Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Rebel Jesus

An irony of this blog is that its inspiration came from my encounter with a gifted scholar who implicitly viewed military history as the servant of an oppressive political order, that it has explored most closely such things as the potential for a postcolonial or antiwar approach to the subject, but that its first year ends with a decision to engage with what has been considered (though Tom Barnett would contest the characterization) a neoconservative vision of U.S. national security policy.

I have wondered for several weeks now what Michael Hames-Garcia (the "Marco" of my first entry) would make of this blog if he were to read it. I suppose I could ask him, though the request would make an enormous demand on his time. I would imagine that, however useful the journey has been to me, from his perspective I haven't gotten that far--that I've barely scraped the surface of postcolonialism, for instance--and that, whatever my good intentions, I really just don't get it. But on second thought that's probably just projection. From my (admittedly quite limited) acquaintance with Michael, I had the impression that he had a gentle soul and a generous spirit.

I guess my basic conclusion so far is that the field of military history is too closely and--worse--unreflectively connected to the elites who create, sustain, defend, and benefit from a political system based on domination through the threat, veiled or blatant, of violence. I think it tends to follow an agenda congenial to that elite, to ask the questions that this elite would ask, to limit the realm of potential answers to those acceptable to this elite, and, most importantly, to block from consideration questions that would threaten this elite.

Individual military historians are entitled to follow their own interests and incorporate their own political viewpoints. But I can think of no intellectual reason for military history, as a field of inquiry, not to turn the status quo on its head and identify with the dominated, not the dominators. Or better, to take a step back and examine issues of war and peace from both perspectives. Or better yet, to step back far enough to question the morality and efficacy of solving human problems by killing human beings.

One of the beauties of scholarship is that it's a collaborative enterprise: a community of those dedicated to the life of the mind. Members of that community should listen to the voices of everyone in it but nobody can adopt all the potential postures and points of view at once. I'm trying to expand my ability to listen, yet I know that at the end of the day, temperament if nothing else will draw me back to what for me is an instinctive itch to build bridges of communication between people who don't usually talk to one another. Among other things, that means I'll probably never adopt an antiwar perspective so strongly as to reject engagement with the strategic policy-making community.

All the same, the older I get, the more I question the things I was raised to believe, especially the idea that war is legitimate, but also the idea that the United States is all about truth, justice, and a square deal for everybody. The United States is, like any other society, a community of flawed human beings. Its government, like every other government, tends in aggregate to manifest a lower degree of morality than its component individuals. I'm firmly with the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on that one. Somebody once asked him about the title of his most famous book, Moral Man and Immoral Society. Niebuhr replied that, strictly speaking, it should have been Immoral Man and Even More Immoral Society.

Of course, as soon as I say that I'm reminded that you can't breathe a word of criticism, in some quarters, about our policies and their effects without being told that you don't love your country and you must be one of the "blame America first" crowd. Too many Americans on the left and on the right have raised to an art form the instant putdown and the ad hominem attack. I'm too much of an historian to believe that things used to be better--after all, I cut my teeth on the Civil War. All the same, the quality of public discourse could stand much improvement.

I'm heartily tired of the Jane-you-ignorant-slut, you-shot-my-dog, you-fucked-my-wife tone of what passes for political discussion in most TV and radio talk shows and most books and articles dealing with current affairs. I can't decide which I hate the worst: people who talk that way because they mean it or people who talk that way as a kind of performance art. The other day I stumbled across a FOX News round table discussion--it may have been "Hannity & Colmes", because I remember seeing Colmes--in which the participants were batting around the recent Mosul attack as if it were a beach ball. I'm serious. They were smiling and having a gay old time.

And there were good men dead.

And millions of lives in the balance.

And we're getting to the point--hell, we're well past it--where we think that kind of gabfest is okay.

I'm not sure that I'll get a chance to post another entry before the holiday, so I'll take this chance to wish everyone a merry Christmas (or to hope that you have/had a happy Hannukah, joyful Kwanza, contemplative Ramadan, or dysfunctional Festivus).

I leave you with the lyrics of a song that seems appropriate to both the season and this entry. They're by Jackson Browne.
Original recording from the Chieftain's album The Bells Of Dublin

The streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants' windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for all God's graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

They call him by the "Prince of Peace"
And they call him by "The Saviour"
And they pray to him upon the sea
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

(c) 1991 BMG MUSIC

Earn Millions for Your Organization!


By answering your email when someone offers your organization millions of dollars.

Some months ago a woman living in my home state of Ohio unexpectedly inherited a substantial estate when two of her relatives passed away. (Apparently she had no idea the relatives were so wealthy, so the inheritance came as a considerable shock.) The woman decided that part of the inheritance--several million dollars--should be given to charity, and she gave her two daughters the job of choosing suitable charitable causes and handling the actual transfers. As people who value higher education, the daughters approached several colleges and universities. They did so, straightforwardly enough, by going to the web sites of various such institutions and emailing the appropriate offices to express their interest in making a bequest.

Several places, they discovered, didn't even so much as hit the reply button to ask if they really meant it.

Luckily for Ohio State, a development officer working for our university got such an email--which, trust me, is an unusual way to hear of a potential bequest of that magnitude--and did hit the reply button. Which set in motion a chain of events that culminated last week in a meeting between myself, the heir, her two daughters, my colleague Peter Hahn, and several OSU development officers with a holy-cow-we've-hit-the-jackpot gleam in their eyes.

The heir and her daughters--I'll call them, respectively, Mary, Molly, and Maureen Benefactor--were pleasant and utterly down-to-earth. I have had enough involvement with development matters to know that usually people who make sizeable bequests do so only after an elaborate courtship by the university. The courtship generally involves a series of meetings and dinners with important university officials and dog-and-pony shows in which professors like me give special presentations designed to showcase the talents of the faculty--the talk I gave in October on "The Long Shadow of Sherman's March" was just such a presentation. The courtship often goes on for months, frequently a couple of years, before the potential donor is ready to sign on the dotted line.

The Benefactor family weren't like this. They had something they had decided to do and they just wanted to do it. Mary sat quietly while Molly and Maureen talked briefly about the bequests they had made earlier that morning to the veterinary school and to physical anthropology--as OSU alumni they had had earlier personal involvements with both entities. They were also interested in making a bequest to history--military history, to be exact--as a way to honor their brother who is an officer in the U.S. Army Special Forces.

I was in the room for obvious reasons. Peter was there in his capacity as department Vice Chair--the Chair himself would have been at the meeting except that he was out of the country. Peter talked a few minutes about the strengths of our department, noting, for example, that it was one of a handful of departments at OSU to win a Selective Investment grant: an award of several million dollars given by the university to departments identified as being so close to the top tier of excellence at the national level that an infusion of a few senior faculty hires would vault them into that tier. We got such a grant a few years ago. The infusion process--which has gotten us the likes of Kevin Boyle, Cynthia Brokaw, John Brooke, Alice Conklin, David Cressy, Alan Gallay, Donna Guy, Barbara Hanawalt, Steven Kern, Geoffrey Parker, and Dale Van Kley--is now almost complete.

Peter finished his remarks and I filled them in on the military history program: the faculty, the number and type of grad students, the audiences for military history and the ways in which our program addressed each. Because their brother was active duty military, I laid special emphasis on the fact that we train officers who will teach at the various service academies and that all of the faculty can and do engage with the armed forces and the strategic policy-making community.

Before the meeting we'd been told the Benefactors planned to give the military history program $500,000--enough to endow a graduate student fellowship. It turned out that each sister controlled half of the inheritance and, since Maureen agreed to match Molly's $500,000 offer, we got $1,000,000, enough for two fellowships. And what else would be of use to the program? Peter instantly suggested that an endowed professorship would allow us to hire an additional top-flight scholar, who would in turn help us to attract the very best grad students. The amount currently required to endow such a professorship, he continued, was $1.5 million. The Benefactor sisters chatted briefly across the table and agreed to give an additional amount sufficient to endow a professorship. Thus, by the time the meeting adjourned, the military history program stood to get $2.5 million.

Not bad for hitting the reply button when a generous donation offer hits your in-box.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

On the Road

I'm out of town for a few days to spend Christmas with friends. A heavy snowstorm was creeping up from the south, so I got on the road at 4 a.m. Just before I did I sent a brief email to Tom Barnett:

Hi Tom (if I may),

Some weeks ago, a friend of mine in the Pentagon mentioned that PNM was becoming in vogue there. I picked up a copy and was able to read it in time to use your Core/Gap model as the basis for the lectures in my History of War course dealing with 9/11 and the Iraq War. Not that I necessarily agree with you, but I certainly thought you made a more coherent case for Iraqi Freedom than did the Bush administration. I also watched your CSPAN presentation last evening--very well done. I didn't catch the Q&A--I couldn't really hang in there after the Zionist conspiracy question that kicked things off--but I have it on tape and will watch that later.

I'm ducking out in a few minutes to get on the road ahead of a snowstorm headed this way, but wanted to take a moment to say hi and to let you know that I'm putting together a grant request to support a conference to discuss your ideas among several military historians. You can find the particulars on my blog site. You'll find the relevant entries grouped under "History of War in Global Perspective."

I'd love to discuss this further when you have a chance.



PS - If you've not already done so, you really ought to read John Mueller's The Remnants of War. I think his work meshes very well with yours.

I didn't really expect a reply any time soon, especially having noticed that Tom's web site had crashed from the deluge of hits and emails after his CSPAN broadcast, but to my surprise I found a couple of quick responses awaiting me when I checked my account this afternoon:

Like Mueller a lot, so will try.Good luck on your grant.

Second point. I am writing the second book in January, and will come up for air in mid-Feb. Let me know how things progress.

I'm writing this from a Holiday Inn in Champaign, Illinois. I decided to break my trip here for two reasons. First, it's roughly halfway to my destination. Second, it's the home of my friend John Lynn, who teaches here at the University of Illinois.

I found him at home, totting up the final grades for his autumn semester classes. We had a good, long visit--an enjoyable conversation in his newly-finished "Florida room" followed by lunch at a local Thai restaurant. We talked almost nothing but shop. He filled me in on his doings and I told him about the recent Mershon conference. I mentioned particularly the panelists' consensus that the Society for Military History appeared uninterested in furthering military history as an academic field. Initially he was a little puzzled by this, but after a while he acknowledged how things could seem that way from my perspective--though as a candidate for vice president of the SMH he thought I had reason for hope.

We talked briefly about what might be done intellectually to advance the field but focused mainly on what the SMH could do to create more academic positions in military history. We knew that few history departments would do this of their own accord. Indeed, the record at Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere is that when existing military historians retire they are not replaced. The programs simply disappear. Nor, in John's experience, did departments seem receptive to the idea of accepting external funding to endow chairs in the field. In effect, departments wouldn't add a military history faculty line even if it cost them nothing.

But this impression turned out to be primarily an extrapolation from John's dealings with his own department, which by any measure is a department unusually taken with the new cultural history and unusually cool to everything else. It also turned at the external funding was theoretical, not actual. I thought things would turn out differently if a department was confronted with, say, $2 million in cash.

John remained skeptical until I suggested that the SMH should employ a development officer of its own to go forth, locate, and cultivate Dick and Jane Q. Benefactor. You can't swing a cat in a country club without hitting some wealthy businessman with an interest in military history. Moreover, in a country dominated by what Robert Reich calls "rad conservatives," where university departmental budgets are increasingly based on student enrollment, and where administrators have adapted themselves to both realities, I figured if you could get the bucks, you could get more than enough leverage to cram a military history position down the throat of the most granola-besotted department in the country. And if you couldn't do it among the top tier of universities, you could assuredly do it in the second-tier.

If nothing else, John agreed, that approach might populate the field with enough military historians for it to reach critical mass: a big problem right now is that there simply aren't enough academic military historians to be in real conversation with one another, to have the debates and steady historiographical growth characteristic of other fields. But on the whole John thought you'd get the most advantage from seeding military history positions in the top departments, and the idea of an SMH development officer captured his imagination. He wants to corral some of the Society's senior leadership at the next annual meeting and explore this idea further.

Will it work? I don't know. I do know that it's high time we began thinking strategically about how to establish the field. That, contrary to a myth much cherished among the white males of my profession, is how fields such as women's history and African American history got established. Political, diplomatic, social, and intellectual historians didn't just welcome them in. They scrambled; they elbowed their way to a place at the table. We must do the same.

John and I moved on to other subjects, among them the current state of affairs in Iraq. Which led me to mention The Pentagon's New Map to him. He hadn't heard of it, but found my brief sketch of Tom Barnett's ideas intriguing, and we dropped by a local bookstore so he could buy a copy. Then we wished one another a Merry Christmas. He headed back to his grading. I sought my bed at the Holiday Inn.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Because Ralph Would Have Wanted It That Way

For the past ten days I've been asking people if they've read The Pentagon's New Map and, if so, what they think of it. Most have heard of it, at least vaguely. Many have read reviews of it. One person owned a copy but said he couldn't really get into it. In pretty much every case the sense people had was of something slick, superficial, unconvincing, and not really worthy of engagement. Pressed to supply his own view of the book, the friend at the Pentagon who originally clued me in to its existence wrote:
Barnett's book, while interesting at some level, is an inch deep. It is essentially a 75 slide powerpoint presentation converted to words, with about 15,000 words of self-aggrandizement added in for filler. Readable, but annoying at some level. You'd do better to order from CSPAN their tape (in DVD if you want) of his 2 hour powerpoint presentation given this past summer at the National Defense University. Exactly same content, much faster to consume. He is an entertainer, with all that implies. The sad thing is that it is widely read here. Punditocracy has arrived in the Pentagon.
Actually, if you set aside the deprecatory appraisal for a moment, this is a pretty astute and unexceptionable description. It really is a PowerPoint presentation converted to words, as Barnett himself makes clear. The author has given this presentation more than 400 times to various military, policymaking, and think tank audiences, and eventually concluded that it had become so much sought-after that it deserved to reach a wider audience.

It's also true that you can get 95 percent of the book from watching the presentation. I haven't seen the National Defense University presentation, but last evening I did watch a 90-minute, 30-slide version of the presentation on C-SPAN (which Barnett, incidentally, considered an improvement on the NDU version). It's currently available on C-SPAN in streaming video and will be rebroadcast on December 26 at 4 p.m. It's worth seeing. Barnett has a real gift for the oral presentation, and he's an artist with PowerPoint.

It's also true that Barnett "is an entertainer, with all that implies." Having myself occasionally been accused of being an entertainer in the classroom, I don't necessarily consider the term an epithet. Barnett has a vision of the future of national security, he's trying to lodge that vision in the heads of those who can make it happen, and from endless repetition has pinpointed the images, epigrams, and metaphors that drive home his points most readily. It's really quite astonishing how much information, conceptualization, and interpretation he can pack into 90 minutes without losing his audience.

Barnett puts it this way in his latest blog entry:

[CSPAN host Steve] Scully asked me last night, "Has this become a career for you?" And the answer is, "Of course it has." But the career is determined by two factors: 1) the reproducibility of the strategic concepts (their essential utility); 2) the reach of the message. These are self-reinforcing in a network sense: the more I interact with the world at large, the better I tailor the concepts for their reproducibility (meaning the easier it is for a wide range of minds to instantly "get" what I'm talking about), and the better tailored the concepts, the wider the reach of the network. In short, I am constantly improving both reach and richness—the ultimate feat in marketing.
What this means, inevitably, is that he simplifies in the interest of "reproducibility," and if you have an academic temperament this lust for simplification can drive you nuts. Academics will occasionally praise a simple interpretation as "elegant," but more commonly will condemn it as "simplistic." Two of the most common verbs I hear in academic presentations are "complicate"--as in "I want to complicate the narrative of thus-and-such"--and "problematize," which, if clumsy, is at least self-explanatory.

In an oral presentation, however, to "complicate" and "problematize" is often the same as to "confuse" and "stupify." And if you're going to write a mainstream book intended to lay out a case and convince a reader, the scholarly hesitation and qualification characteristic of my profession just won't fly.

As to the balance of my Pentagon friend's assessment: even Barnett would probably concede that the book contains 15,000 words of "self-aggrandizement." Barnett deals out the pronoun "I" the way other people deal out commas. But another way to see it is that Barnett avoids the "God trick." He isn't the magisterial voice of a presumptive objectivity. Like Lilian Friedberg, he places himself in the narrative. You never forget for a minute that you're getting the views of a forty-something strategic analyst with an audience to impress and a mortgage to pay. Personally I find that refreshing.

Similarly, I can't find it in myself to fret that The Pentagon's Map is being widely read within the Pentagon. For one thing, it's reassuring to know that people in the Pentagon actually read books. But more importantly, it creates a framework for engagement. You can dismiss the book if you want, but right now I think it would be more useful to talk back to it. If it's too simple in places, explain why--and offer a better interpretation. If it's an inch deep, encourage the author to dig deeper. Or better, use PNM as a point of departure and do for it what, in the nature of the case, it can't really do for itself. Barnett can't very well push PNM and critique it, both at the same time. That's someone else's job.

The question is, is it worth making it my job?

You can divide this into two component questions.

First, is any sort of public engagement worth the time and energy involved?

On this score I've always been mindful of the illusion of influence. Usually the people you're trying to influence have already charted their own direction and embrace your work principally if it serves as an argument in favor of what they plan to do anyway. Barnett can push PNM with the zeal of a dope dealer but it doesn't mean anyone with real clout will mainline it. They're more likely to cut it and re-sell it to whatever group and in whatever way will further their own interests.

I once spent a summer at RAND Corporation researching European collaborative aircraft programs--the Jaguar, Tornado and Alpha Jet programs. Supposedly this was to be "objective," but really it was to help make the (futile) case that the Europeans should scrap the EFA and Rafale projects and buy our F-16Cs instead. I candidly didn't give a shit. I got to spend three months in Santa Monica and make several times my grad student stipend and I had no complaints. But a good friend of mine who went to work as a CIA analyst eventually left in frustration when his reports, which concluded in effect that such-and-such was "white," were revised so that white became first "beige," then "grayish-white," and not infrequently ended up "coal black." It's one thing to do this sort of thing on summer break. It's another thing to make it a significant chunk of your life's work.

That said, to some degree I already answered this question affirmatively when I let the Mershon Center give me a second campus office and, more importantly, buy me out of one course each year. The benefit to me is that it gives me a six-month on, six-month off teaching schedule. The expectation from Mershon is that I'll actively work to further its mission: "to advance the scholarly study and intellectual understanding of national security in a global context." This doesn't actually require me to get involved in public as opposed to purely academic engagement, but public was plainly the sort of engagement Ralph D. Mershon had in mind when he made his bequest to OSU.

C'mon! Could you refuse a face like that?

Second, is PNM specifically worthy of engagement?

One could argue that it is, simply because it's getting such play inside the Beltway. But it certainly isn't the only book getting play; there are easily a dozen books out there that, in one way or another, are prominently involved in the current national security discussion. What appeals to me about PNM is its attempt to link globalization to military affairs. This harmonizes well with the global history of war initiative, not just in terms of globalization but also in terms of its call for the armed forces to adopt a much broader definition of war. Barnett is as impatient as I am with the Pentagon's application of the acronym MOOTW--"Military Operations Other Than War"--to describe most of what it actually does in the current threat environment. Nobody says this in so many words any more, but the current Iraqi occupation corresponds, in most respects, to MOOTW. The "March to Baghdad" that claimed 140 American lives was real war. The occupation that has so far claimed over 1100 American lives--and probably ten times that many Iraqi civilians-- is part of the "post-conflict" phase.

I suppose I could worry, as one of my respondents did--in a very thoughtful email, by the way--that a project like this would be "presentist," and might well result in a forced, artificial use of the past: a set of raids on history to endorse or query PNM. I think if you take at face value Barnett's conception of globalization this would likely be the result. As this respondent pointed out, it not only takes a constricted view of globalization as essentially a post-1870 development, it also smuggles in the old, largely-discredited "modernization" theory whereby all societies are supposed to pass through the same stages of development in pretty much the same way. Part of the job would be to critique Barnett's model of globalization and ask what implications a different model would have for his national security prescriptions.

The other part--or at least one other part--would be to critically assess the prescription itself, which is essentially a call for the United States to field two kinds of armed forces: a "Leviathan" force to kick the crap out of the Saddam Husseins of the world, and a "Systems Administration" force adapted to the tasks of occupation, stabilization, and the restoration of normal law and order in the countries thus freed of their rogue leadership. Actually, to the extent that one is going to use military force, a good, robust, well-trained "Sys Admin" force sounds very plausible. But in the first place, it's a real question whether the use of military force, Leviathan or Sys Admin, doesn't create more problems than it solves. (The longer I study war, the more convinced I become that violence solves one problem at the cost of creating others--hopefully smaller and more manageable, but often just as serious as the initial one and occasionally a hell of a lot worse.) And in the second, it's worth realizing that a Sys Admin war is still a war, and any adversary will systematically try to thwart and overthrow such an effort. This isn't an argument against a Sys Admin force. It's a suggestion that previous "low intensity" conflicts need to be examined in new ways.

For instance, what would the United States do if a principled, nonviolent movement emerged in Iraq that insisted upon Shi'ite majority rule and the establishment of an explicitly Shi'ite state with close ties to Iran? A Sys Admin force could perhaps prevail against a bunch of bomb throwers. But against a Gandhian satyagraha campaign? Such a development sounds unlikely. But so did terrorists toppling the World Trade Center. So I think it's worth the thought experiment. And really, what could we do to counter such a thing?

Finally, it's worth recalling the fruits of my own involvement, years ago, with another hot idea then making the rounds of the Pentagon: RMAs--Revolutions in Military Affairs--which promised to banish the fog of war and give us a lean, qualitatively superior military capable of beating a much larger adversary by way of an asymmetrical advantage in information technology. My mentor Wick Murray was aghast--well, Wick doesn't get aghast, let's say outraged--at the historical myopia of such a view. In 1996 he put together a conference at the Marine Corps University in which a succession of historians--me included--reviewed other RMAs from the Hundred Years War to World War II in order to show how true RMAs were almost never merely technological but rather the result of much larger political, sociocultural, and economic factors. My own presentation focused on the American Civil War as an example of armed forces not so much harnessing an RMA as trying to survive the RMA of people's war.

It was actually a pretty clever presentation, and fundamentally correct. Even so, during the Q&A that followed a Marine major acknowledged my basic point but wondered if there wasn't any way by which one side during the Civil War enjoyed an asymmetrical advantage over the other. Abruptly it occurred to me that the Federal government did a much better job of financing its war effort--the huge Northern manufacturing advantage was a latent advantage, useless unless the Federal government could find a way to pay for the weapons and equipment it could yield. The sweeping re-imagination of financial policy--the artful mix of greenbacks, bonds, and taxes developed by government policymakers and private financiers between 1862 and 1864--resulted in what one historian has called a "fiscal-military revolution." I had never really appreciated this before, nor had I studied it closely. My engagement with the "presentist" RMA agenda wound up making me a better Civil War historian. I have a hunch that engaging with PNM will yield similar benefits for me as a global historian of war.

PS - That 1996 conference resulted in a volume of essays: The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050, which is now on the U.S. Army Chief of Staff's professional reading list.

According to the list:

The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050. Edited by MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray

The editors provide a conceptual framework and historical context for understanding the patterns of change, innovation, and adaptation that have marked war in the Western world since the fourteenth century. Case studies and a conceptual overview offer to all senior leaders an indispensable introduction to military change.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Making the World Safe for Globalization

In a previous entry, I broached the possibility that Thomas P.M. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map might be a useful point of departure for a future global history of war conference. In this entry I'd like to start exploring that possibility more fully. The blog format doesn't really lend itself to extended discussions, so this exploration will be on the installment plan. (If you want to do a reconnaissance of your own, you can check out the reviews of the book, all of them reprinted, with Barnett's comments, on his web site.)

As I write this, I'm listening to a string of contemporary Middle Eastern musicians; e.g., Oum Kolsoum, Fairuz, and Khaled. Until a few hours ago I had heard of none of them, but their music now fills my office with flawless, digitized perfection. Of course, I haven't the slightest idea what they're singing about, but it's still way cool. More importantly, it makes me curious to know what they're singing about, and by extension, to know more about their cultures. This all comes courtesy of my broadband internet connection and a little phenomenon called globalization.

Globalization is quite the buzz word of the moment, but there's little agreement on what to make of it. Is it new? Many commentators talk as if it emerged only in the 1980s or 1990s; a few will push this back to the early 1900s. Those with a real sense of history see it as a process underway since the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of exploration around the Cape of Good Hope and, especially, to the Americas. True gamesters place its origins even earlier. Janet Abu-Lughod, for instance, sees a global system as operating in Europe, Asia and Africa as early as 1250.

Is globalization good? The question's pointless, of course, if you take the long view: it's like asking whether history is good. But if you're talking about the current wave of globalization, it makes a bit more sense to ask if it's a good thing--or more precisely, for whom. Some see it as little more than neocolonialism; others as a process that, overall, is beneficial for every society that becomes enmeshed with it. This latter was the assessment of Thomas Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, whose key argument was nicely summarized by Paul Krugman in a review for Washington Monthly:
Information technology, [Frieman] tells us, has made the world a small place, in which ideas and money can move almost instantly across borders. This smaller world richly rewards countries and societies that meet its needs--which is to say places that have strong property rights, open minds, and a flexible attitude; but it inflicts devastating punishment on those who fail to live up to global standards. Old-fashioned power politics is becoming increasingly obsolete because it conflicts with the imperatives of global capitalism. We are heading for a world that is basically democratic, because you can't keep 'em down on the farm once they have Internet access, and basically peaceful, because George Soros will pull out his money if you rattle your saber.
Krugman himself was skeptical about the accuracy of Friedman's analysis and the inevitability of this future (particularly whether it would play out in such a positive way). Friedman seems to have acquired a bit of skepticism himself after September 11. But it's this view of globalization that Barnett places at the heart of The Pentagon's New Map. With one key difference. Whereas Friedman saw the spread of globalization and its benefits as more or less automatic, Barnett sees it as contingent upon the willingness of the United States to safeguard globalization and ensure that its promise is realized.

For him, the great enemy of the United States nowadays is not a particular power or a group of people but rather a condition--"disconnectedness" from the beneficial and therefore stabilizing influence of globalization.

To be disconnected in this world is to be kept isolated, deprived, repressed, and uneducated. For young women, it means being kept--quite literally in many instances--barefoot and pregnant. For young men, it means being kept ignorant and bored and malleable. For the masses, being disconnected means a lack of choice and scarce access to ideas, capital, travel, entertainment, and loved ones overseas. For the elite, maintaining disconnectedness means control and the ability to hoard wealth, especially that generated by the exportation of raw materials.

If this disconnectedness is the real enemy, then the combatants we target in this war are those who promote it, enforce it, and terrorize those who seek to overcome it by reaching out to the larger world. Our strategic goals, therefore, are to extend connectivity in every way possible, but only in a manner that promotes justice as much as order. Because when we sacrifice, when we suffer, and when we die in this war, we must know that the good we promote is both immediate and lasting. Americans need the confidence of knowing that every difficult step we take represents forward progress on some level.

To that end, we need to understand what is really at stake here, which is nothing less than the future of globalization itself. You may say that globalization is not a goal or a strategy but simply a condition of the world we live in, and you would be right on many levels. But globalization is also a historical process, or something that is defined by a sense of momentum and purpose. Globalization has a past, which defines its limits, but likewise a future whose promise it must fulfill, otherwise it will become a spent notion in the minds of political leaders whose determined actions are required for its continued advance.
If globalization were to falter, the biggest loser would be the United States, not only because it has the world's largest economy but also because it embodies "the political idea most closely associated with globalization's promise and peril."

Whether we realize it or not, America serves as the ideological wellspring for globalization. These united states will stand as the first concrete expression. We are the only country in the world purposely built around the ideals that animate globalization's advance: freedom of choice, freedom of movement, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. We are connectivity personified. Globalization is this country's gift to history--the most perfectly flawed projection of the American Dream onto the global landscape. To deny our parentage of globalization is to deny our country's profound role as world leader over the second half of the twentieth century. More important, to abandon globalization's future to those violent forces hell-bent on keeping this world divided between the connected and disconnected is to admit that we no longer hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, and that all desire life, liberty, and a chance to pursue happiness. In short, we the people needs to become we the planet.
This is nothing if not idealistic, but I don't mind someone who takes ideas seriously. Still, one has to ask if Barnett's analysis of globalization is accurate or complete. In particular, does the success of globalization really require the intervention of a well-intentioned major power? And if so, is the sort of intervention Barnett has in mind appropriate and likely to succeed? Finally, what insights into all of these questions can be gleaned from history?

On the latter score, for instance, what are we to make of this illustration from Andre Gunder Frank's ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age?

(click map for closeup)

Here's a global system in which the world's largest economy is China. And of course everyone recalls the great Chinese fleets that roamed the world, policing and administering this system. Oh wait, maybe not. In any event, what illumination might this revisionist "new map" of the early modern world's global economy shed on "the Pentagon's new map," and vice versa? Is it in the nature of a cheap shot, or might reflection on these two maps yield something something worthwhile?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Periodizing the History of War, Continued

Jenni was fighting a cold and couldn't make today's meeting; she passed the rest of us her preferred course offerings by email. But Allan, Joe and I got together and in about forty-five minutes hammered out a schedule for next year. More importantly for present purposes, we came up with a way to recast History 580. We eliminated "European Warfare" from the course title, substituted "Global History of War," and agreed on a three-quarter sequence:

580.01 Global History of War, 378 AD to 1763
580.02 Global History of War, 1763-1900
580.03 Global History of War, 1900-Present

Bering in mind the existence of History 504.01, War in the Ancient Medierranean World, which ends with the fall of Rome (ca. 410-476 CE), History 580.01 picks up with the defeat of Rome at Adrianople and addresses the role of war within the first two waves of globalization: the rise of Islam, which resulted in a much greater degree of interconnection between Europe and Asia; and the European explosion of maritime exploration, trade, and colonization in the 16th-18th centuries. We selected 1763 as the endpoint because it was the terminus date of the Seven Years' War, often called the world's first global war.

History 580.02 deals with the rise and heyday of the second wave of globalization, which saw the rise and spread of industrialization and a second spurt of European colonization, culminating in European control of over 80 percent of the earth's land surface by 1900.

History 580.03 deals with the European civil war (1914-1945) that destroyed European hegemony, the emergence of a bipolar world, and the wars of decolonization.

While the specific date parameters are drawn largely from the "triumph of the west" model of military history, we made sure the general periodizations lent themselves to other metanarratives. For instance, an interpretation that emphasized the rise of modern Asia might tweak the end point of 580.02 from 1900 to 1905 (the year of the Russo-Japanese War), or the starting point of 580.03 from 1900 to 1868 (the year of the Meiji Restoration). To underscore this point, the final set of course titles may use slightly different datings. We all knew that the actual periodization of a given course almost never follows, except roughly, the periodization in the course catalog. The important thing was to create intellectual space to do history of war in global perspective without forcing an instructor into some particular interpretive framework.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Periodizing the History of War

I circulated the last entry to my colleagues. Geoffrey responded:
Thanks, Mark, for laying this out so clearly, and to Joe for sharing his concerns. I agree that "European warfare" is VERY restrictive and makes it hard to accomplish Mark's goal of globalization. I see two possible alternatives:

1. Leave the title alone and fudge. (Been there, done that.)
2. Submit a title and course outline change. It must *include* Europe -- I don't see a way of supporting, justifying or staffing an *additional* course on global history as well as American and European -- but its title could be amend to something like "The Western way of war and its enemies", which would leave each instructor free to weight the Western/non-Western components according to his/her choice. It would also encourage a debate on the Hanson theory -- and its enemies!

Whether or not we do that, I think we must face the fact that (as Mark says) each year that passes increases the periods a course on "since XXXX" must cover. I like his case for a THREE quarter sequence in "West & the Rest" military history: one to circa 1450 (pre-colonies AND pre-decisive artillery); a second from then until circa 1830 (or if necessary 1850: pre-rapid colonization and pre-industrialization of war); a third "Since XXXX".
On the first big point, I like very much the idea of writing a course description that gives instructors the flexibility to approach the survey according to their own gifts and sense of what really matters. On the second, all I did was suggest a three-quarter sequence. The periodization Geoffrey outlines is Geoffrey's. But it raises some interesting questions.

Figuring out the time limits for any historical subject is always more subtle and complex than it would at first glance appear. Geoffrey's suggested periodization, for instance, would sharply reduce the scope for coverage of the two world wars. This would be a defensible but major change in the way military historians traditionally approach those subjects. The upside is that it would force us to take a longer view of both conflicts. Locating them between the wars of imperialism and the wars of decolonization would almost certainly suggest a different set of concerns and emphases than those we currently select. The downside is twofold. Intellectually, one wonders whether the presentation of the two world wars might become too abstract or idiosyncratic. Pragmatically, one would have to revise one's existing lectures on the wars so extensively that you might as well as do them de novo.

Geoffrey's suggestion also implicitly questions the tendency for surveys to look at the past through reverse binoculars. That is to say, historical eras closest to us are usually treated in far more detail than those which are more remote. For instance, the current 580 sequence allocates just 74 years to the second half, while the first half is expected to cover nearly 400 years. It's much the same in 582 (American military history): the first half covers about three centuries, the second half less than a third of that. History surveys in other fields follow the same pattern. The underlying assumption, of course, is that students need a more detailed understanding of the recent past. Like most assumptions, it's open to question, but I seriously doubt most historians would reject it.

I think that in the short run we may as well keep the temporal parameters of the 580 sequence pretty well in place, especially if we want parameters that would permit an instructor to select either a European or a global focus. If excising the word "European" from the course title is necesary to create room for the latter focus, retaining the current time limits is arguably best to allow the former focus to be handled coherently. As for a third, post-1945 course: we used to have such a course under the auspices of the now-defunct subject of National Security Policy Studies (NSPS was created back in the days when the Mershon Center involved itself with formal coursework). We could resurrect it as a History 594, Topics in History--a catch-all devised to allow instructors to experiment with a new course before putting it permanently on the books.

All that said, I think I'll pursue Geoffrey's parting suggestion: "Since John Lynn [of the University of Illinois] has experience of both the subject and of this department, why don't we ask his opinion?"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Globalizing the History of War

The military history faculty meets on Tuesday to coordinate our teaching schedules for next year. We'll also discuss a few other items, most notably the expansion of our list of courses to incorporate world/global military history. Currently we have two upper-division surveys, each of which is a two-quarter sequence:

History of European Warfare

580.01 European Warfare, 1500-1870
580.02 European Warfare, 1871-1945 [no link available]

American Military Policy

582.01 American Military, 1607-1914
582.02 American Military, 1914-Present

In addition, our colleague Nathan Rosenstein teaches a 500-level course on war in the ancient mediterranean world.

There are two basic ways by which we could add world military history into the mix. The first would be to create a third upper-division survey. The problem with this solution, however, is that it would raise the number of 500-level courses to six--seven if you include Nathan's--and it would be difficult to offer so many courses on a regular basis. The other option is to reframe the existing courses, most likely by broadening the existing course descriptions of 580 to make room for teaching them in global perspective. The problem with that solution--or more precisely, the challenge--would be getting everyone in the field to agree to a new set of course descriptions and parameters.

Allan, Joe, Jenni and I will be present at the meeting. Geoffrey can't make it, but he's circulated a memo giving his views:

Thanks, Mark, for your leadership on this. Sorry I can't make the meeting, but I would like to express my support for [the] particular initiative you outline. . . .

My personal preference would be
(a) expand 580 so that it is more "global";
(b) have military historians take their turn in teaching the History 181/182 [World History survey] sequence, with a military history spin to it -- and you, Mark, are showing the way here by taking it on in 2005-6, for which we should all commend you.

That brought a response from Joe:

I endorse Geoffrey's remarks.

My only thought on the world military front concerns 580.02. Maybe I'm showing my non-trendiness, but the course as Mark and I have taught it the last few times pretty much fills the bill. We could emphasize the non-western fallout pre-WWI imperialism and the two World Wars a bit more -- we have slighted China in particular -- but unless there is some huge methodological hurdle of which I am blissfully ignorant, we're pretty much there. A world equivalent to 580.01 would be a very different matter, but in the fulness of time I'm prepared to tackle that. Heck: I've already got the Ottomans covered.
By and large I agree with Joe about 580.02 in terms of geographical coverage. But I do see a conceptual if not methodological hurdle, in that a course title and description involving "European warfare" makes it pretty tough to do a global military history of the 1871-1945. The core of 580.02 is what might be called the Second Thirty Years War--the European civil war of 1914-1945, and the existing course could not accommodate an approach that selected a different core; e.g., the rise of modern Japan and the frequent, bloody and momentous wars in east Asia during the same time frame..

The issue of Historically Speaking that Geoffrey gave me contains an article by Robbie Robertson, author of The Three Waves of Globalization: A History of Developing Global Consciousness (Zed Books, 2003). Globalization, in Robertson's formulation, is "the outcome of human interconnections." Note the adjective human, not corporate. "This globalization is about human empowerment and democratization, a focus that for the historian can rescue the human story from the parochialisms of the past and provide glimpses of humanity's common history and shared interests. . . . "

Look at the place of warfare in the next paragraph of Robertson's article:

Three waves of globalization have enveloped humanity. Each wave produced new forms of interconnections and generated new synergies that in time led to its own transformation. No wave has been the product of one civilization or one culture alone, despite our tendency to conflate globalization and Westernization. Waves encompass many cultures; they enable interaction and cross-fertilization. No wave has ever been the creature of one country alone, although at times would-be hegemons have tried to monopolize them. Such attempts at exclusivity have always been counterproductive. By reducing interconnections, they smothered globalization and generated instability. War and conquest became attractive alternatives. The first wave [which began in the 16th century] faltered during the late 18th century for this reason; the second wave [which got rolling in the early 19th century] similarly collapsed in the early 20th century [thanks to the Great Depression and the fascist regimes with their preference for conquest and economic autarky]. The same prospect could face our current third wave.

It seems to me that using Robertson's formulation, History 580.01 could be reframed to deal with warfare during the first wave of globalization and the cycle of wars that eventually curtailed it. In the same way, History 580.02 would address warfare during the second wave. You'd scarcely have to change the dates at all--maybe tweak the breakpoint a bit from 1871 to something like 1830 or thereabouts, but that's about it. We could also write the course descriptions in such a way that a faculty member who wished to emphasize the European experience--the triumph of the West, in Geoffrey's formulation--could still teach the courses that way. The idea is to create intellectual space for new interpretive schemes, not to squelch more established ones.

It's also worth noting that nearly sixty years have passed since the end of the Second World War: just fourteen years short of the seventy-four year period covered by the current 580.02 sequence. It would not be out of place to suggest the creation of at least one new course: warfare during the third, current wave of globalization; or to put it another way, war in the postcolonial world.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Weekend Warriors, Then and Now

Busy day yesterday. No classes but a lot of time spent meeting with students, including a young Marine Corps reservist who had to take the History of War final exam early because his unit was shipping out--first to California for extended field training, then to Iraq for at least seven months. He had a strong "A" average for the first two midterms, so my final exam question to him was to ask if he would mind if I just gave him an A for the course. After that we talked for about thirty minutes about the situation in Iraq and his feelings about going there. He was very thoughtful and mature--far more than I was at his age. For me there was an air of unreality about the conversation. Maybe it was his unusual degree of gravitas that threw me off, but for the life of me I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that he was actually going over there.

I thought afterward about the accident of timing that allowed me to spend my eight years in the Army National Guard at the one of the few moments in my country's recent history when I was unlikely to serve in a war. A few years older and I would have been eligible for the draft; I could well have gone to Vietnam. A few years younger and I'd probably be on active duty right now: if not in Iraq then Afghanistan or at a minimum some post in the United States, replacing troops who had been deployed to those regions.

True, I was still in the Guard when Desert Shield/Desert Storm occurred, and in theory I could have been activated for that. But my unit was a field artillery battalion with towed 105 mm howitzers. Our readiness status changed scarcely at all. The sole change to our monthly drill routine was the posting of a single unarmed sentry at the gate to the armory parking lot--apparently to wave hello to a suicide bomber should one happen to come barreling through.

The unit was disbanded soon after the war, but by then I had gotten out. There seemed little point in remaining in the Guard if I'd already gained what I needed from the experience (a modicum of exposure to the armed forces) and the country had no use for my skills as a forward observer. Of course, if I'd had the foresight to enlist in a water purification unit or laundry detachment instead, I might very well have gotten a free trip to Saudi Arabia after all.

Nowadays when people ask me if I've been in the military, I'm always a little puzzled about how to respond. By"military" they invariably mean active duty military, and with the exception of three months of basic combat training and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, I never spent a day on active duty. I did spend eight years putting up with the strange mix of serious preparation, relaxed sloppiness, and absurd chickenshit that characterizes the National Guard. I did learn to call for fire well enough that my unit kept me on the artillery range whenever it did its annual ARTEP--"Army Readiness Training Evaluation Program," if memory serves. To this day I could do a coordinated illumination mission--or at least, could do it as it was done in the mid-1980s, which probably bears no resemblance to the way it's done today.

Yet what does any of that mean? For me it was a useful life experience; I'm not at all sorry I did it. But to others? Once upon a time at a church I attended it happened to be Veterans Day and the pastor invited everyone who'd been in the service to come down to the chancel rail so the congregation could recognize and thank them. Absently I got up and walked down the aisle--to find myself in the company of grizzled old men who had served in World War II and Korea and a few middle-aged Vietnam veterans. I never did anything like that again.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Brave New Functioning Core

The other day my colleague Geoffrey Parker gave me the latest issue of Historically Speaking, the bulletin of The Historical Society. He wanted me to see several think pieces concerning global history--defined as the history of globalization. We think of globalization as a present-day phenomenon. For most of us it's something we've noticed only in recent years (if at all). But as a process, globalization has been underway for centuries--certainly since at least the 16th century and arguably much longer.

By coincidence, that same day I was reading a book which made globalization the centerpiece of its analysis of the present-day threat environment: The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century (currently ranked 1,614 on; not too shabby). It's by Thomas P. M. Barnett, a political scientist who teaches at the Naval War College. Barnett sketched out its basic argument in an article for Esquire published on the eve of the Iraq War:

The problem with most discussion of globalization is that too many experts treat it as a binary outcome: Either it is great and sweeping the planet, or it is horrid and failing humanity everywhere. Neither view really works, because globalization as a historical process is simply too big and too complex for such summary judgments. Instead, this new world must be defined by where globalization has truly taken root and where it has not.

Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap.

The Gap is shown in dark green and deep blue on the globes below:

Two billion people live in the Gap. They're disconnected from the globalizing economy, pissed off, and a big human reservoir of Trouble for the Functioning Core. As Barnett says, the Gap is the region where you find the terrorists, the rogue states, the druglords and warlords. Their homelands may not be enmeshed in the webs of globalization--they may in fact loathe and reject everything globalization stands for--but globalization provides them with the tools to strike deep in the heart of the Functioning Core. Ease of travel, open borders, open societies, instantaneous communication and financial exchange: these hallmarks of globalization can be and have been exploited. To drive jet liners full of fuel into the World Trade Center. To explode bombs in Madrid during rush hour. It's not a question of whether these attacks will happen again. It's a question of when.

Barnett's proposed solution is to shrink the Gap. Arguably this could be done by what political scientist Joseph Nye has called "soft power"--openness, prosperity and similar values that persuade and attract rather than coerce others. But Barnett thinks that "hard power"--military and economic strength--is the key to success, with military force predominating. Soft power may sometimes work in parts of the Gap, but in others it will take the projection of military strength to stabilize a region enough so that economic investment makes sense and democratization stands a chance.

Barnett applauds the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "The reason I support going to war in Iraq," he wrote on the eve of that invasion, "is not simply that Saddam is a cutthroat Stalinist willing to kill anyone to stay in power, nor because that regime has clearly supported terrorist networks over the years. The real reason I support a war like this is that the resulting long-term military commitment will finally force America to deal with the entire Gap as a strategic threat environment."

Whether or not you buy hi thesis and prescriptions, Barnett is driving his argument for all it's worth--as he'll happily tell you on his extensive web site and blog. It's getting a lot of play. (I got the book in the first place because I asked a friend at the Pentagon what people there were reading and he pointed to The Pentagon's New Map.) Anyway, the point isn't whether you agree with Barnett. The point is that his ideas are interesting. They're worth thinking about, arguing with.

For instance, let's say Barnett's "new map" accurately reflects reality. How did the map get to be that way? Global history suggests that the process took not years or decades but centuries. If that's the case, it opens the possibility that buried in the past are analogs and antecedents that may help us to better evaluate Barnett's analysis and prescriptions. To give one example which may or may not withstand closer scrutiny: his idea of using military force to create an environment suficiently stable to inject one's own economic tendrils sounds a lot like the European and American adventures in China during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If you've seen The Sand Pebbles, you've seen this kind of tactic in action, and the unintended consequences it can generate.

A couple of days ago I got an email from Stephen Morillo, a military historian at Wabash College and one of the panelists at the recent conference on The History of War in Global Perspective. Stephen had talked about the conference with Jerry Bentley, editor of the Journal of World History. "He's enthused," Stephen reported, "and would be happy to see a set of related papers that he could put together in a volume of the Journal of World History devoted to military history. We (broadly construed) should think about generating such a package."

I wrote back:
That sounds very good. Over the Christmas break I'll be writing up a grant for further funding to support the history of war in global perspective project. What would you think of my focusing the proposal on an authors' conference to coordinate just such a set of offerings for the JWH?

Stephen thought that was just fine. The issue then became one of coming up with a specific topic. The articles in Historically Speaking on global history have provided food for thought. So has The Pentagon's New Map. Why not explore earlier periods of globalization for insights that might illuminate the promise or pitfalls of Barnett's prescriptions? It's worth a shot--particularly since it meshes well with the mission statement of the Mershon Center, my prospective sugar daddy. Now to see if this idea strikes a responsive chord with other historians.

A New Home

Call me Mark. I'm a professor at Ohio State, which has one of the best military programs in the country and, consequently, a special responsibility to the field--especially in a time like ours.

Not quite a year ago I began keeping a blog on my regular web site. Kind of an unorthodox blog--not really organized the way most blogs are and more graphics-intensive than most. It was and remains devoted to assessing the state of academic military history and figuring out new ways to conceptualize it. Having been at it for months now, I've discovered two things. First, I like blogging. Second, doing it the way I was doing it ate up a lot of time. I'm wondering if I can't save some time--and maybe expand the blog's usefulness--by giving it a new home. Namely this one.

I called the original blog Interrogating the Project of Military History. I figured something a little less academic-sounding might be better here. I thought of going with "War Child," because I feel as if I've been studying war since I was a toddler, but that blog title's taken (which may be just as well). I went with War Historian for obvious reasons and because I didn't want to stare at the screen all night trying to think of a better title. I figure this blog stands or falls on the basis of its content, not its name.

Anyway, check out the old site--with three links to it in as many paragraphs, I've made this as convenient as possible.