Academia’s Jihad Against Military History

If American military historians had fur, fangs or feathers it is a safe bet that they would have a place of honor on the Endangered Species List:

Two of the last five Pulitzer Prizes in history were awarded to books about the American military. Four of the five Oscar nominees for best documentary this year were about warfare. Business, for military historians, is good.Except, strangely enough, in academia. On college campuses, historians who study military institutions and the practice of war are watching their classrooms overflow and their books climb bestseller lists — but many say they are still struggling, as they have been for years, to win the respect of their fellow scholars. John Lynn, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, first described this paradox in a 1997 essay called “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History.”
….”While military history dominates the airwaves…its academic footprint continues to shrink, and it has largely vanished from the curriculum of many of our elite universities.”The field that inspired the work of writers from Thucydides to Winston Churchill is, today, only a shell of its former self. The number of high-profile military history experts in the Ivy League can be counted on one hand. Of the more than 150 colleges and universities that offer a Ph.D. in history, only a dozen offer full-fledged military history programs. Most military historians are scattered across a collection of Midwestern and southern schools, from Kansas State to Southern Mississippi.
“Each of us is pretty much a one-man shop,” says Carol Reardon, a professor of military history at Penn State University and the current president of the Society for Military History. The vast majority of colleges and universities do not have a trained military historian on staff.
….More than a decade ago, the University of Wisconsin received $250,000 to endow a military history chair from none other than Stephen Ambrose, the author of “Band of Brothers” and one of the field’s most popular figures. Ambrose donated another $250,000 before he died in 2002, but the school has yet to fill the position.
….And while some believe the profession is being purposefully purged by a generation of new-wave historians of gender, labor and ethnic studies, whose antiwar views blind them to the virtues of military history, most insist that nothing so insidious is happening.“I don’t think there’s been a deliberate policy of killing these positions,” says Wayne Lee, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Instead, most of the historians interviewed by U.S. News believe the study of war, like several other, more traditional historical disciplines such as political and diplomatic history, has simply been de-emphasized as the field has expanded since the 1960s. ”

Read the rest here.

It’s true that military history is not being targeted per se, though the field gets caught up in leftist faculty attitudes toward ROTC, American foreign policy and dead white guys. Economic and diplomatic history programs are faring little better and with history departments being squeezed in general, even labor and social historians are finding tight job markets. No, it’s simply a herd mentality in action, responding to the PC fetishes of academic administrative culture. It’s more important for the key decision makers in universities, colleges and departments on campuses with active women’s and ethnic studies programs to make certain that the History department is redundantly stacked with tenure track positions in these same subdisciplinary areas two or three deep.

All is not lost. It is true that students at universities are being cheated out of the opportunity to receive educations that are less slanted in terms of discipline, methodology or politics but that is a problem far larger than just the field of history. It’s a systemic and generational issue that will be remediated when alumni donors, state legislatures and Federal agencies giving grants demand greater responsibility, accountability and service from universities for the money they are given; and when the tenured radical boomers thin out with retirement and death.

Specific to military historians, things are not as bleak as they seem. To an extent, the university is a legacy institution that while important, lacks the prestige or centrality in American intellectual life it once commanded. Military history should have a place at any decent sized college or university but if making a difference is what matters, as opposed to having a sinecure to pay the bills, academia is not the end all, be all anymore.

As the article makes clear, well written military history – and a lot of it is quite good compared to other subfields -is in demand everywhere else. The Department of Defense runs it’s own service academies and postgraduate institutions as well as having staff analyst positions ranging from OSD to DIA. Think Tanks, from premier outfits like RAND to smaller foundations, will need military historians and strategic studies people if they hope to be ” in the game” influencing policy or public opinion (the tanks are coasting now, often times with “experts” who have far less knowledge of military affairs than do I – and I’m not a military historian by any stretch of the imagination!). All of this is far more important work, with real world implications, than playing fantasy land academic games. Then there’s writing books that the normal, intelligent, reading public actually want to read and having an audience larger than, say, fifty people.

History that does not get disseminated, debated and understood is not history at all.

Cross-posted at Zenpundit


Again, from the usual source: with reference to this … TBN is a sewer, Crouch is a parasite, and Stein is upholding the finest tradition of Hollywood celebrities, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

Lots of other people, I hope, will be quoting Jacob Bronowski today, from the “Knowledge or Certainty” episode of The Ascent of Man:

It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken.”
I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

I’m not finished. I know PZ Myers. I’ve corresponded with him, spoken with him, and been a guest in his house. Nor was I there under false pretenses; he knows exactly what I am. I can think of few contrasts sharper than that between the way atheist liberal blue-state biology professor PZ Myers treated evangelical libertarian red-state corporate slug Jay Manifold and the way PZ is getting treated by these cretins.

It’s about time somebody started a “Christian Fans of PZ Myers” club, complete with WWPZD bracelets.

Did I mention that TBN is a sewer?

“Why stay in college? Why go to night school? Gonna be different this time …”

Via the usual source, why bright kids should, in many cases, drop out is thoroughly explained at America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree. It’s positively Freakonomics-worthy stuff. Turns out I knew what I was doing at age 19 … avoiding a s___load of debt and not compromising my future earning power much, if at all.

(Actually, in my case there is almost no doubt I would be both 1] making less money and 2] living somewhere more expensive right now if I’d somehow stayed in the academic world. Figure student debt into that and my net worth would be perhaps a quarter its present value, and that’s if I were lucky.)

Key passage: “You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they’d still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound …”

The Talking Heads would agree.

(Related: lengthy six-month old post, Get Out the Hankies, with tons of comments, over on Transterrestrial Musings.)

UPDATE: More food for thought

Quote of the Day

Seems [person 1] does not take sides. [Person 2] makes discussions seem a matter of taking sides.

(From a Usenet discussion.)

O’Reilly, the Democrats and Wright

Watching Bill O’Reilly interview partisans about Jeremiah Wright, it occurs to me that O’Reilly’s interests now overlap those of the Democrats, and that something slick has just happened. When the Democratic spin was that Wright had been misquoted (“God damn America”), and that anyway Obama had spent little time with him, O’Reilly was eager to expose Obama’s relationship with Wright. That relationship was a source of controversy and O’Reilly’s business runs on controversy.

But now the Democratic spin is that Obama has repudiated Wright, and that Wright is a self-aggrandizing buffoon (“God damn America”) whose antics are irrelevant in a fair assessment of the reasonable, even tempered Obama. And O’Reilly, either taking the bait or having a good sense of where the ratings are, is no longer on the trail of the dissembling Obama so much as he is focusing on the bloviating Wright.

Thus Wright takes on the role of a decoy flare that is launched by an aircraft to distract heat-seeking missiles — at least that is how Democrats wish to see the situation. Republicans prefer to think that Wright is stuck to Obama and will weigh him down come November. I think the Republicans are more likely to be correct but who knows. What I find fascinating is how unerringly O’Reilly is attracted to the flashiest part of any issue, and how by focusing on the flash and noise he tends to miss more-important points. He hounds the judge who furloughed the sex offender, while ignoring reasonable questions about statutory-rape and mandatory-sentencing laws. Similarly, O’Reilly pursues Wright at the expense of giving additional scrutiny to candidate Obama’s slippery non-repudiations of his detestable mentor.

O’Reilly isn’t bad as big-media types go, which is saying something, but there’s still a lot of spin in his “no-spin zone.” Unlike typical MSM spin, which is heavily political, O’Reilly’s bias leans more toward the sensational and moralistic. (Other journalists make things easier for him by underreporting some types of sensational stories for political reasons.) His journalistic style makes good business sense. However, viewers, particularly those who share his political views, should be cautious about accepting his conclusions, and should consider not only the heavy-handed points he scores but also the thoughtful questions he doesn’t ask.

“What The Clintons Did For Feminism”

Rand Simberg has a good post on this topic.

The Clintons did a lot of damage to the country by their relentless personal attacks on their political adversaries. I don’t blame them for all of the nasty polarization that now exists, yet it seems to me that they bear significant blame. How much more civil and thoughtful might our public life now be if, instead of fanning and exploiting public divisions for their own ends, the Clintons had made some effort to buffer group animosities? To note that they were nice to some people and groups is to miss the point. The Clintons treated conservatives and libertarians as class enemies and abused the power of the State against individuals of all backgrounds who made trouble for them. We shouldn’t forget.

ChicagoBoyz Physical Fitness Series Continued…

We have seen several examples in our physical fitness series that show the prowess of various ChicagoBoyz bloggers in the areas of strength, speed and power. But two aspects of the total physical fitness package that are overlooked at times (but are no less important than the others) are balance and agility. In this video, Jonathan on a recent vacation to Spain shows us what I am talking about.

For those interested here is the wiki on the site in the video.
H/T to Lou.

Madison Too Reaps What They Sow

Since Dan took a (well deserved) pot shot at my town of Chicago recently I couldn’t help but notice this article in today’s Chicago Tribune titled “Public casts colder eye at homeless” subtitled “In Madison, rising suspicions in wake of unsolved slayings fuel backlash”.

The article states that there are 224,000 people in Madison and 3,400 homeless. By some simple math that means that 1.5% of Madison’s total population is homeless, if these statistics are correct. Per the article:

“A backlash against street people is under way in this renowned liberal college town after an uncharacteristically violent turn of events. Two unsolved murders in the span of a little more than two months have shaken Madison’s secure sense of small-city living and, even though no suspect has been named, the eye of suspicion has been fixed on panhandlers who work the streets.”

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A Sea Change

When I was a kid I remember that teaching “history” went out of fashion. For instance, we didn’t talk about stuff like wars, such as WW1, WW2, or even the civil war or Vietnam. The teachers themselves did not seem to have much direct knowledge on the topics, either – often they’d let me teach the WW2 sections (when they came up) rather than have me continually interrupt (since they didn’t know anything more than what they were reading of the 2-3pp that summarized WW2). It was only a day here or there out of years of classes, after all.

What did they teach instead of history? From what I remember it was mainly “sociology“, which according to Wikipedia is “the study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture”. I don’t remember learning too much, except that every page of the book featured multi-cultural interactions and photos; really that was all I remembered at all.

It is ironic that the study of history fell off the map (except for alternate histories where everything that the USA has ever done was crap, i.e. Chomsky / Michael Moore) and this sort of social “imagineering” picked up the pace, because, in reality, history of course moved on in completely opposite direction.

This months’ issue (March / April) of Foreign Affairs punches that issue right in the head with an article titled “The Clash of Peoples – Why ethnic nationalism will drive global politics for generations”.

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Microtargeting in Politics

Eugene Burdick, best known as co-author of Fail-Safe and The Ugly American, also published (in 1964) a novel titled The 480, dealing with the use of advanced computer techniques to influence election results. (The number “480” refers to the number of demographic categories into which the analysts have divided the American electorate…the book was inspired by actual work done by a company called Simulmatics on John F Kennedy’s campaign.) The computing in the novel is done by an IBM 7094 (portrayed in slightly sinister terms), a machine which has less processing capacity than the computer on which you are reading this, but which looked a lot more impressive.

I was reminded of this book by a Washington Post article on microtargeting in contemporary politics. The idea is to identify groups of voters like “education-obsessed Hispanic moms” in New Mexico, who respond favorably to mailings about the No Child Left Behind law. Or, on the other side, Democrats microtargeting “Christian Conservative Environmentalists.” The article says that microtargeting has been enabled by cheaper and more powerful computer hardware and by the availability of more information about individuals and zip-code-level demographics.

Another example given involves the use of microtargeting by the Romney campaign. Romney voters were well-represented among what the article calls “‘country-club Republicans,’ well-off folks who care deeply about financial issues that favor their portfolios. TargetPoint, a political consulting firm, identified another group, one “not quite sold on Romney but susceptible to a pitch on his economic policies. These were people who didn’t make as much money as the country-clubbers but displayed consumer habits similar to those of the snob set — drove sport-utility vehicles, went to the theater, bought natural foods.”

I’m not sure whether term “snob set” comes from the WP writer (Steven Levy) or from TargetPoint, but would observe that people who drive SUVs, go to the theater, and buy natural foods represent a substantial part of the WP’s subscriber base. Levy also suggests that “the Romney camp has sorted out individuals whose striving makes them vulnerable to a pitch that, at least with their current financial status, is at odds with their economic interests.” Maybe some of these people are actually intelligent enough to think in terms of their expected future economic condition, as well as their present one, and to want to preserve economic opportunity, for others as well as themselves, rather than playing zero-sum games based on a static view of economic stratification.

Anyhow, The 480 is an interesting and well-writen novel.

Mug Half Empty, But It’s Also Half Full

Belmont Club links to the following news story:

The British military expressed cautious optimism at the progress. Major Tom Holloway, a spokesman, said: “The Iraqi security forces have made a real difference; this is going to be a long operation by its nature. However, rule of law is returning to the streets.”

Perseverance pays off and long operations require a core optimism. But perhaps it’s all nurtured by a bit of black humor, a bit of irony. After all, WWII was won by people who invented the term SNAFU. So, here’s some merchandising – the question is, does it toughen us or lead us to despair or, well, merely, make us smile? Whatever – I want that mug. There may well be a providential order, but today things look screwed.

And, longer term, perseverance isn’t just a trait, it’s a duty. And so Wretchard follows that story with this one by Wretchard.

Just in Time for the Beijing Olympics

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an online exhibition about the 1936 Nazi Olympics:

In August 1936, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship scored a huge propaganda success as host of the Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Games were a brief, two-week interlude in Germany’s escalating campaign against its Jewish population and the country’s march toward war. This site explores the issues surrounding the 1936 Olympic Games—the Nazis’ use of propaganda, the intense boycott debate, the history of the torch run, the historic performance of Jesse Owens, and more.

Change a few names and nouns and the above description fits the 2008 Olympics rather closely, no? Congratulations to the USHMM on its fine sense of timing. Let’s hope that the Chinese government benefits less from the 2008 games than Hitler did from the ones in 1936.

New! ChicagoBoyz Eatin’ Cheap Contest!

In my last post I mentioned some things that blew me away because they were so inexpensive. The main thing I discussed was shaving cream, but I also brought up some food items. That last comment thread went two ways – some took the shaving angle, and some approached the food angle. For this post we will keep going down the food path.

I would like to hear in the comments ways that you eat cheaply. The media is full of stories of doom and gloom about how food is skyrocketing in price, so let’s take the opposite tack and discuss things at the other end of the spectrum. I will start.

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Stupid Quote of the Day

With Earth Day as a backdrop to the concern about use of fossil fuels, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D. Calif.), said that “until we build the replacements for gasoline…there ought to be a prohibition on market speculation.”

(Source: “US Senators Grow Louder In Call For Oil-Market Probe”, Dow Jones Newswires, 4/23/2008)

UPDATE: Fixed the link. Note that the subtly different WSJ title for this article is, “Democrats Demand Probe Of Oil-Market Speculation”.

Some Things Are Still Cheap

Once in a while at work I am taken aback at how cheap some things are. I find myself on occasion wondering how a certain item could be made in China, shipped over here, marked up, then marked up by me and still cost what is a relative pittance.

I have always been amazed at how cheaply you could eat if you needed to. I am not talking about USDA prime cuts here. If you were down and totally out and needed to resort to cheap food just to sustain, you can get by on just a few bucks a day. Mac and cheese is .59. A loaf of bread is still under a buck. Fruit and veggies are still relatively cheap compared to other foods.

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“Then We Came To The End”

Then We Came To The End” is a novel published by first time author Joshua Ferris. The novel is about an ad agency from the height of the dot-com boom down through its eventual nadir, when almost everyone gets laid off.

This book received good reviews from many sources and I was eying it for a while; recently I have been down for the count and had a bit of time to catch up on my reading so I pulled it off my shelf and read it cover to cover.

I used to work at something “close” to an ad agency; during the height of the dot-com boom many firms were gluing together their existing consulting and technology practices with ad agencies to put together a dot-com sheen that led to high (short term) market values. Thus I have some level of experience with the environment that Ferris is describing.

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China Markets

In recent years foreign equity markets have trounced US equity markets. While the US equity markets have stayed effectively flat since 2000, many foreign markets, such as China, scored robust gains.

To many people, myself included, any time stocks rise at this rate without “fundamental” positive changes to the environment, it smells of a bubble. Remember prior to 2000 when the dot-com stocks were going to remain at a “permanently high level”, or that the economic cycle had been tamed? These thoughts were shattered when the NASDAQ swooned 78% from peak to trough during its brutal fall.

I run some individual stocks for my nieces and nephews at this site and let them select from a list of stocks; in recent years there has been a strong emphasis on these well performing overseas issues. One stock that had a meteoric rise was China Mobile – the largest wireless firm in China (and the world) – whose stock went from under $40 / share to over $100 / share in about a year – remember this stock had an enormous market capitalization to begin with and anytime a large company has this type of stock performance it is extremely abnormal. We took our winnings and left; the stock has subsequently dropped significantly.

This chart from the WSJ article “China Stocks, Once Frothy, Fall by Half in Six Months” shows clearly the runup in the China index from 2006 (near 1000) to almost 6000 in late 2007, down to near 3000 today (April 2008).

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Quote of the Day

Tom Smith sees art plain:

And now for some deep thoughts about Art. I think the heart of the problem is not that artists take themselves too seriously, but that everybody else takes them too seriously. People forget that art is fundamentally interior decoration. And occasionally outdoor decoration. The job of art is to produce stuff that rich people want to buy and put on their walls or in their gardens because it is nice to look at, or use, if you are talking about, for example, pots. Rich people here includes rich institutions, such as the Catholic Church. That is, contrary to what Ms. Something or Other of Yale says, art is a commodity. Well, maybe not a commodity. In justice, I suppose frequently it qualifies as a unique good for purposes of commercial law. But just a good. This notion that markets make bad art, is just the opposite of true. Institutions supporting art for non-market reasons produces bad art — political art, ideological art, art about issues, and so on. Dreadful stuff. Art produced for markets produces stuff you can imagine wanting to buy if you had the money.
I think a good rule of thumb is that if a piece of art has to be explained to you before you can see why anybody would bother to make it or look at it, you are wasting your time looking at it. One useful thing about repellent performance art, such as videos of abortions, is that it disabuses people of their earnest middle class sentiment that art will somehow improve or elevate them, if only by opening their minds. It can do that, but it has to start with something else, and it has to have something to improve you and elevate you with, which is not going to be art itself. I suspect that governments giving money to artists has done a lot to promote bad art. Finally, there is a lot of shockingly dreadful Marxist theory of art stuff out there, which I advise you to avoid.

A tangentially related post is here.

A sing along with the Democratic candidates

For some reason, Obama’s remark about bitter small-town people clinging to their guns and their religion made me think about this song:

She said fine and in thirty seconds time she said, I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do, I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people like you.

Sing along with the common people, sing along and it might just get you thru’
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you and the stupid things that you do.

Oh, and I also have one for Hillary:

Didn’t take too long fore I found out
What people mean by down and out.
Spent my money, took my car,
Started tellin her friends she wants to be a star.
I dont know but I been told
A big legged woman ain’t got no soul.

Lex’s Favorite War Movies VII: The Dam Busters

The Dam Busters is one of those classics I never got around to seeing. I finally saw it today, and it immediately gets classed as a favorite.

I was familiar with the story, from reading David Jablonski’s two volume Air War; when I was, I am guessing, twelve years old. I have sitting on my shelf Paul Brickhill’s book, entitled the Dam Busters. I have not read it yet, but back in my teen years I read his excellent books, The Great Escape, which the movie was based on, and his Reach for the Sky, the story of the legless Spitfire pilot, Douglas Bader.

There is a good synopsis of the movie on Wikipedia. The essence of the story is this. It is during the dark hours of World War II. that British inventor Barnes Wallis has figured out a way to destroy certain dams in Germany that provide water and hydroelectric power to the Ruhr, by “skipping” bombs off the water like you skip stones across a pond.. Wallis has to convince the government to let him do it. Then, a squadron has to be assembled, the men gathered and trained, the specially modified aircraft supplied. Then, the raid has to be carried out, successfully but at great cost. The squadron commander Guy Gibson was played by Richard Todd. Todd was a good actor, who according to the Wikipedia article, was Ian Fleming’s first pick to play James Bond. Michael Redgrave gave a solid, understated performance as Barnes Wallis.

The whole thing is done in a very straightforward style, without a lot of unnecessary emoting. This is pre-Diana Britain, thank Heavens.

The actual attack was damaging to the Germans, but not as devastating as hoped, which is almost the entire Allied bomber offensive in a nutshell.

The theme music became an instant classic, and can be heard on this clip.

(Links to earlier war movies posts here.)

P J O’Rourke Visits an Aircraft Carrier

…and is inspired to some thoughts about conservatism and John McCain.

I’m surprised that neither O’Rourke nor the highly literate editors of the Weekly Standard thought of including this 1851 quote from John Ruskin:

For one thing this century will in after ages be considered to have done in a superb manner and one thing I think only. . . it will always be said of us, with unabated reverence, “They built ships of the line” . . . the ship of the line is [man’s] first work. Into that he has put as much of his human patience, common sense, forethought, experimental philosophy, self control, habits of order and obedience, thoroughly wrought handwork, defiance of brute elements, careless courage, careful patriotism, and calm expectation of the judgement of God, as can well be put into a space of 300 feet long by 80 broad. And I am thankful to have lived in an age when I could see this thing so done.