The State of Military History Part I

Military history today has become far more than tales of swords and muskets.  Although academic historians still view it with some suspicion, the certain realization that conflict and violence continue to play a role in the human condition will keep the need for military historiography alive.  In addition, military history continues to evolve to provide a deeper understanding of the process and meaning of warfare, and continues to be one of the few fields of historiography that can provide tangible benefit to its professional audience—members of the military and their political masters.  There are still many fields of historical inquiry that have only begun to be examined and these will not only provide some level of practical understanding, but create an inquiry into the nature of warfare itself and provide continuing avenues of historical evolution and inquiry.

What is warfare and how is it practiced in the age of global terrorism?  Most of military history consists of great battles between nation-states or their ancient equivalents.  However in this age of terrorism, renewed insurgencies and civil wars numerous non-state and transnational military actors have called into question traditional historical explanations of how warfare is waged.  The Middle East is full of these “non-state” actors such as Hezbollah in Lebanon that defy historical analogy and create a tremendous problem for military historians and strategic thinkers trying to fit them neatly into a construct as either a terrorist group, militia, army or political organization.

The role of technology and warfare will continue to be a controversial topic, but with a new explosion of information and media technology, the cultural and societal questions of warfare must now be examined on a worldwide versus a national stage.  Warfare is no longer the province of merely the combatants, but a world-wide audience of diplomats, commentators, propagandists and others that both observe and influence warfare.  As political violence becomes more decentralized and conducted on a world stage, military historians are still looking at weaponry and military technology and their effects on the battlefield, completely missing that the most potent weapon of the 21st century may be the internet webcam.

Related to both of these questions will be a need to understand warfare in a new political context as wars become not only affairs between or within nation-states, but truly global matters where transnational bodies and organizations begin to influence not only how wars start and are fought, but how wars end.  The role of international politics on the conduct of warfare, as well as the continuing evolution of domestic politics on the preparation and conduct of war has not been studied in the recent context of combat in the 21st century.  The proliferation of technologies, organizations and capabilities previously reserved for nation-states to transnational groups and organizations should also be a topic for military historians to consider.

Final post soon.......