Bread and Circuses

I was driving back to the office from an appointment today and heard on the radio that there were demonstrations in Athens this morning in sympathy with the Italians against proposed austerity measures.   I immediately started to reflect on the number of demonstrations/riots in Europe in the past few months because of budget tightening measures necessitated by the rapidly failing social states of Europe.   The first phrase that came to my mind was how angry people get when there bread and circuses get reduced which got me to thinking of where the phrase Bread and Circuses came from.   The phrase comes from the Roman playwright Juvenal who wrote … More after the Jump…

Today is the Day

Well, today is the day my final theses class starts. I have already looked at the syllabus and am very curious how this is going to go. I have exactly 16 weeks to submit a proposal, get approval, write a draft, make revisions, and submit a final thesis for defense. I have been looking forward to this for at least 4 years and working towards it for the past 3. I guess I am both nervous and excited. Nervous because I am not quite sure if my proposal will be accepted without some major reworking and excited because I am getting ever closer to being done with college.   At … More after the Jump…

What is Military History?

This is  probably a topic I should have tackled a few months when I started this blog; I have come to realize that i am in the minority when it comes to military history and my view of what it should be.   I guess the best way to describe myself is that I am a macro-historian and not a micro-historian.

What is Military History is a pretty good question from my perspective.   The definition determines how military history is written in the first place and to what uses it is put.   Modern military history arguably began with the reformers of the Prussian Army after 1805 and the creation of the Prussian staff system and most importantly the Prussian Kriegsakademie.   In its infancy, modern military history served a very simple purpose, to prepare military leaders for war by instructing them in the successes and failures of past military leaders.   The Kriegsakademie excelled at producing what would today be known as drums & trumpets type military history.  Â 

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Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

As I am getting ready to begin the final class for my MA and complete my Thesis I have been re-reading Clausewitz and his ideas and theory of War.   One of the things that that has struck me the most and made me realize how much Clausewitz is misunderstood is the way in which his most famous quote from the book about how “War is the continuation of policy by other means”[1] is completely taken out of context in most history.

If you read his book further, and I assume that most generals, staff chiefs, and even military historians have then it is clear that this quote is just a starting point given the numerous caveats and expansions on that simple statement in his theory.   Indeed, the very section that this quote heads explains what he means in a very concise and unambiguous manner; it is worth quoting in full.  

“We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.   What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.   War in general, and the commander in any specific instance, is entitled to require that the trend and designs of policy shall not be inconsistent with these means.   That of course, is no small demand; but however much it may affect political aims in a given case, it will never do more than modify them.   The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.”[2]

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Learning a Language

I was thinking this morning about how important learning a second language is to good scholarship. It hit me because I was not required to learn a second language for my undergrad, I wish I had been. My chosen historical specialty is 18th – 19th century Prussian history. It is kind of hard to see how I could do any really good research without learning German and maybe French. Luckily, I am married to a German woman and had no choice but to learn German if I want to talk to any of my in-laws since most of them don’t speak a lick of English. How could I expect them too since they all live in Germany?
Learning German has stood me in good stead the longer I have been studying history and especially in conducting research for my thesis. I have made several trips to archives in Germany and Austria conducting research for my thesis and these trips would have been completely wasted with no knowledge of German. I probably would not have made them in the first place.

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Why Military History

I ran across this piece by Jay Luvaas again today and it got me thinking about why I like Military history and if it is a worthwhile pursuit.   My short answer is that I don’t know why I like it and yes it is. The long answer is that I guess I like military history because war is the most extreme pursuit man engages in.   Extreme sports such as base jumping, free diving, mountain climbing, etc have nothing on the sheer rush and danger of engaging in the single most dangerous thing man has come up with; hunting our fellow man.   I have personally been to combat but … More after the Jump…

The Dreyse Needle Gun

One of the most consistent features of accounts of the German Wars of Unification are the assertions that the Prussian possession of the Dreyse Needle Gun was decisive in and of itself because of its impact on Prussian tactical formation and the flexibility it gave the average infantryman. Make no mistake, the Dreyse was a technological marvel for its time, it indeed gave the Prussians tactical flexibility and radically increased their rate of fire when compared to muzzleloader equipped armies of the time.  The tactical innovations it allowed were few but important.  Perhaps the single most important innovation it allowed was that it allowed the infantry to reload from the … More after the Jump…

Book Review: Intervention in Russia: 1918-1920, A Cautionary Tale

           

Intervention in Russia: 1918-1920, A Cautionary Tale

 Intervention in Russia: 1918-1920, A Cautionary Tale, is a very well written account of a little known part of the First World War.   Mr. Hudson writes in the style that I find to be the most readable and enjoyable.   Perhaps it is because he is British.   I have always found that British historians have a more lyrical and artistic writing style as compared to American historians.   Most of my favorite historians are British, whereas Americans tend to make history books dry and boring; the British, and Australians for that matter, can make the most boring subject interesting simply by the style with which they write.

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Book Review: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan

           

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan,  is one of those rare history books that manages to be both readable scholarly at the same time.   Indeed, it is an even rarer breed of book because it is an anthology and not by a single author.   Where many history books are written for the specialist historical crowd and there is an element of haughtiness in the writing, that condescension is entirely missing here.   This history book does not assume knowledge on the part of the reader, but at the same time does not present its material in such a way that the non-historian would be put off by it.

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Book Review: Decisions for War, 1914-1917

           

Decisions for War, 1914-1917

In Decisions for War, 1914-1917, Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig present a new thesis for the origins of World War I.   They argue that in all the belligerent countries the decision for war was made by a one person or at most a small group of individuals regardless of the type of government.   Given the wealth of material written about the origins of the First World War it seems incredible to me that this possibility has, if not been overlooked in all previous scholarship, then certainly ignored, as the authors claim[1].   While Hamilton and Herwig do not entirely discount that other factors than pure national self-interest on the part of the leaders played a role in the decision for war, they do contend that this was the overriding concern in most if not all of the wars belligerents.

            I found the book to be a fairly easy to read, the writing style was not as dry as might be expected given the topic of discussion.   Even though I do not necessarily agree with the authors, the book was fun and captivating to read.   They write with a style similar to what I try to achieve in my own writing.   It is written such that it is simultaneously engaging, factual, and descriptive, just a good read.   I do not have to agree with a book to enjoy it, and the authors certainly made reading this enjoyable.   It was laid out well and the chapters flowed in a logical progression, discussing each country in the order in which it declared war.  

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Rome and the Battle of Cannae

One of the most talked about battles in military historical circles is the Battle of Cannae between Rome and Carthage on August 2, 216 B.C.[1] Cannae is significant because in military circles it is considered to represent the perfect battle of encirclement if not the perfect battle period.   Another that makes it so significant is that Hannibal, the Carthaginian CDR, managed to defeat a Roman force that outnumbered him while suffering relatively few casualties compared to the damage he did to the Romans.

Cannae is interesting for several reasons.   The most notable for my purposes being that the battle and the way it was fought fascinated 19th century German strategists from Moltke to Schlieffen.   Cannae was held up as the ideal battle from a planning perspective.   All commanders should aim to achieve an annihilating battle of encirclement such as that achieved by Hannibal at Cannae.   Because of this battle’s importance to 19th century German planners, it was the exemplar Schlieffen used when planning the invasion of France, I am going to discuss this battle in fairly great detail.

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Military Principles: Britain

To be honest, Britain did not go very far toward developing principles of war during the 19th century.  There were two reasons for this, 1. Britain was heavily committed in fighting small colonial wars such as the Indian Mutiny, and Boer War, not to mention numerous other small conflicts throughout their globe spanning colonial empire; and 2. They did not have a mass army.  In 1914 Britain could only field a small six division expeditionary force compared to the mass armies of Germany, France, and Russia. A short history of the 19th century British Army is probably called for here because it explains much.  After the defeat of Napoleon the British army … More after the Jump…

Königgrätz-The battlefield

I went to Königgrätz this past weekend for one final trip before I start writing my thesis and to refresh my memory about what the terrain looks and feels like.  I have found that is difficult to really understand a battle and the course it took unless I have been to the actual battlefield or seen a very good terrain model.  Terrain determines much more about the course of a battle than many people realize.  Of course, rivers and mountains make a difference but so do small terrain features.  Anyone who has ever visited Ypres and stood on top of Passchendaele Ridge looking into the salient can instantly see why … More after the Jump…