Europe’s Way of War, 1815–64

TitleEurope’s Way of War, 1815–64
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsShowalter, Dennis
EditorBlack, Jeremy
Book TitleEuropean Warfare, 1815-2000
CityNew York

Military history is arguably the last stronghold of what historiographers call the ‘Whig interpretation’. Reduced to its simplest terms, this approach sees the development of warfare as progressive. From the Macedonian phalanx, through the legions of Rome and the grenadiers of Frederick the Great, to the panzers of Nazi Germany and the information-age warfare currently touted in US military circles, the conduct of conflict is presented as becoming more sophisticated and more effective. These intellectual patterns have essentially defined the nature of Europe's military experience in the half-century between the fall of Napoleon and the Wars of German Unification. The years from 1815 to 1864 appear in most general military histories as not merely a time of stagnation, but as a retrograde era, when states and armies turned away from the experiences of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic Era, seeking instead to retame Bellona and return the genie of mass war to its bottle. The story is coherent, if not particularly inspiring. It is also sufficiently familiar to have discouraged large-scale, synergistic research. Closer examination, however, suggests a more complicated picture - one this chapter aims to express in terms of six dialectics that engaged and shaped Europe's armed forces in the years between Napoleon I and Moltke the Elder.

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