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 … Read more…

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 … Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…

The Actual Writing of a Thesis

I am about 20 pages into writing my thesis and it is killing me.  I generally really enjoy writing, especially writing about history.  I have studied my topic for about 3 years now and actually visited the battlefield twice.  I find myself wanting to hurry writing the introductory chapters so I can get to the good stuff.  It is getting increasingly difficult for me to motivate myself to write, I suppose I will struggle through it somehow though. Writing my thesis is exciting and boring at the same time. The best comparison I can think of is sitting on a screen line in Iraq overwatching a known insurgent mortar firing … Read more…

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.  

Read more…

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]

Read more…

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.

Read more…

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 I studied military … Read more…

Military Principles: France

Military Principles: France France during the 19th century and until the end of WWI was enthralled with the writings of two authors and naturally the exploits of Napoleon when they developed their principles of military operations. The two authors are Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini and Ardant du Picq, both wrote seminal works that were avidly devoured by French military thinkers but for different reasons. First, and most influential was Jomini, he was a Swiss-born French speaking veteran of the Napoleonic wars who served on the Napoleons staff for much of the Napoleonic wars and wrote The Art of War analyzing Napoleonic tenets and presented what he thought of as the recipe for … Read more…

Military Principles: 1st in a series

There are several things that are important when studying any military battle or campaign.  There are also several versions of this list and which list you use essentially depends on personal preference.  What follows is my personal list of what for lack of a better term can be called Military Principles.  These are things that in my opinion the victorious commander and his army must get right to be victorious.  Let me clarify that, the victorious military force must get more of these right than his opponent to win.  It is rare indeed that any commander or army gets every one of them right every time. If you study military … Read more…

Dating Conventions

I figured that here I would talk about dating conventions because I will eventually be posting about ancient and medieval battles as well. The question is A.D. & B.C. or C.E. & B.C.E.? The current convention says that C.E. & B.C.E standing for Common Era & Before Common Era are what we should use in modern scholarship.  The reasoning is that A.D. & B.C. are religious in nature and therefore exclusionary terms.  Sorry, I call horse-hockey on that.  A.D. & B.C. may be religious terms, I don’t dispute that, but they are also what people have been using for literally hundreds of years.  Trying to change dating conventions because of … Read more…