Sunday, July 25, 2010

Military History & Conservative Scholars

Posted by Chris at 6/21/2007 8:58 AM ...
Portions cross-posted from here.

The status of Military History in academia appears to be the new front in the "Culture War: between conservatives and liberals, with Mark Moyar elevated to the status of poster boy / martyr for the cause. I have a feeling that we're going to be seeing this as a recurring theme the next several years, just as we've seen uproars over Christopher Columbus, Cleopatra's ethnicity, and whether Western Civilization and the canon are still taught.

Why elevate this to the status of a "front" in the Culture Wars? Simply due to the partisan political nature of the articles being written. Bronson deliberately mis-characterizes Prof John Mueller's stance on the threat of terrorism to illustrate his thesis that even at schools teaching Military History, the faculty are liberal wackos, writing that,

"Even at Ohio State, known as one of the few universities nationwide that still teaches military history, professor John Mueller, who holds the hallowed Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, claims there is really no terrorist threat - which must be a surprise to the soldiers who are actually making military history in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The reality, of course, is that Prof Mueller argues that the threat of terrorism is deliberately exaggerated for political purposes. That this is true is obvious from watching the debates in the Republican Presidential primaries, and the strange coordination of terror warnings with potential political issues, or increasingly bizarre restrictions on the items that you can carry on an airplane (mouth wash).

Bronson also ascribes to the idea that American universities should be teaching patriotism over content and skills, asking "why teach college students how soldiers died to make America free?". While there is a good argument that one of the many jobs of elementary and secondary schools is to teach students how to be Americans, that isn't the mission of post-secondary education. By the time students reach the collegiate level of education, they are either patriots, or not. Adding a specific and obvious political agenda to history courses is a perversion of the field. While the political ideals of Historians frequently colors their approach to their subject, the ideal is to strive for an objective understanding of the past.

Despite the fact that many courses deal with wars as part of the subject matter, I think there is still room for specialists and classes that focus on individual conflicts. An in-depth understanding of the what happened and why in the American Revolution, or the Thirty Years' War, or the Boer War is useful and important for understanding the past, just as understanding the development of Temperance movements or the Industrial Revolution.

I hope to see more discussion the status of Military History (and Diplomatic, Political, and Constitution History), but it would be nice to see more balanced pieces. Bronson mentions some easily dismissed reasons Mark Moyar wasn't hired for positions, but neglects to discuss Moyar's somewhat controversial approach to the Vietnam War, and doesn't fully discuss the Diplomatic History position at Miami University. Although it doesn't hurt to apply for a job that doesn't quite line up with your specialty, if you're specialty is Military History, and the job is for Diplomatic, is there really an expectation that you should get it unless you have a really strong secondary focus on Diplomatic History? The fact that the opening was putatively to replace a Military Historian doesn't seem relevant on the new position.

Of course, I have a vested interest in the expansion of Military History as a specialty that departments will hire, even if they don't seek it out. In addition to thinking it an important specialty, it is my particular focus. While I have interests outside strict Military History, they are frequently colored with its perspective - censorship of the media during war is just one example. However, I understand that without strong secondary and tertiary subject areas, it will be quite difficult for me to find a solid position.

No comments:

Post a Comment