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Lethality in Combat

A Study of the True Nature of Battle

(14 customer reviews)
Authors: Tom Lewis

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Lethality in Combat shines a blazing light on the three most controversial aspects of military combat: the necessity of killing; the taking, or not, of prisoners; and the targeting of civilians.

Author Tom Lewis controversial new book shatters our preconceptions regarding the rules of engagement and the realities of combat. The truth of warfare is little understood by those who haven’t endured it. It’s romanticised and simplified in many fictional books and movies, and even sanitised in so-called “real” accounts

This book argues that when a nation-state sends its soldiers to fight, the state must accept the full implications of this, uncomfortable as they may be. Lewis affirms that he ISN’T saying that all such behaviours are ethically correct. However as society members who commission others to carry out violence on our behalf, we should understand these behaviours, and not be too quick to instantly condemn

Drawing on seven conflicts – the Boer War, World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands and Iraq – the author considers these ethical issues. Lethality in Combat lifts the veil on the much-misunderstood but very real and secret world of unsanitised war.

What Readers are saying… “Makes his case forcefully, showing that warfare is an ongoing part of the human condition, in which seeking maximum effectiveness is the task of the soldier…well worth reading.” (Defence Force Journal)

”The sanitized version of warfare in books and films omits the bloody and ferocious encounters at the sharp end of war, this book explains.” (Review – Newcastle Herald)

“Thought provoking and disturbing…well researched and written.” (Reader “Eve”)

“…an impressive book. Your points seem to be accurate and balanced, and your citations are really impressive.” (Ray – Patrick O’Brian online fan club)

Tom Lewis

Tom Lewis

A retired naval officer and high school teacher, Dr Tom Lewis OAM served in the Australian Defence Force, where he saw active service as an intelligence analyst in the Middle East. Tom has written 21 history books, with his most recent being “The Sinking of HMAS Sydney”, which focuses on living, fighting and dying in […]

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14 reviews for Lethality in Combat

  1. Got this recently and it’s going hand to hand at the Military College coz we are all poor! A book that tells it like it is for the soldier. Better than the crap we have on many courses, which show war as a sort of hugging contents with lawyers at 50 paces!

  2. Radio National Life Matters Interview aired in March 2012 The letter of the week is from Aina in response to Life Matters segment on lethality in combat. Your interview with Tom Lewis hit a profound nerve with me. My Father was forced, under a gun, to fight with the Germans in WWII. He was part of the Latvian army. I can recall as a child his desire to march with other returned service men and women on Anzac Day, but I hold a deeper memory of the disappointment and sadness he carried due to being ostracised because of who he was forced to fight with. This attitude of exclusion softened over time, but without psychological support and an empathic ear, he continued to have difficulty with reconciling his war life with his civilian life and, as a result, I know virtually nothing about my Dad because of his silence about his life and his experiences. He hid his story in alcohol and a militaristic attitude in running the family home. Thank you for the interview with Tom Lewis, it is causing me to think about a deeper level of forgiveness that I need to consider towards my Dad.

  3. An enlightening and enjoyable read. (Stephen Becket – British Army combat veteran of Northern Ireland; three tours)

  4. The sanitized version of warfare in books and films omits the bloody and ferocious encounters at the sharp end of war, this book explains. (Review – Newcastle Herald)

  5. War operates according to its own rules, not the laws governing civilian life.

  6. Thought provoking and disturbing…well researched and written.

  7. …an impressive book. Your points seem to be accurate and balanced, and your citations are really impressive.

  8. Another great discussion on this morning’s programme.?I agree…It is absurd to expect civilian, peacetime standards of gracious behaviour from them in all circumstances.

  9. Will interest military buffs, but also relevant to more general readers, who will find it assists them in gaining an understanding of the true nature of war.

  10. Liked the logical progression of the subjects, the fair handling of the subject matter, and the realistic look of why soldiers kill. It should be read by everyone who deals as a professional or volunteer counsellor with veterans or as a journalist or commentator writes on the subject of war, war “crimes” or the ethics of a country’s involvement in any military action. This should be read by those interested in the various charges laid against Allied servicemen fighting insurgents who do not fight by the Geneva code.

  11. Yes a warts and all look at what goes on in a soldiers mind, and immediately thereafter, when they have a split second to decide and to determine whether to kill or be killed. The stories will shock you but then War is like that, why would it be any different? If every politician were sent to the front line for a month there would be an end to all this madness.

  12. The demands made upon soldiers today have created intensive ethical debate with implications that go beyond the battlefield. Counterinsurgency, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations all require individual soldiers to evaluate legal and ethical issues on-the-fly, often under the scrutiny of a watchful media.
    In this environment, violence is frequently presented as an unnecessary and ‘evil’ consequence of political power. In this book though, Tom Lewis, a former officer in the Royal Australian Navy, focuses on the very real consequence of going to war—as unpleasant and uncomfortable as it may make us he argues, ‘warfare is about exterminating the enemy’. Using analyses of wars from the Boer War in the late nineteenth century through to Iraq in the twenty-first century, Lewis argues that although soldiers bear the ethical fallout that accompanies contemporary war, those that send soldiers to war should face the grim reality that ‘rules of war’ may be inadequate to the task they set.

    Australian Army Journal • Volume IX, Number 1 • page 155
    Big Sky Publishing, Newport NSW, 2012, ISBN 9781921941511, 368pp,

  13. Frontline Journal, March 2018 | Reviewer: JOHN DONOVAN

    During a Memorial Day address in 1884, the American Civil War veteran Oliver Wendell Holmes commented that he and his fellow war veterans had ‘shared the incommunicable experience of war.

    In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire’. (Quoted in Bergerud, Eric, Touched with Fire, The Land War in the South Pacific, Viking Penguin, New York, 1996)

    Tom Lewis’s book is addressed largely to those whose hearts have not been ‘touched with fire’. He aims to educate them, and particularly those in authority and the very many commentators who attempt to influence them, about the realities of war. In this he has a difficult task, as few in modern Australia have served in the armed forces, even as reserves, and even fewer have been under fire. Lewis focuses on the role of the armed forces, to defeat their country’s enemies, in the shortest practicable time, and with the minimum of friendly casualties. He notes that minimising enemy casualties in the short term might be counterproductive, if a war then becomes extended, and total friendly and enemy casualties are thus increased. For Lewis, the idea of ‘proportionality’ must consider the alternative possibility of greater casualties.

    Lewis uses examples from previous wars to demonstrate the essential nature of war, and to give readers some understanding of the pressures on soldiers on a battlefield. He shows that survival depends on behaviours that many unaware of battlefield realities might find repugnant. This point was made by George Patton, quoted in the book, when he said to his soldiers that ‘Your job is not to die for your country. Your job is to make some poor bastard die for his’. This essential point seems lost on some modern community ‘leaders’.

    Shooting or bayoneting wounded enemy before passing by them might seem wrong to observers who are unaware that wounded enemy have frequently taken up their weapons again to shoot soldiers who had moved past them. The prevalence of this practice among wounded Japanese soldiers during the Pacific war might explain why so few were captured. Ensuring that risk is minimised also seems be essential when fighting an enemy that favours suicide tactics, or does not routinely wear uniforms or display distinguishing marks, as required by international law. Lewis contends that it is reasonable to kill an enemy who refuses to surrender, to minimise the risk to friendly personnel.

    Lewis shows that actions sometimes described as desecrating enemy dead (perhaps by kicking them) can have a compelling logic, as an alternative to the use of a bullet or bayonet to ensure that the enemy soldier is no longer a threat. Some of the other actions he describes, however, seem to go beyond battlefield necessity.

    Lewis also demonstrates that there is logic to treating an enemy well, if this treatment might ensure that friendly soldiers are also treated well. He does not explore in detail the likelihood that this practice will be effective in a war between ideologically irreconcilable enemies, one of which is determined to conquer absolutely the other.

    Lewis concludes by proposing that international law should reflect the realities of combat, rather than an idealised view of human nature. He makes his case forcefully, showing that warfare is an ongoing part of the human condition, in which seeking maximum effectiveness is the task of the soldier (and sailor and airman; although the book focuses on land combat, there are discussions of naval and air operations). He does, however, have a tendency to hammer his point home excessively, and the repetition of essentially similar stories can cause a degree of mental overload. Well worth reading,

  14. Thank you for your wonderful books.

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