Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why Study War?

It’s no surprise that civilian Americans tend to lack a basic understanding of military matters. Even when I was a graduate student, 30-some years ago, military history - understood broadly as the investigation of why one side wins and another loses a war, and encompassing reflections on magisterial or foolish generalship, technological stagnation or breakthrough, and the roles of discipline, bravery, national will, and culture in determining a conflict’s outcome and its consequences - had already become unfashionable on campus. Today, universities are even less receptive to the subject.

This state of affairs is profoundly troubling, for democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war—and now, in the age of weapons of mass annihilation, more than ever...

Thus begins Why Study War?, an excellent, penetrating essay in City Journal written by the popular scholar, historian, author, columnist, lecturer and farmer, Victor Davis Hanson. In the piece, Hanson argues eloquently for the neccesity of studying military history, a noble and valuable branch of history that has been largely eliminated in today's universities because of a short-sighted bias towards political-correctness. However, the study of military history is indispensable to understanding the related subjects of politics, economics, culture, national identity, and so on. Plus, as Hanson ably points out, military history yields particular insights about a nation's virtues, skills and goals.

It is very good reading And, as a terrific bonus, Hanson adds a postscript suggesting the best sources (including fiction) with which to build one's basic appreciation of military history. Among his recommendations?

* Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War

* U. S. Grant’s and W. T. Sherman's Memoirs

* George S. Patton’s War As I Knew It

* Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front

* Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's August 1914

* William H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru
* Gerhard L. Weinberg’s A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

* Hanson's friend John Keegan's The Face of Battle, The Mask of Command, and The Soul of Battle

* Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington

* Douglas Southall Freeman's Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command

* Samuel P. Huntington’s The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations

* James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom

* Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August

* David McCullough's Truman and 1776

* Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939–1941

Again, Hanson's fine essay Why Study War? and the rest of his military bibliography is at City Journal right here.