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.
Continue reading Military History and ‘The Revolt Against Elitism’
Last week, the American Historical Association released a members’ survey regarding how historians classify themselves. In contrast to critics (including me) who have suggested that the profession has aggressively diminished approaches to history deemed “traditional,” Inside Higher Ed 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!
First, the survey used a new methodology. In contrast to previous surveys, which asked AHA members to list their three chief areas of interest, this one allowed respondents to list as many as five areas. Quoting again from Inside Higher Ed: “Robert B. Townsend, deputy director of the AHA, said the data do not indicate whether a greater percentage of historians are studying those areas with gains, or whether these historians always had such fields as their fourth or fifth area of interest.”
To illustrate the meaninglessness of allowing such a “fourth” or “fifth” classification, take an example from my own research. My first book (Peace Progressives) has some primary research in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection of various women’s peace groups, for a minor section of one chapter; and for my most recent book on the 1964 election, I had a bit on Lady Bird Johnson’s pathbreaking whistle-stop campaign. Under the AHA’s new survey guidelines, I could, therefore, identify women’s history as my fifth area of research interest. But–and for good reason–I never would be considered for any women’s history positions on the basis of that research; or considered qualified to teach a women’s history course.
Continue reading Are Military and Diplomatic History Making a Comeback?
Harvard President Drew Faust probably didn’t expect criticism when she said she looked forward to reinstating the Reserve Officer Training Corps once the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is ended. But Senator Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican and a lieutenant colonel in the state’s National Guard, said he couldn’t understand Harvard’s priorities: how could the university maintain its four-decade ban on the ROTC while promoting the Dream Act, a plan to provide amnesty to students who are in the United States illegally? Why hold the ROTC hostage to a change in military policy?
The ban on ROTC at Harvard and many other universities is an artifact of the student anti-Vietnam protests of the late Sixties. In the spring of 1969, students at Harvard, led by members of Students for a Democratic Society, stormed and occupied University Hall. In the uprising, eventually beaten back by police, rioters burned down a Marine training classroom and demanded an end to any kind of military presence on campus. “ROTC must go because we oppose the policies of the United States and we oppose the military that perpetrates them,” a statement by the students said, with clear intention of scapegoating its own military cadets for a war created and sustained by Washington politicians.
Once the rationale for banning ROTC migrated over to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the tactic remained, but with a different kind of scapegoating: blaming ROTC and the military in general for a policy created by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. Opposition to “don’t ask, don’t tell” is widespread on campuses and sincerely held, but if Harvard and other campuses wish to dissociate themselves from discriminatory organizations it should blame Congress and perhaps refuse federal funding until DADT is dropped. Harvard’s federal funding amounts to about 15 percent of its operating budget, so it’s best not to look for an outbreak of moral principle here.
Continue reading ROTC Back in the News
The Columbia Spectator offers a surprising argument for the return of ROTC to Columbia today. Here’s a sample of their case:
Opponents of ROTC argue that the program’s treatment of gays and lesbians violates the University’s anti-discrimination protocols. Those protocols should be enforced against businesses and other institutions, but the U.S. military is in a different category altogether. For all its faults, the military has too integral a role in American culture and society to be summarily banned from campus. Concerns about discrimination are surely legitimate, and any future ROTC program should be designed with the rights of LGBT students in mind. Columbia should look to the example set by MIT, which reimburses the Department of Defense on behalf of students removed from ROTC due to their sexual orientation. But to deny the military access to campus outright disengages Columbia from military issues and renders the University largely irrelevant in discussions of how issues like DADT should be addressed.
Columbia’s opposition to ROTC has failed to end DADT. In the meantime, without an ROTC program on campus, there has been little discussion of DADT and little effort to effect change. DADT is an unjust and impractical policy, but it must be fought in a way that does not sideline would-be military officers – or would-be Columbia students who may be dissuaded from applying.
The Spectator’s not alone in this position – The Harvard Crimson and several other university papers have advocated much the same thing. Student polls typically indicate an oppenness to the return of ROTC programs. And why is any of this surprising? The Spectator’s position is, after all, a very moderate one – it doesn’t concede objections to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in any measure. It’s a sad comment that this very reasonable position constitutes a far-right argument in the eyes of countless university administrations. ROTC’s most prominent university advocate is gone, and elite universities show little sign of ending their unremitting hostility to the program. Those Columbia students with an interest in ROTC will continue to have only one option: the bus to Fordham.
Drew Faust’s inauguration as Harvard President last Friday featured a surprising presence: the Harvard ROTC. The ROTC, which has been banned from the Harvard campus since 1969, formed a closing color guard composed of Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force students. Most wouldn’t have expected Faust to invite the ROTC – and they’d be right – she didn’t invite them. Their appearance was arranged through a request from the cadets themselves. And they were far from sure of the response; the Harvard Crimson, writing on the topic, noted that “ROTC members did not originally plan to propose the idea to Faust because they did not expect her to be interested.” Faust was receptive, however, and the closing color guard was arranged.
This appearance struck against fears that, after significant outreach to the ROTC during the Summers years, the organization would again be marginalized. Summers’ stance was hardly popular. Harvey Mansfield observed that “Summers made it clear that one of his desires on becoming President was to return ROTC to campus.” He was the first President in decades to attend ROTC commissioning ceremonies each year, where he conveyed unambiguous messages of support for the cadets. He “spoke strongly and clearly wanted things to change” a stance, Mansfield observes, that did not endear him to many at Harvard.
After the Summers experience, it was widely expected that Harvard would resume a more uniformly hostile stance towards ROTC. Neither incoming President Faust nor interim President Derek Bok attended this year’s ROTC commissioning ceremony. Stephen Rosen, the Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs, expressed a widely-recognized truth about the university at that gathering: “Harvard.. is uneasy with national military service, because it is uneasy with war, and with warriors, and it is no longer comfortable with the idea of Harvard as an American university, as opposed to an international university.”
Continue reading The ROTC Is Not Invited At Harvard
Harvard seems to be chugging in all the right directions as of late. Now that Harvard has escaped the nightmare-state of Summers apartheid the University is free to.. improve its standing in the field of hip-hop studies. The Crimson reports:
Marcyliena Morgan, a scholar of global hip-hop culture who was denied tenure under former University President Lawrence H. Summers, will be returning to Harvard in January with her husband, Lawrence D. Bobo, a prominent sociologist of race.
The couple left Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department in 2005 for Stanford, where they have both held tenure-level positions. At Harvard, Bobo was a full professor, while Morgan held an untenured associate professorship.
“Since the day they left, it has been my dream to get them back,” said Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., the former chair of the African and African American Studies Department and the Fletcher University Professor.
Af-Am Chair Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham said that the change of leadership in the University was one factor that made Morgan and Bobo’s return possible.
University President Drew G. Faust contacted the couple in person to urge them to return to Harvard, Gates said….
Good to see President Faust hard at work for a modern Harvard. While the President is wheedling hip-hop scholars, it’s surreal to see that it remains to The Crimson , in an editorial today, to note that military studies are woefully slight at the university:
Continue reading Harvard Wins Hip-Hop Scholar, Is Unsure What Military History Is.
John Noonan, at the Weekly Standard, writes on a novel problem affecting a sector of American higher education – too great a focus on practical education. And he offers a remedy of.. more liberal arts. A fantasy? No – the case at Service academies. There, Noonan observes, curricula is centrally grounded in math, science, and engineering – a state that’s prevailed since the war of 1812. He urges a different model:
An Army platoon leader would be better equipped to administer to tribes in Anbar province if he had a degree in International Affairs and a minor in Arabic. A Marine infantry Lieutenant might be more effective unifying warlords in Afghanistan if he spent his four years at Annapolis studying the history of central Asia. U.S. Special Forces have been deployed to over 180 different countries since 9/11, and, to be sure, the military offers them the education needed to meet that goal. But in all that training an academy cadet will only get as much foreign study as he can squeeze into his schedule between orbital mechanics and advanced calculus.
The British perfected this system at the height of their empire. Relying on a strong NCO corps (which America also enjoys), British officers were trained to perform the duties of regional governors while sergeants shouldered much of the responsibility for training and disciplining the men. That freed Lieutenants and Captains to manage tribes, recruit friendly warlords as allies, establish judicial systems and public works projects, and bolster the local economy. And look at the results. India and Pakistan were stable; the Muslim holy lands were quiet, and the Palestinian territories calm.
My alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute, understands that critical social element in officer development. VMI has a strong Arabic studies department, and their history and international studies curriculums are heavy in the military arts, national security studies, foreign language, and world history. VMI places a strong emphasis on study abroad opportunities, even if it means removing a cadet an environment of harsh military discipline for a semester. The methodology is simple: a cadet will benefit more from a semester in Morocco or Egypt than a semester spent shining brass and marching parades.
More study abroad, history, and foreign languages. Good for everyone.