The shortest history of war by Gwynne Dyer

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It’s a short history but the message is hard to take. War has been part of the human psyche since prehistoric times and has continued to erupt throughout history. Once thought a noble and glorious activity, most people are now aware that in the current time of algorithms and atom bombs, a world war would likely lead to destruction of the planet.

Dyer succinctly describes the development of war from hand to hand combat to trench warfare to missiles and drones, each invention leading to an increasing detachment and depersonalisation in the destruction of the other. There is always the lingering appetite for war, and whilst we know we mustn’t use nuclear weapons, nations still desire to have them. As Dyer says, ‘no great power has renounced war as an instrument of policy’. He proposes that the only hope is to create ‘some sort of genuine international community’, in other words a United Nations. ‘The danger is extreme, but it’s no reason to stop trying’.

The chapters are short, the headings of each page highlight key points and there are many diagrams, images and quotations. It is a well referenced book, a neat and easy to read summary of war history, but whilst the final pages present an optimistic view, it’s hard not to come away with the sense we are fatally flawed as a species.

This would be a useful book for senior secondary students of Modern History for its succinct and insightful summary of the issues in the development of nuclear warfare, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the role of the United Nations. It brings together ideas that would stimulate historical analysis and class discussion.

Themes: War, Weapons, Military strategy, Nuclear warfare, United Nations.

Helen Eddy