Tag Archives: Historiography

Historical Resources on the Web – Updated 16 Jan 14

Updated 30 January 2014 – Below the fold is a list of historical sources on the internet, this includes both primary and secondary source collections.   I am constantly updating this list when I run across useful sites.   Please point me at sites I miss in the comments section. Continue reading

The route of Xenophons March Up Country

Book Review: The Anabasis by Xenophon

I read part of this work in High School over twenty years ago and decided a few weeks ago to finish reading it. Now that I am done, I wonder why I waited so long. The book was written by Xenophon, and ancient Greek soldier and general, in the late 4th Century BC.

Xenophon’s account in The Anabasis is one of the first true (in several senses of the word) adventure stories to be transmitted from antiquity. There is as much adventure here as will be found in any modern day work of fiction. One of the things that makes this book so great is that as I was reading the book it was constantly in the back of my mind that these events really happened. The book is part adventure and part autobiography told from the 3rd person.

The background is that in 402 B.C. Cyrus the Younger of Persia hired an army of Greek mercenaries to help him overthrow his brother Artaxerxes II, the legitimate ruler of the Persian Empire. Everything went swimmingly until Cyrus was killed in battle. The Greek army hired by Cyrus was in a tight position, Artaxerxes did not have the force to crush without taking unacceptable casualties but he equally did not want them to escape. The Persian answer was to feign letting the Greeks start on their way home providing them provisions, guides, and quarters along the way. The the Persians tricked the Greek generals into attending a dinner under flag of truce and had all the Greek generals executed.

It is at this point that Xenophon steps forward and is elected general and co-leader of the remaining Greeks. The rest of the story is a recounting of the many trials and tribulations the Greek army of Ten Thousand makes its way home fighting numerous battles, encountering hostile people, terrain, and weather.

The Route of Xenophons March Up Country

The only complaint, if complaint it can be called, is that the speeches ascribed to various characters are not 100% accurate. This is true of many ancient Greek and Roman writers. What they did was to invent a speech that in its essentials expressed the same message as the actual speech did, perhaps they dressed it up a little. The ancient historians did not have a problem with this practice at all and just considered it god history, that is not true of modern historical practice.

In summation, if anyone would like to read the ancients and does not know where to start, The Anabasisis a good place to start. It is a great story and Xenophon’s prose is concise enough to not bore the casual reader.

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Bias in Academic History?

I got my latest copy of the SMH Journal of Military History a few weeks ago and am working my way through the articles.  The Journal always provides grist for at least one post, most of the time it is a thought provoking article that prompts me to post.  This time it is different.  There is a phrase in one of the articles that caused me to raise my eyebrows.  The article is:  Candice Shy Hooper, “The War That Made Hollywood: How the Spanish-American War Saved the U.S. Film Industry,” The Journal of Military History76 #1 (January 2012): 69-97.  The phrase is:

“The newest form of mass entertainment in the United States was, virtually from the outset, held hostage by a very small, primarily mechanically minded monopoly of urban white males.” Emphasis mine

The sentence is at the end of a paragraph discussing the stagnation of film as an industry after it’s introduction.  What got me thinking was what the point of the sentence, especially the last three words was.  I cannot figure out the implication of the whole urban white male piece except that the author is somehow implying that any other group of people would have done a much better job of developing the nascent film industry.  I good go into an orgy of being offended but I will not, instead I will simply point out that the author does not expand on why this was a bad thing other than to claim lack of imagination.

I cite this as an example of why current academia is losing it’s popular appeal.  Knowledge is no longer for the masses, it is restricted to an elite group of people who let their own prejudices guide them as they delude themselves into thinking ow open-minded they are.  I guarantee that if she had made the same remark but substituted black males or females, the comment would not have made it past the peer-review process.  In many ways, those that claim to be open-minded or objective are just as much, if not more prejudiced tha thse they are writing about.

Mostly, I am just shocked that this comment and its tone made it into the Journal. Apparently the reviewers agree with her implication that urban white males are somehow bad.  Never mind the fact that most of the scientific advances of the last 400-500 years have come from that group.  They have bought the white man is an oppressor meme hook, line, and sinker.  How sad.

 

Comments please, I would love to get a discussion going on this.

Book Review: The Age of Total War: 1860-1945 by Jeremy Black

The notion that a book is “thought-provoking” is often thrown out there for works of non-fiction, and of those that are described as such that I have read most very seldom are.  This book is different, Dr. Black has written not so much a history as a treatise challenging historians, particularly military historians, to reexamine the history of conflict in the examined period with the idea of total war uppermost in their minds.  It seems a counter-intuitive thing to do at first, but he provides plenty of examples of why the wars under consideration were not total or were only partially total at best.  This includes World War II, which was total in some aspects but limited in others.

The biggest distinction the Dr. Black makes in discussing totality in warfare is the difference between war aims/victory conditions and the methods used to wage war.  He posits that while war aims are sometimes total, such as seeking the destruction of the enemy or the dissolution of their state, the methods of war making have often been far from total.  Even the most brutal of wars between nation states are often not total as the combatants do not actually seek the physical destruction of their enemies.  He actually points out that it is most often revolutionary or sectarian conflicts where the physical destruction of opponents is a goal and uses the examples of Rwanda in 1994, 1990′s Bosnia, the German suppression of the Herero in the early 1900s, and many of the wars of decolonization in Africa and East Asia as examples, many of which fall outside of the period examined.

This is a global history of the period to an extent, but there is an emphasis on wars that occurred within Europe simply because so much more is known about them.  He examines the conditions in these wars and discusses the ways in which they were and were not total.  On of his most interesting discussions in the book is a wide-ranging discussion of fighting quality in his chapter on WWII and the way in which that aspect of the war has been under served in the literature.

He closes the book with a discussion of totality in the Cold War period and looking forward and the way in which the entire concept of total war needs to be reexamined and that military history needs to get away from just examining the wars of Europe but also look at the rest of the world.  It is a telling observation that in English language history’s the rest of the world is virtually ignored unless a western nation was engaged in the conflict with Israel being the exception.

In closing, Dr. Black has produced a book that should inspire even the most casual of students of military history to reevaluate the way in which they think of total war.  This book should be on the shelf of every student of military history but particularly that of those talking heads that go on news shows and fatuously offer their supposed wisdom about warfare for the masses.  An excellent and yes, thought provoking book, I highly recommend it.

Book Review: The German Way of War by Robert M. Citino

This book is an interesting read to say the least, Dr. Citino makes the case that there is a specifically German “way of war”. That way, is what he calls operational maneuver. He traces the development of this “way of war” from the 17th century battles of the Frederick William I, the “Great Elector” of electoral Brandenburg and scion of the Hohenzollern Dynasty through to the end of World War II and the final defeat of Nazi Germany. I am not myself so convinced that the discussion should end there based on my experience talking to current German soldiers about war and battle during partnership exercises while I have been stationed in Germany. The current state of operational thought in the Bundeswehr is a topic for another post though. (Bing! Idea Grenade)
Dr. Citino also rightly points out in numerous places that the study of military history should not be a form of “armchair generalship”. He says that instead “The primary question for historians should not be what someone ought to have done, but why they did what they did.”, (original italics pg. 269)
While I generally agree with Dr. Citino’s assertion about Prussian/German war making methods, I am not so certain that it is possible to trace such a method back to the wars of the Great Elector as he has done except in a very vague way. I simply do not think it is possible to talk about the operational level of warfare when one is speaking of armies small enough for one man to personally command. In my opinion, the first time you can really start talking about an operational level of warfare, is the Napoleonic wars. That was the first time that a commander had no choice but to rely on subordinate commanders to maneuver and fight significant portions of his army without him being able to take personal control. This was a function of both the size and geographic distribution of the armies involved. There was no operational level involved when dealing with armies of 20-30,000 men that marched and fought as essentially a single unit, even when one wing was detached at the point of contact. Armies of 50,000 and more that marched as separate units and could fight independently or together are a different matter entirely.
I do think that Dr. Citino has hit on an overlooked part of the German “way of war” in his recognition of a German tradition of a preference for offensive operations and a culture of élan that was nurtured within the culture of German military leadership. It is this preference for offensive over defensive warfare that sets German military tradition apart from other armies. No other army has so consistently sought to achieve a rapid decision in war as the Germans. Dr. Citino is also right in citing first Brandenburg’s and later Prussia’s and Germany’s strategic situation for fostering the desire for rapid victory. The wonder as I see it is that Germany was so successful in achieving this over the years. That is one of the things that makes the study of Prussian military history so interesting, they have won many wars they should have lost because of their method of making war.
The German Way of War is one of those rare military history books that are accessible to the layman while being written for the academic community. It is unfortunate that so many histories are written in such a style that the average person cringes and puts the book down after only a few pages if they even hazard to pick the book up in the first place. This is not one of them. It is extremely well written with only a few editing mistakes that I saw and the most notable was the substitution of the name of the city of Königsberg in East Prussia instead of the Battle of Königgrätz in a list of major German 19th century victories on page 236 and some minor spelling errors and omissions of words. The books includes extensive notes and source citations, the bibliography alone runs to 27 pages and is a valuable guide to the available literature on German Military history all by itself. I highly recommend this book.