Institutional ignorance of warfare

John Miller:

A decade ago, best-selling author Stephen Ambrose donated $250,000 to the University of Wisconsin, his alma mater, to endow a professorship in American military history. A few months later, he gave another $250,000. Until his death in 2002, he badgered friends and others to contribute additional funds. Today, more than $1 million sits in a special university account for the Ambrose-Heseltine Chair in American History, named after its main benefactor and the long-dead professor who trained him.

The chair remains vacant, however, and Wisconsin is not currently trying to fill it. “We won’t search for a candidate this school year,” says John Cooper, a history professor. “But we’re committed to doing it eventually.” The ostensible reason for the delay is that the university wants to raise even more money, so that it can attract a top-notch senior scholar. There may be another factor as well: Wisconsin doesn’t actually want a military historian on its faculty. It hasn’t had one since 1992, when Edward M. Coffman retired. “His survey course on U.S. military history used to overflow with students,” says Richard Zeitlin, one of Coffman’s former graduate teaching assistants. “It was one of the most popular courses on campus.” Since Coffman left, however, it has been taught only a couple of times, and never by a member of the permanent faculty.

One of these years, perhaps Wisconsin really will get around to hiring a professor for the Ambrose-Heseltine chair — but right now, for all intents and purposes, military history in Madison is dead. It’s dead at many other top colleges and universities as well. Where it isn’t dead and buried, it’s either dying or under siege. Although military history remains incredibly popular among students who fill lecture halls to learn about Saratoga and Iwo Jima and among readers who buy piles of books on Gettysburg and D-Day, on campus it’s making a last stand against the shock troops of political correctness. “Pretty soon, it may become virtually impossible to find military-history professors who study war with the aim of understanding why one side won and the other side lost,” says Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who taught at West Point for ten years. That’s bad news not only for those with direct ties to this academic sub-discipline, but also for Americans generally, who may find that their collective understanding of past military operations falls short of what the war-torn present demands.

The very first histories ever written were military histories. Herodotus described the Greek wars with Persia, and Thucydides chronicled the Peloponnesian War. “It will be enough for me,” wrote Thucydides nearly 25 centuries ago, “if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.” The Marine Corps certainly thinks Thucydides is useful: He appears on a recommended-reading list for officers. One of the most important lessons he teaches is that war is an aspect of human existence that can’t be wished away, no matter how hard the lotus-eaters try.

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It is easy to understand why the left would want to suppress that book. Later Miller quotes, “'Military historians have been hunted into extinction by politically active faculty members who think military history is a subject for right-wing, imperialistic warmongers,' says Robert Bruce, a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas. " There is much more in this important article. BTW, Texas A&M which is a few miles north of Washington, Texas is cited as one of the few places that has a strong program. That is not too surprising for a place that used to require that every student be in ROTC. It produced more officers in World War II than any other college.

One of the reasons the Democrats are able to get a core following in the anti war camp is that their allies in academia have consipred to keep people ignorant of the history of warfare. They not only do not want to study war, they do not want anyown else to. But, keeping people ignorant of warfare will not prevent wars. Wars happen because some people want somethings are places enough to use force to get them and others want to resist them enough to use force. Ignorance will only make the resistance to the enemy more difficult, but that seems to be a theme of the modern Democrat party.

His whole article is well worth reading.

Miller has had some unusual feedback on his article.

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