Tuesday, November 11, 2008

War, A Social Science?

Vicksburg, May 22, 1863
Operation Cedar Falls, Vietnam

A major hat tip to Mark of Zenpundit for calling attention to a couple of excellent posts about The Social Science of War.

Mark writes:

The Social Sciences are a powerful but fractionating, reifying lens. Individually, they unearth certain aspects of large and highly complex phenomena albeit at the cost, at times, of distorting the proportional importance to the whole of the aspect that the social scientist chooses to study. The sociobiological perspective is a radical and controversial one but it is a position that is far more open to empirical investigation in a scientific sense than are many traditional components of strategic theorizing.

This subject is close to my heart and has been badly maligned in the past forty years. I have written many posts about the military and wars both past and present on this blog. We as a nation can not hope to achieve our diplomatic goals if we continue to stick our heads in the sand about the subject of war. The lead-off post that Mark highlights is by Adam Elkus of Re Thinking Security, who describes himself as, (I am a left-liberal...), has penned the seminal bugle call for re-introduction of the study of war as a social science. I whole-heartily concur with his premise that the study of war should become a part of the social science curriculum at every university.

Several developments in the fields of public, social and gender history offer other points of view that in the context of studying war, can add new facets to this complex subject.

My recent involvement with The John Boyd Roundtable, Debating Science, Strategy, and War led to an awareness of how John Boyd drew from the fields of history, physical and social sciences and Eastern Philosophy to develop his OODA Theory and how it's application has been extended far beyond the fields of battle to the business world, as illustrated by Chet Richards.

To add more support that war is a social phenomena is the book, The Culture of War by Martin Van Creveld.

Publishers Weekly says:

Hebrew University's van Creveld remains unsurpassed as a scholar of war. In this provocative volume, he challenges perhaps the subject's single greatest shibboleth—at least in Western culture. Since the Enlightenment, war has been described as a means to an end, serving essentially rational interests. Nothing, van Creveld asserts, could be further from the truth: war exercises a powerful fascination in its own right. To dismiss this is to overlook that war has generated a distinctive culture, from uniforms to war games to parades, that is despised and regularly denigrated as atavistic and irrational. Van Creveld demonstrates that war is an essential element of history, rooted in psychology.

As well as this book,The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny by Victor Davis Hanson who take the reader from Ancient Greece to the Civil War and World War II to argue, "that on rare occasions throughout the ages there can be a soul, not merely a spirit, in the way men battle."

Other media has discovered long ago that war is a social science. Think, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, and Band of Brothers, as well as Ken Burns projects The Civil War and The War. These war films, amid the pyrotechnics and blood, hold revealing truths about human behavior.

It is well past common sense and time that the halls of American academia, take a second look at war, and it's profound impact on every epoch of human existence.


Yours Truly said...

HG : May Heaven watch over the veterans of America's wars, those who participated willingly or otherwise. That said, has anyone any idea whether the up & comin' administration has any sorta organ providin' relief for those vets returnin' from Afghanistan & Iraq? Particularly the poor sods who've lost their limbs & those afflicted with PTSD.

HISTORYGUY99 said...

yours truly,

Actually, the vets returning from this war have been receiving excellent care compared to past wars. Still it is important to remain viligant to their needs. Non Gov programs like Project Valor IT, and Soldiers Angels join with the Veterans Adminstratin, to support the recovery of tramatic injuries that in past wars would have been fatal.

YT said...

Sorry, HG. I meant their finances & job opportunities. Not easy goin' for an interview & havin' people stare at you 'coz of apparent minus of limbs. How does a person afflicted with PTSD even perform? I'm not versed in medicine so I've no idea.

HISTORYGUY99 said...

Good question YT, there are many programs for returning vets without limbs. Most that I have encountered have a special resiliance that makes them stronger and so positive in their outlook, that an employer is wise to add to their workforce.

As far as PTSD, advances in identifying this disorder has helped to make great strides in treatment. Just think, for most of the wars of human history, the soldier just came home and was left to his own devices to recover and deal with the stress caused by the experience. This was also true for every tramatic event the common person would experience.