Skip to comments.The war on military history By Rich Lowry
Posted on 05/27/2007 6:40:33 PM PDT by K-oneTexas
The war on military history By Rich Lowry
Thursday, May 24, 2007
America as we know it might not exist without the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, without Gettysburg and Antietam. The world the United States shaped so decisively in the 20th century might have looked different if it weren't for Normandy and Midway.
Battles are so important to history that their names alone -- Vienna, Waterloo, Stalingrad -- can evoke the beginning or end of epochs and empires. Violent conflict is one of the most persistent characteristics of human history, and warfare features the interplay of strategy, weaponry, chance, logistics, emotion and leadership. It is the occasion for folly and brutality, and -- as we remember on Memorial Day -- heroism and sacrifice.
It is for all these reasons that books and TV programming on warfare are so popular; their subject is both fascinating and important, history at its most consequential and dramatic. Nonetheless, military history has been all but banished from college campuses. In an article on this strange deficit in National Review, John J. Miller chalks it up to "an ossified tenure system, scholarly navel-gazing and ideological hostility to all things military."
History departments are dominated by a post-Vietnam generation of professors for whom bottom-up "social history" is paramount, and the only areas of interest are race, sex and class. History focusing on great events and the "great men" central to them is retrograde -- let alone military history that ipso facto smacks of militarism. Hence, the rout of military history from the academy that Miller catalogs.
Edward Coffman, a former military historian at the University of Wisconsin, studied the 25 best history departments according to U.S. News & World Report rankings and found that a mere 21 professors out of more than 1,000 listed war as their specialty. A Notre Dame student complained recently: "We have more than 30 full-time history faculty members, but not one is a military historian. Even in their self-described interests, not a single professor lists 'war' of any era, although half list religious, gender and race relations."
Even professors who supposedly specialize in military history do it through the prism of trendy academic obsessions. Miller notes a professor at West Virginia University who lists World War I as one of his "teaching fields," but his latest work is on "the French hairdressing professions" and the "evolving practices and sensibilities of cleanliness in 20th century France."
The gatekeepers of the profession practically proscribe traditional military history. John A. Lynn recently looked back at the past 30 years of the prestigious academic journal The American Historical Review. He found no articles on the conduct of World War II, the American Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars. There were articles that discussed atrocities in the English Civil War and in the American Civil War and an article on World War I -- on women soldiers in the Russian army.
One frustrated teacher of military history jokes that military historians have become "exactly the types of marginalized people that the social historians are supposed to be championing."
That military history has been chased from the academic field is especially perverse given that, when the classes are offered, they are popular with students. And military history, as a discipline, is as vital as ever. Writing on the American Heritage's Web site, Sarah Lawrence College professor Frederic Smoler argues that "the past 30 years have seen a brilliant expansion in the intellectual and methodological breadth of military history," beginning with the publication of John Keegan's 1976 classic "The Face of Battle."
None of this is enough to overcome the deep intellectual bias against military history. New Republic contributing editor David A. Bell locates that bias deep in the social sciences: "The origin of these sciences lie in liberal, Enlightenment-era thinking that dismissed war as primitive, irrational and alien to modern civilization." This represents a fundamental misapprehension of human nature and thus the nature of history.
Brave men always will be necessary to defend freedom, and what they have done deserves to be remembered, and studied.
Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
Amen to that.
Men and women.
You can rest assured our Chinese brethren have no qualms or trepidations about studying war.
Some of us don’t, either. In college, I always found it easier to get up for my 9AM military history class than for my 12 noon French hairdresser class.
As one who did his honors thesis on Gen. Winfield Scott — at Harvard of all places — this has been an issue near & dear to my heart since ‘97. The institutional hostility to the field is awful. It’s all about social history and PC “political” history. Even the most liberal places, though, usually have one or two professors who carry the torch. Harvard used to have several, and their classes were always over-subscribed and quite wonderful. The late Bill Gienapp’s Civil War classes were truly epic. And standing room only.
By the way, can I mail my check to the University now?
I enjoy history, almost any kind. I can’t think if anything I have ever read or seen that is as interesting as the history of war. It is the most intense and fascinating history there is.
In failing to study the lessons of military history in the universities we will be forced to learn them on the battlefield. On this memorial day we should remember the brave solders and sailors who fought at Batan, Wake Island to teach us that it is unwise to put garrisons deep in enemy territory without proper plans for rushing them relief. Or the men who fought at the Yalu and on the road back from the Frozen Chosin who taught us the folly of halting an army in front of an enemy safe haven. Or of all the men and women who’s names are carved on the Vietnam memorial, who won the battles but were betrayed by the politicians who sent them to war in the first place. We need study now more then ever, but I fear it is likely that our soldiers shall again pay in blood so that Hildabeast can be assured of the latest French hairstyles.
I felt the same way about my racial identity class and my crossdresser studies class.
I really enjoyed Dan Baugh’s and Barry Strauss’s classes at Cornell - Strauss is still going. I’d imagine Baugh has to have passed away by now, I haven’t checked.
In general to find such classes you have to look for the old fogies of the history department.
The liberal lives in a world of virtual reality except that
one can escape into this never-never land for a short time.
Denial of the real side of hunmanity.
Those who say "war never settled anything" have obviously not studied either war or history.
As a longtime historical novelist known for my accuracy, I applaud your response to Jill. I hope to correct this deficiency in the long run with my new elementary school level American history series. Entitled DANNY DRUMM’S HEROES, I intend to do 40-some volumes in the next decade—the breadth of our history in non-fiction. Web: robertskimin.com. Perhaps by the time some of these kids get to college, they’ll wish to teach real history, which is always entwinded with our wars...or at least have a strong thirst for it.
I was involved in a tenure fight as the History Dep’t student representative. A tenured spot came up in 19th C. American. Two candidates: Candidate A published dozens of articles and several books. Had received a PhD from Harvard and taught there for several years. Students loved him. Candidate B received her PhD from U of Vermont around age 40. Published a single book and was teaching at Podunk A&M. Candidate A, however, focused on the Revolutionary War and, surprisingly, didn’t try to reinterpret it as some patriarchal conspiracy to deprive transgendered Iriquois of the right to adopt! Candidate B specialized in the homespun clothing industry and its role in empowering women (yes - huh?). Candidate B got tenure. Candidate A, whose politics were rather John Kerryesque, and I got very drunk that night. He resigned at the end of that year. Harvard’s loss. Sad.