restricted access The Course of Military History in the United States Since World War II
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The Course of Military History in the United States Since World War II The fascination with war has been a constant since long before the first century bc when Virgil began his Aeneid with the line—“I sing of arms and the man.” Today, popular interest in military history is still much in evidence in bookstores and on television. The popularity of this subject since the beginning of time would seem to make the question—“Why military history?”—pointless. Those of us who are students in the field, however, might be curious as to the evolution of military history in the United States over the last fifty years. The developments in academe, in government, in our association, and in scholarship during this period merit a comprehensive study. This is merely a brief personal retrospective which reflects my experiences in academe and the emphasis of my scholarship on the U.S. Army. Bolstered by conversation and correspondence with a few other historians and review of some relevant articles, it will, one hopes, serve as an introduction.1 Historians, of course, usually start before the beginning in order to place their topic in perspective. In this century, the session on military history at the American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in 1912 seems the logical place. Theodore Roosevelt, who was president of the AHA at the time, attended, as did several academics and army officers and even the pacifist journalist Oswald Garrison Villard. All agreed that something should be done to encourage the development of the field. At that time, Robert M. Johnson of Harvard believed that his half-course which he offered “intermittently” was the only military history available inAmerican universities. Interestingly, it was Colonel Roosevelt, who took such great pride in his battlefield exploits, who called for a broader approach to military history: “I don’t believe it is possible to treat military history as something entirely apart from the general national history.” The conference broke up after passing resolutions to appoint a committee to study the matter and to have 108   The Embattled Past another conference. As one would expect, this had little or no impact in academe.2 The fact that the field was, more or less, flourishing in the army at the time might have helped bar its gaining a place in the Academy. Professors who were likely to be antimilitary anyway tended to be suspicious of soldiers who looked for practical answers to direct professional questions in their study of history. At the Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and at the Army War College in Washington, D.C., officers got a fairly large dose, particularly in Civil War history. At Leavenworth, a cavalry officer, Matthew F. Steele, worked up detailed lectures on the campaigns and battles throughout American history. These lectures, published as American Campaigns in 1909, remained in use as a textbook at West Point until 1959. Captain Arthur L. Conger and Professor Frederick M. Fling (both of whom participated in the AHA conference) developed a research seminar at the Staff College while, at both schools, staff rides which afforded students an extensive study of campaigns on the ground were prominent features. At a glance, this might seem like an antiquarian exercise, but the study required for the role playing of the various commanders and the examination of the terrain certainly had real value for officers. A serious student such as Lieutenant George C. Marshall could aspire to historical sophistication, as he demonstrated in a study he prepared for a staff ride at Gettysburg in the summer of 1908.3 One might expect soldiers and academicians to show greater interest in military history after World War I, but such was not the case. There was actually a decline in military history courses in the army schools and a survey of the catalogs of thirty leading American universities in 1935–1936 indicated that those history departments offered “virtually no courses” in military and naval history. Wesley Frank Craven, the colonial historian who served as coeditor of the multivolume The Army Air Forces in World War II, recalled that in his student days at Duke and Cornell in the 1920s, diplomatic history was the rage as both students and teachers sought to determine how the Great War had begun and how the United States had become involved. The postwar period witnessed disillusionment as Wilsonian ideals were so quickly dashed, while the general ignorance about military aspects has affected American thinking about World War I down to the The...


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Subject Headings

  • Military historians -- United States.
  • United States -- History, Military -- Historiography.
  • United States -- History, Military.
  • United States. Army -- History.
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