You [Military professionals] must know something about strategy and tactics and logistics, but also economics and politics and diplomacy and history. You must know everything you can know about military power, and you must also understand the limits of military power. You must understand that few of the important problems of our time have in the final analysis, been solved by military power alone–John F. Kennedy (Quoted from “Winning the Peace the Requirement for Full-spectrum Operations” by Chiarelli and Michaelis (2005). Military history-just like any other form of history- can make or break you depending on how you use it.
In US, for example, military battles and wars can be traced back to the 1700s when America was in the verge of attaining independence. From then onwards, there have been a series of wars-mainly in their conquest and colonization efforts. In other parts of the world, military history also faced variable evolutions that led to the utilization of different forms and strategies. All these wars can however be collectively summarized with the first and second world wars which saw direct or indirect participation of almost all countries from all over the world (Gabel, 1985, p. 1-85).
It is from studying such rich history that current military professionals are able to have a relatively easy time when going about their vital schedules. These lessons can be in form of making improvements on already discovered fundamental concepts or alternatively, learning from past mistakes by avoiding them. Failure to positively learn comes with a bag-full of consequences; more aptly put in the words of John Santayana “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. ”
In giving his contribution to this vastly debated subject, RAF (2010, p. 152) rhetorically asks that “If the study of history is so fraught with problems, and either so easy to get wrong or difficult to get right, depending on one’s view of the contents of the glass, why bother at all? ” Well, so many answers-backed with evidences-have been advanced to support both ends of the debate. However, the focus of this paper is going to be on circumspectly highlighting the importance of studying military history-which most researchers amass as being vital-while partly highlighting its demerits.
Before delving deep into why we should or should not study military history, it is inherent that we start by mentioning the importance of history as an entity in itself. It is from getting this background knowledge that we will be able to ardently address the issue of military history. Most scholars tend to heavily draw their knowledge from historical data; so they strongly commend the study of history in general. Others, on the other hand, either oppose it or support sparing use of historical sources.
To the latter, history-more so the written type-is subject to people’s interpretations, understandings and opinions thus may be misleading in studies since it is not very accurate or reliable (RAF, 2010, p. 153). For example, Presher (1901) describes his views on America’s abuse of noncombatants in a Filipino village. To some historians, the abuse described here was not really abuse but just an exercise of power. Both views might therefore be very confusing to people trying to get the real picture of what happened during that time. According to RAF (2010, p. 153), the literature studied in history “Is inevitably extensive and, almost equally inevitably, much of it is impenetrable on first inspection.
” This may also deviate from what is really meant. RAF goes ahead and advises that if we are to get the most accurate and precise representation of what happened, we need to study “In breadth, depth and arguably most importantly in a proper context. ” We should also ensure that we focus on many sources from authoritative individuals so as to get facts rather than myths or fables which might be misleading (p.
152-156). For instance, The long shadow of little rock is a personal memoir of Daisy Bates which makes the writing authentic and credible as opposed to other military history records which are narrated from the perspective of hearsays. Just like any major area of human concern, the study of military history has its predefined language and concepts. Consequently, when studying military history, it is inherent that you familiarize yourself with jargons used here.
For example, words like Strategic, operational, Tactical and Individual are used in military history to represent the realms of traditional history (Kagan (2006). It is also important to note that the studies should be conducted in an order. Haphazard studies tend to confuse rather than perform the fundamental functions of studying military history. Having said that, what really are the advantages of studying military history? Elementarily, RAF (2010, p. 157) documents that military history studies by military professionals offers entertainment, inspiration, information and pride to its students.
Just by studying about the escapades of our historical heroes and villains in their military obligations, we are able to get entertainment since most of the stories are appalling. On top of that, we get informed from the in-depth descriptions of the war times. In With the Old Breed, Sledge (2001) grippingly describes the horrendous experiences at Peleliu and Okinawa while informing the readers of how difficult it was to survive during that time. In effect, someone studying the story gets informed and entertained at the same time. Murray & Sinnreich (2006, p. 32) assert that “Military history helps provide the theoretical foundation for the science of war, and continues to do so even in an era of huge technological and social change. ”
Gabel (1985, p. 3) exemplifies this by talking of “clumsy, unreliable, difficult to operate” fight tanks that provided a basis for the formation of better tanks to be used in other wars. In another example to show how one piece of history laid theoretical foundation for another, Lupfer (1981, p. 8) says that: The Germans did not win the First World War and their strategic conduct of the war was often flawed.
Yet, much value can be derived from their development of tactical doctrine, for the Germans developed and applied new tactical doctrine impressively in 1917 and 1918. Their tactical changes were systematic and thorough, for these changes in doctrine directly affected subsequent battlefield success. In addition, studying military history provides a platform for referencing by military professionals. Lupfer (1981, p. 8) articulates of changes made by the army of Germany courtesy of army’s high command—OHL. First, a defensive doctrine is adopted based on previous studies then later, an offensive strategy is adopted.
In the long run, the German army succeeds in curbing their oppositions in the western fronts. According to Hanson (2007), military history also plays the irreplaceable role of reminding us happenings of the past and how the people back then contributed to our current state. The numerous documentations of the battles in the 1700s helps us not only to know the sacrifices endure for the achievement of independence but also reminds to be grateful and appreciative of all the villains who paved the way for the current freedoms in the U. S Moreover, military trainings only cover a small portion of the fundamental aspects involved in military education.
Most scholars opinionate that military history helps in filling the knowledge void left by other forms of military education. Specifically, military history enhances practicability of military education which is crucial for the growth of military professionals. Hanson (2007) adds that “Democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war—and now, in the age of weapons of mass annihilation, more than ever.
” It is for this reason that institutions that focus on military history are slowly-but steadily- rising in many nations. This is also evident with the various movies, shows and songs that currently tend to incorporate aspects of military history. Examples include award-wining movies like Troy and 300 among many others. In spite of being hugely debated by many researchers, Hanson-and a handful of other scholars-further opinionate that military history teaches us that war is not necessarily as bad as most people perceive it to be.
So even though millions of people may get killed or innumerable properties may get destroyed, through war, we may get peace, freedom or even progress economically which is positive. In other words, war involves doing something bad with the hope that something good may come out of it. This can be exemplified with the outcomes of the vastly covered World wars (WWI and WWII); despite the numerous deaths and huge economic losses that resulted from them, the wars also pioneered dialogue which led to freedom and peace amongst the involved states.
On the flipside, the study of war does not necessarily equate to advantages. Chiarelli and Michaelis (2005) support this statement by saying that “A gun on every street corner, although visually appealing, provides only a short-term solution and does not equate to long-term security grounded in a democratic process. ” So in spite of peace being the ultimate target for wars, many wars end up with worse rivalry thus worsening the already bad situation.
In instances where peace or freedom was not realized from the war, students who study the war may end up sucking in bad influence and negative lessons rather than the positive lessons that is targeted for them. It is also important to note that some people who study military history may get private information on some confidential issues which may pose a threat to those living around them. An example is chemical combinations of making a bomb landing in the hands of a terrorist. This poses a danger not only to people living around the terrorist but also on the country as a whole.
Yet still, the study of military history can prove quite costly and risky. So many people currently focus on technological advancements, discovery of new drugs to solve the current diseases, making work easier through software among other things. I effect, very little time and attention is given to studying of past histories. The fact that history cannot be changed yet we can determine what becomes of our future makes even more people gutter the study of history while concentrating on current affairs as well as prospective forecasts.
As a result, those who concentrate on studying military history mostly have to personally dig into their pockets so as to the studies as opposed to the millions of dollars donated daily towards new researches. In addition, those who study military history have to sometimes come to terms with poor hospitality and hostility from their subjects. In Dougherty’s (2005, p. 1) interview of historian and free-lance writer Robert Kaplan on his military research book Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, Kaplan reveals that he had to trail soldiers through inhospitable and volatile areas just to get an interview from them.
In his studies, he visited Yemen, Iraq, Ethiopia and Philippines- who at the time of the interviews were quite unwelcoming thus making it difficult for him to get substantial information. Dougherty (2005, p. 1) further exemplifies these acrid conditions by saying that in order for Kaplan to get valuable information from the soldiers, “He immerses himself in their world, spending weeks and months living with soldiers in their quarters, joining their missions, eating, drinking, sweating, freezing, and sometimes starving, side-by-side with them. ”
Adding on to the demerits, Kagan (2006) says that the complex nature of military language which involves “Unit sizes and nomenclature, acronyms and abbreviations, typologies of military activity” may sometimes prove too multifarious and confusing to normal students (those without professional military knowledge). Dougherty (2005, p. 3-6) gets Kaplan to talk about the complex language that existed between the military sergeants, generals and commanders in their communication. In some cases, it was even a must for the military officials to know and communicate in other foreign languages.
At such points, some meanings maybe distorted to those recording as well as those studying the history based on the various communication syntaxes and rules that govern different regions. Lastly, the proliferation in ways of solving disputes has lessened the use of military personnel by most countries. As of today, most disputes are solved through dialogues, courts and round-table negotiations by world superpowers. In effect, the study of military is only done by a few people who rarely dig deep into these annals of history.
The many fundamental functions that military history provides are therefore slowly being corroded away by the ever increasing modern forms of conflict resolution. In conclusion, it is noteworthy to say that military history plays an important role in preparing soldiers for wars. It may not necessarily empower them but it offers them insights on how their opponents fight, their strengths, weaknesses, previously successful combat methods, what they should avoid among other vital details which are invaluable before going to war.
On the other hand, military history should be used sparingly so as to avoid complacency by soldiers based on overconfidence. Aptly put in the words of Henry Kissinger (1978); “History is not, of course, a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable. ” References Bates, D. (1987). T The long shadow of little rock.
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