Military History

Robert M. Citino’s article “Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction describes the differing contemporary fields of military history. He begins by noting the gap between the wide popular interest in military history and the relatively low present academic focus on it. He then describes the three basic strands of military history today: the “war and society” scholars, often referred to as new military historians, who focus on the relationship between armies and the societies which spawn them, traditional operations military historians, and those who apply the newest historical trends, such as memory and culture, to the military. He then goes through the works of several scholars to highlight different approaches to military history, good and bad, touching on conflicts such as World War II, German Unification, and the American Civil War. Of particular interest to him is different methods of analysing the “Military Revolution”: what it is, what technology was critical to it, and its potential relationship to absolute monarchy and European imperialism.
I found the information about the work of Dennis Showalter to be very interesting. I liked that he was able to revive operational military history as an important field while correcting some of its weak points.
I also liked, later on, John Lynn’s distancing himself from certain elements of culture theory: “Extreme proponents of cultural history might dispute the very existence of reality, since all is perception to them. In the realm of military history, such airy discussions tend to become foolish. Thousands of dead and wounded as a result of battle is the kind of hard fact that defies intellectual games.” There have always been sophists and I believe Lynn is right to be cautious of their methods.
Citino basically concludes that the lines between “old” and “new” military histories are very blurred at this point, and the use of these distinguishing terms may no longer even be useful. Differences in emphasis may not be easily categorized as separate schools of thought. He criticizes lingering problems of older historical practices such as emphasizing the greatness of individuals in military encounters. I can certainly see the dangers in overestimating the abilities of one person, but I should think everyone would agree that certain individuals have been remarkable and made monumentally important decisions which would have much greater impacts than just themselves. The article finishes off by inviting the reader to check out military history, as a revolutionary act in an environment which has become increasingly hostile towards it.

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