Practical Application of Military History Part II

The first of these new historical writings, the official histories, clearly show their lineage in the Army’s “Green Books” and other official battle and campaign studies.  One significant difference in the methodology for these new histories is the extensive use of primary oral sourcing from participants in near-real time and the amount of documentary and electronic primary source material quickly available to dedicated teams of field historians.  Although not as voluminous as the history of World War II, the official histories of the Iraq War written so far, On Point and On Point II, still provide basic narrative, and a significant amount of analysis for official histories.  Although each volume also presents a great deal of minutia in trying to cover all branches of the Army and their contribution, the first two volumes exceed traditional official history by attempting to offer some unbiased critiques of Army operations and decisions through 2005.

The monographs prepared by the Army use a form of historiography not often seen in American history, comparative analysis.  Unlike the more narrative official histories, the monographs attempt to synthesize basic military principles and continuity in the search for “lessons learned” that can be applied to other strategic and tactical situations.  These monographs not only look at past experiences of the American military as a basis of comparison, they look at military situations encountered by other countries and how their armed forces either successfully or unsuccessfully dealt with a particular military or national security situation.  An excellent example is the book Breaking the Mold:  Tanks in the Cities which examines multiple scenarios involving both U.S. and foreign militaries and their successes and failures at utilizing tanks and heavy armored units in urban combat.

The other monograph or report provides a specific analysis on a topic of interest not only to soldiers in the field, but future historians trying to understand how and why the American military fought certain battles.  A notable instance of this blending of history and other social sciences is the report, Traditions, Changes, and Challenges: Military Operations and the Middle Eastern City which not only details the history of how both modern and “old” Arab cities developed, but how the influence of Arab tribal culture, especially the influence of Islam, affects urban geography and the daily activities of the civilian population living in these cities.  These various factors— urban, geographical, cultural, historical and societal can greatly impact military operations not only in the tactical sense, but also a far more strategic realm, as American troops need to be more aware of how their actions can be interpreted by the local populace when conducting counter-insurgency operations.