Conrad Crane: What came of his report for the Army War College on forces of occupation

Historians in the News

[Conrad Crane is director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute. He appeared at a panel on military history at the AHA this past weekend.]

Crane’s work relates more directly to Iraq. A West Point graduate (with a Stanford University Ph.D.), Crane spent most of his career in the Army, including nine years teaching at his alma mater. When he left the Army, he said he had a hard time getting hired as a scholar by the Army War College because, he said, “they assumed a historian would be irrelevant and want to live in the past.”

In fact, Crane co-wrote a report for the college’s Strategic Studies Institute — published in 2003 — that outlined many of the problems that have come to hinder the U.S. forces since they gained control of Iraq’s government. The report warns of the “how difficult this was going to be,” and specifically predicts likely sources of tension, the possibility of significant casualties among U.S. forces, and other issues. The report was based on in-depth study of past U.S. military occupations, and study of Iraq.

As an example of the kind of situation identified by the report, Crane noted that government officials always like to talk about an “ideal vision of transition” after a war in which U.S. military forces turn over control to U.S. civilian forces who in turn give control to indigenous forces. But the capabilities of the indigenous forces are always much slower to rise than expected, and the U.S. military role tends to last much longer than expected.

Crane said that one of the myths currently in circulation is that there was no planning by the U.S. government for the problems it would face in Iraq after Saddam was gone. In fact, Crane said, his report was but one of many attempts at planning. The problem is that these efforts weren’t coordinated or considered, not that they didn’t exist, he said.

Those critical of the war may be relieved to know that his most recent assignment was to conduct a study — again based on history — of how the U.S. military disengages from a country. But here too, the history suggests that any positive outcomes may not be visible for some time.

“We use history to show how difficult it is to build democracy,” Crane said, noting that after the Civil War, “it only took us 100 years to build democracy in the American South.”

His studies and those of other historians, Crane said, show the need for political and military leaders to take history seriously. When it comes to advising those who run the country, Crane said, “we’ve conceded the field to political scientists,” and he urged his fellow historians to make their perspectives better known.
Read entire article at Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Education

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