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Academia’s Jihad Against Military History

If American military historians had fur, fangs or feathers it is a safe bet that they would have a place of honor on the Endangered Species List:

Two of the last five Pulitzer Prizes in history were awarded to books about the American military. Four of the five Oscar nominees for best documentary this year were about warfare. Business, for military historians, is good.Except, strangely enough, in academia. On college campuses, historians who study military institutions and the practice of war are watching their classrooms overflow and their books climb bestseller lists — but many say they are still struggling, as they have been for years, to win the respect of their fellow scholars. John Lynn, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, first described this paradox in a 1997 essay called “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History.”….”While military history dominates the airwaves…its academic footprint continues to shrink, and it has largely vanished from the curriculum of many of our elite universities.”The field that inspired the work of writers from Thucydides to Winston Churchill is, today, only a shell of its former self. The number of high-profile military history experts in the Ivy League can be counted on one hand. Of the more than 150 colleges and universities that offer a Ph.D. in history, only a dozen offer full-fledged military history programs. Most military historians are scattered across a collection of Midwestern and southern schools, from Kansas State to Southern Mississippi.“Each of us is pretty much a one-man shop,” says Carol Reardon, a professor of military history at Penn State University and the current president of the Society for Military History. The vast majority of colleges and universities do not have a trained military historian on staff.

….More than a decade ago, the University of Wisconsin received $250,000 to endow a military history chair from none other than Stephen Ambrose, the author of “Band of Brothers” and one of the field’s most popular figures. Ambrose donated another $250,000 before he died in 2002, but the school has yet to fill the position.

….And while some believe the profession is being purposefully purged by a generation of new-wave historians of gender, labor and ethnic studies, whose antiwar views blind them to the virtues of military history, most insist that nothing so insidious is happening.“I don’t think there’s been a deliberate policy of killing these positions,” says Wayne Lee, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.Instead, most of the historians interviewed by U.S. News believe the study of war, like several other, more traditional historical disciplines such as political and diplomatic history, has simply been de-emphasized as the field has expanded since the 1960s. ”

Read the rest here

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.

All is not lost. It is true that students at universities are being cheated out of the opportunity to receive educations that are less slanted in terms of discipline, methodology or politics but that is a problem far larger than just the field of history. It’s a systemic and generational issue that will be remediated when alumni donors, state legislatures and Federal agencies giving grants demand greater responsibility, accountability and service from universities for the money they are given; and when the tenured radical boomers thin out with retirement and death.

Specific to military historians, things are not as bleak as they seem. To an extent, the university is a legacy institution that while important, lacks the prestige or centrality in American intellectual life it once commanded. Military history should have a place at any decent sized college or university but if making a difference is what matters, as opposed to having a sinecure to pay the bills, academia is not the end all, be all anymore.

As the article makes clear, well written military history – and a lot of it is quite good compared to other subfields -is in demand everywhere else.  The Department of Defense runs it’s own service academies and postgraduate institutions as well as having staff analyst positions ranging from OSD to DIA.  Think Tanks, from premier outfits like RAND to smaller foundations, will need military historians and strategic studies people if they hope to be ” in the game” influencing policy or public opinion ( the tanks are coasting now, often times with “experts” who have far less knowledge of military affairs than do I – and I’m not a military historian by any stretch of the imagination!). All of this is far more important work, with real world implications, than playing fantasy land academic games.  Then there’s writing books that the normal, intelligent, reading public actually want to read and having an audience larger than, say, fifty people.

History that does not get disseminated, debated and understood is not history at all.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

18 Responses to “Academia’s Jihad Against Military History”

  1. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Academia’s Jihad Against Military History Says:

    […] at Zenpundit […]

  2. Seerov Says:

    While the social sciences are filled Stalinists, I see this changing in the future.  The people who created this anti-academic atmosphere of political correctness are all retiring or dying off.  The most radical people I met at my college are over 60.  From what I’ve read, people 20-30 years ago wouldn’t even talk about the fact that the universities were/are Bolshevik breeding grounds.  Today this fact is talked about freely. 

    I think military history is going to make a comeback.  With the wars going on, and dumbest generation retiring, the academic atmosphere on campuses will improve.   Even anthropologists are slowly starting to work for DOD in Iraq and Afghanistan and these folks tend to be the most close minded of all.

  3. Smitten Eagle Says:

    I agree with Zen…with the service academies and post-grad schools being run by the DoD, there is a modest future for military historians.  However, I fear the lack of military history will have other detrimental effects on Civil-Military Relations.  The future political/"creative" classes will be as uneducated as Obama is on military affairs, perhaps worse.  This lack of understanding will only lead to further reliance on Think Tanks, experts, and other types of echo-chambers to formulate policy.
    The system for training the political class in military affairs is broken.  In the past, they served.  They took military and diplomatic history courses in university.  The cast of presidential characters:  Truman was a field artilleryman.  TR was XO of the Rough Riders.  Eisenhower doesn’t need further mention.  GHW Bush served.  Vietnam changed that.  Since the loss in Vietnam we have not trained the politicians in the arts and sciences of war.  And we have been the worse for it.
    Politicians today do not serve.  They do not take military history courses.  Politicians today are uneducated.
    Seerov–I’m not so sure the dumbest generation is retiring.  The youthful yet functionally illiterate Obamaniacs are hardly any smarter than the Baby Boomers.

  4. zen Says:

    SE wrote:
    "The future political/"creative" classes will be as uneducated as Obama is on military affairs, perhaps worse.  This lack of understanding will only lead to further reliance on Think Tanks, experts, and other types of echo-chambers to formulate policy"
    I think you have hit a real danger on the head. It matters little if a guy who is a CPA for a trucking company in Tulsa isn’t clear on issues like ROE or the reasons America adopted a "Germany First" in WWII but it’s a lot more serious for our future assistant deputy secretaries, ambassadors, committee staff directors and managing editors.
    Hi Seerov,
    I hope that you are right – think you are – but there’s going to be ferociuos resistance in the Ivy Tower before MH is " back".

  5. GP Says:

    Perhaps the military could endow chairs in ROTC departments. I think part of the problem is that Military Science has become conflated with ROTC on college campuses. The classes are typically taught by underachieving field grade officers to classrooms full of jocks who are trying to get an easy A, and cadets who are forced to take the classes for scholarship money.

    It would help if the military itself took Military Science seriously by actually putting  money and effort into its instruction.

  6. GP Says:

    Sorry about all the bold text in the last comment. I pasted a quotation from a previous commenter to whom I was going to respond and then decided not to; the formatting stuck.

    I also want to add that if we’re serious about educating our political class in military affairs, history, science, etc., then we have to acknowledge that those educated leaders will probably not make the same kinds of decisions the current administration has made. I would argue that President Bush and his administration are examples of the types of politicians about whom Smitten Eagle rails: they are either hopelessly uninformed or willfully ignorant when it comes to the capabilities and limitations of our military.

    Moreover, if we’re to take seriously the idea of educating the general public in military history, we’re also going to have to accept that that educated public will laugh in the face of any politician who wants to undertake anything resembling the invasion and occupation of a country like Iraq again.

  7. zen Says:

    Hi GP,
    "It would help if the military itself took Military Science seriously by actually putting  money and effort into its instruction."
    Ouch! Dead on hit. I think that Don Vandergriff would agree all too readily with you here.
    " also want to add that if we’re serious about educating our political class in military affairs, history, science, etc., then we have to acknowledge that those educated leaders will probably not make the same kinds of decisions the current administration has made"
    Relative to the Iraq invasion, I agree with you. All evidence points to a studious and determined refusal ( by both the senior brass and civilian superiors) to engage in any kind of historically informed contingency planning for postwar phase Iraq and a aggressive intimidation of those who raised such issues. OTOH, Rumsfeld also had his share of good decisions in trying to browbeat the "War-on-China- Cold War-Redux" crowd in the Pentagon into transformation, even when it threatened prized platforms and Rummy made some headway where Cohen annd his other predecessors had failed since Bush I. in 1991.

  8. historyguy99 Says:

    Another excellent post Zen,

    It rings so true, that military history classes are always taught to overflow enrollment. Private for profit colleges are in the lead to recognize this, so all is not lost.

    The faintest scent of an interest in Military history can be a block to most PhD programs and even teaching jobs at many community colleges. Ivy league schools are out of the question, just ask Dr. Mark Moyer, About the Author, turned down for tenure track at serveral top schools.  

    I was always advised to keep my MH interest in the closet, and risk comming out only if I had tenure or a best seller.

    Zen and SE, I think we’ve already reached that point when State, can’t understand the role that military has played in diplomacy.

  9. historyguy99 Says:

    This article sounded very similar to this post by Victor Davis Hanson on his page and at Small Wars Journal Why Study War? 

  10. zen Says:

    Hi HG99

    Hmm…wrong link in the 1st post – what were you linking to ? Send me the URl and I’ll edit it.
    I have a love-hate attitude toward VDH – that article though was a great piece to which I can relate because I came at military history from diplo and econ history specialization angle, looking to fill in the blanks of "hard power". – esp. like Hanson’s add-on bibliography recommendations. I have Horne waiting in my "Antilibrary" to be read right now.

  11. Seerov Says:

    "I have a love-hate attitude toward VDH" (-Zen)

    Me too.  I’m suspicious of anyone who over-uses the "its the 1930’s again and we better do something because we know what happened last time the world failed to act" argument for every and all situations that may require US military action.  Sometimes he’s like Sean Hannity but with a PHD.  I did like Mexifornia, and thought that it was good that someone at National Review was thinking about what the long term consequences of mass immigration might look like.

    I also enjoy economic history but like MH its not very common to find many historians who specialize in this.  I think a lot of historians end up specializing in American or European history because it offers the best job prospects.  Also, economic and military history don’t sufficiently cover the "suffering" and "oppression" of the 3rd world.  And this  missing aspect is crucial for many social scientists feelings of moral superiority and self-hatred. 

  12. Soob Says:

    “It matters little if a guy who is a CPA for a trucking company in Tulsa isn’t clear on issues like ROE or the reasons America adopted a “Germany First” in WWII…”

    Not sure I agree with this. Remember, that CPA in Tulsa votes. I wouldn’t mind seeing such programs taught on the primary level of education. MH is based to a degree in realism. I’m not suggesting we endeavor to turn out generations of Spartans, but too much of what I remember learning in “history” was slanted either in context or by repetition. For example, more than half of the American History curriculum was centered around slavery. No accident, perhaps, that around the same time the Political Correctness dogma was just rearing it’s ugly head. In hindsight, I regard the class not so much a learning experience, rather a period of soft educational indoctrination designed to produce a student somewhat chagrined by his country’s history.

  13. Dan tdaxp Says:

    The same thing has happened to the biopolitics subfield since the 1970s, and I suspect for the same reason.  The combination of paradigmatic control and political correctness is death for alternative methods or viewpoints.  

  14. Is Academia Targeting Military History? Says:

    […] the latest History Carnival, I just learned of an excellent article on Academia’s “jihad” against military history.  Zenpundit doesn’t necessarily believe military history is being targeted directly, but he […]

  15. The State of Military History: A Retrospective « Smitten Eagle Says:

    […] Academia’s Jihad Against Military History (ChicagoBoyz & ZenPundit) […]

  16. Falter Says:

    great share

  17. Richard E. Schallert Says:

    I make a noticeable annual contribution to the University of Wisconsin.  I was very surprised and dismayed to realize that there is no one on faculty teaching military history, despite Stephen Ambrose’s generous contributions.  I will personally inquire about this problem.  Perhaps they don’t need my money after all!!!

  18. larrydunbar Says:

    Is there a difference between military history and history? Isn’t  a “history major” kinda code for someone in the military?

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