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.

No comments: