Blogs > Cliopatria > An Officer at the Pentagon Evaluates NRO's "Sounding Taps"

Sep 29, 2006 8:06 am

An Officer at the Pentagon Evaluates NRO's "Sounding Taps"

In one of his occasional guest posts for Altercation, the blog of journalist Eric Alterman, LTC Robert Bateman writes concerning National Review Online's "Sounding Taps" article.

Bateman returned earlier this year from a hitch in Baghdad and is currently assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

As Bateman's article has no convenient permalink, and as he owns the copyright, with his permission I reproduce it here in full:

I generally don't much care where I get my news, so long as it appears factual. A fellow academic recently sent one story along, the link is below, and I believe it is worth some thought. As Altercators know, I am of the opinion that during War or Peace, it is important for citizens of a Democracy to understand war. The article highlights the sorry state of affairs for military history within academia.

In this case, because this story comes from National Review, it should be viewed with some dose of healthy skepticism. But in my opinion it does, generally, accurately portray the state of affairs on campus, although it is also a little too loose with the facts about what military history is about for my tastes. The author's disdain for"social history," for example, is idiotic. He raises the point that"social history" is infecting military history, without even realizing the irony that several of the noted historians he cites as paragons consider themselves to be social historians as well. The development of"social history" fields has only been a boon, at the intellectual level, for serious military historians because it has opened our eyes to new ways of thinking about old issues.

But on another level he is right in his gross assertion that military history is disdained, military historians held in generally low esteem, and the field may be in danger of dying out ... during a time of war.

I think he is also correct, to some degree, in asserting that this is occurring in no small part because those with the authority in most history departments do seem to conflate the study of the military with militarism. The irony, of course, is that several of the most liberal democrats I know ... are military historians. But see the story here and decide for yourself. Professor Mark Grimsley has also started a discussion about the article on Cliopatriahere, and, of course, there is always Grimsley's own ever interesting blog, here.

September 28, 2006

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Mark Grimsley - 9/29/2006

You're absolutely right, David, as I suspect most of us know. The "new cultural history" and the "linguistic turn" are much more in vogue. I believe I've even read articles mentioning the "post-linguistic turn." Gad, I'm so old-fashioned!

David M Fahey - 9/29/2006

May I raise a question only loosely connected with this discussion? The assumption apparently held by one and all in this conversation about military history is that social history remains the most fashionable historical flavor. As a social historian, I wouldn't mind this being true, but is it? Yes, nearly all of us claim to do social history (by our own definition). Unfortunately or others might say fortunately, the peak of "materialist" social history may have been the 1970s or thereabouts. Since then cultural history, the linguistic turn, etc., has made social historians seem a bit old-fashioned. I realize that a rebuttal is possible: just define social history to include cultural history. But I think that, for example, E.P. Thompson is not the same as Patrick Joyce.