Tag Archives: methodology

Book Review: Frederick the Great On The Art of War

Jay Luvaas is a professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Pa.; he coauthored a series of Battlefield Guides of U.S. Civil War battlefields that became almost instant classics. He has authored several books of military history such as “The Military Legacy of the Civil War: The European Inheritance”, “The Civil War: In the Writings of Col. G.F.R. Henderson”, and “Napoleon on the Art of War”. He has also authored many articles in peer-reviewed journals such as Parameters, the Journal of the U.S. Army War College and the Civil War Times Illustrated.
Professor Luvaas prefaces his work by pointing out that the book is not a straight chronological presentation of the writings of Frederick the Great, but instead he has ordered the writings of the king so that they are presented as themes with the work in each section presented chronologically. This is an eminently practical method for organizing the work in a useful manner while also allowing the reader to more easily grasp the way in which Frederick’s thoughts changed as he gained experience in warfare. He groups Frederick’s writings on such topics as logistics, tactics, and strategy in such a way that the reader can easily see the maturation of the sovereign’s thoughts.
Frederick the Great was arguably one the ablest generals of his age, on a par with Marlborough. He led the tiny North German Kingdom of Prussia from relative obscurity and set it on the path to greatness. He waged a successful campaign to seize and hold Silesia during the course of two wars with Austria between 1740 and 1745. He then successfully defended his Kingdom during the Seven Years War against a coalition of the great powers of Europe Russia, Austria, and France. During these campaigns, he demonstrated his ability of command by several times defeating armies superior to his. Perhaps his most famous battles are Leuthen and Torgau.
Frederick revolutionized the Prussian army and turned it into a potent weapon of war, by changing the tactics of his army and drilling them to perfection. He is also credited with the innovation of the attack in oblique order in modern times, which allowed him to outflank and defeat his enemies. The Prussian army under Frederick became feared throughout Europe and many of Prussia’s enemies attempted to emulate their methods though none did so completely successfully.
Frederick’s thoughts on warfare are valuable as insights into how he fought his campaigns. The caveat is that Frederick relates his thoughts pertaining to how to fight with the armies that he knew, his principles are not timeless but are instead limited to his time. If you are going to be leading an eighteenth century army into battle, he should be required reading, but given how much the nature of warfare has changed his thoughts are not particularly applicable to modern war.
Perhaps the most valuable part of the whole book is the history that Frederick wrote of his campaigns during the Seven-Years War. Few sources are more valuable in military history than the thoughts of the commander involved. While with many wars throughout history, the historian has to guess at the motives of the commanders involved, Frederick allows the historian a rare glimpse into the mind of a great general. There are many writings by generals from the seventeenth century and beyond but few tried to write their own history. Who is else is more qualified to write about the thoughts and motivations of the commander than the man himself is.

The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 3

     At this point, I am well into writing my thesis.  I completed chapter one last night and got started on writing chapter two.  So far, with the introduction and first chapter I have written twenty-six pages out of what should end up being about an eighty pages or so project.

     So far that actual writing part has been easier than I thought it would be.  I have never written a paper that is as long as this one is and that had me worried at first.  What I am finding is that the initial getting started writing each day can be difficult but once I really get into it the problem is not being too wordy.  It would be easy to go overboard and write too much.  I am trying to keep the paper concise and meaningful; I do not want to fill it up with fluff. 

     I am pounding out about five pages a day so I am well on track to have my first draft done by the due date in mid-February.  I have already submitted my intro to my thesis advisor for comment and when I get that back I will be able to make changes as I write instead of doing extensive revisions later on if they are required.  I am trying to write so that my rough draft ends up being not so rough and I only have to make minor style revisions and not major revisions of content.  If everything continues to go as it is I am on track to have my thesis done and degree conferred in May.

Old versus “New” Historiography

Below is a piece I wrote for a class I took in World History for my BA in which I had to analyze the differences between Rankean history and the influence of the Annales school and what has come after.  If I remember right, I got an A on this assignment even though the professor thought I was a little too disparaging of the postmodernists.  I am disparaging of postmodernism in general, that is probably one reason I have chosen not to pursue a career in Academia as I had once aspired to do.

The main difference in the debate, if it is a debate, between old and new historiography seems to be politics and its place in academic or scholarly work as well as the usefulness of other disciplines to historical scholarship.  The Rankean or scientific historians of the old historiography would like to see historians as group distance themselves from politics contemporary or otherwise and focus on trying to make their histories be as fact based as possible while only presenting opinions in their interpretation of events.  The new historiography, represented by the historians of the Annales School or sometimes claimed by the postmodernists and deconstructionists of the Foucault or Derrida schools seems to want to insert politics into history at every opportunity.  Indeed, the postmodernists take is almost that politics is inescapable and if that is so then why not wallow in it and abandon any hope of objectivity or neutrality?  The Annales School however is more rigorous in its application of logical thought to history and instead seeks to develop a synthesis of history and other disciplines and does not focus as much on politics as the postmodernists do. Continue reading

The Military Revolution?

I saw this piece (Warfare of the Future) on RCP today and it got me to thinking about the Nature of Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMAs) in general. I dont think there are a whole lot of people out there that are not in the military in into to military history that are very conversant with the idea of a RMA. The idea was first proposed by historian Michael Roberts in a series of lectures in England in 1955. It has gained currency among the current crop of thinkers in the worldwide defense community, especially think-tanks and weapon makers. The RMA is the current killer-app of defense thinking. Continue reading

The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 2

I rediscovered the importance of an outline over the past few days of working on my thesis. Idiot me did not do an outline as I have one for all my papers in the past both undergrad and Graduate level. I have no idea why I thought i could tackle a project as large as Master’s Thesis with only a Table of Contents to use as a guide. I say rediscovered because I started writing and after about 20 pages I realized I have essentially been wasting my time because I tend to ramble when I do not have something to keep me focused.
After I realized I was rambling I stopped and took a brief break to figure out what I was doing wrong and how I could fix it. That is when it struck me that I don’t have an outline. It was definitely a V-8/face palm moment. I then settled down and decided to write an outline. Continue reading