Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Chose a Gun

General Petrus J.M. "Peter" van Uhm is the current Chief of the Netherlands Defence Staff. In November 2011 he spoke to an audience of scientists, artists and businessmen, etc., complimenting them on their commitment to building a better world and noting the instruments they had chosen to do it: microscope, pen, brush, camera, money, etc. He then states that he too is committed to building a better world, and then--as a soldier walks out on stage with a semi-automatic rifle and the audience titters in anticipation--explains why "I chose a gun."

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

Reconstruction as an Insurgency

Mike Few, the editor of Small Wars Journal, recently interviewed me about Reconstruction as an insurgency. Here's his first question and my response:

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.

Full interview

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Progress Report

I'm now about 2/3 of the way through the process of migrating the blogs from my old web provider to the new one. The really welcome development is that I've reached a point where malicious script is no longer a problem. That means I can resume making regular posts. I look forward to doing that.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Military History and the American Historical Profession

Brian Carroll, a visiting professor at Central Washington University, is teaching an interesting course concerning (you guessed it) military history and the American historical profession.

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.

Military History: Past, Present, and Future

A guest post by John Maass, a graduate student at The Ohio State University

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.

The Types of Military History

This was originally a two-part post, published on December 26, 2006 and January 30, 2007.

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.

Crocodile Tears for Military History: An Open Letter to John J. Miller, National Review Online

This post was originally published on September 27, 2006.

Dear John,

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.

Beyond the Culture of Complaint

This post was originally published on December 28, 2006.

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
Mark Grimsley
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.

Hand Wringing for Military History

This post was originally published on November 22, 2010

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.

Oh brother.

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.

What Happens When Non-Military Historians Teach Military History?

A guest post by Rebecca Goetz

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.

Outflanking the Bad Guys

Cross posted (in slightly modified form) from Civil Warriors

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.