A while back I was going through all the books that line my shelves, culling some in order to make room for potential new entrants. Although I am trying to branch out a bit, a lot of the books are on military history, particularly of the WW2 and WW1 vintage (I am trying to read some more light-hearted materials).
One of the main participants in history of that era is of course the Germans and in particular the German General Staff. A lot of the books that had lain unread for a while related to various German military campaigns and biographies of their commanders.
As I sat looking at the stack of books going to various recyclers I started to think about how focusing on that era, and in particular the Germans, is so irrelevant to the world that we face today. I am not talking about war in the abstract or the fact that the Germans were excellent planners and professionals in many dimensions (although not all) which is always relevant, but the fact that today the Germans are such minor players on the world military stage and their past history, so to speak, is totally irrelevant towards future behavior.
I then noticed a news release about Germans being killed in battle… but they were German nationals killed by a drone attack working against coalition forces in the middle east! I realize that this is sensationalistic and under values the hard work and lives lost that the Germans as coalition members have suffered as part of their support in Afghanistan but still it was a jolt.
Here is the oddest thought of all… as Americans we have long made jokes at the expense of the French about their military prowess, with some foundation particularly the WW2 era. But today, which country is more likely to stand up for themselves in a time of crisis and utilize military power – I’d put my money on France, which still has entanglements in Africa and attempts to burn a fierce nationalistic pride, while the Germans de-emphasize national identity in particular a military outlook post WW2.
These books lining my shelves were telling me about the past, but not the future. There are many countries that will drive the future for military purposes, but the Germans aren’t one of them. While today our military is locked in struggles against terrorists and IED’s (as well as a civil war of sorts in Afghanistan) there certainly could be a showdown someday against an armed and organized nation state, whether it is Iran or China. It isn’t that the nation to nation showdowns, which have been pushed to the back burner in our current era, won’t come back – it is just that the players will be very different and while we may have a lot to learn from the past it is unknown how much of the WW2 experience in particular will be valuable for consideration.
I need to start over, and clear the shelves, literally as well as figuratively.
Cross posted at LITGM