« “...Such a Terribly Wasting Fire” | Main | Birthdays and Bright Young Catholic Things »

August 29, 2007


Mr. Peperium

Exactly, ODT. The strain of thinking you're criticizing is closely related to that brand of "thought" that demanded, a few years back, that the actress playing the Vietnamese woman in Miss Siagon be a born-and-bred Vietnamese. It made me wonder what they would have made of Sir Lawrence Oliver's Othello. (I always thought the art of acting consisted of striving to understand and express the feelings and thoughts of people who were not you.)

Of course, it really goes deeper than that in the case of the military historian. Because the military historian is always suspected of glorifying war (as are those of us who spend their lunch hours reading military history) there is always that shadow of disbelief that anyone could really want to do that. And the hope lurking beneath the surface of the "have you ever served?" question is that, if only this poor slob had served, he'd give up his job as military historian and start turning out weighty tomes on the social conditions of Late Victorian/Early Edwardian London slums or the role of women and minorities in the early ferris wheel industry.

Old Dominion Tory

Often, those who deride military history and those who write and read it seem to be whistling past the graveyard in terms of historical awareness.
Here in The Valley, for example, between Lexington and Staunton, I travel on U.S. Route 11, which also is known as Lee-Jackson Highway, The 116th Infantry Regiment Highway, and Lee Highway. The reason I do is that, more than any "force," war made this country--and continues to make it--what it is.
Many people know this fact in an instinctual sense, if not always in an intellectual one (considering how history is taught these days). How else to account for the popularity of such films as "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers" as well as documentary series like Ken Burns' "Civil War" and his forthcoming "The War"?


What regiment did Ken Burns serve in?

ODT, thanks for an outstanding essay, compellingly put.

And Mr P, thanks for the phrase of the day: "If only this poor slob had served, he'd give up his job as military historian and start turning out weighty tomes on the social conditions of Late Victorian/Early Edwardian London slums or the role of women and minorities in the early ferris wheel industry." Take that, Annales School.


ODT, another fine post !
Mr. P, my efforts on google reveal that cutting edge work on the Ferris Wheel industry is sorely lacking. So, we can only hope that a recovering former military historian will some day bring forth a revealing tome. The Ida B. Wells comment on the 1893 Chicago Exhibition that introduced the George Ferris invention will, no doubt, serve as an appropriate epigraph.


One wonders how often strongly critical and anti-military military historians are subjected to the question "have you ever served?" If the answer is no, it is no matter, but if the answer is yes so much the better. See the current (and past) use of anti-war veterans with Sheehanic "absolute moral authority" but ignoring and slandering of regular, honorable veterans who are assumed to be in the thrall of some sinister systematic or syndicalist oppressor, if not willingly part of the oppression itself.

Any scholar is torn between the desire to write what one knows or what one is passionate about and the desire to establish some degree of critical distance. Not being terribly familiar with military history as a discipline, I would wager, if I partook of such a vice, that the best military historians were not veterans, or if they were were not career military (ie, drafted), but had a good respect for those who were. This gives a scholar the ability to view the military and its history less passionately than and from a different viewpoint from those who are caught up and identify strongly with it and its traditions, but also the ability to understand and relate to those they study.

Looking at any ethnic/gender/ queer/etc department one more often than not sees only those the department is meant to study studying themselves. So not only are these "disciplines" starting from a position of academic and scholarly unseriousness but any good scholarship that can result is greatly weakened by the fact that the "scholars" feel personally involved in their research and take any critical responses that should result as if they were attacks at their very existence. Add to this a good dollop of relativism, righteous indignation, and a giant chip on the shoulder and you see what we have today.

Yet military history seems to me different from other parts of history that are infected with the modern academic identity malaise. I imagine that even active military and veteran historians approach military history with enough seriousness and distance to make their work interesting and useful. One might not expect the most scholarly rigor from Tommy Frank's history of his role in the early Iraq War, but I can fully see another Army man penning a critical but respectful and entirely edifying history today or in the near future. That you are more likely, or even inclined to believe it is more likely, to see academically rigorous history written by "insiders" in the military than you are to see a professor of gender studies write a critique of Betty Friedan or an "african american studies" professor write a criticism of the tactics of the modern "civil rights" "movement" or any attack on the left establishment coalitions and have their work taken seriously without having to flee to a right wing think tank afterwards only goes to show the sad state of what passes as scholarship today.

A question for ODT, what are the budgets like a most colleges? I imagine that military history, apart from military institutions, gets very short shrift compared to the departments of the oppressed. Another question? Is the most and the best military history written for general audiences?


Not sure if you linked to it earlier, but I just stumbled on VDH's article on academic military history in City Journal. I missed it because I have been kicked off their subscription list and no longer have the funds to donate to get back on it.


Basil Seal

I am assuming here that if we are talking about the United States, and we are to ask "did you serve in the military"? That what one means is "did you serve in the USMC"? Seeing that The Corps is actually the only "military" service in the United States. The other "Armed Services" being similar to the Post Office or Coast Guard in that they are just uniformed (ugly uniforms at that, French head covers and all) civil service jobs, not expected or, required to conform to the traditional "military" behaviour or conduct.

Old Dominion Tory

Funny thing, Basil, the Marine Corps' uniforms evidence more French influence than any other of the U.S. military. This is something of which I heartily approve, by the way. Plus, the Corps has the Sam Browne belt for officers--and that's always a plus.
Misspent, your points are well taken regarding the state of the academy and the doleful influence of the Identity Departments on it.
Certainly, those with military experience--no matter the length--often bring a very useful perspective to some subjects. As I stated in my essay, if a historian with no military experience were writing an article or book on armored warfare, I hope he or she would turn to someone with experience in armored operations for advice and guidance. Walking a battlefield with a soldier probably would help some scholars better appreciate the importance of terrain in any conflict. Certainly, too, a soldier (or Marine) would better understand how the ideas (and ideals) related to such things as unit cohesion, discipline, and leadership work, especially at the battalion level and below. Finally, in the realm of tactical analysis of more recent conflicts, the insights of the military "insider" probably will be more valuable than those of a civilian analyst/historian.
The advantage of the military military historian over the civilian military historian begins to diminish with "distance." The more distant in the past a conflict is, the less the experience of the "insider" bears on the topic. For example, the linear tactics of the 18th century have nothing to do with modern infantry combat; therefore, there is no obvious advantage for the military man over the civilian when it comes to writing history about the Seven Years War. Much the same holds true regarding distance from a more modern battlefield. In a tactical analysis/history of World War II battles, the military man probably has an advantage over the civilian. If you start moving toward a strategic and grand strategic view of a war, then that advantage disappears
Finally, *good* military historians, civilian and military, take their work quite seriously because they are mindful that war is central to human history and that, despite all the best intentions of many people, conflict remains an utterly unavoidable part of the human condition. They are hopeful, therefore, that what they write will have some benefit for those who will do the fighting, those who will command them, and those who will organize the efforts to support them.
To your questions, Misspent. I cannot speak to the status of military history on all campuses. I guess that many of those who populate history departments consider, to borrow a construction of Mr. Peperium's, that a study of war equals a glorification of war. And, since many academics know that the answer to the musical question "War, what is it good for?" is invariably "Absolutely nothing," they do not consider a military historian as an essential "hire."
Is the best and most useful military history written for a general audience? Allow me to waffle in the best Washington manner. In my experience, the most compelling military history has been written for a "non-specialist" audience. As to its usefulness, having seen many recommended reading lists for officers in my day, I know that the military finds them useful as well, even at the war college level. I'd wager that well-thumbed books by Freeman, Weigley, and Keegan (to name a few) rest on the bookshelves of many officers. They are useful as well for average citizens because a familiarity with military history underlines the grave responsibility that they have when they choose who will send our sons and daughters to war.

Mrs. Peperium

Complete sartorial aside here, the Sam Browne belt is my most favorite male embellishment next to the Opera Pump.

Ok, continue on.

Old Dominion Tory

On a related note, the 5th Marines and 6th Marines received two awards of the Croix de Guerre from the French Army for their service in Belleau Wood and Soissons during World War I. Therefore, Marines who serve in these units are eligible to wear the handsome red-and-green fourragere that indicates a unit twice-awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Mrs. Peperium

Oh, dear, now you've made me go and recall a rather bad memory....

During my finishing school summer years, one of my sisters and I thought it would be great fun to glam ourselves up and go shopping in Westport, Connecticut. Westport was very glamorous back then. We also thought, to put it over the top so to speak, to spend the day speaking only in French. We were pretending to be exchange students from Rheims if memory still holds.

A very kind elderly -sort of- manheard us and approached us. He was, as he explained IN FRENCH, a Marine in who had been awarded the CROIX DE GUERRE. for HIS SERVICE IN BELLEAU WOOD.

The immediate shame we felt turned our cheeks as pink as a boiled lobster at the Kennedy family clambake. We smiled our best smiles and kept bowing and saying Merci....He wanted to know all about our families and whatnot...

We never pretended to be French exchange students again.

Oh gosh. We were so darn Episcopalian.

Andrew Cusack

The height of American uniform design was between the wars. See any film about Billy Mitchell.

Texas A&M still dresses the part though.

Basil Seal

As far as "French" influence is concerned, I was speaking only of the beret, which is worn by the Army and Air Force...The American Naval services do not share this bad habit, although the Navy does have the dixie-cup, which might be just as bad...

Old Dominion Tory

The old "saucer" cap that the Navy until World War II was preferable to the "dixie cup." The Coast Guard had a version of the saucer until it made the unfortunate decision to adopt "Bender Blues." If you see photographs of JFK's funeral, you'll see examples of it.
I think the Navy should consider reintroducing service dress khaki, a most handsome and servicable uniform (think John Houseman in "Seven Days in May.").
As to the Army's beret, well, the less said the better. I hope they use the adoption of the new uniform to quietly consign it to the units who had it before the Army-wide adoption of it.

Andrew Cusack

Oh the dixie cup is far, far worse than the beret! Though I have to admit I'm not keen on the American military's version of the beret, which is far too tall and brash. The British ones are much better, but then they tend to take the matter of uniforms much more seriously than even United States Marines.

But the "dixie cup" or "garrison cap" or "twinkie cap" or whatever you like to call it should be banned.


Greetings, I hope you charming people won't mind my briefly inivading your blog. You all seem to be conservatives so I'm hoping you can give me some help I've been unable to get elsewhere.

My husband is looking for a school at which to earn a graduate degree in history. And I'm wondering if any of you have opinions on which schools in the U.S. have the most satisfactory history departments from a conservative's viewpoint; or perhaps you can comment on simply a school if you don't know anything about the department. We are seriously considering packing up and starting a new life somewhere on the basis of this choice.

Thanks for any help you can offer.

Basil Seal

University of Dallas, Braniff Graduate School, The Masters Program in Humanities, Concentration in History.


Is that where you studied, Sir Basil?

Basil Seal

I am not sure that my tutor, or Professor would agree with your choice of "studied". They might agree that I was once a great trial to them there though...


Thanks. I should have known it would be somewhere in Texas. :)

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

It Goes Without Saying

  • All original material published here is the property of the writer who penned it. Stealing is not only frowned upon but will be dealt with by strong-armed men trained in the art of legal jujitsu. The views put forth here are not the views of any employer we know which is most unfortunate.
Blog powered by Typepad