A Student of History

September 28, 2006

The Decline of Military History?

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 12:18 pm


John Miller has a recent opinion piece in the National Review about the state of military history today, in the academy that is.  One of his main arguments is that colleges and universities are not filling positions in military history vacated by retiring military history professors, and in the case of the Univ. of Wisconsin, are not even filling a chair previously endowed.  Miller writes of military history that

“Where it isn’t dead and buried, it’s either dying or under siege. Although military history remains incredibly popular among students who fill lecture halls to learn about Saratoga and Iwo Jima and among readers who buy piles of books on Gettysburg and D-Day, on campus it’s making a last stand against the shock troops of political correctness.”

Miller’s piece is actually deceptively titled. He does very little to explain the “why” of his thesis, other to give an unsubstantiated claim of political correctness.  The article is for the most part a number of examples of how the academy shuns military history, etc.  But for an article that has as its subtitle “why military history is being retired,” there ain’t a whole lot of “why” in the piece.

Readers may want to check out the response to this piece by Mark Grimsley, at his blog, here.

September 27, 2006

Military Historian to Speak at OSU

Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 2:16 am

Coming soon to the OSU campus: Jeremy Black, who will give a lecture entitled: “Could the British Have Won the American War of Independence?”  It will be on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006, with the lecture at noon, & book discussion panel at 2 p.m., at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, 1501 Neil Ave., Columbus, OH  43201.

This lecture is open to the public, but lunch will be served to only invited students and faculty.  

Black is a Professor of History at the University of Exeter in Great Britain.  His expertise is in post-1500 military history and on 18th century British history, international relations, cartographic history and newspaper history. 

Black is author of numerous books, including most recently Parliament and Foreign Policy in the Eighteenth Century (CUP, 2004), The English Seaborne Empire (Yale, 2004), World War Two: A Military History (Routledge, 2003), Italy and the Grand Tour (Yale, 2003), France and the Grand Tour (Palgrave, 2003), Visions of the World: A History of Maps (Mitchell Beazley, 2003), War: An Illustrated World History, (Sutton, 2003), Warfare in the Eighteenth Century (Cassell, 2002) The World in the Twentieth Century (Longman, 2002), America as a Military Power 1775-1882 (Greenwood, 2002), Europe and the World 1650-1830 (Routledge, 2002), Nineteenth-Century Britain (with Donald MacRaild, Palgrave, 2002), Warfare in the Western World 1882-1975 (Indiana/Acumen, 2001), War in the New Century (Continuum, 2001), Western Warfare 1775-1882 (Indiana, 2001), Walpole in Power: Britain’s First Prime Minister (Sutton, 2001), The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming’s Novels to the Big Screen (Greenwood, 2001), British Diplomats and Diplomacy 1688-1800 (Exeter, 2001), The English Press 1621-1861 (Sutton, 2001), Eighteenth-Century Britain 1688-1783 (Palgrave, 2001). He is also editor of Archives, the journal of the British Records Association.

September 25, 2006

Among the Dead Cities-Review

Filed under: New books,Wars — John Maass @ 1:47 am

I just finished A.C. Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities, about which I learned from Mark Grimsley’s blog.  It is one of those kind of books that I’d give 3 of 5 stars but would recomend folks read even so.  It is very thought provoking, well-written and logically organized.  Maybe that is because it was written by a philosopher, not an historian.  Anyway, the question asked in this study is whether the Allied bombing of Germany and Japan in WWII was justified, given that civilians were targeted.  The author comes down decidedly in the camp of those who conclude that the bombings were unjustified and immoral since the air campaigns often targeted cities to kill civilans who were industrial workers.  And of course, their homes, families, factories, etc.  Given the inaccuracy of the bombers, it was often the case that bombs fell very wide of the mark anyway, killing more civilians. 

Book Cover Image 

The author does summarize the opposing viewpoint, but then refutes it.  He says that the bombing of Japanese cities (esp. the firebombings of Tokyo) and German cities were continued long after the Allies knew they’d win the war and thus were not only unjustified but immoral.  He also states that in Europe, the Americans bombed military targets with percision bombing (as nearly as technology of the early 1940s allowed) while the British went on highly inaccurate night raids against cities in general, which were bound to hit civilians–and the RAF knew it.    This brings out one of the book’s most significant flaws–the author assumes that WWII leaders knew when the war was basically won at the time, rather than after the fact as post-war analysis determined (and as a philospoher in modern London can try to guess at as well.)  This is not to excuse “Bomber” Arthur Harris’ decision to resist the requests of his superiors to target more military related locations, rather than focus on cities regardless of their value to the Germans.  Many cities late in the war suffered bombings when the cities were of little value to the German war effort at all.  However, did the Allies really know, as the author seems to, when the war was over?  The author thinks they should have by mid to late 1944.  I think this is teleological, of course with the benefit of historical hindsight, and applies both to Europe and Japan.  Given the Germans’ continued work on jet planes and the V2, it is not really a given that in 1944 the enemy was down and out (witness the Battle of the Bulge.)  The case might be made more convincingly @ the war against Japan, but given the fierce resistance of the Japanese on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, maybe not. 

Photo of A. C. Grayling 

This brings me to the book’s second significant flaw: the failure to discuss the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in connection with the attempt to avoid hundreds of thousands of potential casualties in the Allies invaded Japan’s home islands.  Why the author ignored this borders of the disingenuous, and I must add that he did not answer an e-mail from me regarding this very point.  He does condem the fire bombings of Tokyo in no uncertain terms, but his lack of discussion of the atom bombs is a remarkable ommission.  Having said this, however, I do regard the book as valuable for provoking discussion, and it is nicely written.

September 22, 2006

18th Century Missouri Church Yields Remains

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 12:14 am

FLORISSANT, Mo. (AP) — Archaeologists have uncovered coins, dishes, bullets, Indian jewelry and other remains of an 18th-century Catholic church rectory in suburban St. Louis, said to be one of the oldest in the Midwest.

The remains were discovered recently below a half-foot of dirt at a Florissant park, the result of a three-year excavation project of the area surrounding the former St. Ferdinand Catholic Church.

The 18th-century church’s remains were found at Spanish Land Grant Park in Florissant, a suburb of St. Louis which the French settled in the 1760s.

The rest of the article is here.

September 20, 2006

Historians are Humorless

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 2:07 pm

Well, that is the conclusion of a study done earlier this year by University of Texas anthropologist Karl Petruso.  His major trove of evidence?  Well, faculty door postings.  He concludes that history faculty could be–if evidence from one anomalous individual is ignored for the purposes of statistical rigor–“consigned to the depths of humorlessness.”

More on this can be seen here.

I attribute a lack of humor on the part of many academic historians to spending far too much time in archives and away from people!  And, a high seriousness (much of which is affected anyway) that is adverse to relaxed humor.

Gallipoli survey to reveal war secrets

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 1:25 pm

From an Australian website, we learn that that nation is to be part of a three-nation archaeological survey of the Gallipoli battlefield.  From the article:

Associate Professor Chris Mackie from the University of Melbourne says the survey will combine conventional mapping with electromagnetic surveying to produce the most comprehensive historical and archaeological study ever conducted there.

“Most of the attention in the post-war period has been on the cemeteries,” he says about studies of Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula. “One of the things we’ll be spending a great deal of time on is the mapping of the trenches to see how they cohere with surviving maps of the trenches and exploring what lies beneath.”

Gallipoli is probably the most historically significant military site in Australia’s history.

Mackie says many people are unaware of the historical importance of the region, which includes the nearby site of the ancient battle of Troy.

The project was scheduled to have started earlier this year but has been delayed by diplomatic and heritage considerations, the veterans’ affairs spokesperson says.

September 19, 2006

The South Almost Won?

“If Gen. JEB Stuart had had better intelligence, we’d all be meeting in Richmond right now.”

That is what Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said yesterday at a closed door meeting of the Armed Services Committee, as reported here

Of course, things had to get political.

Democratic sources expressed outrage that he compared the Civil War to the Bush administration’s war on terror. “It’s a little disgusting” to be equating the two, one Democratic source said, adding, “You can’t figure out whether he didn’t understand the Civil War, or the war on terror, or both.”

Two things interest me here.  First, is the idea accurate?  If Stuart had better served Lee, would Lee have fought at Gettysburg?  I personally don’t buy it.  Yes, Stuart erred significantly during the 1863 Campaign, but that did not force Lee to fight there, or at least, fight a tactically flawed battle.

Second: where else but Georgia could a guy named Saxby Chambliss get elected?

Even builders do the right thing sometimes

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 9:56 pm

In Utah, ancient petroglyphs will be preserved by a builder/developer putting in new construction at Eagle Mtn.

A new subdivision was ready for construction in Eagle Mountain, until a piece of history got in the way. Rock art – thousands of years old – was found on land slated for development. Now, the city and the developer are looking at ways to keep the past alive while planning for the future.

For the whole article, and some photographs as well, click here.

September 6, 2006

Co. Mayo gives up Viking Boat

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 7:40 pm

ARCHAEOLOGISTS working on the Castlebar sewage scheme stumbled upon what has been described by the National Museum of Ireland as a ‘significant and exciting archaeological find’. While trench testing close to Lough Lannagh they uncovered a wooden boat, believed to be medieval with a strong possibility that it could even be from the Viking period of around 1,100 years ago. Measuring 10 feet long and some six-foot wide, the boat is in reasonable condition having been preserved in a blanket of peat which covered it from once the Castlebar lake receded. It may have been used as a cargo or fishing vessel. Its discovery was made possible due to a drop in the water levels of the lake which have dropped significantly since the 1800s when water was diverted for a mill race. The Moy Drainage Scheme in the 1960s also led to a lowering of the lake levels by as much as 12 feet.

L. Lannagh

This is from the Connaught Telegraph, in an article here.


Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 12:15 am

We’ve seen this before in history, and it has never been good….

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s hard-line president urged students Tuesday to push for a purge of liberal and secular university teachers, another sign of his determination to strengthen Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

With his call echoing the rhetoric of the nation’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad appears determined to remake Iran by reviving the fundamentalist goals pursued under the republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Ahmadinejad’s call was not a surprise — since taking office a year ago, he also has moved to replace pragmatic veterans in the government and diplomatic corps with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.

Iran still has strong moderate factions but Ahmadinejad’s administration also has launched crackdowns on independent journalists, Web sites and bloggers.

More details at CNN are here

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