I hear through the
history grapevine that the Society of Civil War Historians got more than it bargained for in a Nov.
1 discussion in St. Louis on the topic of "Should Military History Be Central
to the Study of the Civil War?" Lots of hooting and hollering and some shouts
from the normally quite civil (if you will) members of the society.
My instant response
to the question is that military history is necessary but not sufficient, and
essential but not central. That is, yes, it is important to understand the war,
but it is more important to understand its context -- why it happened, what its
consequences were, and ultimately, how it shaped the nation.
Also, I'd say, the
problem may simply be too narrow a definition of "military history," as if it were
just about tactical questions. On this I would fault some non-academics, who in
delving into brass buttons trivia sometimes lose sight of the larger issues. Real military
history, I think, should endeavor to combine the tactical, operational, and
strategic levels of war. That's one reason in my most recent book, The Generals, I covered the Korean War's Chosin
campaign in such details. Not only did it give me a laboratory comparison of
the Marine commanders on the west side of the reservoir with the Army
commanders on the east, it also enabled me in a book that was mainly about the
operational and strategic levels if war to dive down in one section to issues
of battalion and company level command.
But I wasn't there
to see for myself, that fateful day in the defeated city of St. Louis. Some eyewitnesses, and even some who weren't, reported that it was one of the liveliest academic hoedowns
in recent years.
The funny thing is
that part of the emotion supposedly comes from fears of academic Civil War
historians that they are being "marginalized." Yet the Civil War, along with
World War II, actually dominates the military history book market. (You wanna
get rich? Write a book titled What Lee
Learned, What Patton Knew. You'll do better than I ****ed a Bear for the FBI or its British
equivalent, Golfing for
Cats.) So that
marginalization may actually exist only in the isolated confines of the
academic world, rather like when self-satisfied 19th century Englishmen would
report that the European continent was "isolated" by fog.