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Letters to the Editor
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To the Editor:
There are, it seems, relatively few selfless friendships in the academic world. Gunther Rothenberg was a major exception to this rule. I consider him to have been one of the finest individuals I have ever known. I first learned of his existence when he beat me out for a job in New Mexico (for which he was better qualified than I). Years later when I published my study on the second Turkish siege of Vienna he wrote a review for the American Historical Review. He praised the book but made one mistaken criticism. When I discussed this with him, he said he would take it back in a letter to the AHR which he actually did. From that point onward we remained very close to each other and this notwithstanding the fact that we worked in the same field of Habsburg military history! We helped each other out with recommendations for grants, had a lot of uproarious, alcoholic fun at meetings and corresponded at great length, first by snail mail and later electronically. We talked of guns, politics, and strictly personal issues.
He regretted moving to Australia both because of his Purdue students and the powerful leftist atmosphere in that country. Gunther was anything but politically correct. I recall that he was especially indignant about the confiscation of muzzleloaders Down Under. He came from a culturally assimilated Berlin Jewish family and in the best sense of the word was a very Prussian character. His father was a war hero. Despite the grievous harm done to him and his family by the Nazis, he remained objective about things German. I cannot say how much I miss him.
Thomas M. Barker
Albany, New York
To the Editor:
Reading a review of one's own work (in my case, Kleinschmidt's review of Firearms in the January 2004 issue of the JMH) can be a surreal experience.
My argument goes like this: (1) prior to the spread of flintlocks in the 1700s, firearms were impractical to use on horseback; (2) prior to the invention of the railroad in the 1800s, large masses of slow-moving infantry could only support themselves by foraging in densely populated agricultural lands; therefore (3) prior to 1700, firearms were primarily used by infantry in densely populated agricultural lands. While early firearms were wildly inaccurate, they could still hit large targets like infantry formations or city walls. [End Page 311] However, along the edges of the steppe or desert, against fast-moving nomads who lived in tents and fought on horseback, early firearms were largely ineffective. Consequently, only areas insulated from the steppe or desert would rely on firearms. Such areas included Western Europe and Japan—and also south China when firearms were first invented, though only until China was unified in 1276.
This is the argument that Kleinschmidt caricatures as "the weather." My supposed argument from the "availability and proper use of saltpeter" is simply a figment of Kleinschmidt's imagination. The fact is, saltpeter is not even mentioned once in my introduction or conclusion, and except to document the by-now-uncontroversial point that gunpowder and firearms were invented in China, it is hardly discussed at all.
Regarding cultural preferences, Kleinschmidt's favored explanation, the only credible argument concerns the Mamluks, which I address at some length. The cultural argument for Japan that Kleinschmidt finds so convincing was dreamed up by an American professor of English literature during the Cold War as an allegory for nuclear disarmament. Even the Japanese translator of that book recognized it as a fable (albeit one that appeals to Japanese readers), and Japanese military historians just find it puzzling or irritating. I follow the experts here.
Kleinschmidt airily refers to a "plethora" of East Asian sources that supposedly would undermine my...