Blogs > Cliopatria > The History of Military History - Pt 2

Feb 21, 2006 2:49 pm

The History of Military History - Pt 2

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

Continued from Part 1

I assume that, in the AHA/AMI joint session, Arthur Ekirch and Tyson Wilson presented in the same order as the eventual versions that appeared in Military Affairs. If so, Ekirch went first.

Ekirch, be it remembered, had just published The Civilian and the Military, subtitled A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition -- with which tradition Ekirch seemed wholly in sympathy and which he regarded as having been pretty much the norm for most of American history. Antimilitarism was not, of course, synonymous with pacifism. Session moderator Richard C. Brown had reviewed the book for Military Affairs -- it would appear almost simultaneously with the session -- and he wrote:

The author defines the antimilitarist as one who accepts war and armies as a sometimes necessary evil, but regards a large military establishment and conscript armies, even when needed, as a threat to the preservation of civil institutions of government. . . . He finds that some of our wars, notably the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, were unpopular with many Americans because of our antimilitarist tradition. Much resistance to the Union and Confederate governments during the Civil War was motivated, he believes, by the force of this tradition. Similarly, he shows that our antimilitarist traditions have been responsible for the rapid demobilization of our military establishments at the close of each of our wars. [Military Affairs 20, no. 4 (Winter 1956), 231.]

But with the advent of the Cold War and its attendant policy of military containment, Ekirch saw the twilight of these antimilitarist traditions, and that misgiving permeated his AHA/AMI presentation.

Ekirch began with the observation,"Military history is flourishing," and pointed to a number of indications that this was the case. But, he added, military historians nevertheless displayed"a strange feeling of dissatisfaction" -- which I guess goes to show that this may be a congenital condition among military historians which, since it so far lacks a clinical name, I propose to call Bruscino's Complaint. Bruscino's Complaint evidently went back at least to the 1940s, for Ekirch quoted Gordon A. Craig on the subject, and the quote was arresting enough that I looked it up for myself. It's from Craig's essay on Hans Delbruck in Makers of Modern Strategy (1943):

The military historian has generally been a kind of misfit, regarded with suspicion by both his professional colleagues and by the military men whose activities he seeks to portray.

Ekirch stopped there, but the lines that follow underscore the fact the Bruscino's Complaint is not of recent vintage:

The suspicion of the miliary is not difficult to explain. It springs in large part from the natural scorn of the professional for the amateur. But the distrust with which academicians have looked on the military historians in their midst has deeper roots. In democratic countries especially, it arises from the belief that war is an aberration in the historical process and that, consequently, the study of war is neither fruitful nor seemly. [This prejudice] was felt . . . keenly, throughout his life, by Hans Delbruck. When, as a relatively young man, he turned his talents to the study of military history, he found that the members of his craft too often regarded his specialty as one not worthy of the energy he expended upon it. . . . In his last years, long after he won a secure position in academic circles, he lashed out once again in the pages of his World History at those who persisted in believing"that battles and wars can be regarded as unimportant by-products of world history." (qtd. 282-283)

Bruscino's Complaint was really Delbruck's Complaint.

The total wars of the twentieth century, however, demonstrated to Ekirch that"war can no longer be compartmentalized and shunted off from the main track of normal peaceful society." Military history had become part of the"total historical process." Ekirch regarded this development with disquiet. Narrowly based drums-and-trumpets military history might display much militaristic cheer-leading, but compartmentalized in its hobbyist ghetto, it was unlikely to do much harm.

What worried him was that a number of serious military historians"have added their voices to the chorus calling for a type of military history that is broad in scope and all-inclusive." If heeded, it meant"turning over to them most of our historical writing." As military history broadened its scope, Ekirch thought it would become in effect imperialistic. The sort of military history I advocate in Blog Them Out of the Stone Age would have struck Ekirch not as a needed maturing of the subject as an academic field, but as a potential disaster, and I imagine that he regarded its failure to achieve full-fledged academic sophistication and status to be something of a mercy. This is the paragraph with which he concludes his presentation:

I should like to add that contemporary military history, no matter how honest or scholarly, involves the danger that its very bulk, running the gamut from technical treatise to popular tract, and covering in subject matter affairs far removed from combat or battle history, may result in our literature, as well as our society, being further militarized. . . ." (54)

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