Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Amphibian Sage: Commander Salamander

"Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?" Sgt Dan Daly

Sgt Dan Daly getting 2nd Medal of Honor 1915

As many of you know I was given the honor of being invited to be a guest contributor, (plank owner) on the new blog devoted to naval history. In an important related post. Commander Salamander has penned this razor sharp analysis of the state of the subject of history, particularly military history from the corridors of our public schools to the halls of our most prestigious institutions. Here is a taste of what he wrote.

A failure of historic proportions
Just what does that phrase mean? What kind of intellectual background does it take to even make that statement?
Those who have raised children in the last three decades know the state of history education in our schools. We also know that our centers of higher education have more or less purged their history departments of military historians. Required history courses – where there are some – more often than not do not cover military actions in any kind of context or depth. When you fold in the fact that the Navy has an institutional bias towards technical fields of education – then it is no surprise that historical illiteracy runs rampant from E1-O10. Is this a bad thing, or just a nuisance?
From $100 dollar questions such as, “Which nation is younger, Belgium or the USA?” to $1,000 questions such as, “What is the source of the border conflicts between Bolivia, Chile, and Peru?”, we simply do not do history well. As a result, when we work with our partners we regularly embarrass ourselves from ISAF to UNITAS as we demonstrate our ignorance of not only our history – but that of the rest of the world.
Even when we narrow the scope down to naval history – historical blindness has had real, definable costs. When you look back at some of the Navy’s worst errors in the last decade from LCS, DDG-1000, and the influence of the Transformationalist Cult – they all derive from a poor understanding of the lessons of history; i.e. – Battle Cruisers and Patrol Hydrofoils proved decades ago the seduction of speed is not worth the tradeoffs; regardless of technology the MK-1 Mod-0 eyeball is the primary sensor in the littorals; every successful shipbuilding program has been the result of evolutionary instead of revolutionary change. The examples are legion when you expand the relearned basics during this war by the Army and USMC.

Read more:
A failure of historic proportions

As one who teaches history I can concur with the sentiments expressed by this analysis. Very few military history classes exist. As pointed out in the linked supporting comments by historians, Linn and Hanson, the power of academics to impose the political views gained in their youth, has guided the direction of the historical narrative. In contrast, I might point out that the most popular history class at a local California State University, is American Military History which has enjoyed a waiting list every semester for the past twenty years it has been offered. How did this come to pass? Easy, the professor teaching it is long tenured and after twenty years and countless publications he was able to teach what he wanted. Hence, his military history class has enjoyed an overbooked status and gained rave reviews for the professor who now is going on over 40 years of teaching with the same energy as he did when he first was able to teach his true historical interest.

More so, there is a hunger inside the human spirit to understand our martial past that thread its way back to the earliest tribal conflicts. Somehow in the past few decades, we have been led to believe that if we ignore that history, we will purge those warlike traits from our behavior. I ask, is it not better to understand what wars were like if we want to work to end conflict? Much of what Commander Salamander writes about is directed to those in academia who have moved away from making the narrative of history interesting to the broad audience;  to become cloistered monkswho write empirical treatises for teach others consumption.

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