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October 16, 2006

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labyrus

I'm an undergraduate history student right now (Hoping to one day be a Historian, specialising in Canadian Social History)

My European history courses have always included a general description of how battle tactics worked in the period, and of the outcomes of important conflicts, but we've never spent much time talking about the individual battles or the really fine details. The more important element is always presented as being the social and economic consequences of the battle (and for that matter, the ones that led to it)

My Canadian History courses haven't even gotten to that much detail about wars other than the Red River Rebellion, The northwest rebellion, and the two world wars.

I'm not really sure how I feel about Military History. I'm not very interested in it, myself, and I'm not sure how valuable it is, but I think if people want to study it they ought to have the opportunity.

djw

In addition, the "International Security" subfield of IR in political science depts is alive and well--it's my understanding that tenure track positions in Security have increased considerably in the last five years (for obvious reasons). While few political scientists have a Historians patience or eye for detail, it's worth noting that Security Studies tends to be among the more historically and qualitatively inclined of political science subfields.


If Miller was being serious rather than writing for NRO, he might have written something worth paying attention to. I have both seen and heard of incidents in which faculty whom are politically left are unwelcoming or uninterested in military topics, and I think this is ridiculous and stupid, politically and professionally. But Miller mixes a potentially serious concern with a bunch of nonsense, like his gay-baiting bit ("Not that they're anything wrong with that") on the WVU guy. Historians have multiple teaching fields beyond their research specialty, and they needn't be directly related. I'm sure scores of teachers of military history regularly publish on topics unrelated--so why focus on the guy who works on hairstyle history? And the idea that the social impact of war is a wholly inappropriate topic for military history is, frankly, beneath contempt.

djw

In addition, the "International Security" subfield of IR in political science depts is alive and well--it's my understanding that tenure track positions in Security have increased considerably in the last five years (for obvious reasons). While few political scientists have a Historians patience or eye for detail, it's worth noting that Security Studies tends to be among the more historically and qualitatively inclined of political science subfields.


If Miller was being serious rather than writing for NRO, he might have written something worth paying attention to. I have both seen and heard of incidents in which faculty whom are politically left are unwelcoming or uninterested in military topics, and I think this is ridiculous and stupid, politically and professionally. But Miller mixes a potentially serious concern with a bunch of nonsense, like his gay-baiting bit ("Not that they're anything wrong with that") on the WVU guy. Historians have multiple teaching fields beyond their research specialty, and they needn't be directly related. I'm sure scores of teachers of military history regularly publish on topics unrelated--so why focus on the guy who works on hairstyle history? And the idea that the social impact of war is a wholly inappropriate topic for military history is, frankly, beneath contempt.

Angry Harry

Hi Hugo

When you tell your students about the Somme, do you mention that 20,000 **men** were killed on the **first** day of the battle? (that 20,000 being just on the allies' side). Do you also mention that a FURTHER 120,000 allied **men** were killed during the next five months at the Somme?

Ah yes, those were the days when women were 'oppressed'.

Hugo

Harry, men sent them there. Where were the women who devised the machine guns, the gas, and the battle strategies? Was Hindenberg a woman? Was Kitchener? George V? Wilhelm II? That old men have asked younger men for pointless sacrifices is one of the great truisms of history; that women have generally had no say in the matter is another.

Jeremy Henty

Thanks for that, Angry Harry. Liberal liars told me the Somme was fought between the Amazons and the Wild Women of Wongo, but you have enlightened me! Please tell more - were the Peloponnesian wars really decided by a no-holds-barred smackdown between Electra and Wonder Woman, or is that another feminist fabrication?

Hugo

Jeremy, the latest research has revealed that Alcibiades was really "Alcibidia", a cross-dressing student of Socrates. Her woman's false heart led to her betrayal of Athens and the eventual defeat of that noble city.

Jeremy Henty

Hugo, I knew it had to be something like that! Cherchez la femme, eh?

The Happy Feminist

Although I love history, I have to admit that I have never quite been able to grasp the importance of military history, assuming that military history refers to the evolution of battlefield technology and strategy.

Obviously there is some significance there. The development or acquisition of a new type of military could explain the growing power of a particular group, for example. But what about the minutia of whether such-and-such general’s decision to attack the right flank of an army as opposed to the left flank? It’s tough for me to see why that would matter compared to the broader issues of social history, political, and economic history which tend to explain more about how we live our lives today across the board. The fact that there was a war is clearly important to how people lived their lives -- the loss of a significant portion of young men in Britain during World War I, for example, made a big difference as did World War II’s effect on the U.S. economy. But the particulars of which type of gun was used or what kind of battlefield maneuvers a particular general preferred seem awfully esoteric and perhaps primarily of interest to people who are actually going into that line of work. It seems tantamount to learning about the specific types of technologies used in factories down the ages. I guess when I study history (as a total layperson I should add!), I am interested in the “so what” more than the facts or the details in and of themselves. I have never been able to see the “so what” in military history and thus have been content at general references to the importance of a particular battle or particular battle strategy.

I am guessing that military history has declined because there is no longer an across-the-board expectation that all young men will join the military at some point. I’ll defer to you historians, but I always assumed that military history was meant to have a direct impact on preparing men to be officers in the military. That purpose no longer applies to the college population across the board.

Civil War Memory

I deal with the same type of issues in my course on the American Civil War. Since I teach in Virginia most of my students anticipate a semester filled with R. E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson along with the minutaie of the battlefield. Of course, the battles and campaigns are covered, but most of the analysis is geared toward understanding how the fighting connected to broader political and social issues. This is clearly a reflection of the direction of Civil War history over the past few decades. I also include an entire section on gender history where we discuss the roles of women and the way that certain gender assumptions shaped attitudes about the war. This is perhaps the biggest disappointment for some of my male students. It's almost as if their war or what they perceive to be their war has been ruined.

Angry Harry

Yes Hugo. Well done. It was indeed **men** who sent 150,000 soldiers to their death.

No dispute there.

However, I never suggested that women were responsible for the Somme, did I?

But, tell me, Hugo. Does the fact that men were 'in charge' - or, indeed, 'the cause' - alter the fact that it was 150,000 ***MEN*** who were ***killed*** in that battle?

Or do you discount these deaths simply because other men were responsible for them?

It seems to me that you use the typical feminist trick of counting men as victims ONLY if the perpetrators are women.

How convenient, eh?

The victims of men ONLY count as 'victims' if they are women!

I tell you what, Hugo. Do your best to try to distinguish between a victim and a perpetrator. It shouldn't be hard to do.

And I think that you will find that men - rather than women - are more often the victims of most things.

AH

The Happy Feminist

At the risk of thread drift, my question for Angry Harry is this, even assuming he is correct:

So? Is there some contest I don't know about as to who can claim more human suffering for whatever category they belong to? (Uh, I'd so no.) And is the purpose of military history to honor people who died? (To this, I would also say no. The purpose of history is to figure out what we can learn from it that is relevant today. If it were merely to bring honor to people who died, we should also have earthquake history, flood history, dread disease history, and random farming accident history. Certainly, earthquakes, floods, and dread diseases may constitute important history but it is more in terms of the effect these things had on the development of society. It's not just "lots of people died, and therefore we should learn about it.")


Angry Harry

And, further, my Dear Hugo ...

I do not, for one minute, object to your view that MANY men are controlling, violent thugs - pigs! - animals! Nor that ***MANY*** men have caused ENORMOUS problems to the world.

No dispute there Hugo.

But whenever you talk about women being the ***main*** victims of 'oppression' - or victims of 'mistreatment' - or victims of whatever, you are just plain wrong.

The victims of men are mostly - BY FAR - other men.

djw

Happy, while you may be right that the particulars of military strategy in such and such battle and so on may seem (and often are) obscure in terms of their contribution to the grand narratives of history, I think this critique could be levelled against many other fields of history; indeed, perhaps most of them. The differences in crop rotations in different regions, the slight changes in average age of marriage over time, the electoral practices of early parliament, etc, etc--one of the things I like about history is a commitment to the details prior to having a clear narrative about why those particular details are important, if they are at all.

On another note, it seems to me that Angry Harry couldn't be more off topic if he tried; he's clearly functioning as a provocatour. He's obviously quite frustrated that women and feminists don't do what he wants them to. Let's not give him what he wants by responding.

The Happy Feminist

one of the things I like about history is a commitment to the details prior to having a clear narrative about why those particular details are important, if they are at all . . .

That's probably why you're a professional and I am just a humble layperson! I definitely like to have the narrative laid out FOR me.

And I guess I don't totally hate military history since I do enjoy other people's battleship blogging! (Which comes in nice digestible chunks as opposed to a whole book or course, which might be a bit much for me.)

Angry Harry

Hello djw, I am not off topic.

Hugo was talking about the decline in teaching military history, wasn't he?

And being that Hugo is Hugo, I merely wanted to ascertain whether or not he pointed out to his students that it was men, mostly, who died in battles; and that, as such, they should be counted as 'victims' - victims of some kind of oppression.

By doing this, Hugo would be able to convince more young men in his classes that war was stupid.

If, however, young men see war as 'heroic', then they are more likely to support wars!

I know Hugo well enough to know that he will try to get his 'feminist messages' into the minds of young men when he is teaching them. And I also know that Hugo does not like war.

Ergo, when he does talk about military history, he can make his young men less inclined to support 'war' by pointing out to them that they will not be heroes if they become soldiers, but victims!

AH

labyrus

Angry Harry, I'm going to confront you where others won't. Yes. I think that the deaths of those men, who signed up to risk their lives or at least didn't have the courage or convictions to fight the draft, are in a certain way less tragic than the deaths of those who had no choice in the matter at all. Their deaths came quickly. The deaths of the women who were financially dependant on those men were more torturous, they had to live with grief, hunger and a fate they had no choice in. They had to carry on after losing loved ones.

To look at those who made a concious choice to risk their lives in war as victims is senseless. Any human life ending is a tragedy, but Soldiers have always had the choice not to fight, and many have taken it. They aren't passive victims of the machinations of rulers, they are the instruments of it.

Too many honest, decent human beings died in prisons during the two world wars for refusing to fight for me to accept that those that did fight never had a choice. They made the wrong one, and while I don't think they deserved to die for that, I also don't think you can look at them the same way as civilian victims of warfare.

Angry Harry

Hello Labyrus

Do you really think that when young men of 17,18 and 19 are told by FEMINISTS that they are cowards for not going to war (as per the FEMINIST white feather campaign in 1916) and when young men are told that their country is in mortal danger by the whole of the government-controlled media that, somehow, from the ether, they are going to believe differently?

Those men DIED for you. And MILLIONS were permanently HANDICAPPED.

Don't they even count as victims in your eyes?


Sally

Well, look, if you think about military history solely as the history of hardware and tactics, then it's true that it's pretty untrendy right now. These things are cyclical, and it might come back, but right now it's out of fashion. But I think there are all sorts of interesting questions to ask about the military which might work well with what's currently trendy in the historical profession. For instance, I'm really interested in questions about how the experience of military service formed elite American men's ideas about citizenship in the 20th century. (Citizenship is very hot at the moment.) To get at that, you'd have to ask exactly what that experience was. I'm thinking about something like Frederickson's Inner Civil War, which argues that the actual experience of serving in the Civil War informed the ideas of post-war Northern intellectuals. David Kennedy did something similar for World War I in Over Here, a book which takes seriously the idea that the experience of serving in the war really mattered.

And I guess I would also say that part of their untrendyness is military historians' own fault. If you look at intellectual or political or diplomatic history, the people doing interesting stuff in those fields are not doing it in exactly the same way they would have been in 1965. They've paid attention to the overall way the historical field is developing, and they've applied those insights to find novel and interesting things to say about what could be old-fashioned topics. (And while I'd agree that "maritime history" has declined, from my vantage point intellectual and political history are thriving, and diplomatic history has just been subsumed into the broader field of international history, which is trendy beyond belief at the moment.) I'm not sure that military historians are actually doing that. If they want to make a case for their field being interesting, they might want to do some work that speaks to people outside the field.

Sally
Do you really think that when young men of 17,18 and 19 are told by FEMINISTS that they are cowards for not going to war (as per the FEMINIST white feather campaign in 1916)

A fascinating episode which raises all sorts of interesting questions, but I don't think it's something that military historians would touch. Actually, I suspect it's most discussed by people in the field of gender history. It figures prominently in Nicoletta Gullace's book "The blood of our sons": men, women, and the renegotiation of British citizenship during the Great War.

djw

Well, I don't have the patience to *do* professional history, military or otherwise, either. But I do enjoy consuming seemingly trivial histories, in small doses.

Angry Harry

Sally writes: A fascinating episode which raises all sorts of interesting questions, but I don't think it's something that military historians would touch.

Yes Sally, a fascinating episode - an episode wherein FEMINISTS accused men PUBLICLY of being cowardly for not going to war.

However, Hugo is not a military historian. And he is a man who is, quite clearly, concerned with gender issues and concerned about the mistreatment of others - both men and women.

As such, when he talks about war to his students, he can conbine his humanity and his gender concerns by pointing out that **men** are the primary casualties in war - by the MILLION. And it is **men** mostly who governments actually send to war - not women.

Hugo

Harry, in most wars throughout history, women have been the spoils of war, raped and worse time and time again. Women not victims? Go reread the Trojan Women.

Angry Harry

Hello Hugo. I never said, nor suggested, that women were not casualties in war.

And tell me Hugo, how many British and American women were raped by Germans in WWII?

Very few.

Now tell me how many British and American **men** died or were maimed in that war?

MILLIONS.

They died and suffered for your liberty, Hugo.

Technocracygirl

Harry, I guess I just don't understand your vehemence. Of course male soldiers die in war. Any Western Civ class (heck, any broad overview course) will tell you that, and probably rattle off the number of military (and usually civilian as well) dead at the end of whichever conflict they're discussing. My high school textbooks did that. What Hugo is discussing is the decline of *military history,* that being the study, specifically, of specific battles and the tactics therein.

As for me, I'm perfectly fine with having gotten much more politics and culture out of my overview history courses than specific battles. What's more useful for someone with a specialization in Middle Eastern history to know -- the tactics and strategies used at the Battle of the Camel, or how that battle shaped the way Islam is practiced and how the main groups relate to each other because of it? (And for the gender studies, how the fact that Aiesha personally led the losing force affected the way Muslim men viewed women.) Obviously, I am on the side that prefers more politics and culture. I think it helps understand the way events ripple through time much better than tactics do.

But then, too, I despise wargaming et al., and have never cared for pure tactics.

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