Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rethinking Military History, by Jeremy Black

New York: Routledge, 2004, pp. 258.

The main themes of Black's Rethinking Military History, which readers of his other work are likely to have run across elsewhere, are that the writing of military history, especially as consumed by the broader public,

1. has focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe and the United States, to the neglect of the military history of other regions.
2. has been biased toward technological explanations for capability (and other developments).
3. has focused on "leading powers and dominant military systems, leading to a paradigm/diffusion model of military capability and change."
4. has separated the understanding of war on land and on sea.
5. has focused on interstate wars rather than war within states (with only a few exceptions, like the U.S. Civil War).
6. has failed to pay enough attention to "political 'tasking' in the setting of force structures, doctrines and goals, and in the judging of military success."

For the most part, I find it impossible to argue with his view of the state of military historiography, and on the whole I think he did a good job of offering a corrective in the book (except perhaps for point number four, which got comparatively little attention).

I also enjoyed the discussion of the writing of "pop" military history in the book's second chapter. Quite accurately, I thought, he analyzed the focus not just on Western history and interstate conflicts, but the tendency of writers to treat the same handful of wars over and over again while virtually ignoring every other subject. (Because he devotes so much time to the British market, the discussion of the status of Napoleonic era and World War I historiography is far less representative of the United States, but the principle is pretty much the same.) And of course, he notes the emphasis on biography, memoirs and operational accounts, at the expense of other kinds of writing.

You only need to check out C-SPAN's BOOK TV one weekend to see how much this is the case.

No comments:

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon