On Military History

12 12 2014

In the blogosphere, in print, and on social media currently there is a buzz about the subject of military history. I won’t go into the details and give links – just Google Civil War and Military History and you’ll find plenty of examples. Opinions on what “military history” is, what it is not, and what it is becoming vary widely, as do opinions on whether the issue is a mountain or a molehill. So who am I to not take the opportunity to weigh in?

First off, let me stress that I don’t consider myself a historian, military or otherwise. I’ve said that before and nothing has changed. To me, a historian is an individual who has been trained and accredited in the field of history. In short, someone with a degree in history from a post-secondary institution. Now, I try to adhere to a set of standards which I understand to be good practice in the field, but you only have my word to go by. It’s a base-line thing. It’s not qualitative. Historians can produce awful history, and non-historians can produce great history.

While I have not yet found a good definition for military history, I have developed my own, after a fashion. I’ll make it simple – military history to me is not history that simply involves military operations (though based on some awards given out this past year – and pretty hefty ones at that – that does seem to be a working definition for some pretty prestigious organizations.) Military history, in my opinion, at the very least reflects an understanding of  not only military conventions and doctrines of the time in question – say, the American Civil War – but also of how they fit on the developmental timeline. For example, if one is going to critique decision making, one had better have a good grasp of the experiences (education, training, service) that led the actor to that point. And a military historian is someone whose education in history focused on this specialty. That does not mean that someone untrained in military history cannot produce good military history. It does mean, however, that they are not military historians. To me. At this point.

To put it in simple terms, Sheldon is a theoretical physicist. Leonard, poor Leonard, is only a practical (or applied) physicist. Raj is an astrophysicist. And Wolowitz only has a masters. In engineering. A glorified plumber. You see the differences, right?