Monday, May 25, 2015

State of the Field: Military History/History of the Military

These were my opening remarks at an Organization of American Historians Round Table Session (commissioned by the Program Committee) at the OAH Annual Meeting in Saint Louis back in mid-April. My fellow panelists were Christian Appy, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the author of several books, including American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity; Meredith Lair, an associate professor in the Department of History & Art History at George Mason University, who is the author of Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War; and Tami Davis Biddle, Professor of History and National Security Strategy at the US Army War College, who is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, as well as Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945.

Snapshots of the current state of a given field can be among the most interesting and valuable sessions at a conference, so when I was asked to participate in this one I accepted the invitation with pleasure. But once I began preparing these brief opening remarks I found myself with questions, mostly centering on what it means to speak of the “state” of a field. It seems to me that the term can indicate at least three things. It might mean the intellectual state of the field—the questions currently being asked most urgently, new conceptual frameworks and methodologies, and so on. For younger fields it might also mean the state of the field in terms of its maturity: for instance, just how many historians are now at work within it, how many history departments regard it as important enough to justify the creation or maintenance of one or more faculty lines? Related to this second meaning is a third, the general acceptance of the field within the overall discipline.

For me at least, it’s impossible to think of the state of military history, in any of the above meanings of the term, without being reminded that military history in the United States is an unusual field. Although it has been an academic field—in the sense of having PhDs trained specifically as military historians—since about 1970, the field has always had a powerful connection with an entity outside academe, namely the American military establishment. Indeed, our flagship organization, the Society for Military History, is a descendant of the American Military Institute, created by a group of active and retired U.S. Army officers as well as interested amateurs in the early 1930’s. Over time, as civilian scholars emerged who self-identified as military historians, they more or less glommed on to the AMI until around 1990 they acquired sufficient critical mass to turn the AMI into a conventional academic organization. Under academic leadership the organization changed its name, began to hold an annual conference, and created a refereed journal, the Journal of Military History.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Patton Explains Academe

It is a huge lecture hall.  An image saying “Speak truth to the powerless” dominates the screen.  Patton emerges from his grave.

Be paupers.

Now I want you to remember that few PhDs ever get the job they really wanted. They get used to taking a job at some college where they feel under-placed.

Now, all this stuff about there not being many jobs, much less tenure-track jobs, is absolute gospel. Colleges love to exploit PhDs.  Most real colleges love to make you adjuncts.

When you were undergrads you all admired the coolest lecturer, the trendy scholar, the big deal professors, the erudite intellectuals.  Honors students love to apply to grad school and cannot be dissuaded.  Applicants overestimate their chances all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for your chances of ever getting benefits.  That’s why adjuncts have never gotten, and will never get a living wage. Because the very thought of paying a decent wage is hateful to administrators.

Now, tenured faculty like to complain on your behalf.  They talk, fume, and pretend to sympathize with your plight. This "we’re all in this together" stuff is a bunch of crap.  The Ivy League bastards who feign indignation in the Chronicle of Higher Education don’t know any more about real job inequities than they do about teaching eight courses a year.

Now you have the most unrealistic expectations, the best intentions, and the worst career path in the world.  You know, by god I actually pity you starry-eyed saps, by god I do.  We’re not going to just crush your spirit. We’re going to remove your grip on reality and make you TA’s to speed the progress of our research.  We’re going to exploit you gullible chumps by the bushel.

Now some of you innocents, I know, are thinking you’ll get a decent job.  Don’t count on it.  I can assure you that you will all get screwed to the wall.  Administrators will be your enemy. Cower before them. Take their crap.  Get ulcers in your belly.  When you get a salary cut, that a fortnight before was a solemn promise you wouldn’t, you’ll know you were screwed.

Now there's another thing I want you to remember. Administrators don't want to get any messages saying you need decent benefits. They’re not giving you anything. Let your parents do that. They are proliferating constantly and they’re not interested in paying anyone -- except themselves. They’re going to grab you where it hurts, and they’re gonna blow smoke up your ass. They’re gonna exploit the hell out of you all the time, and they’re gonna tell you fairy tales like a sociopathic Mother Goose!

Now there’s one thing that you will be able to mumble to yourself in your cramped apartment, and you may thank your vague spirituality for it. Twenty years from now, with your dead end job still crushing your soul, and the creditors at your door, and you wonder what the hell did you do with your life, you won’t have to think:  “Well, at least I didn’t teach online courses for Take Their Money U.”

All right now you human beings, you know I don’t care.

Oh.  I will be proud to lead you gullible fools down the garden path any time I can get my readings course to subscribe.

That’s all.