Tag Archives: military history

Campus and Armed Forces–Too Far Apart

arms and the university.jpg

Alienation between the military and the society it serves has grown in recent decades. There are several reasons, including the advent of the All Volunteer Force and the relative abandonment of military service by the upper and upper-middle classes (the so-called AWOL of the elites). Other factors are the military’s redistribution of resources for ROTC and military bases to more pro-military regions of the country and marginalization of the military at many major and elite universities.

Such alienation is unhealthy for a lot of reasons. It can compromise both sufficient civilian control of the military and the long-standing ideal of the “citizen soldier.” Furthermore, in recent times, alienation has led to justified resentment on the part of many members of the military, who feel that the significant sacrifices they and their families assume are taken for granted by the civilian population–after all, we have been asking less than 1% of our population to bear virtually all the burdens of our wars and military engagements. And the alienation has weakened citizenship by removing many citizens from a tangible connection to the military and the missions it serves.

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Military History and ‘The Revolt Against Elitism’

In his blog commentary, KC Johnson of Brooklyn College questions the results of a new American Historical Association survey, which found that more historians are focusing on diplomatic and military history than in recent times. “In contrast to critics (including me) who have suggested that the profession has aggressively diminished approaches to history deemed ‘traditional,'” Johnson writes, “Inside Higher Education reports that ‘designations of military history are up by 39 percent over the decade, for instance. Diplomatic history is up by 36 percent.’ We’re experiencing a veritable flowering of pedagogical diversity within the field!”

In recent decades, historical scholarship has turned away from a focus on higher levels of power and decision making (e.g., political, diplomatic, and military history) in favor of more egalitarian “social” research, stressing aspects of race, gender, and economic oppression. As historian H.W. Brands wrote in the 1999 Oxford Companion to Military History, “As the context of diplomacy was changing during the Cold War, so was the context of diplomatic history. Starting in the 1960s, the American historical profession experienced a revolt against elitism. The study of governing groups and ruling classes gave way to investigations into the lives of common people. Women and racial and ethnic minorities were judged more interesting than white males. Political historians were supplanted by social and cultural history. On nearly all fronts, diplomatic history came under attack.”

Critics have raised several objections to this trend, claiming that is deprives students of learning about important matters of citizenship and the state and that it embodies a progressive agenda that includes an implicit bias against traditional American values and power. In other words, it constitutes yet another example of political correctness’s reign on campus. 

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