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What is Military History?

The title of this piece is a very good question in my opinion. The question really came home to me recently when I was reading the Calls for Papers in the bi-annual newsletter of the Society of Military History of which I am a member.

It strikes me more and more often that Military History, like other branches of history is increasingly splintered and Balkanized. Much as traditional history is now more concerned with what the average person did than with the trajectory of nations or kingdoms, modern military history seems to focus more and more on the experience of the average soldier instead of how and why wars were fought and won. Many conservatives like to complain of the left’s takeover of academia and I have generally dismissed the idea that it could happen to military history. I am starting to think that I am wrong and the left is usurping the traditional role of military historians to suit some strange social engineering agenda that they unconsciously share among themselves.  Perhaps this trend is happening because fewer military historias have actual experience of war than was previously the case.

When I think of military history I think of the tales of wars, campaigns, and battles. How they were fought and why one side was victorious over the other. Let’s face it, war is about battle and battle or combat is the currency of war. Whichever side builds up the better balance sheet in combat wins. The question to me then becomes, as the title of this post states; What is military history? The Germans break military history down into two different schools what they call Kriegsgeschichte and Militärgeschichte.

1. Kriegsgeschichte is traditional military history having to do with battles and how and why they were won. It was pioneered by the old Prussian General Staff in the time of reform after the Prussian defeat in 1806 and refined to precision by Moltke the Elder in the 1860’s-1880’s. If you want to know what it is like just pick up a copy of the Prussian Official History of the Austro-Prussian or Franco-Prussian Wars to see the epitome of Kriegsgeschichte.

2. Militärgeschichte is a new, post-World War II development in German historiography that has slowly gained ground among the rest of the Western world. It focuses on the individual and their experience, or on the social dynamics of military organizations and not so much on battle itself. One of the things I dislike the most about it is the almost constant moralizing in this type of history. Not all histories of this type are moralizing, but enough are that when I find one that is not it stands out even more. I call it the effeminate military history as it seeks to understand the soldiers motivation to kill or tries to describe the ways in which armies get men to act against their own instincts. Some examples of this type of history are Keegan’s Face of Battle and Mask of Command or Doughty’s American Military History and the Evolution of Western Warfare.

Needless to say, I am generally a Kriegsgeschichte type of historian. I think the purpose of military history should be instructive. It should try to find the lessons of successful armies and make them comprehensible so they can be passed on to succeeding generations. I guess you could say I am Clausewitzean in my outlook although I don’t buy his premises completely nor do I think there is or can be an overarching theory of war. War Theory is properly the subject of a whole series of other posts and I will not go into it here. In short, I believe that good military history examines and analyzes battles and campaigns to determine both what the victor did right and what the loser did wrong. It describes the battles themselves and also the tactics, doctrine, and strategy employed by both combatants in an effort to determine the relative effectiveness of the methods employed. I am talking here of discussing the use open vs. closed order battle formations, differing levels of technology, battlefield and strategic maneuver, surprise, and the motivation and morale of the opposing armies just as a start. There is a place for Militärgeschichte type history in military history but focusing on the individual private soldier detracts from explaining the cause of victory. As cold as it sounds, the individual is but a cog in the machine in military engagements, especially battles involving thousands of soldiers. The only individuals who can make a decisive difference in those kinds of battles are the colonels and generals who make decisions upon which the fate of all the others rests. Individually the soldiers of an army can be the best in the world but if they are used fecklessly or unwisely their competence will not make a difference in winning the battle, only in determining the length of the casualty lists.

Military history is not about right or wrong, good versus bad, or the defeat of evil. It is about what one side did better that made his army more effective and thus let him defeat his enemy. In those factors lie the lessons to be learned from studying the wars of the past. At least, that is my view. I would love to hear from anyone that disagrees or even agrees with me.
COMMENTS ARE OPEN!

Historical Resources on the Web – Updated 24 Jun 2014

Updated 24 June 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

My First Peer-Reviewed Article

I received notification this morning that my first Peer-Reviewed article has been accepted for publication.  It is an annotated bibliography of Frederick the Great for Oxford University Press (OUP) Online and it has taken me awhile to write it up.  The process of writing it is pretty interesting in and of itself and I am going to describe how that went.

I was first contacted by OUP last November asking if I had any interest in writing an article.  The initial contact had the proposed subject and that Dr. Dennis Showalter is the Editor-in-Chief for the project. Because I get blog related spam and fishy requests and offers all the time  emailed Dr. Showalter to find out if it was for real and he assured me that it was whereupon I agreed to the project and started researching and writing.  Writing the first draft took me about 4 months between researching, writing, and doing all the other stuff I have simultaneously going on.  Once I submitted the initial draft it took about 6 weeks for the initial edits and peer-reiew and then another two weeks for me to make revisions and re submit it.

Finally, this morning I got the notification that it has been accepted for publication.  It is milestone for me as it is my first academically peer-reviewed paper.  Not something I though I would ever actually accomplish.  If you look at the OUP page for forthcoming articles mine is scheduled for Spring 2013.

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.

De Re Militari is back up

Just a quick info post.

Anybody who has tried to follow the link to DeReMilitari on the sidebar of the blog in the past few weeks has discovered that Google says it is a malware hosting site.  They were hacked at the beginning of the month but are now back up.  They are having to completely rebuild their site because apparently the malware got them good.  So far they have their review section up because it was not affected by the hack.  The rest of their site should come back up over the next few weeks or months.

Glad to see them back they are an invaluable starting point for Medieval research.