Black’s work is strongest when he questions conventional wisdom regarding how we see war. His approach is an excellent counter to a linear view of warfare—one that sees the evolution of warfare through various stages, culminating at some point. By focusing on the unique circumstances (societal, technological, industrial) of the period ranging from 1860-1945, Black helps us understand how and why this period’s conflicts were fought in a particular way and why their consequences were important to the world we live in today.
Choosing or being compelled to fight a particular intensity of war is a grand-strategic issue—depending on the political, economic, cultural, and military capabilities and constraints developed by the rival communities at large. It determines the military objectives and methods employed. Therefore it behooves decision-makers to strive to choose an intensity that provides them with the most advantages vis-à-vis the enemy and, if possible, to prevent the enemy from compelling them to fight at the intensity it chooses.
It is not useful to define wars by measures such as size, scale, or commitment because these are subjective and thus cloud analysis. This is particularly true in regard to such things as cost and casualties. How much a war costs, how many people it kills, and what it consumes and destroys are certainly important issues—no one disputes this—but these are not bases for critical analysis because they fail to generate solid, tangible, universal foundations for discussion, which is exactly what writing on such subjects should provide.
At first it may seem intuitive that wars are measured on a scale from something more limited in commitment to something that resembles “total” commitment from a society. However, reflecting on this idea brings up the very important question of what exactly is being measured when describing a war, by whom is it measured, and what are the criteria that take a war from limits to totality?