Carnage and Culture, Victor Davis Hanson - My dad suggested this book, which reads like it was originally a series of journal articles later republished as a book, considering the amount of repetion inside.
Hanson's idea seems to be that generally, when Western culures meet non-Western cultures, the Westerners win. They win the battle, and their culture, their ideas tend to be asserted, and he looks at the circumstances and results of ten different battles, from Salamis up to the Tet Offensive to determine why.
Strictly as a book on military history, I found it to have some worth, because I didn't know anything about the battle at Lepanto in 1571, for example, or Poitiers in 732, so I learned a bit about those clashes, what happened and why. So it was a useful read in that regard, though there are certainly texts that would be more in-depth out there.
There's the question of Hanson's thesis, and I don't really feel qualified to argue it, but I'll present it as best I understood, and go from there. Hanson is (according to my father) a classicist, so I perhaps shouldn't be surprised that he traces the sources of Western advantage to the Greeks. He feels that the advantage of Westerners is in their freedom, by which he means that even if they aren't allowed to do whatever, they please, they do have a rule of law to protect them, which guarantees them certain rights. So the Athenians at Salamis were fighting to defend that aspect of their lives, while the Persians were fighting for their near-deity like emperor's benefit. Apparently, people in the Persian Empire had rights only so long as Xerxes permitted it. If he wanted your land, your money, your kids, he took it. If he wanted you executed, you died. No trial.
This is something Hanson feels is uniquely Western and enduring, even when dealing with autocrats like Alexander the great, or various European monarchs. When discussing the battle between the British and the Zulus at Rorke's Drift, he mentions that all British soldiers were aware that even the queen herself couldn't order their execution without a trial, and that it was this sense of freedom and protection that provides an edge.
At the same time though, Hanson argues that there's something about Western military strategy, going back to the phalangite tactics of the Greeks that also helps. Whereas many of the non-Western cultures involved in the various battles prized individual heroism and killing many of the enemy, Western tactis are more about standing by your fellow soldier, maintaining rank, presenting a united front, that sort of thing. I think he's saying there's a greater level of discipline, that the Western soldiers are drilled to not let emotion overcome them and cause them to act rashly, but to stick together, and follow orders. Which seems at odds with the idea of defending their freedom and rights, if the military strategy revolves around drilling the independence out of them, but maybe his point is they're sacrificing that in the short term, to protect it over the long-term.
There's also some discussion of Western tradition of what he calls 'disinterested inquiry', which I think means people studying things without an agenda beyond the desire to learn. It seems like his argument is that non-Western cultures, if they encouraged learning, still often forced it to be viewed through the prism of their religion, or whatever the rulers accepted doctrine was, so you couldn't study and come up with conclusions contradictory to that, thus stifiling research and advancement, which helps widen the technological gap, which provides another advantage.
I can't say that I buy into his thesis, myself. It all seems too pat somehow, that the freedom of Greek city-state citizens encourages a willingness to subsume individuality in a fighting unit, and enables less impeded abstract research. it feels like an attempt to take too many disparate threads, and connect them at a single origin. Like I said, though, I'm not historian enough to outright refute his points.
There were a couple of trends he noted that I found interesting. One was the apparently Western idea of decisive battle (and shock combat). He feels Westerners, even when they aren't numerically superior (say, Alexander's battle at Guagamela) want to fight a big battle, all of them against all of you, and wipe you out. To that end, employ the shock combat of the disciplined ranks, firing, advancing, killing en masse, and obliterate the enemy. He notes that many of the opposing forces, made up of mercenaries or slaves will break off attack once they see a chance to grab some loot (the Persians who made it behind Alexander at Guagamela apparently stopped attacking the opposing forces, and instead started raiding Alexander's camp and killing unarmed camp servants, while Alexander's troops, having broken through Persian lines, ignored possible looting, and focused on trying to chase down Darius III). As an extension of this, Western armies apparently like to keep going until all the enemy is dead, while their opponents (the Zulus and Aztecs) felt that one victory would be sufficient to end the conflict. They won, the Wetserners lost, fight's over, right? Except the Spainiards and British were not giving up, but were going to send more troops, and keep going until it's done.
The other idea that interested me was the apparent difference is ideas of what is acceptable. For example, Cortes and his men were horrified that if any of them were captured, they'd be carried up to the sacrificial altar and killed. That's dirty pool, but it was perfectly acceptable, during battle, for Cortes and his men to ride after fleeing Aztecs, and run as many of them through with lances as possible. Or, for a more recent comparison, the U.S. firebombed Japanese cities in WW2, killed thousands of civilians, and felt that was acceptable because hey, the Japanese can pick the bombers up on radar, they can send up fighters or AA fire, but the Japanese interrogating downed pilots, then tying weights to them and throwing them in the ocean is no good. In terms of the number of people being killed, there's really no comparison, but Hanson felt it revealed something different about Western attitudes towards war (All's fair in war, but not after, I guess).
I don't know whether I would recomend the book or not. I feel he has a tendency to repeat things in chapters, probably in an attempt to draw a line of connection from one battle to the next, but mostly it just feels tedious, as if he feels we lack short-term memory. Still, if you want a better idea of his thesis, whether because you think there might be some merit to it, or because you think it sounds like bunk and want to tear it to shreds, you could try the first chapter or two, as they'll give you a suitable feel for the book.