Friday, May 25, 2007

Academics & Military History/Service

The column below was published just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

It is too bad that the columnist was unable to determine how many of the noted historians served in the Armed Forces (Or, did "Alternative Duty" as required when we had a military draft or like service as in the Peace Corps).

Those who cannot base teaching on such personal sacrifices are, perhaps, very unqualified to teach about military history. Perhaps, they should not be teaching. The same should hold true for: Members of the Congress (Although some "vets" as Jack Murtha and Senator McCain do forget essential lessons when too long inside the belt line); Editors and those reporters who write about the military; Clergy who maintain that war never solved problems (Except for slavery, Nazism, etc.); And, other like "leaders and teachers".

The Western Roman Empire lasted much longer than the USA may last as a democracy. It may be that one of the reasons basic to that survival was the essential requirement of military service before election to the higher civic offices. Such "Roman virtues" might be of benefit to the USA. It might be that such service (Or, alternatives) be required of those who wish citizenship in the USA.

Persons finding themselves in a position to influence the selection of history, political science, ethics and like teachers (Or of Regents or university administrators), you may wish to consider their prior public service as, at the least, a "tie breaker" in that selection process.

The war on military history
By Rich Lowry
Thursday, May 24, 2007

America as we know it might not exist without the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, without Gettysburg and Antietam. The world the United States shaped so decisively in the 20th century might have looked different if it weren't for Normandy and Midway.
Battles are so important to history that their names alone -- Vienna, Waterloo, Stalingrad -- can evoke the beginning or end of epochs and empires. Violent conflict is one of the most persistent characteristics of human history, and warfare features the interplay of strategy, weaponry, chance, logistics, emotion and leadership. It is the occasion for folly and brutality, and -- as we remember on Memorial Day -- heroism and sacrifice.
It is for all these reasons that books and TV programming on warfare are so popular; their subject is both fascinating and important, history at its most consequential and dramatic. Nonetheless, military history has been all but banished from college campuses. In an article on this strange deficit in National Review, John J. Miller chalks it up to "an ossified tenure system, scholarly navel-gazing and ideological hostility to all things military."
History departments are dominated by a post-Vietnam generation of professors for whom bottom-up "social history" is paramount, and the only areas of interest are race, sex and class. History focusing on great events and the "great men" central to them is retrograde -- let alone military history that ipso facto smacks of militarism. Hence, the rout of military history from the academy that Miller catalogs.
Edward Coffman, a former military historian at the University of Wisconsin, studied the 25 best history departments according to U.S. News & World Report rankings and found that a mere 21 professors out of more than 1,000 listed war as their specialty. A Notre Dame student complained recently: "We have more than 30 full-time history faculty members, but not one is a military historian. Even in their self-described interests, not a single professor lists 'war' of any era, although half list religious, gender and race relations."
Even professors who supposedly specialize in military history do it through the prism of trendy academic obsessions. Miller notes a professor at West Virginia University who lists World War I as one of his "teaching fields," but his latest work is on "the French hairdressing professions" and the "evolving practices and sensibilities of cleanliness in 20th century France."
The gatekeepers of the profession practically proscribe traditional military history. John A. Lynn recently looked back at the past 30 years of the prestigious academic journal The American Historical Review. He found no articles on the conduct of World War II, the American Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars. There were articles that discussed atrocities in the English Civil War and in the American Civil War and an article on World War I -- on women soldiers in the Russian army.
One frustrated teacher of military history jokes that military historians have become "exactly the types of marginalized people that the social historians are supposed to be championing."
That military history has been chased from the academic field is especially perverse given that, when the classes are offered, they are popular with students. And military history, as a discipline, is as vital as ever. Writing on the American Heritage's Web site, Sarah Lawrence College professor Frederic Smoler argues that "the past 30 years have seen a brilliant expansion in the intellectual and methodological breadth of military history," beginning with the publication of John Keegan's 1976 classic "The Face of Battle."
None of this is enough to overcome the deep intellectual bias against military history. New Republic contributing editor David A. Bell locates that bias deep in the social sciences: "The origin of these sciences lie in liberal, Enlightenment-era thinking that dismissed war as primitive, irrational and alien to modern civilization." This represents a fundamental misapprehension of human nature and thus the nature of history.
Brave men always will be necessary to defend freedom, and what they have done deserves to be remembered, and studied.

No comments: