Reflecting on “Military Histories”

Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction by Robert M. Citino is a dense explanation of the depth of the field that is military history. Citino explains that despite being on the academic decline, military history continues to remain a popular genre in the public. Without attention to details Military Histories might have read a bit like a melting pot of book reviews. However, this essay covers an array of important details in this field.

One of the first things discussed, and the framework of the essay, is that there are three groupings or approaches to military history. The first focuses on war and society, is called new military history, and actually is not all that new. The next would be traditional operation, which focuses on answering the how and why of strategy, battles, and ultimately warfare as a whole. It would be the mathematical analysis of tactics. The last of the three is military affairs and it focuses on the history of memory and culture in terms of military and warfare.

Citino provides many examples of new military history and how historians use it to approach the past. It seemed to me that most of the work focused on post-war life or the lives of minorities. Called the “dominant and integral” focus of new military history and it is no doubt when it can pull an average reader into an academic piece of work. The most intriguing examples were that of the Civil War, where Citino explains how historians are changing the dialogue by incorporating race, gender, and other popular topics in their work. Particularly impressive was that the two pieces could display the lives of African American soldiers in two different branches of the military and how their experiences were so wholly different and yet both pieces ended with the same point: people of color not only had to fight to participate in the Civil War but to have their stories told. With such a demand for the untold stories of lower class citizens and marginalized people it is fantastic to know that they are being told around events that shaped countries, especially the roles of people of color and women.

The second sphere of study, however, does not allow for this sort of lens. Traditional Operation focuses on the strategies of warfare and answering questions about the regimes that created those armies. Citino explains that operational history is important because the interest in military history drives up the demand for historians; however, he does not explain how a field dying in academia will handle this demand for more military focus and less historians teaching this area. He also explains that traditional operation, particularly operational history, is a vital aspect of history, not just military history. Strategy, in this present era of war, is ever changing due to technological advances and what may be the most interesting to see, that was not mentioned by Citino, is how that will change this specific sub-genre of military history.

Military Affairs, the third of Citino’s three categories is actually the newest, but still does not address the technology aspects. Military affairs incorporate history of memory, culture, and some other aspects, to create a dialogue on how warfare is viewed by the public and why it is viewed in that manner. The big focus here seemed to be erasure and it is fantastic to know that there are historians working to bring to light such wrongdoings, particularly in terms of American history where it causes such turmoil. Upon learning that our course would focus on immigration and a classmate mentioning Angel Island, which I had never heard about, it truly showed that the scope of erasure is not only a Civil War issue either, though popular media would try to present it as such.

Popular media is, unfortunately, where most people go for the news and history. Citino posed a great question, “Who do we want to write about history?” There are so many extremists, fanatical re-enactors, and writers pushing an agenda. It needs to be historians passionate and trained in military history that share the truth as unbiasedly as possible on these subjects. Citino presents several popular works and writers that simply could not agree on any events, others that permanently fractured professions with accusations, and others that pushed agendas of barbarism to demonize war. Still, as a historian it is our job to provide evidence for our conclusions and films and the media are not held up to such a standard. As I said, Citino made this essay dense with details and a reflection on it simply cannot highlight all the work he put into it; however, the overall impression from Citino is that there are boundaries to be pushed, but that the study of military history is moving in the right direction and there are many facets yet to be explored.

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