Sunday, March 7, 2010

Musings of A Grizzled Veteran

Two weeks ago today,Alexander Haig former Secretary of State, presidential advisor and decorated military officer slipped the bounds of earth, to be mostly remembered for the statement, "I am in control here" after President Reagan was shot in 1981. Haig took an enormous amount of heat for getting the line of presidential succession wrong, and no amount of retraction or correction could erase what many would forever perceived as someone prone to overreaction.  What got me thinking about Haig in a different light was a post I happened upon over at Schmeditations that told the story of General Haig being awarded this nation's second highest award for valor, Distinguished Service Cross during the Battle of Ap Gu on 26 March 1967.

Reading about the battle and Haig's bravery and leadersip took me back over 40 years to my own time in Vietnam. I got to thinking about those who led me and their place in history and the realization that most, like Haig, have gone to Fiddler's Green. It ironic to think back and as a 19 year old realize that several of the NCO's men in their 40's were veterans of World War II like Staff Sargent Pizzaro, a veteran of Patton's Third army whose scarred face cast a shadow over the Bronze Star and Purple Heart ribbons on his chest. Vietnam made no condition that experience in an earlier war ensured you would survive, but Pizzaro came home as did SFC John Stevens who at the age of 46, won the Silver Star when his 1st Cav fire base was overrun. I realize these men like most of their comrades of World War II are rapidly dwindling and within a decade will be only a handful if any at all. For us of the Vietnam War, the youngest veterans from the final days in 1973 are at least 50. For my comrades, we the men of 66, 67 and 68, are all past 60 and closing fast on the far side of that milestone. Since Vietnam, America has gone on to fight small wars in Grenada, Panama, the Balkans, Lebanon and Somalia and the First Gulf War which is approaching its 20th anniversary within a year. And in the years ahead the men and women of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq will join those ranks.

Memories and examples of these and other wars have spawned a million books and articles and made military history a major section in every bookstore. Miltary history classes are among the most popular and the anticipation of HBO's The Pacific at an alltime high for a mini-series.

Which brings me to this post from the archives of Professor Mark Grimsley of The War Historian that answers why military history matters.

These insights lead toward a new answer to why military history matters. It matters because it can point us in the direction of the warrior ethos. In and of itself, to be sure, military history is a very bad way to learn the warrior ethos because those who simply read military history do not enact, and therefore do not internalize, the ethos, any more than reading a book about strength training will improve one’s physical condition. The warrior inside them is asleep, lost in a dream world from which it may never awaken.
For that reason I have begun to reorganize my courses so as to make explicit the connection between military history and the warrior ethos. In my History of War course, students now learn, side by side with classical Greek warfare, the warrior code as depicted in Homer’s Iliad, the code of the Samurai alongside warfare in medieval Japan, and so on. I also emphasize how the way of the warrior translates into everyday life. I learn as much as the student, for this is largely something new to me. I still teach plenty of military history in the “civilian utilitarian” sense: the nature of war; the causes, conduct, and consequences of specific conflicts, how the emergence of new societal forces compels changes in warfare. But I believe I have reached a deeper understanding of why military history matters—and as someone who has made a career of writing and teaching military history, why my own life matters.
Read the whole post.
Why Military History Matters

So as a tribute to those grizzled veterans who led me in my youth, now that I have assumed a similar mantle; I have endeavored to include the history of their valor in my classes and writing, always passing along the lessons of warrior ethos that transcends war to teach lessons of honor and personal responsibility.

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