Coming Attractions
Saturday, January 28, 2006, 03:46 PM - History of War in Global Perspective
My department regularly compiles a booklet of detailed course descriptions for each upcoming quarter. The descriptions for Spring Quarter recently appeared, and students have begun consulting them.

I'll be teaching two courses.

The first is History 307: World War II. The course was originally slated to be taught by my colleague, Allan Millett, but his decision to retire at the end of 2005 meant that either the course had to be cancelled or someone else would have to offer it. Opting for the latter, the department asked me to take charge of the course in place of my scheduled course offering, History 151: American Civilization, 1607-1877. It found money to hire an instructor to teach my History 151 section. The decision underscores the value of military history courses in a budget environment based on student enrollment. But it also impeaches the stereotype about academic antipathy toward military history, for the department made this decision proactively, without the slightest nudge from faculty within the field.

The second is a readings course I'll be teaching in collaboration with another of my colleagues, Geoffrey Parker. Nominally it's a History 767: Studies in Military History, but each 767 offering focuses on a specific theme, and ours is The Role of Armed Coercion in the Rise of Western Dominance. (You'll find a draft syllabus via the link.) Here's the course description:
This course analyzes a number of key military encounters between "the West and the Rest;" i.e., between Europe with its settler societies and the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It begins with the encounter between Persia and Classical Greece and concludes with Desert Storm and 9/11. We will examine each of these encounters from a counterfactual (as well as from a factual) point of view. We will therefore consider what might have happened, as well as what did happen, at key points on the rise of the West to global dominance.
The description reflects our interest in broadening military history to achieve a global perspective and also in counterfactual theory. I've dabbled in counterfactual theory a few times on this blog and am writing a book on 1864 that employs counterfactual analysis; Geoffrey is quite seasoned at it, having done a counterfactual history of the Spanish Armada for Robert Cowley's What If? America's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been and having edited, with Philip Tetlock and Ned Lebow, a fascinating volume entitled Unmaking the West: Counterfactual Narratives and Contingency in World History (forthcoming from University of Michigan Press).

The fun part has been to settle on a set of case studies. We followed two basic rules: each case study had to involve an encounter between a "western" and "non-western" power that had the potential to significantly reshape the course of future events, and each had to have enough English-language source material on the non-western side to afford an adequate window on that perspective. Here's the schedule of sessions we came up with. I've omitted the readings; you can find those in the draft syllabus.

March 28
Making and "Unmaking" the West: An Introduction to Counterfactual Historical Analysis

April 4
ReOrientation: Is Western Dominance a Temporary Phase?

April 11
Smothering the West in its Cradle?: A Counterfactual Salamis

April 18
Montezuma’s Revenge: Cortés fails to capture Mexico

April 25 [Holocaust Remembrance Day]
Presentation and discussion of projects to be written by seminar members (about 5 minutes each)

May 2
Unmaking the "American Holocaust": North American Indians Achieve Substantial Immunity from European Disease

May 9
The Even Longer Peace?: Unmaking and Remaking the First World War

May 16
A Nonviolent Revolution Turns Violent: Race War in the American South, 1954-1970

May 23
The September 11 Attacks
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Columbus Day
Friday, November 25, 2005, 06:00 PM - History of War in Global Perspective


Today The Ohio State University officially observes Columbus Day. It's a nice way to observe a federal holiday and ignore it at the same time, since most people assume the Friday suspension of classes is because it's the day after Thanksgiving.

Columbus Day traditionally falls on October 12, the date on which the expedition under Christopher Columbus first touched land in the western hemisphere (by most reckonings at San Salvador Island in the Bahamas). Although the United States began to observe Columbus Day regularly in the years following 1892, the 400-year anniversary of the (European) discovery of America, it was only In 1971 that the Nixon administration made the day a federal holiday, to be observed on the second Monday in October.

Back then, the pop duo Seals & Crofts, two Texans who happened also to be adherents to the pacifist faith Baha'i, could still reach for Columbus when they wanted their lyrics to challenge listeners to find the best in themselves:

Like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage.
Sail our ships out on the open sea. Cast away our fears
And all the years will come and go, and take us up, always up.
We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again.

"We May Never Pass This Way (Again)" appeared on the album Diamond Girl in 1973. There's no way Seals & Crofts would--or probably even could without inviting howls of protest--use Columbus as imagery again. Indeed, when they performed the song in concert in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage, they substituted the less inflammatory name "Magellan," for by then Columbus and his holiday had become controversial, to say the least.

Indeed, invite a Native American to celebrate Columbus Day with you and see what response you get. People are not stereotypes and I imagine if you invited enough Native Americans you'd find some takers. But for the most part their appraisal of the holiday and what it really commemorates is probably well epitomized by Transform Columbus Day.Org, whose statement of principles reads in part:
Columbus Day is an inherently racist statement of cultural domination. Celebrations honoring Columbus reinforce a historical process of racism, theft, lies, murder, slavery and the destruction of the environment. Individually and collectively, we reject Columbus as a heroic personality, and we reject holidays, celebrations or other expressions of adulation for Columbus.
That sure puts a different perspective on the Seals & Crofts song. The contrast between their original intent and the TCD.org statement of principles becomes even more pronounced when you consider that the lines quoted above are preceded by this one:

Peace, like the silent dove, should be flyin' but it's only just begun.

Even so, Seals & Crofts eventually went back to singing "We May Never Pass This way (Again)" in its original form, probably because their fans found it jarring to hear the lyrics altered. Maybe the duo should have kept at it, though: I heard Rod Stewart at a 1993 concert start to sing his pre-AIDs era hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" only to halt just as the crowd began to get into it. He didn't sing that song any more, Stewart explained. Which was as good as a sermon on safe sex.

Of course, even if they had stuck with "Magellan" the change would have been cosmetic rather than substantive. In and of itself, Magellan's voyage was less lethal than the ultimately four voyages of Columbus, though Magellan himself was killed during a pitched battle with Filipino natives after siding with one tribe over another in a local dispute. But it was very much part of the larger European project of colonization and domination. Seals & Crofts would have run into the same problem with "Da Gama," which also fits the rhythm. Da Gama's three voyages were punctuated regularly by violence, including acts of piracy and at least one major battle at sea. They were also crucial in laying the foundation of the European enclaves in Africa and southern Asia from which the slave trade and, eventually, large-scale colonization would result.

Basically, Seals & Crofts couldn't win for losing if they chose a European explorer on the historical merits, for virtually every one of these expeditions was a military expedition, carried out by armed men aboard armed vessels.

I still like the song, though. We may never pass this way again.
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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:

Start game.

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.

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My History of War Textbooks
Wednesday, October 26, 2005, 09:02 PM - History of War in Global Perspective
Here 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.
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Hard War
Saturday, August 20, 2005, 05:05 PM - History of War in Global Perspective


Ohio soldier James E. Taylor made this ink wash drawing of Federal cavalry in northern Virginia, called "Mosby's Confederacy" because it was the haunt of Colonel John S. Mosby and his Partisan Rangers. Unable to locate and destroy Mosby's band in combat, Union forces resorted to cutting off its supply of food and forage. The practice was part of a larger policy of stripping the Confederacy of anything that could support its war effort. The drawing shows this policy in idealized form. Soldiers have torched the barn and are driving away the livestock, but the main residence at right stands unscathed. In practice, the inhabitants might or might not escape acts of theft and vandalism, though outright assaults were rare.
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Atrocity
Saturday, August 20, 2005, 04:31 PM - History of War in Global Perspective


"Soldiers Plundering a Farmhouse," by Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647), vividly illustrates that marauding and mayhem directed against civilians did not originate with the Civil War. Although it depicts a scene from the 16th-century Dutch Revolt, with minor changes to the soldiers' clothing and equipment it could apply to virtually any European war from the Middle Ages through the mid-18th century. Rape, pillage, torture, and outright murder were common occurrences. The Civil War was remarkably free of such extreme violence directed against civilians--with one important exception: the fierce guerrilla struggle in Missouri and eastern Kansas. The worst single incident took place on August 21, 1863, when pro-Confederate guerrillas sacked Lawrence, Kansas, killing an estimated 150-200 men, though refraining from assaults on women.
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Shield of Clay
Saturday, August 20, 2005, 04:06 PM - History of War in Global Perspective


Photographer George N. Barnard captured this view of Union field fortifications at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, one of the major battles of the Atlanta campaign. As soldiers dug the trench they threw some of the clay in front, facing the enemy. But most of it was piled perpendicular to the trench as a defense against potential artillery and small arms fire from the sides--"enfilading fire" in military parlance. The perpendicular mounds were called traverses. Engineering officers sometimes supervised the siting and construction of earthworks, but by mid-1864 veteran troops could--and did--construct them with little prompting or instruction from their superiors.

Fieldworks at Manassas
Saturday, August 20, 2005, 12:32 PM - History of War in Global Perspective


These fieldworks, constructed after the battle of First Bull Run, were abandoned when Confederate forces evacuated Centreville and Manassas Junction in March 1862. Though modest by the standards of 1864-65, they nevertheless show that Civil War armies used fortifications from the outset of the conflict. Fortifications like these often deterred attack. Unwilling to assault this strong position, for example, Union general George B. McClellan took his army by sea to the tip of the peninsula formed by the James and York Rivers. There he found a belt of entrenchments almost equally strong, and spent a month besieging them.

A Railroad War
Saturday, August 20, 2005, 12:17 PM - History of War in Global Perspective


The engine "Firefly" crosses a trestle on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad in northern Virginia. Both sides made extensive use of railroads. Fortunately, many officers had significant pre-war experience with this new form of transport and understood how to exploit it. When war broke out in 1861, for example, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was superintendent of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. Before that he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, where he met a prosperous Springfield attorney who sometimes did legal work for the firm: Abraham Lincoln.
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Demolition Men
Saturday, August 20, 2005, 11:02 AM - History of War in Global Perspective


Union soldiers systematically wreck the Atlanta roundhouse in November 1864, just prior to the March to the Sea. Sherman did not set out to burn the city, as is often supposed, but he insisted that railroads, factories, and anything that could be used to support the Confederate war effort should be demolished. The effort produced fires that got out of control, however, and although Sherman personally supervised attempts to extinguish the flames, much of Atlanta was destroyed. Even so, few residents were endangered by the conflagration: Sherman had expelled them two months before.
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