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A question on military historians speaking on war, and never having fought.

Britney Spears

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The point was that a soldier after his first or second contract (Puts him in around the 20 to 25 year old range) has through his military training gained 'discipline', (let's clarify that for 'you' and say "self-discipline") and some maturity that puts him in much better stead to learn than the undisciplined rabble straight out of High School.


So, you graduated high school at age 25?    :)

Of course, anyone can see the mistake in this example. People don't start university at age 25, a 25 year old soldier won't be competing with other 25 year olds starting their first degree, because a keen 25 year old academic will already be halfway through his Phd program, especially in a field like history. You're going to need a bit more than "self discipline" ,"maturity"  and fast gun drills to write and defend a doctoral thesis, and that's just the first step to becoming a historian.

Not sure how any of this is relevent to my original point, so not much else I can add.......




 

TCBF

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Hey, after all, all of this 'inclusion' and 'welcoming newcomers with open arms into our professional culture' is for the MILITARY to adopt, NOT academia!

;D

Tom
 

paracowboy

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CLPenney said:
'do you think teachers of military history loose some of their clout if they never served?'
no. (For those who have lost track of the original thread)
 

George Wallace

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Britney Spears said:
Of course, anyone can see the mistake in this example. People don't start university at age 25, a 25 year old soldier won't be competing with other 25 year olds starting their first degree, because a keen 25 year old academic will already be halfway through his Phd program, especially in a field like history. You're going to need a bit more than "self discipline" ,"maturity"  and fast gun drills to write and defend a doctoral thesis, and that's just the first step to becoming a historian.

Kind of off topic, aren't you?  Are you now trying to make it a "Race to get a PhD" type of argument?  Who cares how old the person is when they get their degrees?  It is the end product.  Do they have what it takes to be a good Historian.  That is what the question and debate is about.  

How many have run into members of academia who have multiple degrees hanging on the wall, but at the same time couldn't follow instructions on how to find their way to the bus stop.  Sure these guys may be smart.....on one level......but complete morons on most others......darn right off on another tangent.  Who cares?  The fact is, Historians who were ex-soldiers have some first hand knowledge of what they write about as opposed to someone who has not been there, done that, nor got the T-shirt.  They may be able to pick up the little nuances a little better and quicker than a person with no familiarity with the military.  Perhaps the saying, "Like so many things in life, it may look good on paper, but it just doesn't work in real life." may be used in some of these cases.

I agree that there are many great Historians with no military background, as there are many who do.  There are good and bad in both categories.  One ex-military Journalist/Author has already been alluded to as being on the "poor" side, but then again, he never entered academia did he?
 

Centurian1985

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CLPenney said:
'Is it disrespectful for someone who has never served to speak on conflict and how it was/is for service men and women?'
I guess the overall question is 'do you think teachers of military history loose some of their clout if they never served?'

Academics who have never served usually do an excellent job of reporting unbiased facts (there are many biased exceptions, as in all fields).  They are not able to decribe how a soldier actually feels, but often do a good job of interviewing a soldier and then describing what that soldeir felt and experienced.  On the other hand, many historians who were former soldiers present a much more personal viewpoint of a situation (but unfortunately often present a biased interpretation of history as they saw it, and the units they served with, due to their loyalty to the units they belonged to).

E.g. In A Bridge Too Far, the book by Cornelius Ryan on the Allied advance through the low countries emphasizes that Montgomery was told about the German SS panzer unit that halted the British advance prior to the beginning of the operation; the autobiography of Montgomery fails to mention this and treats the presence of German troops as a surprise.  In reverse, a recent thread discussed a historian in the UK who claimed General Franks was incompetent in failing to cut off retreating Iraqi troops in 1991, while those who were actually monitoring the battle knew that Franks was acting under orders.
 

Michael Dorosh

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George Wallace said:
I agree that there are many great Historians with no military background, as there are many who do.  There are good and bad in both categories.  One ex-military Journalist/Author has already been alluded to as being on the "poor" side, but then again, he never entered academia did he?

If this is the same person I'm thinking of, he did benefit from being captured in Afghanistan and making a harrowing escape.  ;)
 

CLPenney

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Greetings again.

I just wanted to thank those replying to my topic. I do not have much to say myself, except that this thread is becoming very interesting. :)

Fair well, God bless.
 

calgarytanks

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Hugh Henry wrote an excellent pH.D dissertation that became a popular book - his topic was the Calgary regiment at Dieppe, and he gives a very detailed overview of the regiment on the beach, from a complete nominal roll of who was there, which tank they were in, which landing craft their tank landed from, and includes some nice personal touches as well. It was turned into a glossy picture book called Dieppe: through the lens of the German War Photographer (or something close to that). He captured the essence of the fight on the beach extremely well for an academic who wasn't there. Yes, it is possible.
 

swahili

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Whooooooo, maybe this topic needs a bit of a refocus  ;D

The original question I suppose was, Can a teacher teach military history and be respectful?

Yes, of course! I'm a history student working on my BA4 and with hopes of becoming a teacher. So, this is in my area. Maybe I can relate a story which while isn't about military history, touches on this topic kind of.

I took native history with a non-native teacher. While speaking with another aboriginal about this class, we had this conversation about how she had HUGE doubts on the class as she really did not believe a non-aboriginal could teach aboriginal history and give it justice. But, she took the course anyways - with every thought geared towards that he would not be able to pull it off...

However, she was a convert at the end. He had such passion and respect for the culture and the people, that she was absolutely sold on that a non-aboriginal WITH PASSION AND RESPECT could teach a subject they do not have first-hand knowledge about....

As many of you could imagine how strange it would be to have someone teach your culture's history (it's mine too!) to others and not be of that culture, you'd be a bit weary. However, I thought he did an amazing job and this other girl who took it the year before, thought so too.

So, I believe the same could happen with military history. I think if you give a subject the passion, respect and such, your enthusiasm and love of the subject will come through. Yes, having first hand (primary) experience is good, it's not always necessary.

Good luck with the teaching, hope to be there someday soon too :)

swahili
 

Red 6

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I definitely think military service isn't a prerequisite for being a good historian. Look at men such as John Keegan. His book The Face of Battle is recognized as one of the best works of the genre. You can argue about Stephen Ambrose's documentation, but no one can dispute his work in bringing the deeds of the American soldier to the reading public. There are so many other examples, it would be impossible to mention them all.

All things being equal, military service with a solid academic grounding does bring an author a certain credibility. Look at David Grossman. His book On Killing (granted not specifically a history book) is so well received, in part because he IS a retired soldier.

I think the bottom line is the quality of the work, not whether an author has or hasn't served.
 

Michael Dorosh

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Red 6 said:
I definitely think military service isn't a prerequisite for being a good historian. Look at men such as John Keegan. His book The Face of Battle is recognized as one of the best works of the genre. You can argue about Stephen Ambrose's documentation, but no one can dispute his work in bringing the deeds of the American soldier to the reading public. There are so many other examples, it would be impossible to mention them all.

All things being equal, military service with a solid academic grounding does bring an author a certain credibility. Look at David Grossman. His book On Killing (granted not specifically a history book) is so well received, in part because he IS a retired soldier.

I think the bottom line is the quality of the work, not whether an author has or hasn't served.


Face of Battle is a masterpiece IMO, no question. Excellent example.  You're right about Ambrose bringing history to the general public - but there are better historians who have done that without sacrificing the research - Cornelius Ryan comes to mind. You may not be familiar with Daniel Dancocks, but he is another. Ambrose....God love him, but the plagiarism and the technical errors just didn't do him justice.  Another one in that league is Mark Zuehlke. Popular history is ok, but only if done well. In my opinion, Ambrose is probably borderline (I haven't read enough to judge but get the impression his errors of fact are minor) but Zuehlke is not done well.
 

Centurian1985

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Britney Spears said:
Of course, anyone can see the mistake in this example. People don't start university at age 25, a 25 year old soldier won't be competing with other 25 year olds starting their first degree, because a keen 25 year old academic will already be halfway through his Phd program, especially in a field like history. You're going to need a bit more than "self discipline" ,"maturity"  and fast gun drills to write and defend a doctoral thesis, and that's just the first step to becoming a historian.

Off topic, but you do not need to be able to write a doctoral thesis to be a historian.  What matters is knowing the subject that you write about.  Many non-academic writers are writing histories from a personal viewpoint.  While not valid for academic review, they are still a form of 'historian'.   
 
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couchcommander

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There is a difference between history and personal viewpoints. Just like there is a different between history and writing down a bunch of stuff that happened. One is an account, the other is a chronology, neither are history - but may form part of it.
 

Red 6

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IMHO, military service isn't as important as solid academic grounding. There are so many great historians who never served. Look at, for instance, Russel F. Weigley, the noted author of The American Way of War. But people like Charles MacDonald, who served as an infantry officer and wrote the classic work Company Commander later went on to write several volumes in the World War II Army historical series.

To my mind at least, popular history is an important part of the genre. For example, Flags of Our Fathers, written by the son of one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers, has been on the NY Times best seller list for a long time. It doesn't purport to be an in depth book about the campaign, just one man's attempt to connect with his dad and the other men who took part in the flag raising. This book seems to have really touched something in folks here in the US. Are people reading it in Canada?

I think it all boils down to the research an author puts into his or her work and the way the information is presented.
 

xavier

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Keegan is another historian who never served. He couldn't because of clubfoot. Yet he's regarded as one of the best Anglophone historians on the military.

I agree that research, talent and genuine interest in the subject will be a great help

xavier
 

Red 6

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You're right Xavier. Michael and I both mentioned John Keegan earlier in this thread. He is definitely at or near the top of the list as a military-oriented historian.
 

Centurian1985

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couchcommander said:
There is a difference between history and personal viewpoints. Just like there is a different between history and writing down a bunch of stuff that happened. One is an account, the other is a chronology, neither are history - but may form part of it.

Ok, I'll agree on that definition... but then what is history?  The actual historical 'truth event' itself which cannot be reproduced?
 
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Someone should also mention that John Keegan may not have served IN the military, he did SERVE the military as a Professor at the British Military University "Sandhurst" for most, if not all, his professional life.
 

Michael Dorosh

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http://www.fylde.demon.co.uk/middlebrook2.htm

Great article by Martin Middelbrook, author of FIRST DAY ON THE SOMME. 

The first doubt crept in. I had left school at seventeen and had written nothing longer than a business letter for nearly twenty years. How could I write a book? I went to my friend John Howlett – a University Graduate, a College Lecturer. Would he like to join me? I had the time and opportunity to do the research; he would do the writing but we would share the credits if the book ever came to be published. John was enthusiastic and agreed. We even had some letterheads printed with THE FIRST DAY ON THE SOMME emblazoned across the top and with both of our names and addresses.

Sitting at her untidy desk was a dumpy lady, smoking. But she had a nice smile and was both patient and helpful. She told me two things that set immediately set me on the right path: that I should concentrate on research from ‘original sources’ (an unknown phrase to a poultry farmer),

Middelbrook's books have become classics despite his backgroung being the "Egg Board". ;)
 
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couchcommander

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Centurian1985 said:
Ok, I'll agree on that definition... but then what is history?  The actual historical 'truth event' itself which cannot be reproduced?

I'm not so sure one definition exists, really.

To me at least though, writing "history" implies a level of analysis; being just as concerned with why something happened as precisely what happened. "History" also to me implies a level of objectively, though no one is ever going to get it 100%, and in fact I have read some very very slanted books that somehow ended up making it into the libraries, an attempt should be made to convey the facts of the matter, not just ones that suit your argument.

In the end, IMO, history is all about historiography.

*edit* Actually something a prof told me a long time ago just came to mind."History just isn't about 'who, what, and when', it's about 'why, and how' as well."
 
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