The new Military History Carnival has been posted at Wig-Wags. One of the featured posts, The state of strategy at Kings of War — which looks at the great strategic thinkers of history and wonders why there seem to have been relatively few in recent times — inspired the above title. It's posed as a question, not a statement ('Why I don't care about strategy') because I'm not sure that my not caring is a good thing for a military historian, especially since I do deal with strategic thought in my work on early twentieth-century airpower. But I find myself uninterested in the eternal principles of strategy, or how to win the war in Afghanistan, or whether China will replace the United States as the world's superpower, or whether Clausewitz was right or Douhet (or vice versa, or neither or both). Or at least, I find some of these things interesting sometimes, but as somebody who lives on this planet, not as an historian.
When I first started researching my area, two of the first books I read were George Quester's Deterrence Before Hiroshima and Robin Higham's The Military Intellectuals in Britain, and I still find the latter especially useful. As it happens, both books were published in 1966, and both reflect their Cold War context very deeply. Both Quester and Higham were concerned to use their studies of the interwar fear of the bomber to draw conclusions for military thinkers in their own day. To some extent this distorted their analysis: they were much more interested in those ideas and events which seemed to parallel the development of nuclear strategy, rejecting those which did not as wrong or just uninteresting. So I think I am wary of indulging in a similar presentism. (Not that I have a gift for it.)
But is this realistic, sensible, or even defensible? Isn't part of the point of history to learn from it? Conversely, isn't it possible that I could learn something about history by studying the present day? Professionally speaking, aren't there possible gains for a military historian in fostering closer contact with those creating the military history of the future (applied military history, perhaps)? Is this simply a distaste for the reality at the core of my study — killing, dying, suffering? Do historians of crime similarly distance themselves from their closest present-day analogues (criminologists)? Labour historians? Gender historians? Or maybe it's just me?
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