Philip C. Bobbitt

The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History

Seeing the New Era Before 9/11

by Edward Rothstein
The New York Times, June 1, 2002

It is easy to feel, as Virginia Woolf once said about an earlier cataclysm, that after Sept. 11 human consciousness changed, that beforehand no one could have guessed at the kinds of traumas and transformations that were about to unfold. But judging from this book – which, after a decade of work, must have been all but complete at the time – the historian Philip Bobbitt had a pretty good idea. Apart from a postscript added on Dec. 13, 2001, and a smattering of inserted footnotes and allusions, Mr. Bobbitt's evolutionary map of warfare's impact on the state foreshadow the kinds of events still unfolding. What has happened since – even last week's announcement that Russia is now affiliated with its onetime nemesis, NATO – fits eerily well with his speculations.

… This book is magisterial in its scope and ambition and … it inspires reflection even when it provokes disagreement. For Mr Bobbitt is trying to grasp how government and warfare – matters of life and death – change over the ages. It is not just an academic concern. Until 1999 Mr Bobbitt was the senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council. He was also the counselor on international law at the State Department from 1990 to 1993. Both history and experience force him to acknowledge that war is a "natural condition of the state." Just as the law reflects the inner face of the state, the way it orders itself, so do military and political strategy reflect its outer face. And nothing changes in one realm without affecting the other … What changes are yet to come? What does 500 years of military history and constitutional change suggest? Mr Bobbitt offers much speculation – some unconvincing, some brilliant – but he offers little if any hope that future epochal wars will be any less painful than the many that have already passed.