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Two smiling women sitting in a wooded setting with bolt-action rifles, a man in a suit stands in the background
A rare moment of joy a terrible war from The Five Men of Velish (Velizh near Smolensk) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022181 Why do WWoW theorists want you to know that partisans and insurgencies and hit and run are not western?

If you know the ancient writers, you must be puzzled why moderns often pronounce that ancient Greek armies were highly skilled and rigorously disciplined. Those writers make it clear that getting high-status Greek men to accept any kind of training and discipline was like getting them to pick a day to have a tooth pulled. Spartans accepted commands and corporal punishment and did a bit of drill, but no ancient writer describes them practising marching or fighting in peacetime. One reason why people say things which are contradicted by so many ancient texts is that they are using the ancient Greeks as an excuse to talk about their own culture, so they project things they love or fear about their own culture on the ancients.

Have a look at this quote from Professor Emeritus, Colonel (retired), Dr. Jonathan House who is talking about how the proud professionals of the German army got themselves spanked by the Red Army.

Germany, in fact, is the poster child for what we like to call the Western Way of War, the idea that a well-trained force can achieve rapid offensive decisive victory by superior discipline, manoeuvre, and equipment. Well, that works part of the time, but if you encounter somebody who is not willing to say he’s defeated, as the Soviets were not, and then you encounter somebody who in addition to that has all this vast terrain, then eventually your plan gets thwarted.

Dr. Jonathan House, “How the Red Army Defeated Germany: The Three Alibis,” 2 May 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zinPbUZUHDE 20:00

Dr. House is a specialist in Soviet history and a trained military intelligence officer who helped to plan the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq. He is speaking at a think tank in Kansas founded by 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. So he is very different from me and not a part of faction fights within ancient military history. And he is talking about how NATO planned to fight the armies of the Warsaw Pact, based on things that German veterans of the Eastern Front had taught them because the Soviets were not talking to Americans.

And the dream which NATO soldiers were dreaming was the dream which the people talking about a Western Way of War in ancient history dreamed about the ancient Greeks, just like an earlier generation of historians compared the Greeks to crusader knights charging the Turkomen. Because they divided the world into binaries (“the west and the rest”) and believed some intangible essence connected all the people on the same side, these people did not ask too many questions whether all their ‘western’ armies really had these things in common. That is why Western Way of War theory was most popular with people focused on recent history, while experts in ancient and medieval history mostly ignored it (the afterward of Carnage and Culture [pp. 461-462] does mention that scholars suggested many improvements in private, but dismisses their points as “minutiae” and “detail” about “obscure battles and weapons” which is a good way to make people who know something you don’t stop telling you about it).

Ancient historians never seem to have engaged with the Western Way of War, and American soldiers / spies / foreign policy types lost interest after their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq did not turn out the way they were hoping. So this theory is not important like it was in the 1990s and 2000s (when John Lynn wrote a book offering an alternative and the founder had not yet lost interest in the theory). You can not reason someone out of a position which they did not reason themself in to. But if you want to understand why believers defined the Western Way of War the way they did, I think you might want to look into war planning against the Soviet Union and interpretations of the Nazi-Soviet war. Most of us ancient historians don’t read a lot of those kind of books, but the two main advocates of the theory were both Second World War buffs.

If you’re interested in the great and terrible Second World War, the rest of Dr. House’s talk (and his 1995 book When Titans Clashed [h-net]) are worth the time. I hope to get around to Robert Citino’s The German Way of War which talks about seeking decisive battle and not worrying too much about the technical aspects of generalship as long as you smash as many of your troops into the enemy as quickly and aggressively as you can … if you have ever failed to grok early German fencing, he will give you food for thought. And so will the fact that he still feels it necessary to warn audiences of US officers and foreign policy makers that he is not recommending the Prussian approach.

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