Wednesday, May 30, 2007

American academia in retreat on military history

Military history was one of the first subjects I can consciously remember studying, even before I ever went to school.

My interest began from the afternoon that a favorite uncle had handed down to me his old, old collection of Civil War News bubble gum cards, with gory images on one side and an accompanying newspaper-style account of the illustrated battle on the back.

These graphic cards taught this youngster about valor and ingenuity and perseverance, as well as the horror of war. From there it was a natural progression to reading about World War I and II, Napoleonic and American Revolutionary history, Roman and Greek history and so much else. (Sadly, the military historian is not lacking for subject matter...)

There's been much to learn, offering many inspiring stories of courage and duty that have dramatically improved my adult life, especially due to having read so much American military history.

Rich Lowry offers an article today at Town Hall, suggesting that such knowledge and the life lessons one can learn therefrom, may be becoming a thing of the past. Read his sad assessment on the current state of military history as a subject in today's college and university curriculums, here:
Battles are so important to history that their names alone -- Vienna, Waterloo, Stalingrad -- can evoke the beginning or end of epochs and empires. Violent conflict is one of the most persistent characteristics of human history, and warfare features the interplay of strategy, weaponry, chance, logistics, emotion and leadership. It is the occasion for folly and brutality, and -- as we remember on Memorial Day -- heroism and sacrifice.
Nonetheless, military history has been all but banished from college campuses. In an article on this strange deficit in National Review, John J. Miller chalks it up to "an ossified tenure system, scholarly navel-gazing and ideological hostility to all things military."

History departments are dominated by a post-Vietnam generation of professors for whom bottom-up "social history" is paramount, and the only areas of interest are race, sex and class. History focusing on great events and the "great men" central to them is retrograde -- let alone military history that ipso facto smacks of militarism. Hence, the rout of military history from the academy that Miller catalogs.

Edward Coffman, a former military historian at the University of Wisconsin, studied the 25 best history departments according to U.S. News & World Report rankings and found that a mere 21 professors out of more than 1,000 listed war as their specialty. A Notre Dame student complained recently: "We have more than 30 full-time history faculty members, but not one is a military historian. Even in their self-described interests, not a single professor lists 'war' of any era, although half list religious, gender and race relations."

Even professors who supposedly specialize in military history do it through the prism of trendy academic obsessions. Miller notes a professor at West Virginia University who lists World War I as one of his "teaching fields," but his latest work is on "the French hairdressing professions" and the "evolving practices and sensibilities of cleanliness in 20th century France."
That military history has been chased from the academic field is especially perverse given that, when the classes are offered, they are popular with students.
Brave men always will be necessary to defend freedom, and what they have done deserves to be remembered, and studied.

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