Military Orientalism

Eastern War Through Western Eyes

Part of the Critical Strategic Studies series
July 2009 9781850659600 274pp
Temporarily out of stock
July 2009 9781850659594 274pp
Temporarily out of stock


From the Ancient Greeks’ obsession with the armies of the Persians, Westerners have been irresistibly drawn to the exotic nature of ‘Oriental’ warfare and have sought either to emulate their enemies’ imagined ways of fighting or to incorporate Eastern warriors and ‘martial races’, such as the Sikhs and Gurkhas, in their own forces. The alluring yet terrifying prospect of Samurai warriors, obedient to an ancient code of chivalry, or of the Mongol cavalry thundering across the steppes, continue to grip our imagination, while the courage and fighting prowess of today’s ‘Eastern’ warriors, the Taliban and Hezbollah, have been grudgingly acknowledged by the high tech armies of NATO in Afghanistan and the IDF in Lebanon. Such romantic notions are based on a highly questionable premise, namely that race, culture and tradition are separate and primordial, and that they determine how societies fight. But how far does culture shape war? Do non-Westerners approach strategy, combat, or death in ways intrinsically different from their Eastern neighbours? This debate can be tracked through time, from Herodotus onwards, and features in innumerable histories and literary works as well as in poetry, art and oral epics. Yet there are few histories of the idea itself. Military Orientalism argues that viewing culture as a script that dictates warfare is wrong, and that our obsession with the exotic can make it harder, not easier, to know the enemy. Culture is powerful, but it is an ambiguous repertoire of ideas rather than a clear code for action. To divide the world into western, Asiatic or Islamic ways of war is a delusion, one whose profound impact affects contemporary war and above all the War on Terror. Porter’s fascinating book explains why the ‘Oriental’ warrior inspires fear, envy and wonder and how this has shaped the way Western armies fight.


‘This important new book takes a fresh and detailed look at the role of culture, culturalism, ethnocentrism and perceptions of the “other” in strategy. It should be required reading for any strategist or student of international affairs who seeks to understand the complex hybrid conflicts in which we now find ourselves.’ – David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

‘This is an accessible and well-written book for a wide range of audiences. The author has a solid grasp of the historical material and has bravely tackled a contentious yet persistent issue–Orientalism–through the lens of military conflict, and the reader is wiser as a result.’ – International Affairs

‘This book deserves a wide readership because its main argument, that culture is neither static nor monolithic, and does not exert an unmitigated influence on the character of conflict, is certain to spark a valuable debate on the influence of culture on war and warfare.’ — H.R. McMaster, Survival

Military Orientalism seeks to expose the perils of using “culture” as a means to understanding war, whether it unfolds in the East or (implicitly) closer to home. It is a rich and wide-ranging text which displays a depth of historical reading to good effect, and is beautifully written.’ – Daniel Neep, University of Exeter

‘This is a timely and important book. It is timely because culture shapes the conflicts in which we find ourselves engaged as never before. It is important because smartly, comprehensively and systematically it demolishes the dangerous myth that the enemies of the West are archaic curiosities or medieval throwbacks from another era. This is a message that the West needs to take to heart — and soon.’ – Professor Christopher Coker, London School of Economics

‘Porter’s sceptical but constructive approach to the “cultural turn”in Strategic Studies and practice is the principal argument thus far largely missing from public official and scholarly debate. He rains mercilessly on the parade of cultural determinists, though fortunately he does distinguish between cultural sense and culturalist nonsense. Military Orientalism is a beautifully written challenge to those among us who have embraced a cultural theory of strategy too enthusiastically and uncritically. This timely book is a must-read corrective to the fallacies in the current unduly cultural strategic orthodoxy.’ – Professor Colin Gray, University of Reading

‘In this crisp, lucid, and readable book, Porter explains how and why the West has often resorted to cultural readings of its non-Western adversaries. And in so doing, he drives an entire herd of sacred cows to the slaughter house. … His spirited and illuminating critique of contemporary strategic thought will be indispensable for all students of modern warfare.’ — Asian Affairs


Patrick Porter is Professor of Strategic Studies, University of Exeter (UK) and the author of Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes. 

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.