Martin van Creveld

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Martin van Creveld
Martin van Creveld crop.jpg
at the House of Commons, London
(26 February 2008)
Born (1946-03-05) 5 March 1946 (age 73)
Alma mater London School of Economics
Scientific career
Fields Military history

Martin Levi van Creveld (Hebrew : מרטין ון קרפלד; born 5 March 1946) is an Israeli military historian and theorist.

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel; the modern version of which is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, cultures and economies thereof, as well as the resulting changes to local and international relationships.


Life and career

Van Creveld was born in the Netherlands in the city of Rotterdam to a Jewish family. His parents, Leon and Margaret, were staunch Zionists who had managed to evade the Nazis during World War II.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands, also commonly known as Holland, is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Rotterdam Municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Rotterdam is the second-largest city and a municipality of the Netherlands. It is located in the province of South Holland, at the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas channel leading into the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta at the North Sea. Its history goes back to 1270, when a dam was constructed in the Rotte, after which people settled around it for safety. In 1340, Rotterdam was granted city rights by the Count of Holland.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

In 1950, his family immigrated to Israel, and Creveld grew up in Ramat Gan. From 1964 to 1969, he studied history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and earned an MA. From 1969–71, he studied history at the London School of Economics and received a PhD. [1]

Ramat Gan Place in Israel

Ramat Gan is a city in the Tel Aviv District of Israel, located east of Tel Aviv. It is home to one of the world's major diamond exchanges, and many high-tech industries.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israeli University in Jerusalem

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel's second oldest university, established in 1918, 30 years before the establishment of the State of Israel. The Hebrew University has three campuses in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot. The world's largest Jewish studies library is located on its Edmond J. Safra Givat Ram campus.

A Master of Arts is a person who was admitted to a type of master's degree awarded by universities in many countries, and the degree is also named Master of Arts in colloquial speech. The degree is usually contrasted with the Master of Science. Those admitted to the degree typically study linguistics, history, communication studies, diplomacy, public administration, political science, or other subjects within the scope of the humanities and social sciences; however, different universities have different conventions and may also offer the degree for fields typically considered within the natural sciences and mathematics. The degree can be conferred in respect of completing courses and passing examinations, research, or a combination of the two.

Van Creveld's doctoral dissertation on Hitler's strategy in the Balkans during the early years of World War II was published as a book in 1973: "Hitler's Strategy, 1940-41. The Balkan Clue." After completing his PhD in 1971, van Creveld returned to Israel and began teaching at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He became a professor in 1988. In 2007, he retired from teaching at Hebrew University, and began teaching at Tel Aviv University's Security Studies Program. [2]

Tel Aviv University public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv University (TAU) is a public research university in Tel Aviv, Israel. With over 30,000 students, the University is the largest in the country. Located in northwest Tel Aviv, the University is the center of teaching and research of the city, comprising 9 faculties, 17 teaching hospitals, 18 performing arts centers, 27 schools, 106 departments, 340 research centers, and 400 laboratories.

Van Creveld has been married twice and has three children. He lives in Mevaseret Zion. [1]

Mevaseret Zion Place in Israel

Mevaseret Zion is a suburb of Jerusalem with the administrative status of a local council. Mevaseret Zion is composed of two distinct older townships, Maoz Zion and Mevaseret Yerushalayim, under the jurisdiction of one local council. The newer neighborhoods of Mevaseret Zion were not part of either settlement.


Van Creveld is the author of thirty-three books on military history, strategy, and other topics, of which Command in War (1985), Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (1977, 2nd edition 2004), The Transformation of War (1991), The Sword and the Olive (1998) and The Rise and Decline of the State (1999) are among the best known. Van Creveld has lectured or taught at countless civilian and military institutes of higher learning all over the world.

The Transformation of War

Of particular significance is his 1991 book The Transformation of War (UK: On Future War), which was translated into French, German (New German edition in 2004), Russian, and Spanish. In this treatise of military theory, van Creveld develops what he calls the non-trinitarian theory of warfare, which he juxtaposes to the famous work by Clausewitz, On War . [3]

Carl von Clausewitz German-Prussian soldier and military theorist

Carl Philipp Gottfriedvon Clausewitz was a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the "moral" and political aspects of war. His most notable work, Vom Kriege, was unfinished at his death. Clausewitz was a realist in many different senses and, while in some respects a romantic, also drew heavily on the rationalist ideas of the European Enlightenment.

<i>On War</i> von Clausewitz treaty on strategy

Vom Kriege is a book on war and military strategy by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), written mostly after the Napoleonic wars, between 1816 and 1830, and published posthumously by his wife Marie von Brühl in 1832. It has been translated into English several times as On War. On War is actually an unfinished work; Clausewitz had set about revising his accumulated manuscripts in 1827, but did not live to finish the task. His wife edited his collected works and published them between 1832 and 1835. His 10-volume collected works contain most of his larger historical and theoretical writings, though not his shorter articles and papers or his extensive correspondence with important political, military, intellectual and cultural leaders in the Prussian state. On War is formed by the first three volumes and represents his theoretical explorations. It is one of the most important treatises on political-military analysis and strategy ever written, and remains both controversial and influential on strategic thinking.

Clausewitz's trinitarian model of war (a term of van Creveld's) distinguishes between the affairs of the population, the army, and the government. [4] Van Creveld criticizes this philosophy as too narrow and state-focused, thus inapplicable to the study of those conflicts involving one or more non-state actors. Instead, he proposes five key issues of war:

  1. By whom war is fought – whether by states or by non-state actors
  2. What is war all about – the relationships between the actors, and between them and the non-combatants
  3. How war is fought – issues of strategy and tactics
  4. What war is fought for – whether to enhance national power, or as an end to itself
  5. Why war is fought – the motivations of the individual soldier

Van Creveld notes that many of the wars fought after 1945 were low-intensity conflicts (LICs) which powerful states ended up losing. The book argues that we are seeing a decline of the nation-state, without a comparable decline in organized violence. Moreover, in his view, armies consistently train and equip to fight a conventional war, rather than the LICs they are likely to face. Consequently, it is imperative that nation states change the training of their armed forces and rethink their weapon procurement programs.

The book's significance is attested to by the fact that until the middle of 2008, it was included on the list of required reading for United States Army officers, and (with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz) the third non-American entry on the list. [5] Van Creveld's Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton is now included on the list as well.

In a commander's quest for certainty in battlefield information, Van Creveld popularized "directed telescope" as a term to describe the use of specially selected and trusted officers as special agents or observers for the commander". [6] [7]

The Privileged Sex

In addition to his books on military history, van Creveld has written several books on other issues. The most prominent of these is perhaps The Privileged Sex (2013). In the book, van Creveld argues feminist claims that women are systematically oppressed is largely a myth unsupported by any serious data, and that women tend to enjoy more social protections and privileges than do men. [8]

Views on current affairs

In addition to writing on military history, van Creveld also comments, often pointedly, on contemporary societies and politics.

In a TV interview in 2002, he expressed doubts as to the ability of the Israeli army to defeat the Palestinians:

They [Israeli soldiers] are very brave people... they are idealists... they want to serve their country and they want to prove themselves. The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose-lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel... if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape. Now the Israeli army has not by any means been the worst of the lot. It has not done what for instance the Americans did in Vietnam... it did not use napalm, it did not kill millions of people. So everything is relative, but by definition, to return to what I said earlier, if you are strong and you are fighting the weak, then anything you do is criminal. [9]

In a September 2003 interview in Elsevier, a Dutch weekly, on Israel and the dangers it faces from Iran, the Palestinians and world opinion van Creveld stated:

We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force…. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under. [10]

In the 21 August 2004 edition of the International Herald Tribune van Creveld wrote, "Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy." [11]

In 2005, van Creveld made headlines when he said in an interview that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC[ sic ] sent his legions into Germany and lost them", a reference to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. His analysis included harsh criticism of the Bush Administration, comparing the war to the Vietnam war. Moreover, he said that "Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial." [5]

In 2007, van Creveld commented that

Iran is the real victor in Iraq, and the world must now learn to live with a nuclear Iran the way we learned to live with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China.... We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us.... thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany. [12]

Van Creveld viewed the Second Lebanon War as a strategic success for Israel and a Hezbollah defeat. He was also highly critical of the Winograd Commission's report for its failure to note the many successes brought about by Israel’s military campaign. He noted that Hezbollah "had the fight knocked out of it," lost hundreds of its members and that the organization was "thrown out of South Lebanon," replaced by "a fairly robust United Nations peacekeeping force." He also noted that as a result of the war, Israel is experiencing a level of calm on its Lebanon border not seen since the mid-1960s. [13] More recently, in an article published in Infinity Journal in June 2011, titled "The Second Lebanon War: A Reassessment", Martin van Creveld argued that contrary to the common view, and despite "clumsy, heavy-handed, and slow" ground operations, the Second Lebanon War was a great victory for Israel. He states that as a result of the war, "since the middle of August 2006, all over southern Lebanon hardly a shot has been fired." [14]

In an opinion piece published in The Jewish Daily Forward in 2010, van Creveld argued that the West Bank, far from being vital to Israel's security, is a territory "that Israel can easily afford to give up." Van Creveld contended that the West Bank offers no defense against ballistic missiles from Israel's two chief enemies, Iran and Syria. Furthermore, provided that it would be demilitarized in any future peace settlement with the Palestinians, the West Bank would act as a natural barrier impeding the advance of any army endeavoring to invade Israel by land from the east. Lastly, Israel could defend itself against terrorism from the West Bank by means of a wall coupled with offensive campaigns the likes of Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War, which successfully restored Israel's deterrence factor when the level of terrorism exceeded what Israel was willing to tolerate. [15] Stephen Kramer, Israel Correspondent for the Jewish Times of South Jersey, disputed the accuracy and relevance of figures cited by van Creveld in relation to Israel's GDP and arms exports. Kramer, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, also argued that the Israeli army plays a crucial role fighting terrorism in the West Bank, whereas its absence could precipitate a Hamas "takeover" similar to the one that occurred in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. [16] [Hamas won the democratic Palestinian election of 2006]

In an article co-authored with Cambridge researcher of Middle Eastern history, [17] Jason Pack, addressing the 2011 Libyan civil war, van Creveld challenged the media's tendency to portray the circumstances in Libya as being largely equivalent to those that formed the backdrop to the overthrow of ben-Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt earlier in the year. "The remarkable spread of the 2011 Arab revolts across the face of North Africa causes many journalists to portray the current Libyan uprising as fueled by similar factors to those at play in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. There are more differences than similarities." Van Creveld noted that Tunisia and Egypt "have been coherent nation-states for well over a century," while Libyan society is still pervasively tribalist. He also observed that whereas the armies of Tunisia and Egypt could mediate the transitions between the old regimes and the new, "Libya lacks a professional, non-tribal army" that could function in such a role. Van Creveld blamed Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi for squandering a crucial opportunity to restore order to the country and confidence – both domestic and international – in the Gaddafi regime. [18]

Van Creveld has stated that the Israeli government has "vastly exaggerated the threat that a nuclear Iran poses to its security, as well as Israel's capacity to halt it." [19]

Syria and terrorism

In 2016, in a commentary for the German magazine Focus, Creveld advocated an alliance with the Assad regime. "If the West wants to win the war against the caliphate of terror, they cannot be picky about their allies". The regional conflict was not about a despot, but about a novel form of terrorism aiming at the dissolution of all state order and territorial boundaries in the whole region. Only the Alawite soldiers of the Assad regime were willing to die fighting the terrorists, whereas the European and American attempts to avoid bloodshed concentrating on air strikes, were useless against Guerrilla troops as history had shown. Losing the war against IS and Al Nusra would have incalculable consequences for the Middle East and for Europe. In comparison, Assad would appear as the "lesser devil". [20]

As early as 2013, again in the magazine Focus, he regarded support for Assad as important to avoid the destabilization of the Middle East as a whole. Assad would continue the war only to prevent a still larger carnage, the annihilation of the 1.2 million Alawites. "Instead of complaining about humanitarian concerns and arguing about arms deliveries to the rebels, the West should join Russia and press for a negotiation solution. If necessary, the West should help the rebels and allow Assad to stay on his post: he is the only person who can hold the country together." Van Creveld quoted Bismarck: "Politics is the choice between the bad and the worse." [21] In a lecture at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Brandenburg he pleaded to follow a "pragmatic path" in Syria. [22]

In 2011, looking back at Bashar's father, he analysed the strategy of Hafez Al-assad against the town of Hama in 1982, then center of the Muslim Brothers. Without this action, seen as extremely brutal and as a war crime by Creveld, Assad's regime would probably have been overthrown. Assad himself and many members of the Alawite community would have been killed. After Assad's removal, perhaps a stable regime would have been established by non-Alawite Muslims, or - the more likely variant in Martin van Creveld's view - there would have been no stable government at all. In this case, there would have been a war of everyone against everyone. Judging from the experience in neighboring Beirut, such a civil war could have cost hundreds of thousands of people. And, according to what happened in Lebanon and Afghanistan, Syria could have developed into a place teeming with international terrorists of every direction." [23]

Published works


Selected articles

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  1. 1 2 "Military Martin Strives for a Stronger Israel". Jewish Telegraph . 2010.
  2. "Prof. Martin Van Creveld" Tel Aviv University website
  3. Major K. M. French United States Marine Corps, "Clausewitz vs. the Scholar: Martin Van Creveld's Expanded Theory Of War".
  4. von Clausewitz, Carl. On War (1832–35). Book 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 28.
  5. 1 2 Brian Whitaker, "Nowhere to run", 29 November, The Guardian , 2005
  6. "Directed Telescope". Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  7. Greene, Robert (2010). The 33 Strategies Of War. Profile Books. p. 65. ISBN   978-1-84765-142-6. what the military historian Martin van Creveld calls "a directed telescope": people in various parts of the chain [of command], and elsewhere, to give you instant information from the battlefield."
  8. van Crefeld, Martin (2013). The Privileged Sex. Createspace. ISBN   978-1484983126.
  9. Jennifer Byrne, "Interview with Martin van Creveld" March 20, ABC, 2002
  10. Quoted in The Observer Guardian, The War Game, a controversial view of the current crisis in the Middle East, 21 September 2003; the original interview appeared in the Dutch weekly magazine Elsevier, 2002, no. 17, p. 52-53 (April 27th, 2002).
  11. Martin van Creveld writes in the International Herald Tribune , "Sharon on the Warpath: Is Israel planning to attack Iran?"
  12. UPI, COMMENTARY: ISLAMIC DEJA VU Archived 23 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine analysis of Islam in the Middle East May 21, 2007
  13. "Israel's War With Hezbollah Was Not A Failure". Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  14. "The Second Lebanon War: A Reassessment", June 2011, Infinity Journal , 2011
  15. van Creveld, Martin (15 December 2010). "Israel Doesn't Need the West Bank To Be Secure". The Jewish Daily Forward . Retrieved 25 February 2011.
  16. Kramer, Stephen (4 February 2011). "Israel Needs the West Bank to be Secure". Jewish Times of South Jersey. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
  17. "Jason Pack: Cambridge University, Researcher of Middle Eastern History and, President" on the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website
  18. van Creveld, Martin; Pack, Jason (23 February 2011). "Upheaval in Qaddafi's Libya isn't just another Arab uprising". Christian Science Monitor . Retrieved 25 February 2011. Arguably, the decisive event that forever modified the dynamics was a speech by Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, broadcast late on Feb. 21 on Libyan national TV. Mr. Islam might have rolled out new reforms, blamed the reactionary conservatives like Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi for the situation in the country, and promised that he would use his weight with his father to stop the violence against the protesters. Instead, he played the Mubarak card – if you don’t stick with me, you'll get Islamism, separatism, Western intervention, and total chaos.
  19. Martin van Creveld; Jason Pack (14 March 2012). "Hands On Syria, Hands Off Iran". Project Syndicate. Archived from the original on 21 November 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  20. FOCUS Online, "Es geht nur mit Assad!", FOCUS Online (in German)
  21. FOCUS Online, "Das Schlimme und das Schlimmere", FOCUS Online (in German)
  22. "Sollte der Westen auf Assad setzen?, Publikationen, Politisches Bildungsforum Brandenburg", Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (in German)
  23. Thomas Speckmann, "Machthaber Syriens: Hafis und Baschar", Die Zeit (in German), Hamburg, ISSN   0044-2070
  24. (21 January 2009).