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Feeding Mars


Kaushik Roy

ARMIES, WARS AND THEIR FOOD
By D. Vijaya Rao
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2013, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 4 April 2013

Napoleon Bonaparte remarked that an army marches on its stomach. Military history bears several examples of how lack of food and fodder resulted in the disintegration of victorious armies. Napoleon’s Grande Armee disintegrated while approaching Moscow in the winter of 1812 due to lack of food and fodder for men and horses. And Hitler’s Sixth Army at Stalingrad had to surrender to the Soviets in January 1943 because the former’s supply line was severed. In the massive volume under review, D. Vijaya Rao, a scientist at the Defence Food Research Laboratory in Mysore chalks out the relationship between military manpower, combat and food supply in the context of India. Rao taking a longue duree perspective starts from the very dawn of civilization in South Asia and brings the story till recent date.   There are too many unnecessary and unconnected details in the book which do not add to our knowledge but only clog up the arguments. For instance the first chapter on the evolution of homo erectus, homo sapiens and Neanderthal men has nothing much to say on the complex interstices between armies and logistics either in the South Asian or in the global contexts. The second chapter of Rao’s book makes a sudden jump and discusses Vedic literature. I am not sure about the objective of the author. The author might have made a case by evaluating the limitations of Vedic literature as far as their portrayal of military affairs of ancient South Asia is concerned.   The organization of the volume is problematic. The organization of the chapters does not make sense either thematically or chronologically. Chapter 3 compares ancient India’s art of war (300 BCE to 600 CE) with that of ancient China and Rome. However, Rao does not throw light on the principal debate in the field of ancient military history, which centers round the argument that Classical Greece invented the concept of decisive battles. Then, in the chapter on Vedic and Epic wars, the author discusses the tactics of the Kurukshetra War. She ought to have entered into the debate whether this war was historical or not. From the chronological perspective, this theme ought to have come before Chapter 3. Rao then deals with the nature of warfare and rise of armies during the rise of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire which thematically should have come before the Roman Empire. Next comes the discussion on warfare from the ...


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