War and Sid Meier's Civilization
Monday, October 31, 2005, 09:16 AM - History of War in Global Perspective
"I'm doomed," laments Timothy Burke at Easily Distracted. "Civilization IV is out."
He means, of course, Sid Meier's Civilization IV, the latest edition of one of the most successful computer games in history. (Tim calls it "pure silicon crack.") The Ivan Tribbles who nowadays cluck that I "waste time" blogging would have had a cow if they knew how much time I once spent playing Civilization III. But their concerns would have been equally misplaced. For one thing, you can play a computer game and actually think about your work--something the Civilization series makes all but inevitable for a military historian.
For another, you can use it in class.
The first time I taught the History of War course, I used Civilization III to illustrate the relation of war to society, especially the feedback loop between war and societal change. True, the game (at least earlier versions of it) is "essentialist" in the sense that it assumes that civilizations have certain characteristics--Rome is militaristic, India is religious, England commercial, etc.--in ways that never change. It also has embedded within it a rather old-fashioned view of modernization theory whereby all civilizations must pass the same milestones in development. But from a pedagogical standpoint these are teaching opportunities, not impediments.
Here's an excerpt from my notes for the lecture. Aficiendos will understand clearly what I was doing. Everyone else, I think, will be able to gain an impression:
Load Ancient Babylon 1790 BC Scenario.
Open Science Advisor.
As of 1790 BC, "Babylon" civilization has Bronzeworking, Alphabet, Pottery, The Wheel, Warrior Code, and Ceremonial Burial.
Key concept in the game is the linkages between these technologies and future technologies. For instance, the Alphabet opens the door to Writing, which in turn is an element in Philosophy, Code of Laws, Literature, Map Making, and ultimately the creation of the government form called the Republic.
Three of these developments have direct military implications.
Bronze Working allows for the Spearman (and is a necessary precursor to Iron Working, which creates the Swordsman.)
The Wheel allows for the War Chariot (assuming availability of horses).
The Warrior Code, in game terms, allows for the creation of the Archer and (in the case of Babylon) a superior archer called the Bowman.
At this period, the game Babylon is still working toward Masonry, which allows for the creation of strong city walls. (The real Babylon already possessed this technology in 1790 BC.) Masonry also leads to Mathematics, which in turn allows for the Catapult.
One development has an important future military implication. Pottery allows for long-term storage of grain and other food items—vital for the functioning of the first war vessel, the Galley(created by the Map Making technology).
Over the next ten weeks, we will follow the interplay between war and society, exemplified by the full sweep of the Civilization III technological linkages.
Ancient (to 500 AD)
Medieval (which actually includes the Early Modern period: 500-1800) – point out Feudalism; Chivalry (the Knight); Gunpowder (the Musketman)
Industrial Ages (1800-1950) – point out Steam Power (the Ironclad); Flight (the Bomber)
Modern Times (1950-2050) – point out Fission (the Nuclear Submarine and The Manhattan Project—interestingly, the civilization that completes the Manhattan Project Great Wonder gives all other civilizations the ability to build nuclear weapons: pointed comment on nuclear proliferation); Stealth (Stealth Fighter and Stealth Bomber)
One can quibble about Sid Meier’s choice of these linkages, of course, and obviously he made some compromises in the interest of a playable game (And it is incredibly addictive. So much that people have designed their own Civilization III scenarios. Left to itself, the game generates a randomly-configured world. This scenario, however, uses a lovingly detailed map of the actual world.)
What intrigues me is that Civilization III implicitly but graphically offers a theory and a model of war and society. For instance, it is possible to win the game by military conquest—the grand strategy of Imperial Rome or Nazi Germany.
But it is also possible to win by having among other things, the most influential culture or the greatest diplomatic skill. One could, for example, create a modest military, concentrate on generating wealth, trade, and culture, and let other civilizations smash each other up while you prosper—arguably the grand strategy of present-day Japan.
Obviously, this is Sid Meier’s interpretation of war and society as reflected to him by the secondary works he used to design the game. A Jeremy Black, a John Keegan or a Victor Davis Hanson would design a somewhat different game. By the end of the quarter, you should be on your way to having the knowledge and insight with which to create your own model of the interplay of war and human society.
The Cliopatria Awards
Monday, October 31, 2005, 05:31 AM - The Craft of History
The Cliopatria Award competition is underway. It will be a juried competition with readers invited to make nominations in any of six categories: Best Group Blog, Best Individual Blog, Best New Blog, Best Post, Best Series of Posts, and Best Writing. Winners get to put this stylish logo on their blog. Complete details are over at Cliopatria.
War in Slow Motion
Sunday, October 30, 2005, 07:45 AM - A Postcolonial Military History?In 1858 the abolitionist John Brown was an extended guest at Frederick Douglass' home in Rochester, New York. Already well embarked on his plans for the Harpers Ferry raid, Brown's imagination extended to the creation of an independent, interracial state in the American southeast. The idea gripped him so tightly that he spent three weeks writing a provisional constitution for the government of such a state. Its preamble begins:
Whereas, Slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is nothing other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion . . .I ran across this quote a few weeks ago when the students in my graduate readings course read a recent biography of Harriet Tubman by Catherine Clinton. (Like Douglass, Tubman was acquainted with Brown and his plans for the Harpers Ferry raid. Brown, in turn, referred to her, in complete seriousness, as "General Tubman.")
No one happened to remark upon the quote during our discussion, which was understandable given that our focus was on Tubman. Still, I was struck by Brown's equation of slavery with war. Most of us are conditioned to regard that as rhetoric, but Brown meant it quite literally. Gandhi made a similar point when he insisted, "Poverty is the worst form of violence."
Indeed, slavery, colonization/neocolonization, apartheid, and so on, can all be seen as examples of war in slow motion. This premise is, indeed, a basic concept underlying the planned War for the American South conference.
Of course, the idea that they are conducting a slow motion war is alien to those in positions of dominance, because they have a vested interest in considering the existing order of things to be normal and in convincing others of that idea, most especially the groups they oppress. But for those alive to the fact of oppression the notion that a war is underway has greater resonance.
Consider, for example, this excerpt from an essay published in 2004 by the black scholar and activist Manning Marable:
The political economy of the "New Racial Domain" . . . is driven and largely determined by the forces of transnational capitalism, and the public policies of state neoliberalism. From the vantagepoint of the most oppressed U.S. populations, the New Racial Domain rests on an unholy trinity, or deadly triad, of structural barriers to a decent life. These oppressive structures are mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass disfranchisement. Each factor directly feeds and accelerates the others, creating an ever-widening circle of social disadvantage, poverty, and civil death, touching the lives of tens of millions of U.S. people.Though Marable never uses the term outright, his portrayal of developments abroad and at home is redolent of the idea of an ongoing war in slow motion.
For the full text of the essay, see Globalization and Racialization: Building New Sites of Resistance to the New Racial Domain.
The Medieval Blog
Saturday, October 29, 2005, 04:05 AM - Building the Field
De Re Militari, the web site of the Society for Medieval Military History, has launched its own blog. Its "beat" is more extensive than purely military history--the inaugural post, published on October 8, promises "news and information dealing with the Middle Ages. This will include newspaper articles and press releases that discuss some aspect of the medieval period, for example on archaeological discovery. We will also keep track of what new articles have come out from important history journals and any upcoming plans from publishers or scholars." Contributions to the blog are welcomed.
The War for the American South, 1865-1965
Friday, October 28, 2005, 05:51 AM - A Postcolonial Military History?
From Deacons for Defense, a 2003 film about a black paramilitary group--the Deacons for Defense and Justice--organized in Jonesboro, Louisiana, in 1965, to combat Ku Klux Klan violence. Much of its membership was composed of Korean War and World War II veterans.
My colleague Hasan Jeffries and I are considering a conference focusing on "The War for the American South, 1865-1965." It's a second cut at the History of War in Global Perspective theme but from a different tack.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Hasan is a student of the modern civil rights movement; I do military history. But in conversation we've been struck by the artificiality of the divide--that simply because one side largely eschewed violence in trying to overthrow the status quo and that the other side used paramilitary as well as formal instruments of coercion does not make the conflict any less relevant to military history.
We would like, therefore, to look at the civil rights struggle from 1865-1965 through the lens of an extended war of decolonization or, if you like, insurgency/counterinsurgency.
Back in January I submitted a grant proposal to the Mershon Center. At the time I was interested in building it around a discussion of Tom Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map. But over time I became less interested in Barnett's ideas. Besides, I came to realize more clearly that I've got to make all my scholarly undertakings more or less congruent, so that I don't go down a variety of paths--if I do that there's no telling when I'll complete my "promotion book" and move into the exalted realm of the full professor.
I didn't feel too concerned about the shift in focus. The Mershon Center funded my conference proposal less from an interest in Barnett than because of the proposal's emphasis on globalization. Colonization and decolonization are major aspects of globalization and nearly always occur through violence; hence the shift. I also know that Mershon is trying to find ways to collaborate with Ohio State's Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and this seemed a good topic from that standpoint, especially as Hasan has a half-time appointment at the Kirwan Institute.
The real challenge is finding the right mix of participants. There is no dearth of civil rights historians. Hasan's task is to find a cohort willing and able to explore the dynamics from this angle. Similarly, my task is to find military historians willing and able to do the same, particularly among twentieth-century specialists. It may be that historians who have dealt with Vietnam and similar conflicts could adapt their insights to consider the civil rights movement; my main concern is to find military historians willing to make the imaginative leap. I have a few ideas and have been making inquiries among a number of senior historians to get their suggestions. Stay tuned.
Eric Wittenberg on University Presses
Thursday, October 27, 2005, 06:16 AM - The Craft of HistoryGiven my own disappointment with the way University of Nebraska Press handled my last book, And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864 (2002), I read with great sympathy Eric Wittenberg's telling critique of university presses. As a self-described amateur historian, Eric's sense of frustration is probably even more acute than that of an academic historian like myself. For someone in my position, even a book that sells poorly still gets me a (usually decent) merit raise in salary. In fact, from a purely financial standpoint that's the main reason for a professor to write books in the first place. The only time a professor is likely to make more money from royalties than raises is when she hits the jackpot on a major college textbook.
You might think that with many university presses using the high price points Eric laments, we'd opt instead for commercial presses. Sometimes you can do that--Knopf and Norton, for instance, have a certain amount of academic cachet. But for academics the university press is usually de rigueur because they are refereed, which is to say a manuscript must get the approval of two or more recognized experts in the field before the press will agree to publish it. Why a non-academic would opt for a university press, however, is just plain beyond me.
My History of War Textbooks
Wednesday, October 26, 2005, 09:02 PM - History of War in Global PerspectiveHere at Ohio State we're only midway through Autumn Quarter, but it's already time to order the textbooks for Winter courses. For me that means History 380: The History of War. This will make my third time teaching the course; each time I've chosen a different main textbook. In Winter 2003 it was John Keegan's History of Warfare; in Autumn 2004, Christon Archer et al., World History of Warfare. Neither proved wholly satisfactory, though both of them--especially the latter--were very useful in helping me prepare my lectures.
This time I'm going to try out Geoffrey Parker (ed.), The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare. I like the book myself and have heard good reports from others who have used it. My one qualm is that by design its real focus is western--i.e., European and North American--warfare, and I would prefer something with a global focus. (See my comments from Interrogating the Project of Military History, a predecessor to this blog.)
But I hope to compensate for that in my lectures and by requiring two other books:
Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power;
and its antidote, so to speak:
John A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture.
For more on these two titles, see The Dialogues of War.
And what the hell; I'll make this blog required reading too.
Position at Norwich University
Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 11:25 PM - Building the FieldNorwich has reopened the search to find a permanent director for its online Master of Arts in Military History program. Please distribute this as widely as possible.
Northfield, VT 05663
From the main web site, select About Norwich, then Employment Opportunities (on the left), click on Faculty, then click on MMH Program Director.
Norwich University seeks an outstanding scholar/administrator to serve as Director of its new online Master of Arts in Military History program. (Please see this link for program information.) We are seeking a director at the Associate or Full Professor level who is a recognized scholar in military history. The MMH is a broad-ranging program covering a variety of fields in military history and outstanding candidates will be able to show familiarity with the academic discipline of military history and with the latest developments in the field. The directorship is a non-tenure track administrative position with limited graduate and undergraduate teaching responsibilities in the Department of History and Political Science. The initial term of appointment is for two years and may be renewed. The search committee will begin reviewing applications immediately for a July 1, 2006 start date. The search will remain open until the position is filled.
Qualifications: PhD in History from an accredited institution and solid understanding of graduate education in history. Commitment to the field of military history demonstrated in scholarly publication, teaching, research, and conference participation. Proven effective leadership/management experience. Evidence of success in teaching and advising students. Collegial on-line writing style. Experience in administration and in on-line education is a plus, but Norwich University has a strong support structure and will train the right person. We seek someone who is a scholar, but willing and able to learn the other essential duties of this position. Candidates must be a U.S. citizen or have permanent resident status when applying. Review of applications will begin October 15, 2005 and remain open until the position is filled.
Administrative responsibilities: Maintain and revise curriculum. Recruit, hire, orient, train, and manage qualified instructors. Organize academic events for the annual residency conference. Work congenially with staff, students, and colleagues. After curriculum and instructor management, the Director's most important role is as a communicator with a constant presence among online students and faculty. Be a leader; creatively manage staff, students, and instructors.
See http://www3.norwich.edu/grad/ for general information about online graduate programs at Norwich University.
Please send a letter of application referring specifically to this search, a curriculum vitae, one sample of published scholarship, and the names and addresses of three to five references who may be contacted by the search committee. Additional application materials may be requested at a later date. Application materials should be sent to: Military History Program Director Search, Human Resources, Norwich University, 158 Harmon Drive, Northfield, Vermont 05663, or submit on line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Norwich is an Equal Opportunity Employer offering a comprehensive benefit package that includes medical and dental coverage, group life and long term disability insurance, flexible-spending accounts for health and dependent care, a retirement annuity program and tuition scholarships for eligible employees and their family members.
Employment Opportunities Home
Copyright 2000 by the President and Trustees of Norwich University.
First World War Literature Blog
Friday, October 14, 2005, 08:00 AM - Memory, Myth, and ImaginationDr. Stephen Ogden has created a blog (now well underway) for use in his English literature class at Simon Fraser University. The title:
First World War Literature: Rats, Gas and Shell-Shock
(Hat tip to Esther MacCallum-Stewart at Break of Day in the Trenches)
The White Man's Ballad - Pt 2
Sunday, October 9, 2005, 09:39 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
Fahs, Alice, and Joan Waugh, eds. The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Illustrations, notes, index. 286 pages. $59.95 (cloth) ISBN 0-8078-2907-2; 19.95 (paper) ISBN 0-8078-5572-3.
[forthcoming in H-War; published here with permission]
I once heard the distinguished historian Ira Berlin succinctly explain the difference between history and memory. History, he said, is open to discussion and disagreement. Memory isn’t. Civil War buffs may endlessly debate, for example, the reasons for the Confederate army’s defeat at Gettysburg. That’s no problem. But it is out of bounds to suggest that this was an army of traitors who fought and bled and died trying to keep three and a half million Americans in bondage. That’s sacrilege.
"History," said Napoleon in one of his ceaseless aphorisms, "is a fable agreed upon." If one substitutes for "history" the phrase "public memory," Napoleon got it exactly right. But a fable agreed upon by whom? And with what moral in mind? These are questions that in recent years have fascinated a growing number of historians, and perhaps none more raptly than those whose area of specialization is the Civil War, an episode called, with reason, the American Iliad.
The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a valuable new contribution to this dialogue. It is the fruit of a conference held at the Huntington Library in October 2003, which in turn grew out of a round table at the 1999 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians entitled, "What Do Military and Cultural Historians of the Civil War Have to Say to Each Other?" (Not a lot, apparently, since only two of the essays in the volume were written by scholars with extensive publications dealing with the military dimension of the conflict.) According to the introduction, it "examines a variety of battles over the memory of the war during the last 135 years . . . recovers the racial and gender politics underlying numerous attempts to memorialize the war, provides new insights into how Lost Cause ideology achieved dominance in the late nineteenth century, and shows how contests over memories of the war were a vital part of politics during the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s." (p. 1) This covers quite a swath. It could have made for a scattered, uneven product, but the result holds together well.
The Memory of the Civil War can in many ways be seen as an extension of the thesis and argument in David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. In it, Blight deftly explored the construction of the dominant public memory of the conflict in the first half-century after the conflict. He suggested that initially there were three broad strands of memory: a white Unionist interpretation that emphasized the war as the salvation of a republic that Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth"; a white Southern interpretation that swiftly rejected slavery as having anything to do with the conflict and emphasized instead the defense of state’s rights; and an African American interpretation that stressed the conflict as the moment that not only destroyed slavery but also pointed America in the direction of human equality. The sympathies of Race and Reunion lay quite obviously with the third, "emancipationist vision." It did the best job of any work thus far in uncovering and elucidating that vision. It then went on to do the best job of any work thus far to show how white Americans buried that vision in the interests of creating a public memory that asserted the moral equivalence of the Union and Confederate causes.
The rejection of the emancipationist vision is one that both Blight and the essayists in The Memory of the Civil War deplore, and for good reason. It not only marginalized the African American experience, making them seem the passive recipients of freedom despite the fact that some 200,000 blacks served in the Union army and navy, it also helped to legitimate a white supremacist racial order that lasted until the 1960s. Yet the need for sectional reconciliation required some kind of synthesis of the public memories of the conflict, and since it would have been impossible to synthesize all three interpretations—the Unionist, states’ rights, and emancipationist visions—it seems predetermined that one of these would be cast aside. In retrospect, one might wish that that the synthesis would have been between the Unionist and emancipationist visions (with unreconstructed rebels perhaps forced to leave the country as happened to 125,000 pro-British Loyalists after the American Revolution). But given the common commitment to white supremacy in both the North and South, it is hard to imagine any such thing occurring, and the essayists in The Memory of the Civil War do not try. Instead they extend Blight’s argument in new directions and track it longitudinally into the 1960s, when, thanks to the Civil Rights movement, the "emancipationist vision" begins to reappear.
Some of the essays deepen our understanding of matters that are already reasonably well known (indeed, four of the pieces have been previously published). Joan Waugh, for example, underscores how, during the mid-1880s, Ulysses S. Grant composed his Personal Memoirs in such a way as to reject the already growing consensus that the North and South fought for different but morally equivalent visions of America. Gary W. Gallagher explores the ways in which three men: Robert E. Lee; his wartime subordinate turned hagiographer Jubal A. Early; and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman worked successively—and successfully—to entrench precisely that vision. Working from another angle, James M. McPherson performs a similar service in his study of how the Daughters of the Confederacy, United Confederate Veterans, and other Southern organizations worked tirelessly to embed this vision into school textbooks. David W. Blight’s essay exploring the origins of Memorial Day in the North and South is one of the key chapters in Race and Reunion.
Others I found more fresh, particularly Alice Fahs’s exploration of the Civil War as portrayed in the children’s literature between the 1860s, when the Northern literature emphasized motherhood and gave at least some respect to the African American experience; and the 1890s, when it had (in ways for which she does not really account) come to emphasize fatherhood and (in ways that are more fully explored) come to depict African Americans in the shuffling, yassuh, steppin-fetchit mode that would become the typical twentieth century white stereotype. The authors of children’s books, she argues, picked up on and faithfully passed along the emerging white vision of sectional reconciliation, in part because it gave such books a wider geographical market than they would otherwise have commanded. And she points out that while children’s literature is often dismissed as a "step-child" of adult literature, it is also an important conduit by which values—in this case, racial values—are transmitted from one generation to the next.
The caliber of all the contributions is uniformly high, but perhaps the best among a very good collection is Stuart McConnell’s concluding essay on "The Geography of Memory." It not only draws together the volume’s other essays but also moves us forward in the understanding of memory as a concept. "Having absorbed the postmodern lesson that we cannot surgically remove information from the story in which it becomes embedded without embedding it in some other story," McConnell writes, historians "are too often content to line the stories up next to each other, like pieces of a dream, without considering their interrelation. . . . Thus, where the Civil War is concerned there can be Northern and Southern memories, men’s and women’s memories, black and white memories, Republican and Democratic memories, all peacefully coexisting without much thought given to their connections." (pp. 258-259)
Better, McConnell suggests, to draw a cognitive map of the landscape of memory that "describes not just relations of cultural space but relations of cultural power" (p. 262), and to understand that each generation has its own distinctive map. "We may abhor the Victorians’ penchants for blind partisan politics, mawkish sentimentality, reactionary jurisprudence, or racist social thought," McConnell writes. "Yet these were the landmarks around which all late-nineteenth century Civil War memories arranged themselves." (p. 263) Over time, he continues, "the highly political Gilded Age gave way to a twentieth century that put ever more stress on commercial entertainment, consumption, and tourism. . . . [M]emory . . . came to be seen as a kind of entertainment (rather than, in the nineteenth century, a political weapon.” (p. 264) Understanding this shifting geography of memory, he concludes, “is to reimpose narrative on a sprawling democracy of versions." The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a significant step in this direction.
 See, e.g., Otto Eisenschiml and Ralph Newman (eds.), The American Iliad: The Epic Story of the Civil War as Narrated by Eyewitnesses and Contemporaries (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1947), and Charles P. Roland, An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War, 2nd ed. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2004).
 Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Part 1 - Part 2