Monday, November 05, 2012
Recently CSPAN-3 aired the roundtable. Panelists included Susannah Ural, Keith Bohannon, Megan Kate Nelson, Brooks Simpson, and myself. The whole thing is a bit over an hour in length, but for my money the most delightful moment in it occurred when Megan remarked that the book was almost twenty years old, was still a standard work on the subject, and that it was "unusual for a book to have that kind of shelf life. . . . It's like a Twinkie. It's still fresh." I've never considered Twinkies to be exactly fresh, but they are certainly timeless. I'm confident that they will survive a nuclear conflict, global warming, or pretty much any other calamity. So it was really a very nice compliment.
Monday, October 29, 2012
The blog will produce about ten posts per month: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays one week, then Tuesdays and Thursdays the next, then back to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The emphasis is on items that showcase or comment upon academic military history.
Someone recently asked me if my participation on this blog meant the end of my efforts on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age. Not at all. The chief impediment to regular posts on BTOOTSA continues to be the sharply limited time available these days (thanks in part to a one-year old daughter) and my discouragement over continued security issues on the primary blog. Someday I'd like to get these resolved. But it hasn't been easy, and my intention all along has been to author the blog, not get heavily involved on the technical side.
In the meantime, though, I'll try to post on BTOOTSA more regularly. And of course I'll be posting on the SMH blog twice a month.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
I had expected a traditional 4th of July holiday with the trappings of local and national celebrations, fireworks, and displays of patriotism coupled with family events. For many of us, the mid-week holiday extended the observance to the following weekend.
I took the opportunity to visit Mom and siblings in Cleveland and, as is my habit, I picked up an audiobook CD for the 600-mile roundtrip. The selection this time was David Hackett Fischer’s award-winning Washington’s Crossing. The book captured my attention so much that I drove straight through to my mother’s house. The next two days were spent checking in with my mom and her cousin (among the last of that generation), watching my brother grill and spend time with his grandkids, and sharing late-night reminisces with my sisters. After a hearty Sunday breakfast (prepared by my brother), I hit the road having counted the weekend an American success.
I inserted the next CD and continued to listen to Fischer’s remarkable work. The next chapter of the book recounted the attitudes and reactions of American colonials in New Jersey in the face of the occupation by British and Hessian troops. I then remembered seeing signs for Shanksville/Somerset PA on my outbound trip and felt compelled to visit the Flight 93 Memorial on the way home. A quick check of the GPS gave directions and time to the site, so I departed from my normal route on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The park entrance is 3-1/2 miles from the Memorial Plaza and the road winds slowly to the impact site. From the parking lot, the quarter-mile walk begins with display boards that detail the events of the morning of September 11, 2001. Most haunting are the faces on the placard, “The Crew and Passengers of Flight 93.” At the end of the walk are 40 marble panels inscribed with each name and the existence of an unborn child.
As I looked around the unfinished memorial and its landscape, it was clear that the unremarkable countryside belied the remarkable feat accomplished by the passengers who boarded the plane in Newark, New Jersey. Among the names on the display and marble panels were those of Jeremy Glick, Tom Burnett and Todd Beamer who assumed leadership roles on the plane when the threat to the nation became clear. Tom on the phone told his wife, Deena, “We can’t wait…we’re going to do something.” Voice recordings captured the memorable words of Todd, who was about to lead the group: “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll!”
It is striking how this band of civilians embodied the same spirit of the New Jersey colonists in 1776. That spirit is captured in the third verse of “America the Beautiful”:
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!
This is important to remember each Independence Day—that our citizens are true heroes whom those in uniform have the honor to serve.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
EVERYONE IS ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION
by Garrett Jones
Garrett Jones is a retired operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He spent extensive time in the Middle East and Africa and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.
On the 19th of February 2012, the New York Times had an interesting article pointing out the logistical and tactical problems the Israeli Air Force would encounter if it were to try to interdict the development of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  The conclusion reached by the author was that the problems involved precluded Israel from making an attempt at derailing the Iranian nuclear program through conventional military means. While I largely concur with the logic in the article, I do not believe the Israelis ever have seriously considered a conventional military strike as an effective way of stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The more
pertinent question is: Will nuclear weapons be used by Israel against Iran?
Since the beginning of Israel’s own nuclear weapons program, the Israeli doctrine on nuclear weapons has been to reserve the employment of nuclear weapons for attacks or potential dangers that threaten the existence of the Israeli state. This is best demonstrated by Israel’s reaction to Pakistan’s announcement that it had acquired nuclear weapons in 1998. While there was no celebration of the development of an “Islamic Bomb” in Israeli circles, nor was there any public talk of retaliation or military strikes. While Pakistan was not an ally or supporter of Israel, it also did not develop nuclear weapons with much regard to Israel at all.
The development of nuclear weapons was focused on the threat from India, not Israel. While key players in the Pakistani nuclear program may have taken steps to promote the spread of the “Islamic bomb” to other Middle East players, it has been the unwavering stand of the Government of Pakistan, and, more importantly, the Pakistani Army that nuclear weapons were for self-defense — “from India” being the unsaid but clearly understood source of any threat requiring the use of Pakistani nuclear weapons. This was the weapon system to prevent the neighboring Indian Army from simply overwhelming Pakistan with its superior size.
While both distance and the support of the U.S. for both Israel and Pakistan by the U.S. also mitigated the threat of Pakistani possession of nuclear in regard to Israel, it is clear that the Pakistani’s nuclear program simply did not rise to the level of an existential threat to the Israeli state. I do believe, however, that as an unintended consequence, the Pakistani nuclear program is the current greatest existential threat to Pakistan.
The possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands is of major interest to the United States, but such a development is a survival threat to India. While the Pakistani Army may publicly express concern about the U.S. staging a special operation mission to deprive them of their nuclear weapons should the command and control of Pakistani weapons be threatened, it is far more likely the Indian Army will be there long before the U.S. feels compelled to move. In view of the history of conflict between India and Pakistan, the addition of nuclear weapons to the mix means that the next conflict which is more than a border skirmish, is almost by definition an extinction event for Pakistan. It would hardly be rational for the Indians to leave a defeated enemy on its very border in possession of nuclear weapons in the wake of a serious bilateral military engagement. Pakistan cannot hope to be a victor in any prolonged military engagement against India. Pakistani’s nuclear weapons were meant to create a military stalemate with India. Stalemates are great as long as they work. Loose nukes in Pakistan are an Indian survival threat long before any U.S. targets are held at risk in such an ventuality. I fully expect to see India move to destroy the Pakistani nuclear program should any serious question of uncertainty over the control of Pakistani weapons arise.
Much the same view should be taken in regard to the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons. The question is not whether Iran should be permitted by the West to develop nuclear weapons. The true question is whether Israel determines the Iranian possession of nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to the Israeli state. If it does, Israel will employ its nuclear arsenal to end the threat. If it does not, there will be no overt military action. The logistical and tactical problems outlined in the New York Times article dictate the use of nuclear weapons. What would have required hundreds of aircraft to neutralize with conventional weapons can be done by a handful of aircraft employing nuclear weapons. A nuclear mission against Iran is well within the capability of the Israeli Air Force.
Unfortunately, such a mission seems to be outside the limits of imagination of the West’s current national leaders. There has been little discussion of such an occurrence in public circles and I believe that reflects a lack of thoughtful consideration of the possibility. I believe most observers expect a violent and prolonged reaction against Israeli interests, and by extension the interests of Israel’s allies such as the U.S., should Israel carry out a conventional military strike against Iran. I believe it would be fair to say that such a reaction to a conventional strike will pale in comparison to the uproar caused by a nuclear strike. I also believe such a development would completely reset the relationship and positions of all the players in the Middle East peace process in an unpredictable manner. The current stalemate and fossilization of positions would be swept aside, for better or worse.
The Israeli government will receive condemnation and hostility from the other players in the Middle East no matter what sort of military action it takes against Iran. By the same token, Israel’s supporters in the U.S. are likely to back any action Israel takes, if it is cast in the form of the preservation of the Jewish state. “Never again,” reflecting the unique history of the founding of the state of Israel in the wake of the Jewish holocaust after World War II, is probably the most powerful phrase in Israeli politics. It is a slogan which will unite all parts of the political spectrum in Israel and the supporters of the Jewish state internationally.
No private citizen is truly in a position to judge the rationality and the intentions of a government such as is now in control of Iran. The opacity of lines of responsibility and decision making processes in Iran make such a judgment properly within the purview of national intelligence organizations of the various sovereign governments. With that said, the public statements of the Iranian leadership lead me to believe that they will not be diverted from their goal of achieving nuclear weapons. The same public statements also do not engender much confidence in the rationality or judgment of Iran’s leadership.
The history of the Israeli state and its location in a sea of enemies has in an almost unique way trained the leaders of Israel to think the unthinkable. If Israel determines the Iranian nuclear program is in fact a threat to its very existence, then it will strike, and strike in such a manner as to be successful. This will require nuclear weapons. If Israel determines it can live with Iran as a nuclear state, then expect there to be no overt military action but a continuing series of low-level sabotage and covert intelligence actions.
I believe the West and the current U.S. administration are again engaged in a failure of imagination. I do not think the current crop of Western leaders fully understand that Israel may well believe itself to be facing an extinction threat. This may simply be because since the end of the Cold War those currently exercising power in the West have not been faced with such a dilemma. In a very real way, they may not have sufficient practice in both “thinking the unthinkable” and preparing for the consequences of the “unthinkable.”
Copyright Foreign Policy Research Institute. You may forward this essay as you like provided that it is sent in its entirety and attributed to FPRI. Contact FPRI for permission to repost it at another website.
Monday, February 06, 2012
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow
Department of History
Arts and Science
The Department of History at New York University invites applications for the Elihu Rose Scholar in Modern Military History. The successful candidate will be appointed as an Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow effective September 1, 2012, subject to budgetary and administrative approval. The appointment will be for one year, with the possibility of renewal for up to three years. Applicants who hold assistant professor positions at other universities are eligible to apply and may indicate their preference for a one-semester or one-year appointment while on leave from home institutions. The committee welcomes applications from military historians working on any geographical area. The Rose Scholar will teach one course per semester in military history, including one course on a major conflict of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. The Rose Scholar will be provided with funds in support of research and to organize public events on military history. Applicants must hold a PhD in History at the time of appointment and must have received the doctorate no earlier than 2007. To apply, please visit https://history.fas.nyu.edu, to submit a cv, a letter of application, three references, and a writing sample (article, book chapter, or dissertation chapter). Review of applications will begin on February 28, 2012. NYU is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
Thursday, February 02, 2012
What the ad does not say: the King Professor runs the department; Maritime History is a small department of three or four people; it is a writing and research department; there are no teaching obligations to this position; and the pay is pretty darn good.
Complete details are here.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
One of my History of War students pointed out this clip to me in light of our frequent classroom discussions about the code of the warrior.
(Hat tip to Mike Kitching)
Friday, January 27, 2012
Mike Few: Traditionally, social scientists, viewing conflict through the lens of the state, prefer to quantify wars as resulting in a win, loss, or tie; however, history shows that the construction, reconstruction, or deconstruction of the state following a conflict is often a long process with mixed results. Why did the Civil War not end after Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, Durham, NC and General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia?
Mark Grimsley: It’s important to acknowledge that in an important sense, the war did end in 1865, because the federal government’s two goals—the restoration of the Union and the destruction of slavery—had both been achieved. White southerners gave up the idea of an independent Confederacy, and they showed every sign of accepting the lenient terms for return to the Union offered by the administration of Andrew Johnson. The Republican-controlled Congress, however, believed that more stringent terms were necessary to achieve the fruits of victory. In the words of Richard Henry Dana, a prominent Republican, they insisted on holding the former Confederate states in “the grasp of war” until the political dominance of the Southern elite was eliminated. A key component of their plan to accomplish this involved the imposition of universal male suffrage for African Americans. Essentially, the Reconstruction insurgency was a successful effort to break the grasp of war and restore what Southern conservatives termed “Home Rule.”
A more clunky response, since you mention social scientists, would be to point to the Correlates of War Study, which defines a war as any event that results in a thousand or more battlefield deaths each year. If you substitute “deaths from political violence” for “battlefield deaths,” then several years during Reconstruction would come close to meeting this standard. In Louisiana alone, for example, an estimated 2,500 people perished between 1865 and 1876.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Friday, January 06, 2012
Among the assigned readings were several posts from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age. The only problem, of course, was that his students couldn't access the posts because I'd taken BTOOTSA offline. But not to worry. They're all here on War Historian, immediately below this post.
This post was originally published on February 23, 2006. John has since completed his PhD and is now a historian at the US Army Center of Military History.
In the twentieth century, there have been three separate and somewhat distinct strands of military history, although in the early part of this period, the distinctiveness of each was not nearly as pronounced as it is today. These three strands are popular military history, academic military history, and military history as used by professionals in the field of national security/defense, uniformed officers, academy instructors, etc. I will outline the characteristics of each and their current trajectories below.
Popular military history is characterized by an emphasis on battles and campaigns, on the heroics of military leaders, and “grand narratives.” In the first half of the twentieth century, almost all military history was written in this fashion, by academics and popular authors alike. Notable examples of non-academic works include Douglas Southall Freeman’s R.E. Lee and Lee's Lieutenants, Bruce Catton’s trilogy on the Army of the Potomac, and novelist Shelby Foote’s massive three-volume narrative of the Civil War. There were also numerous studies of Napoleonic and World War II battles, campaigns and leaders, including David Chandler’s work on the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte and Hitler biographies written by John Toland, Alan Bullock, et al.
Academic historians also employed the narrative technique to provide a solid framework for their stories and for good reading, such as Douglas Edward Leach, Samuel E. Morison’s multi-volume narrative on the US Navy in World War II, and James I. Robertson’s Civil War books. These works used stirring narratives, focused on the combat and the drama of events, and usually portrayed somebody as the readily identifiable hero. They were largely celebratory or laudatory in tone, even while depicting the “losers” of wars like the Confederacy and its heroic generals.
Some of this largely uncritical tone may have been influenced by the consensus school of history that dominated academic writing from the WWII years through the mid-1960s, and before that the proper subject of military history was seen as focusing on the leaders and their battles: War, this generation seemed to be saying, is after all about fighting. Military historians also tended to conceptualize warfare as progressing toward greater sophistication. As academic historian Dennis Showalter has expressed it, military history remains the "last stronghold of the Whig interpretation" of history.
Popular military history and its emphasis on combat and leaders today remains, well, popular. It also sells very well in the bookstores, and as Jeremy Black has pointed out in his recent book Rethinking Military History (Cambridge, 2004), much of what gets written about military history is dictated by what publishing houses are willing to bring out to the market. Traditional “trumpet and drums” military studies sell, not an unimportant consideration to publishers and authors alike. This is the type of military history the general public wants to read—chronological narratives that tell stories about war and the men (rarely women) who fought them.
In the spring of 1979 I took my first military history course with Allan R. Millett, whom many readers will recognize as one of the most distinguished names in the first generation of academic military historians; that is to say, those self-identified military historians who began teaching and publishing circa 1970. Allan had a standard opening lecture that focused on military historiography, especially what he usefully denominated the five basic types of military history.
The first he called inspirational military history. Works in this category emphasized human qualities, sought to elicit an emotional response, and usually centered on combat. They were essentially humanistic morality plays. Many campaign narratives and military biographies (as well as some autobiographies) conformed to this type.
Next came national military history. This could be viewed as a subset of inspirational military history but merited a separate category because of its notable appeals to patriotism and nationalism. This type was more or less obviously designed to strengthen allegiance to the state by emphasizing the costs of national traditions and values: "Freedom Isn't Free" with footnotes.
Thanks for nothing.
"Sounding Taps," your September 26 article in National Review Online, is on the surface a sympathetic lament for the supposed marginalization of academic military history. But it is constructed so tendentiously, and overlooks so many relevant facts, that it is really quite misleading.
So misleading, in fact, that you may have done more to harm academic military history than any bunch of "tenured radicals" has managed to do in many years, if ever.
Take, for example, your starting point: Wisconsin's failure to run a search to fill the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair. You say that "more than $1 million" sits in the endowment. That sounds like a lot, but it isn't. At Ohio State, the minimum needed to fund an endowed chair is $1.5 million, and even then internal funds are routinely needed to top off the chairholder's salary. Two million dollars is a more realistic figure nowadays.
You could have started with Ohio State. We do have $1.5 million sitting in a bank to fund an endowed chair in military history, and guess what? My department, which includes numerous historians of gender, class, race, and culture -- and even a historian of fashion -- voted unanimously to run a search to fill the position at the earliest possible moment. To do less, everyone understood, would have been an insult to the benefactor, General Raymond E. Mason.
Got it? Not just an endowed chair in military history, but one endowed by, and named for, a retired Army general.
That's how radical my "tenured radical" colleagues are.
A few months ago, the executive director of the Society for Military History asked me to write a brief essay for the SMH newsletter, outlining my thoughts about the field, especially the need to dispense with the reflexive negativity about military history's status within the academy. The result has been published in the new issue, so I take the liberty of reprinting it here. It recapitulates in condensed form a lot of what I've been saying on this blog since its inception:
The Future of Military History: Beyond the Culture of Complaint
The Ohio State University
[Published in the Headquarters Gazette,
newsletter of the Society for Military History,
Vol. 19, No. 4 (Fall 2006):2-3.]
© 2006 by Mark Grimsley
On September 26, 2006, National Review Online published an op/ed piece by John J. Miller entitled, “Sounding Taps: Why Military History is Being Retired.” It drew a picture of the field of military history having been hounded almost out of the academy by “tenured radicals.” Although highly tendentious in its portrayal, it drew strength from juicy quotes by a number of military historians, many of them quite distinguished, in support of its basic contention.
In the short run, the article may have had a positive effect. A central element in its portrait was the failure of the University of Wisconsin to fill the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair in American Military History despite the presence of a million dollars in its endowment fund, allegedly because “tenured radicals” within its history department were actively hostile to military history. The explanation was incorrect: A million dollars is about half of what it costs to endow a chair nowadays and Wisconsin is currently in very tight financial straits, so that no funds were available to cover the difference between the endowment’s revenues and the actual cost required to pay a chair holder’s salary and benefits. Even so, six weeks after “Sounding Taps” appeared so did an announcement that a search was underway to fill the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair. It may reasonably be assumed that the bad publicity from the National Review piece had much to do with this new development.
I hope, however, that no one will draw from this the lesson that complaining about the state of the field will serve as a strategy for growing the field. Enlarging the place of military history within academe ought to be a significant objective of the Society for Military History, and we cannot rely for that purpose upon the occasional rare alignment between our own bitterness and the interests of a magazine of partisan political affairs. (Indeed, an article like “Sounding Taps” was as likely to hurt as to help, by inadvertently convincing potential benefactors that investing in military history would be a futile exercise.) We need instead to maintain a positive vision for the field backed by a specific strategy for its development, and to test the assumption of a relentless hostility toward military history by our colleagues in other fields.
Columnist Ed Hooper in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that Congress recently declared November to be "U.S. Military History Month." That's sort of interesting. The rest is sort of lame. Well, not sort of. Really lame.
[S]ailors and soldiers are returning to a nation that no longer embraces their service as a serious educational subject.... In the commercial marketplace of book sales, cable television and movie rentals, U.S. military history is booming.... [But] the news scholastically is dismal, especially in public schools. Military history has all but vanished from America’s educational mainstream. What was once regarded as a core subject in a classical education has become irrelevant. Teaching military history requires instructing students there are times when wars are justified. It requires defining traitors and heroes by academic guidelines. The politicizing of patriotism has neutered this subject. Sterile ideologies developed to avoid professorial jingoism have proven to be as responsible as anti-American ones in the demise of military history.
Smaller colleges are trying to fill the void, but the academic offerings are dwindling. Most Ivy League colleges don’t have a single faculty member who specializes in military history.
This absence trickled down to public school systems generations ago. Gone from U.S. textbooks are the commanders and the battles; the stories of remarkable citizen soldiers who walked away from the safety of their fields, stores and factories and stepped into history’s pages are forgotten. The sociological impacts of armed conflicts or political movements relating to U.S. wars now dominate classroom instruction.
I was going to ignore this column, but I've received so many emails from people pointing it out to me that I guess I have to respond.
As long time readers of this blog are well aware, this sort of uninformed drivel has been around for years. The best known example is John J. Miller's "Taps for Military History", published in 2006 in The National Review, which produced this rebuttal from the military historians here at Ohio State, as well as several posts on this blog.
In the years since, any number of columnists have published rip-offs of Miller’s article. Hooper's differs only in that a) it is unusually thin gruel; and b) it focuses on K-12 education.
Note that Hooper offers not a shred of evidence re the demise of military history in K-12 schools: neither the extent to which it once existed (we had little or no prescribed military history in the courses I took in junior high or high school), nor the extent to which it exists now. My guess is that history and social studies teachers teach about military history (or not) in about the same measure that they always have. That is to say, I had a few history teachers in junior high and high school who included a lot of military history in their courses, and a few who did not. Judging by the teachers with whom I'm presently acquainted, that doesn't seem to have changed much.
In fact, I have some anecdotal evidence that points toward an interest in military history in K-12 education. The Foreign Policy Research Institute has done at least two symposia on teaching military history in public schools, each attended by about 40 K-12 teachers in person and available to many others on streaming video. And in just about every year for the last decade, I've been asked to speak to groups of K-12 teachers on military history or Civil War history, most recently in June of this year.
Rebecca Goetz is a professor of history at Rice University. This post was originally published on November 1, 2006.
(answer: students and instructor alike learn a lot from the experience)
I’ve followed Mark’s ongoing reaction to John J. Miller’s September 26 article in the National Review about the supposed death of academic military history. Underlying Miller’s claim that military history is on its deathbed was the not-so-veiled insinuation that those left-leaning liberal moonbats were responsible for military history’s death. Here’s one excerpt from the article:
"Other types of historians also came under attack — especially scholars of diplomatic, intellectual, and maritime history — but perhaps none have suffered so many casualties as the “drums and trumpets” crowd. “Military historians have been hunted into extinction by politically active faculty members who think military history is a subject for right-wing, imperialistic warmongers,” says Robert Bruce, a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas.”
I thought this was rather an odd claim. As an undergraduate, I took a modern European history course from one of Miller’s "tenured radicals." In the class we read about strategy and tactics of Europe’s continental wars, Queen Victoria’s dirty colonial wars in Africa and India, and of course we also read about World War I and World War II. In addition to this reading, our professor lectured on aspects of the social history of European warfare: I was deeply moved by his lecture on the experiences of soldiers during World War I. As a college senior I also took a course on the American Revolution, in which the military history of the Revolution was a major topic. I suppose one could call my professor in that course a tenured left-winger as well, yet we finished the course well-versed in the reasons for the failure of Benedict Arnold’s invasion of Quebec, and for Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. Neither of these liberal professors rook the stance that military history was bad, or that learning military history somehow makes students become militarists.
The Civil Warriors Wordpress site has been plagued with malicious script, and what with the demands of work and life I haven't yet found time to address the issue decisively.
Luckily, I discovered that I could create a redirect to its former home, namely the blog on which you've just landed.
So Ethan and I are back in action.