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Classification: UNCLASSIFIED Caveats: NONE REVIEW: H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-War@h-net.msu.edu (March 2007) Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich, eds. _The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession_. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ix + 287 pp. Index, notes, photographs. $29.99 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-85377-X. Reviewed for H-War by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College In the Service of Mars This book is an important, provocative, and disturbing read all at the same time. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich are two of the most important individuals in the world of applied military history. Murray is a professor emeritus at Ohio State University and now a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defense Analysis. Sinnreich, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is a former director of the U.S. Army's School of Advanced Military Studies. They have assembled an impressive collection of both American and British practitioners and scholars, including Sir Michael Howard and British army Lieutenant General John Kiszely. This high-powered line-up--and some exceptionally good essays--make this an important book that applied and academic historians, as well as many officers teaching in professional military schools, their students, and even some policymakers, should read. Unfortunately, many will not. Edited books with multiple authors are difficult to review, since there is often a huge difference in the quality of the various chapters. This book is no different, but the overall high quality of all the contributions make the differences in quality rather small. Murray and Sinnreich explain in their introduction that "the central purpose of this book is to illustrate the qualities that make the study of history so important to military leaders, and at the same time, consider what makes it so difficult and challenging for those who choose to engage in it" (p. 7). The editors quote Adm. Stansfield Turner, a former President of the U.S. Naval War College, who said that senior service schools have the mission of broadening the intellectual focus of officers so that they can understand the larger strategic issues that face the nation: "Without attention to history, there can be no such professional broadening of officers beyond the immediate scope of their duties. Apart from the conduct of war itself, the only comprehensive evidence of the demands it places on those who fight it and their leaders is the evidence of history" (p. 8). None of the essays that follow deviate from the view that history is important to the military. The problem is that the real audience for this book should be the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military. That is unlikely to happen unless the authors figure out a way to get copies of the book in front of the right people. The book starts with several broad examinations of the role history plays in military education and training. The first of these essays comes from retired Marine General, Paul K. Van Riper. Many times when you get a historical participant contributing to a conference or a volume, they end up telling war stories. His contribution is different, though. As the first president of Marine Corps University, Van Riper has a purpose in telling his story. In a brief memoir of his professional military education, he shows how regular study of good intellectual history helped him develop as an officer and leader. "I often noted in my two years at Quantico that the primary 'weapon' that officers possess remains their minds" (p. 53). He adds, "I wanted to impart a simple lesson: a properly schooled officer never arrives on a battlefield for the first time, even if he has never actually trod the ground, if that officer has read widely to acquire the wisdom of those who have experienced war in times past" (p. 53). Van Riper warns contemporary leaders against thinking that technology is a simple answer to the problems one faces on a battlefield. In his chapter on history and the military, Murray offers a more pessimistic view: "One of the major reasons military institutions get the next war wrong is because they either deliberately fail to study the last war, or do so only insofar as it makes leaders feel good" (p. 79). Part of the reason for this state of affairs is that good history offers no simple ideas. "The history of past military campaigns, of past military innovation in times of peace, and of the very nature of war is the only reliable source on which we can draw, if we indeed do want to understand what warfare or combat may look like. Thus, any one who wishes to understand the profession of arms _must_ study history" (emphasis in the original, p. 87). The next eight chapters are individual case studies. All support the argument that history is an important tool for the military. No book is perfect. Most of the shortcomings in this study, though, are more reflective of the type of shortcuts that publishers take rather than authors. A conclusion would have helped, but this might amount to nothing more than quibbling, on my part, given the quality of the introduction. There are no author biographies, which might be excusable given the contributors' reputations. The absence of a bibliography or an appendix for suggested further readings--which can be made up with an examination of the notes--does place an added burden on the reader. More importantly, this book raises troubling issues that many people reading this review should consider. Military history has a number of strengths which have allowed it to survive its general unpopularity with the average academic historian: books on the topic sell, classes on various military topics always get good undergraduate enrollments, and military professionals study and use military history. In no other line of work, do individuals study the past as part of their professional development. As a result, the authors have convincingly shown that military history has a real utility that many other sub-fields of history do not have. This applicability comes in addition to its popular appeal. If the military is moving away from military history, what does that trend mean for the professional future of historians? Also, is there any way that military historians can engage more with professionals and reverse this trend? None of these questions are issues that the authors set out to address, but their study raises these concerns, making it a very stimulating collection. Copyright (c) 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: firstname.lastname@example.org. Classification: UNCLASSIFIED Caveats: NONE ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----