Paul Rahe, professor of history, will receive an award on Friday for his newest book on ancient Sparta and its defense strategies.
At a conference in Washington, D.C., the Mackinder Forum, an association of foreign policy scholars, will present Rahe with the 2019 STRATFOR Book Award for Geopolitical Analysis for his recent book “Sparta’s First Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 478 – 446 B.C.” This is the third volume in his series of books examining the grand strategy of Sparta during the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. The award, presented by Mackinder, is funded by STRATFOR, a geopolitical intelligence organization.
“We try to identify books that weave together history, geography, and strategic studies in a compelling analysis or narrative of significant geopolitical events or processes,” Leonard Hochberg, coordinator of the Mackinder Forum-US, said in an email. “Professor Rahe’s magisterial reconsideration of the narratives of Herodotus and Thucydides from the perspective of Spartan grand strategy exemplifies the above criteria.”
In addition to receiving the award, Rahe will deliver a lecture titled “Grand Strategy in Sparta’s First Two Attic Wars” on Friday.
A Hillsdale College press release that announced the new book in August noted that this third volume will be included in the Yale University Library of Military History.
Rahe said his series aims to explore the question of how communities defend themselves and their way of life. These books examine how Sparta in particular set about defending itself. Rahe said that when it comes to the wars he interprets in the books, many works have been written on Athens, but he thought there was a lack of in-depth study on Sparta.
“This volume is about the aftermath of the Persian wars and the alliance between Sparta and Athens,” Rahe said. “It’s an examination of how that alliance came apart and how the Spartans coped with the Athenian challenge. My focus is on particulars, but always with an eye to parallels.”
And Rahe certainly sees modern parallels with some of the 20th century conflicts in which the United States participated. Rahe said the third volume especially has similarities to the U.S. situation after World War II.
“You have an alliance against a great power — Germany and Japan — with the Soviet Union. When the war is over, the two allies become enemies,” Rahe said.
Rahe, however, said he does not explicitly make these analogies in his volumes. Instead, he lets readers find the parallels themselves.
“The Peloponnesian War has been regarded as a template for World War I, World War II, and the Cold War for a very long time,” Rahe said.
Hochberg also notes the parallels Rahe sees with modern politics. Rahe’s work, he said, contributes to an understanding of international relations.
“He calls attention to domestic social institutions and political culture as a key determinant in the formulation of grand strategy,” Hochberg said. “He reminds us that the grand strategy of the United States should align with its values and institutions.”
Rahe sees his volumes as being especially valuable to people working in U.S. foreign policy. This is something he believes members of the National Security Council will find helpful in guiding the U.S.
While at a conference a couple of weeks ago, Rahe said he mentioned his new book, and H.R. McMaster, the former national security advisor, “pulled out his cell phone and ordered the book.” Rahe said a former assistant secretary of the Navy has also read the book.
“People are always looking for analogies to the situation they find themselves in, just to stimulate thinking about the implications for the situation,” Rahe said. “This is the audience for which I wrote the book.”
Rahe said receiving this award will give his book some more attention and, hopefully, make it noticeable to military leaders.
The book, he said, is meant to entertain as well as instruct.
“If you can entertain and instruct at the same time, you’ve done everything you can do,” Rahe said.