The Role Of Military History In The Contemporary Academy

We find ourselves called upon, sometimes, to answer the charge that by studying armed conflict we are glorifying it or condoning it. Because the field was predominantly male for a long time, many of our colleagues assume that it remains so, and is hostile to women. The Society for Military History is a United States–based international organization of scholars who research, write, and teach military history of all time periods and places. It includes naval history, air power history, and studies of technology, ideas, and homefronts. The society was established in 1933 as the American Military History Foundation, renamed in 1939 the American Military Institute, and renamed again in 1990 as the Society for Military History.

To avoid the study of war is to undermine our opportunity to fully comprehend ourselves—and our evolution over time—in social, political, psychological, scientific, and technological realms. Established in 1933 as the American Military History Foundation, renamed in 1939 the American Military Institute, and renamed again in 1990 the Society for Military History, the Society is devoted to stimulating and advancing the study of military history. Its membership has included many of the world’s most prominent scholars, soldiers, and citizens interested in military history. Military history ought to be a vital component of a liberal education, one that prepares students to be informed and responsible citizens. Since civilian control of the military is a foundational element of American democracy, our civilians must have enough basic knowledge to carry out this function competently and responsibly.

Soldiers will be fully occupied trying to cope with the intense and ever-changing demands of the battlefield, while civilian policymakers will be fully occupied trying to build and maintain support for national strategy. With both groups working round the clock in their own realms, it is easy for them to begin to drift apart. An intentional and unflagging effort must be devoted to maintaining the ongoing civil-military communication that gives strategy its meaning, and that prevents the nation from engaging in counterproductive or even senseless conflict. This is an unsettling state of affairs, especially since the US military does not send itself to war.

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I shot a note to the Executive Council this afternoon to begin the discussion about cancellation of the conference, and it did not take long to come to a decision. Finally, I’m sad that we will not have the opportunity this year to gather together as a Society and as a community of scholars to learn, meet and greet old colleagues, and make new acquaintances. Conditions, however, have deteriorated to the point that cancellation is the best option available to us. Any use of military force is so consequential on so many levels that it demands serious contemplation and full comprehension by all those in a democratic polity who own some piece of responsibility for it. When Americans go to war, they do so because they have been sent by the elected leaders of the Republic; they carry the flag of the United States, and wear that flag on the sleeves of their uniforms.

Excellent panel, paper, and poster submissions will clearly explain their topics and questions in ways that will be understandable to the broad membership of the SMH, not only to those interested in the specific topics in question. Submissions of pre-organizedpanels are strongly encouraged and will be given preference in the selection process. The Program Committee also accepts panel submissions without chair and commenter. In that case, if accepted, chair and commenter will be assigned by the conference organizers.

But there is a case to be made for retaining and reinvigorating the term, linking it to the body of innovative scholarship that has been produced in recent years, and continues to be produced today. The first step is open communication and exchange between those inside the field and those outside of it. Within the academy, conversation and education ought to be the first steps towards breaking down stereotypes. The short essay that follows will argue the case for integrating a broadened, revitalized military history subfield into history departments nationwide. McFarland is a leading independent publisher of academic and general interest nonfiction books.

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