Monday, June 19, 2006

Betsy Newmark on Teaching Military History

Betsy Newmark, who blogs at Betsy's Page, had a post up over the weekend on the importance of teaching military history. She links to this essay by Laurie Byrd at Here's a snippet from Betsy's post:

The curriculum for history classes today, especially AP history classes, slides over military history and focuses predominantly on how wars affect minorities and women. It always pains my students when we don't spend more time on the military history of wars and focus on everything else except for the battles, the weapons, or the valor of the soldiers. Classes will spend as much or more time on Rosie the Riveter as they will on the Battle of the Bulge. The same thing holds for the protest movements of the 1960s versus the Tet Offensive. Or the homefront in the Civil War will get more time than all the battles put together.
I would add that the decline of instruction on military affairs is not limited to high schools. International security affairs, and especially strategic military doctrine, is one of the least studied subfields in international relations graduate training (or at least security studies comes after training in general IR theory and international political economy). Richard Betts was one of a number of political scientists in the 1990s who asked whether theories of military strategy were relevant after the cold war. Here's the abstract from his 1997 World Politics article:

Political science attends to causes and consequences of war but only fitfully welcomes study of its conduct, because few grasp how much the dynamics of combat shape politics. Bernard Brodie called for development of strategic studies on the model of the discipline of economics, because neither the military nor academia treated the subject rigorously. His call was answered in the early cold war, with mixed results. Theories about nuclear deterrence burgeoned while empirical studies of war lagged. The late-cold war impasse in nuclear strategy, rooted in nato doctrine, shifted attention to conventional military operations and empirically grounded theory. Since the cold war, research on general theoretical questions about war and peace has been prospering, but education in military matters has been eroding. Interdisciplinary strategic studies integrate political and military elements of international conflict, but there is no recognized discipline of military science; military analysis is smuggled into political science and history departments, where it is resisted by calls to conceptualize security broadly or focus on purely theoretical work. If serious military studies are squeezed out of universities, there will be no qualified civilian analysts to provide independent expertise in policy and budget debates, and decisions on war and peace will be made irresponsibly by uninformed civilians or by the professional military alone.
As Betts notes, it's not just political science, as graduate training in diplomatic history may be facing extinction as well, and one is hard put to find history departments with specialized history programs in diplomatic affairs, although there are a few still out there.

No comments: