Military history MIA? WIA? KIA?

There has been a good deal of discussion on Cliopatria and elsewhere on the topic of military history. This discussion was sparked off by a piece in the National Review, in which John Miller argued that academic military history is dying because of opposition from tenured radicals. To the extent that military history still exists “Social history has started to infiltrate military history, Trojan Horse–style” and instead of getting “Blitzkrieg, the Bismarck, and the Bulge” students hear about French hairdressers. It is a very ignorant piece. Here is the webpage of Steve Zdatny, the poser who Miller attacks for claiming to teach military history. Zdatny seems to be an interesting guy whose research seems to touch on a lot of issues having to do with war and resistance in France. I bet Zdatny, unlike Miller, also knows the difference between a teaching field and a research field.

Miller’s piece has led to a good deal of reaction, especially from Mark Grimsley, a military historian at Ohio State, who claims that reports of the field’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Grimsley says a lot, but one thing that struck me was how little play the distinction between the Old and the New military history is involved in this debate. Of course for anyone familiar with the field I suppose we should call them the Old and the Ancient military history, since the drum-and-trumpet school of set-piece battle scenes and the rosy-fingered dawn stretching across the valiant heroes in their serried ranks has been dead in academe for a while. Grimsley seems to be defending military history as it exists as a modern academic field: the study of war as something important in its own right, but also connected to a lot of other things going on in a society. Miller and some of the people he quotes are defending “operational military history” the study of war and battle for the purpose of figuring out why one side or another won. In extreme cases they flee from any connection to non-operational history like it will give them liberal cooties. “It’s becoming harder and harder to find experts in operational military history,” says Dennis Showalter of Colorado College. “All this social history is like Hamlet without the prince of Denmark.”

One reaction to all this comes from Hugo Schwyzer, who ruminates about how much military history he actually does in his classes. He, like me, does not want to be one of those silly people (and they do exist) who reject the study and teaching of war for no rational reason, and convinces himself that he is one of the good guys. I started doing the same thing Hugo did, but then I decided to come up with some data. What books do I assign in my classes? I made a list. This list does not include textbooks. It is only for survey classes, not special topics, methods and such. That mostly means Modern World, East Asia, Early China, Modern China, Modern Japan. It does not include things from the Elder Days (I once taught the first part of Western Civ. Honest.) It does not include book chapters on reserve, source readings, etc. Nor does it include anything I forgot. These are not really in any sort of order.

Books I have assigned

Keene trans. Chushingura
Sei Shonagon, Pillow Book
Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen
Ibuse, Black Rain
Varley, Warriors of Japan: As Portrayed in the War Tales
Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Allison, Nightwork; Sexuality, Pleasure and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club
Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Liang Heng, Son of the Revolution
Rae Yang, Spider Eaters: A Memoir
Baumler, Modern China and Opium
Nakae Chomin, Discourse By Three Drunkards On Government
Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan
Tatsuzo Ishikawa, Solders Alive
Tanizaki, Some Prefer Nettles
Katsu Kokichi Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai
Vlastos Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan
(various editions)
Analects (Brooks and Brooks. I am a brave soldier)
Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Early China
Teiser, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China
Farrer, Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai
Gernet, Buddhism in Chinese Society
Walthall, The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration
Allan, The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue
Yamplosky trans. Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
Lao She Rickshaw
Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers As Event, Experience and Myth
Kuhn, Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768
Harrison, The Man Awakened From Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village 1857-1942
Wang Shuo Please Don’t Call me Human
Schneewind Tale of Two Melons: Emperor and Subject in Ming China
Wang Zheng Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories
Hawkes, trans. Songs of the South
Waley, trans, Book of Songs
Fukuzawa Yukichi, Autobiography
Shen Fu, Six Records of a Floating Life
Spence, Death of Woman Wang
Graves, Goodbye to All That
Mintz, Sweetness and Power
Voltaire, Candide
Conrad, The Secret Agent
Levi, Life and Death in Auschwitz

First, I should point out that I’m not really all that old, honest. There also lots of factors that go into picking books that are accidental. What is available in paperback, timing (can’t give them a paper in the first or last week, just doesn’t work), not repeating books in classes that overlap, etc. Still, I am pretty happy with the list.

So, how much of this is military history? Depends on how you define it. Assume you leave Rickshaw out despite the fact that his rickshaw is stolen by soldiers, and you leave Zhuangzi out despite the story about the crossbow. I suppose a modern historian like myself or Grimsley might include

Levi, Life and Death in Auschwitz
Graves, Goodbye to All That
Waley, trans, Book of Songs
Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers As Event, Experience and Myth
Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Early China
Vlastos Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan
Tatsuzo Ishikawa, Solders Alive
Varley, Warriors of Japan: As Portrayed in the War Tales
Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Ibuse, Black Rain

One could add more. Candide takes a position on war (against). The Weak Body of a Useless Woman has a lot on the origins of revolutionary violence, although in the end all they do is behead some statues. The Three Drunkards talk a lot about the role of war in modern society. Chushingura is Chushingura. Still, even with this list it’s 10 out of 43 and I’m a military historian. (And a quantitative historian too.)

Of course if one looks at things from the point of view of a hardcore operational military person, the count would be closer to 0. Graves, Goodbye to All That is about the military, but you will not come out of it with an understanding of why the Allies won WWI, especially not the way I teach it. Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Early China has no battle descriptions or anything about any specific wars, really. Varley, I have been informed, is not real samurai history because he talks about culture too much. Soldiers Alive might count, although it is more like Goodbye to All That than operational military history.

Frankly, the way I teach is not very operational either. I talk about Okehazama, but more as an example of what a Sengoku daimyo is than because I care about the battle. I do the Yalu, but more as comparative technological borrowing than as operational history. I do Valmy because John Lynn was on my orals committee, and thus I can bring in all sorts of cool revolutionary stuff. To be honest, I’m fine with that. There is a place for really hardcore Buddhist philosophy, but it’s not in surveys of East Asia or even Early Japan. To the extent military history is the type of stuff Mark Grimsley does and talks about the fact that it is less prominent in academe than it should be is a problem. To the extent military history is operational history that wears its lack of connection to any other part of history as a badge of honor its decline to a very limited and specialized role is a Good Thing.

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