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And so we watch history being made…

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It’s poignant that I’ve started a course this week that examines antebellum America – a country of profound inequality and bigotry. If you are an American, regardless of who you voted for, I hope you celebrate the process of democracy that we shared in together today. And marvel at the incredible journey that this country has made to this important day.

What a transformational moment in history…

What a time to be a student of history…

For the Common Defense

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Peter Maslowski and Allan R. Millett. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. Enlarged edition. Simon & Schuster, 1994. See the book on publisher’s site here.

This monumental survey of American military history has three stated purposes. The first is to analyze the development of military policy. The second is to examine the characteristics and behavior of the United States armed forces in the execution of that policy and the third is to illuminate the impact of military policy on America’s international relations and domestic development. Millett and Maslowski propose that there are six major themes that position military history within the larger context of American history. These include the following and are quoted from the text.

  1. Rational military considerations alone have rarely shaped military policies and programs. The political system and societal values have imposed constraints on defense matters.
  2. American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers.
  3. Despite the popular belief that the United States has generally been unprepared for war, policy makers have done remarkably well in preserving the nation’s security.
  4. The nation’s firm commitment to civilian control of the armed forces requires careful attention to civil-military relations.
  5. The armed forces of the nation have become progressively more nationalized and professionalized.
  6. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, but especially during the twentieth century, industrialization has shaped the way the nation has fought.

The authors further suggest that Americans do not consider themselves a warring people but have in fact become involved in a number of conflicts and that because of this, the study of the United States’ military history is important in if one hopes to gain better insight into both America’s history and its current and future identity.

Millett and Maslowski structure their book chronologically, which is completely fitting. They begin with a survey of colonists from 1609 – 1689. They devote a chapter as well to the Colonial Wars that occurred between 1689 and 1763. The American Revolution follows and includes the years between 1763 and 1783. Two chapters cover the military history of the new republic including its expansion. This includes the period 1783 – 1860 after which the country is on the precipice of civil war. Two chapters are devoted to the American Civil War the first focusing on the early years of 1861 and 1862. The second surveys the years between 1863 and the war’s end in 1865. And so the format continues covering major years of either military growth or conflict through to two great wars. Several chapters are devoted to the period spanning the Cold War during which the Korean War took place. The Vietnam War covers the period from 1961 – 1975. The periods marking the end of the Cold War follow and then a chapter is devoted to the Gulf War.The book was written and published in its revised format prior to the Iraq War.

Millett and Maslowski’s work provides outstanding bibliographies expanded in the revised edition to include selected references at the end of every chapter as well as a generous General Bibliography. It also includes an excellent set of illustrations and photographs. This work is intended for students of American military history and American history in general. It should also appeal to the reader who wants a perspective on the events of world history in which the American military has been engaged.

Both authors bring impeccable credentials to their authorship of this text. Allan R. Millett (see his 2007 vitae here) is the Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor Emeritus of History from The Ohio State University. He is the Stephen Ambrose Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. He received his B.A. in English from DePauw University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The Ohio State University. He is a retired colonel of the Marine Corps Reserve, and a specialist in the history of American military policy and 20th century wars and military institutions. He is one of the founders of the military history program at The Ohio State University. Dr. Millett was recently honored with the 2008 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing (see the news release here).

Peter Maslowski is Professor of History at the University of Nebraska where he specializes in the history of the Civil War, military, and Vietnam War. He received his B.A. from Miami University and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. Professor Maslowski served as the John F. Morrison Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff from 1986 to 1987. In 2002, Professor Maslowski, a highly regarded teacher/lecturer, received the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA). He is on the Advisory Board of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. For an excellent interview with Professor Maslowski on his career, see the 2005 interview in the Daily Nebraskan here

I have found no other resource on U.S. Military History that is so comprehensive in nature. Recommend.

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Civil War Blog Addition and British History Online

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I’ve made some additional adds to my blogroll and links. First a belated welcome to Jim Beeghley whose blog, “Teaching the Civil War with Technology” has not only a strong premise but some terrific posts.

Welcome Jim! http://blog.teachthecivilwar.com

And thanks to Alex Rose over at The History Man blog for a lead to British History Online. This is an impressive site with some great information including primary sources. I’ve added it under a new category titled History Sites of Merit.

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Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America

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Jennifer D. Keene. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. See the JHUP book reference here.

Jennifer Keene, (see her bio here) in her study of the experience of American soldiers who served in World War I, sets as goal to fill what she contends is a significant inequality in the focus of scholars of World War I when compared to more popular conflicts: the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. She suggests that in light of other wars, World War I is seen by many as a “dissatisfying experience with little transcendent significance.” She states as purpose a quest for the true importance of the Great War in American history by telling the story of the generation who served in that war and the way in which their experience shaped American society. Her thesis is that World War I was, in fact, a pivotal experience because it led to a transformation of the federal Army into a stronger national institution. Critical to this change was what she considers the most sweeping social welfare legislation in American history, the G.I. Bill, driven by the generation who would fight in the Great War. Her conclusion is that the Bill changed dramatically the experience of the millions of American men who would participate in mass military service in the twentieth century and was a direct result of the mistakes made by the military in the care of World War I servicemen. She approaches the subject less as an examination of the traditional themes of military battle tactics and strategies and more as a study of the experiences of citizen-soldiers. This allows an in-depth view of topics such as training, combat, discipline, race relations, experiences in France, health care, and the re-entry process after the war. The result is a sobering view of war’s realities at the troop level, a far cry from typical ideologically-based accounts of the Great War. One of the most important conclusions of Linn’s work is that this generation of citizen-soldiers refused to conform to the expectations of military officials and so found their collective voice, becoming political and societal advocates for military reform. Their biggest effort was on adjustment in postwar compensation, a cause they eventually won in 1936 after prolonged lobbying and activism. At issue was the government’s contract with citizen-soldiers, and the debate expanded to include the government’s obligations to the poor.

Keene chooses a chronological organization of her material and follows the experience of the common soldier through conscription, training, and deployment overseas. She describes in a fresh manner the experience of black soldiers abroad and the startling revelation that they were more highly regarded and better treated by the French than by their own countrymen. She continues their story through the post war years and their battles for compensation, finishing with the history of the G.I. Bill.

Keene brings strong academic credentials to the work and an impressive resume. At the time of this book’s publication, she was an assistant professor of history at the University of the Redlands in Redlands, California. She is currently the Chair of the Department of History and a Professor of History at Chapman University. She has been recognized with the Wang-Franklin Professorship in Scholarly Excellence award (2007-2009). Professor Keene received her Master of Arts from George Washington University and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University.

Her work should be of interest to both military and social historians as well as those investigating the experience of black soldiers in the military. She provides an impressive notes section revealing a plethora of primary source materials. Keen’s work is noteworthy for its examination of the pluralistic military tradition of professional and citizen-soldiers. America had to conscript, train, and deploy a huge army in a short period of time and made many errors in the process. Her coverage of this aspect the Great War was exceptional. The text also provides an interesting take on America’s commitment to civilian control of the military. The power of the states and the federal government to raise and manage a large conscription force was tested as was the responsibility of civilian government to those soldiers upon return to a peacetime society. Fascinating issues of contractual obligation to fair wages are covered in depth. Inherent in the latter issue is that fact that rational military considerations alone rarely shape military policies.

Keene demonstrates that once again, that the United States was able to raise an army fairly quickly in support of a perceived threat to the nation’s security. However she also highlights the cost in lives of that rushed effort.

This is an impressive addition to the scholarly base of American military history albeit of decidedly different focus. Highly recommend.

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1 Year of Blogging and A New Look for Wig Wags Blog

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This month marks my first full year of blogging on Wig Wags. To honor the occasion, I thought I’d trial a new look and a lighter background. It’s different, a little easier on the eyes but the photos don’t quite pop as much. And, limitations of the template have caused me to lose my picture header. I miss it. If I can figure out how to mess with CSS a bit, I may be able to reinstate it.

I’m a firm believer that change is good but I also know the value of familiarity and  complete changes in look can be risky. I’d be interested in any thoughts you – my readers – might have.

Thanks to all of you who find your way the Wig Wags from time to time. I’ve appreciated the kind comments along the way and some terrific discussion.

Rene

Some Press for Wig-Wags

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I’m pleased to report that Wig-Wags has been featured on the following sites in the past 30 days:

Indiana University Press found my review of Edward Hagerman’s book, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. You can read their post here and my full review here.

Jessica Merritt included Wig-Wags in her story titled, “100 Awesome Blogs for History Junkies” along with several of my fellow bloggers. Look for me under the “Academic” header. I only wish I could have been listed under several headers.

And finally, Alltop has listed Wig-Wags on their Top History News page. Alltop has a neat layout. They are effectively a feed aggregator by topic that pulls in the latest posts on sites that meet a topical criteria. Readers can “mouse over”  any of the top feeds for a site and the full story will be visible as a pop-up of sorts. I like it! 

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On War and Words

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As I finish up my final paper, I’ve gone back to the first book read for my class, “Studies in U.S. Military History.”

The Name of War

King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

Jill Lepore. The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, 1999.

In this unusual book about King Phillip’s War, Lepore sets out to study war and how people write about it. She suggests that writing about war can be almost as difficult as waging it. And writing can be essential to winning a war. Her work is thus in its essence about words and how they are used to both describe and impact the outcome of war. She concludes that “truth in war is relative,” a profoundly insightful statement that gets to the core of why many wars are waged in the first place, the clashing of points of view. And so, she concludes, “war is a contest of injuries and interpretation.” Lepore’s opening chapter, “What’s in a Name?” is nothing less than masterful.

To the victor go the spoils but also the power to explain the war completely to his advantage. For the loser, whether dead or defeated, loses his voice.

Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea

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Belatedly, I want to mention that I’ve received a pre-publication copy of Noah Andre Trudeau’s Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea, which I’ll hope to provide a full review of before too long. At first blush, it appears to be an excellent read.

Since this book falls into the category of Civil War Campaigns, I’ve added a shelf in my virtual bookstore to accommodate it which you can find here.

As a student of military history, one of the many things that I find so fascinating about Sherman’s march is that its destructive power encourages its consideration as “total war” a la Clausewitz. Can’t wait to dig in to this one.

For those of you in the Chicago area, Mr. Trudeau’s publisher Harper Collins, indicates that he will be publicizing his book at the following on Thursdays.

Thursday, September 11, 2008
05:00 PM – 07:30 PM
PRITZKER MILITARY LIBRARY
2nd FL 610 N Fairbanks Court Chicago, IL 60611

Sherman's March to the Sea

  • Published on: 2008-08-01
  • Released on: 2008-08-05
  • Original language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060598670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060598679
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.8 inches
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 688 pages
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    Military History word of the day: "thalassocracy"

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    I ran across this word in my reading today and have added it to “the terms” page (here) where I collect definitions of words I didn’t know. I’m continuing to finish the last book in my current course on Studies in U.S. Military History, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson. This book is filled with new terms, many associated with the vernacular of modern warriors. I’ll have some catching up to do on the terms page after the course.

    Here is the context of Atkinson’s usage of thalassocracy.

    If desert warfare seized the imagination of American Army commanders, the battleship held similar sway over many a sea dog. Her strategic value had long been eclipsed by nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. As a tactical weapon she appeared doomed to follow the crossbow and blunderbuss. Yet, for traditionalists, no maritime silhouette better symbolized the American thalassocracy: the pugnacious, jutting bow the looming superstructure; the trio of triple-barreled turrets, each heavy as a frigate. When employed as a gun platform, she remained nonpareil, capable of tossing a shell with the heft of an automobile more than twenty miles. In the gulf war, her hour had come round at last. (Atkinson, 259)

    USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91

    USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91. Source: Naval Historical Center

    The definition…

    thal·as·soc·ra·cy (thāl’ə-sŏk’rə-sē)
    n. pl. thal·as·soc·ra·cies
    Naval or commercial supremacy on the seas.
    [Greek thalassokratiā : thalassa, sea + -kratiā, -cracy.]
    tha·las’so·crat’ (thə-lās’ə-krāt’) n.
    Source:
    thalassocracy. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thalassocracy (accessed: August 17, 2008).

    The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War

    By the way, I’ve been so impressed with Rick Atkinson’s well researched book that I’ve purchased all of his other works including An Army at Dawn which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. See it on my virtual bookshelves here. Photo source: The Library of Congress which includes a biography here. I’ll be adding Mr Atkinson to my “the historians” page shortly.

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    Baltimore Sun's Civil War Books Discussion

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    Dave Rosenthal, the Sunday and Readership Editor for the Baltimore Sun, asked me to contribute to a discussion of Civil War Books on their book blog, Read Street. I’m up for any opportunity to talk about books. Check out my recommendations and those of fellow commentators here.

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    Blogkeeping…hello, goodbye

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    I am making a couple of blogroll updates, both fellow WordPress bloggers…

    First, John Maass is closing shop which is sad but understandable. John – hope you’ll continue to stay in touch. I really enjoyed your blog. And best of luck in future endeavors. I plan to keep his link on my blogroll because there is some good stuff there.

    Second, a new WordPress blogger at Past in the Present. I’m pleased to see the focus on the American Revolution, an area of interest for me as well. Welcome!

    On History Grad Student Fitness…

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    http://transition2008.wordpress.com/2008/04/08/think-tanks-and-other-players-transition-2008-part-ii/     News flash…

    Graduate students in history sit on their backsides and read…a lot.
    I’ve noticed the impact on my fitness level.
    I have found a solution…
    I plan to walk while I work, read, and write.

    LifeSpan TR2000

    LifeSpan TR2000

    I just bought one of these bad-boys… and it was worth every penny. Quiet, easy, and tilts up and down. Did a ton of research before I bought it.

    My laptop fits perfectly on a small board that I lay across the arms. And my new Thai Book Rest from Levenger’s (my favorite store for all things for readers) fits perfectly so that I can read away while I walk.

    James “walk-while-you-work” Levine (Mayo Clinic), has become my new fitness guru…

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    Manet and the ACW – 3: Captain Semmes and the CSS Alabama

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    Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”

    Queen Victoria 1861

    The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]

    CSS Alabama Captain, Raphael Semmes

    Captain Raphael Semmes on the CSS Alabama

    Captain Semmes on the deck of the CSS Alabama

    The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]

    "The Pirate 'Alabama,' Alias '290,' Certified to be correct by Captain Hagar of the 'Brilliant'"

    [i - v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

    Manet and the American Civil War – 2 The Artist

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    Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883) [photographic portrait by Nadar (public domain, source: wikicommons)

    Continuing from post 1 here, in this post I explore the life of Edouard Manet, the artist. Born in 1832 to upper-middle class parents, Manet’s father was a magistrate who had hopes that his oldest son would follow him in his profession. But young Edouard had no interest in law and though attracted to art, decided to go to sea. But he couldn’t pass the French Navy’s entrance exam. Authors Wilson-Bareau and Degener provide a fascinating glimpse into the system by which young men could qualify for careers in the French Navy in their book Manet and the American Civil War which provides the reference for this series. A sixteen year old Manet would spend several months aboard the vessel, Le Havre et Guadeloupe on a trip for the sons of the wealthy who had failed the exam and could qualify to retake it if they sailed across the equator. The ship was staffed with teachers tasked with drilling the boys in the topics required for the naval exam. Manet failed the test again regardless but was exposed to the sea to a greater extent than most Frenchmen. (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 12-13)

    Manet had another tie to the military. His interest in drawing and art was sparked by an uncle who was “attached to the [Army] artillery school who spent a lot of his time sketching…” (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 13-14)

    “The schoolboy soon fell under the spell of blended lines and blurred cross-hatching. [Note: For a great glimpse of crosshatching, see a post at the blog, Big Time Attic here.) From that moment on, he had only one calling. He neglected his compositions and translations and filled the blank pages of his notebooks not with schoolwork but with portraits, landscapes, and fantasies.” (Ibid)

    This diversion would lead Manet to produce arguably one of the most famous paintings of the naval engagement between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, that took place in June of 1864 off France’s Normandy coast.

    The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

    Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

    In the next post, the ships engaged in the battle.

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    Technology in U.S. Military History – 1

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    My current course on Studies in U. S. Military History (see courses page here) is drawing to a close. We have been examining the last of Millett and Maslowski’s major themes which is that “the United States has used increasingly sophisticated technology to overcome logistical limitations and to match enemy numbers with firepower.” [i] I find this supportable in the sense that it has been possible to see a steady progression of technological prowess over time. Nowhere, arguably, have technological advancements been felt more than in the arena of weaponry.

    Patent drawing for R.J. Gatling's Battery Gun, 9 May 1865. (Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain)

    Professor of history Alex Roland (Duke University) posits that “before the twentieth century, most soldiers and sailors ended their careers armed as they were at the beginning. New weapons were introduced slowly, if at all, and most professionals resisted the uncertainties new arms introduced.” But, Roland asserts, “by the second half of the twentieth century, this traditional suspicion of new weapons had changed to a reckless enthusiasm.”  The phenomena of obsolescence on introduction entered the national psyche in that, by the time many “weapons entered service, their successors were being planned. This was especially true in large-scale weapons systems such as ships and aircraft. It even found its way into thinking about less complex military technologies, such as radios and computers.” [ii]

    More in Part 2. Note I provide a link below to Professor Roland’s excellent article titled “Technology and War” which can be read online.

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    ——-For the Common Defense

    [i]   Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

    [ii] Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html Accessed 13 July 2008.

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