Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Zenpundit Uncovers Another Gem

For the second time in two weeks the master blogger, Zenpundit has uncovered a gem of an article. In a post entitled,Academia’s Jihad Against Military History. Mark has added his own thoughts, that have generated several worthwhile comments from his readers.

Zen begins.

It’s true that military history is not being targeted per se, though the field gets caught up in leftist faculty attitudes toward ROTC, American foreign policy and dead white guys. Economic and diplomatic history programs are faring little better and with history departments being squeezed in general, even labor and social historians are finding tight job markets. No, it’s simply a herd mentality in action, responding to the PC fetishes of academic administrative culture. It’s more important for the key decision makers in universities, colleges and departments on campuses with active women’s and ethnic studies programs to make certain that the History department is redundantly stacked with tenure track positions in these same subdisciplinary areas two or three deep.

I can attest from personal experience that military history classes are the most popular on any campus I've attended. A good friend, a long time tenured (39) years professor, always tells the grad students he advises to stifle their military history interest until they get past their goal in education and if planning to teach, have a tenured job. Then he says "let it rip, after they can't drive you out."

Historian Victor Davis Hanson has written on this same subject Why Study War?

It’s no surprise that civilian Americans tend to lack a basic understanding of military matters. Even when I was a graduate student, 30-some years ago, military history — understood broadly as the investigation of why one side wins and another loses a war, and encompassing reflections on magisterial or foolish generalship, technological stagnation or breakthrough, and the roles of discipline, bravery, national will, and culture in determining a conflict’s outcome and its consequences — had already become unfashionable on campus. Today, universities are even less receptive to the subject.

And continues with this quote.
Those who want to study war in the traditional way face intense academic suspicion, as Margaret Atwood’s poem “The Loneliness of the Military Historian” suggests:

Confess: it’s my profession
that alarms you.
This is why few people ask me to dinner,
though Lord knows I don’t go out of my
way to be scary.

Historians of war must derive perverse pleasure, their critics suspect, from reading about carnage and suffering. Why not figure out instead how to outlaw war forever, as if it were not a tragic, nearly inevitable aspect of human existence? Hence the recent surge of “peace studies” (see The Peace Racket”).

He concludes his article with an appendix of books that can help one start their study of war.
It is in part:

While Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, a chronicle of the three-decade war between Athens and Sparta, establishes the genre of military history, the best place to begin studying war is with the soldiers’ stories themselves. E. B. Sledge’s memoir of Okinawa, With the Old Breed, is nightmarish, but it reminds us that war, while it often translates to rot, filth, and carnage, can also be in the service of a noble cause. Elmer Bendiner’s tragic retelling of the annihilation of B-17s over Germany, The Fall of Fortresses: A Personal Account of the Most Daring, and Deadly, American Air Battles of World War II, is an unrecognized classic.

To his appendix, I would add my own endorsement of the quality of his reading recommendations and offer a couple, from Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn : The War in Africa, 1942-... and The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and I....

To add to this discussion, is a this follow up post by Lexington Green at Chicago Boyz ,Academia’s Jihad Against Military History: Further Thoughts.

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