past have thought about the future of war and how those thoughts guided and misguided their actions then and, perhaps, now.

Freedman scopes this project from the middle of the nineteenth century until today. Although a longer perspective would add even more value, the last 150 years amply support his argument that "the future of war has a distinctive and revealing past." In the first of three parts, he portrays the "progressive importance of the civilian sphere," a phenomenon largely owing to technological changes in how societies fight. The second part might be interpreted as a critique of the realist project of international relations, since it describes the numerous and unpredictable conflicts that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, a surprise to realists and non-realists alike as the whole Cold War "intellectual and policy effort ground to a shuddering halt." Our 21st century futureónot the futures of the pastódominates the third part of the book. Freedman wields his earlier insights not to predict the future, but to assess the return of great-power politics in a new milieu of technological change, "idealized models of future combat," and the tension between futuristic promises and the enduring realities of classical warfare…."
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