Blogs > Cliopatria > More Crocodile Tears for Military History

Jun 21, 2007 12:26 pm

More Crocodile Tears for Military History

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

Tuesday's Cincinnati Enquirer featured a column entitled, "'Locomotive of history' Derailed by PC Professors." It's basically a re-hash of John Miller's "Sounding Taps" and a New York Sunarticle about historian Mark Moyar's lack of success in securing an academic position, allegedly because he's a military historian with a revisionist perspective on the Vietnam War.

The column implies that military history once flourished on college campuses -- not true -- then points out that no military history courses are taught at Xavier, Miami, or the University of Cincinnati. This is supposedly because of rampant political correctness.

The column makes no mention of the fact that Wright State, which is in the vicinity of the above three institutions, does offer courses in military history. Ohio State, of course, fits awkwardly with the column's thesis, but the author gets around it thus:

Even at Ohio State, known as one of the few universities nationwide that still teaches military history, professor John Mueller, who holds the hallowed Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, claims there is really no terrorist threat - which must be a surprise to the soldiers who are actually making military history in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mueller does not contend that there is no terrorist threat. He contends that the threat of a terrorist attack on the United States has deliberately been Overblown -- hardly the same thing.

I took the time to look at the 2006-2007 course offerings at the University of Cincinnati. The descriptions for the relevant history surveys state that they cover the World Wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, etc. There's a course on The United States in World War II (with another on the Home Front during World War II), two courses on War and American Society, and a course on Film and the History of World War II. There's also a course on the American Civil War. The columnist either didn't bother to examine the course descriptions or decided to ignore them -- just as he chose to ignore the fact that Miami University historian Andrew Cayton co-authored The Dominion of War, which again, doesn't fit the thesis of left wingnuts run amok.

The columnist queried the Miami University history department, where Moyar had apparently applied for a diplomatic history position. The chair of the search committee (whom the columnist tendentiously characterized as a"disciple of the 'quagmire' version of Vietnam and Iraq") declined to discuss the search (which is exactly what anyone in his position would have done), except to say that Moyar seemed more of a military historian than a diplomatic historian. Which doesn't exactly sound unreasonable.

I wouldn't mind columns like this if I thought they contributed anything intelligent to a dialogue about academic military history. But with occasional exceptions, they are strident, simplistic examples of political correctness, only this time of the conservative variety.

(Hat tip to David Fahey via Ralph Luker)

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More Comments:

Mark Grimsley - 6/22/2007

I've replied to this question over on my blog.

Chris Levesque - 6/21/2007

I'm interested in this particular question myself. While I'm definitely not a conservative, I will be pursuing a PhD in Military and Naval History starting in August. I also don't self-identify as a liberal, so the whole thing doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, other than as some sort of wedge issue.

Rebecca Anne Goetz - 6/21/2007

Mark, when did military history become a "conservative" discipline? There seems to be this assumption floating around that the only people interested in military history are political you have an idea of when that association started? I'm asking this as a political liberal cultural historian who is interested in and supports military history.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/21/2007

Mark Moyar's status as poster boy is problematic, too. As we discussed last time this came up, he doesn't seem to be having any worse luck, given the number of his applications and interviews, than any number of bright, young Ph.D.s. Or experienced veteran teacher/scholars, for that matter.

Realities of the market being what they are, not getting a job just doesn't tell you all that much.

David J Merkowitz - 6/21/2007

The ignorance in the article is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the author has had an original idea in ten years.

I'd meant to write a letter to the editor, but I wasn't sure it was worth my energy.

Just about the only valid point is that UC hasn't had a diplomatic or military historian in about five years. I can also say without a shadow of a doubt that the intellectual atmosphere is vibrant and open to all political points of view.

Chris Levesque - 6/21/2007

The status of Military History in academia appears to be the new front in the "Culture War: between conservatives and liberals, with Mark Moyar elevated to the status of poster boy / martyr for the cause. I have a feeling that we're going to be seeing this as a recurring theme the next several years, just as we've seen uproars over Christopher Columbus, Cleopatra's ethnicity, and whether Western Civilization and the canon are still taught.

Despite the fact that many courses deal with wars as part of the subject matter, I think there is still room for specialists and classes that focus on individual conflicts. An in-depth understanding of the what happened and why in the American Revolution, or the Thirty Years' War, or the Boer War is useful and important for understanding the past, just as understanding the development of Temperance movements or the Industrial Revolution.

I hope to see more discussion the status of Military History (and Diplomatic, Political, and Constitution History), but it would be nice to see more balanced pieces. Bronson mentions some easily dismissed reasons Mark Moyar wasn't hired for positions, but neglects to discuss Moyars somewhat controversial approach to the Vietnam War, and doesn't fully discuss the Diplomatic History position at Miami University. Although it doesn't hurt to apply for a job that doesn't quite line up with your specialty, if you're specialty is Military History, and the job is for Diplomatic, is there really an expectation that you should get it unless you have a really strong secondary focus on Diplomatic History? The fact that the opening was putatively to replace a Military Historian doesn't seem relevant on the new position.

Rebecca Anne Goetz - 6/21/2007

This thing sure does keep rearing its ugly head, doesn't it? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: these folks are overlooking the fact that many history courses that are not solely about military history do include military history. My American Revolution class included an eight-class unit on the war itself, but the war was not the exclusive focus of the course. How many courses at the departments mentioned in the article take a similar approach?

You tell 'em, Mark!