Victor David Hanson argues the need to revive the studymilitary history. KC Johnson has made similar points. Academic ignorance of military and diplomatic history has weakened our understanding of warfare and foreign policies. In this vacuum, utopian fantasies take root. Without specialized knowledge, people can make absurd conclusions.
What moves nations? This was once the question of history. History provided context and understanding of the mechanisms behind human development. Ignorance of foreign policy is bad enough. But the loss of interest in the “hard” fields of history – Economics, Technology, Politics, Classics and Military – weakens out ability to understand what moves nation.
Did you know few die in war? More people are murdered by their own governments than killed in warfare. Which, if you think about this rationally, is really the point of war.
Try explaining to a college student that Tet was an American military victory. You’ll provoke not a counterargument—let alone an assent—but a blank stare: Who or what was Tet?
Tet was a decisive US victory that destroyed the Viet Cong. The guerrilla war in Vietnam came to an end shortly afterwards. The North Vietnamese had to launch repeated conventional invasions to win the war.
Tet was also the first “Information War” loss for the US. Americans were ignorant of what really happened, and allowed themselves to be deceived by journalists misreporting the battle. Tet created an enduring myth that Vietnam was an unwinnable guerrilla war.
It would be one thing if people misunderstood the Battle of Tet. Most don’t even know what it is, which leaves them vulnerable to similar manipulation in the future. Likely, this has already occurred in Iraq, where public opinion lags progress in the war by at least a year.
Perception means a great deal in warfare, perhaps even more than reality. We ought to make sure that the public understands the general nature of war so they can see through the fog – or at least understand what the fog of war even is.
Ignorance leads to irrational decision making.
…by ignoring history, the modern age is free to interpret war as a failure of communication, of diplomacy, of talking—as if aggressors don’t know exactly what they’re doing.
This is the strangest belief I’ve ever heard. Armed Conflict is part of rational political coercion. War policies try to contain irrationality and uncertainty as much as humanly possible. Thousands of years of history taught us that conflicts of interest are produced by rationality. We cannot just pretend that’s not true.
One is hard pressed to find examples of wars started by miscommunication or failures of personal diplomacy. Personal diplomacy, historically, signals weakness and encourages acts of aggression.
To understand the causes and effects of armed conflicts, we must understand the mechanisms of politics. How do politics, militaries, economics, and technology combine to shape the movement of nations?
Hanson’s earliest work was re-examination the evolution of Hoplite warfare. How did it emerge? Well, he found it was deeply tied to the agrarian economy of the region. The equipment of hoplites, their tactics, their selection of battlegrounds, and its connection to diplomacy is vital to understanding ancient politics of the time:
I came to the study of warfare in an odd way, at the age of 24. Without ever taking a class in military history, I naively began writing about war for a Stanford classics dissertation that explored the effects of agricultural devastation in ancient Greece, especially the Spartan ravaging of the Athenian countryside during the Peloponnesian War. The topic fascinated me. Was the strategy effective? Why assume that ancient armies with primitive tools could easily burn or cut trees, vines, and grain on thousands of acres of enemy farms, when on my family farm in Selma, California, it took me almost an hour to fell a mature fruit tree with a sharp modern ax? Yet even if the invaders couldn’t starve civilian populations, was the destruction still harmful psychologically? Did it goad proud agrarians to come out and fight? And what did the practice tell us about the values of the Greeks—and of the generals who persisted in an operation that seemingly brought no tangible results?
I posed these questions to my prospective thesis advisor, adding all sorts of further justifications. The topic was central to understanding the Peloponnesian War, I noted. The research would be interdisciplinary—a big plus in the modern university—drawing not just on ancient military histories but also on archaeology, classical drama, epigraphy, and poetry.
And the advisor was skeptical. It was about war, so it couldn’t be a good research topic. Hanson’s Thesis would be brilliant. He investigated and discovered the origins of the “Western Way of War” and the reasons why Westerners prefered infantry shock battle over the missile oriented Asian armies.
The sixties had ushered in a utopian view of society antithetical to serious thinking about war. Government, the military, business, religion, and the family had conspired, the new Rousseauians believed, to warp the naturally peace-loving individual. Conformity and coercion smothered our innately pacifist selves. To assert that wars broke out because bad men, in fear or in pride, sought material advantage or status, or because good men had done too little to stop them, was now seen as antithetical to an enlightened understanding of human nature
Indeed. There is currently a small movement in International Relations which undermines the entire concept of peace. Physicists have invaded the social sciences and are discovering powerlaw phenomenon. Wars follow powerlaws – particularly in terms of casualties of all wars and within wars. War is a constant presence in the world, even today.
This comes at the time when emotionally-laden Peace studies and “Feminist” theories argue against patriarchy politics and white male logical positivism – whatever that means. Culture is a null variable, but math-free “culture studies” have proliferated along with group-think.
Hanson notes the one bright spot. Amateur military history is still popular. Histories by John Keegan and Hanson are still bestsellers. There’s a Military History Channel and Civil War history is still widely discussed. There’s also a nerd-subculture devoted to war games. While academics have neglected the study of politics and war, many Americans have educated themselves.
Which is a good thing, because if you don’t understand foreign policy, you are more susceptible to myths. Fantasies give you the Peace Racket.
We need to make two points about this movement at the outset. First, it’s opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values. Second, we’re talking not about a bunch of naive Quakers but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union, and in many nongovernmental organizations.
Quite. Let’s differentiate anti-war movements here. There are Realists who understand war but believe may view one particular war as unwise. There are Quakers and religious pacifists who do not participate in the killing, but may volunteer as medics and doctors to alleviate the suffering of conflict.
Then there’s another group altogether. This group opposes war against specific regimes – such as Communist governments.
The main figure behind this new Peace Racket is Johan Galtung, a hardcore Marxist.
Here’s his beliefs:
Though Galtung has opined that the annihilation of Washington, D.C., would be a fair punishment for America’s arrogant view of itself as “a model for everyone else,” he’s long held up certain countries as worthy of emulation—among them Stalin’s USSR, whose economy, he predicted in 1953, would soon overtake the West’s. He’s also a fan of Castro’s Cuba, which he praised in 1972 for “break[ing] free of imperialism’s iron grip.” At least you can’t accuse Galtung of hiding his prejudices. In 1973, explaining world politics in a children’s newspaper, he described the U.S. and Western Europe as “rich, Western, Christian countries” that make war to secure materials and markets: “Such an economic system is called capitalism, and when it’s spread in this way to other countries it’s called imperialism.” In 1974, he sneered at the West’s fixation on “persecuted elite personages” such as Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov. Thirty years later, he compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany for bombing Kosovo and invading Afghanistan and Iraq. For Galtung, a war that liberates is no better than one that enslaves.
His all-time favorite nation? China during the Cultural Revolution. Visiting his Xanadu, Galtung concluded that the Chinese loved life under Mao: after all, they were all “nice and smiling.” While “repressive in a certain liberal sense,” he wrote, Mao’s China was “endlessly liberating when seen from many other perspectives that liberal theory has never understood.” Why, China showed that “the whole theory about what an ‘open society’ is must be rewritten, probably also the theory of ‘democracy’—and it will take a long time before the West will be willing to view China as a master teacher in such subjects.”
Indeed. I take it the Black Book of Communism will not be required reading in these “Peace” Studies.
Communist governments murdered at least 100 million of their own citizens. Call this peace if you wish, but the death toll was worse than any war or any other political ideology in the 20th century. Not all governments are created equal. That’s the cost of peace.
We must abandon the naive faith that with enough money, education, or good intentions we can change the nature of mankind so that conflict, as if by fiat, becomes a thing of the past. In the end, the study of war reminds us that we will never be gods. We will always just be men, it tells us. Some men will always prefer war to peace; and other men, we who have learned from the past, have a moral obligation to stop them.