Why Military History Matters
The old adage that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it has a lot of relevance today. The study of military history can help us understand the larger ramifications of conflict and how to best form strategies for war.
The popular conception of military history – often shared by historians themselves – is that it’s about charting the course of armies and celebrating the strategic genius of this or that great general.
History is a tool for learning
Military history is an important subject for military professionals to study because it teaches them about the pitfalls of violence in large communities. It helps them understand how to manage the use of force, and it helps them understand that there are no absolutes when it comes to war. Until human beings evolve to the point where they no longer need violence to achieve their goals, it is critical that military professionals learn how others have succeeded or failed at using it.
Unfortunately, military history has a reputation for being a narrowly defined field that charts the course of armies and praises great generals. This image is undeserved, but it is difficult to break. One of the biggest challenges that military historians face is the difficulty in identifying causation and correlation. For example, the popular perception of military history is that bombing a city leads to destruction, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
It helps us understand the past
Military history is a great way to understand the past and learn from the mistakes that have been made by military professionals in the past. It is also a great way to understand what makes a military successful or unsuccessful in a given conflict. The study of military history helps us see how the ebb and flow of military conflicts have shaped our world.
In recent years, the field of military history has suffered a decline in popularity. This is due to a perception that anyone who studies war must somehow approve of it-like oncologists must naturally approve of cancer or virologists must approve of AIDS.
This is a shame because studying military history can help us avoid making the same mistakes as the people who came before us. It can also help us develop more effective strategies for future conflicts. This is especially true for military professionals, who need to know the lessons of the past in order to succeed.
It helps us make sense of the present
Studying military history is not only useful, but essential to forming successful strategies. The most obvious reason for this is that great commanders leverage historical perspective to understand the environment, problems, frictions, and leadership that shape operations today. Napoleon reading Keegan’s Face of Battle or Patton reading Norman’s History of Sicily are two classic examples.
While military historians tend to be more concerned with the human dimensions of war than with the technology, they also draw on a wide range of other fields. For instance, many academics in the field of military history spend a lot of time paired with anthropologists, archaeologists, or political scientists.
Despite the dramatic evolution of the field in recent decades, the phrase “military history” still stirs conflicting emotions or hostile reactions from some members of the academy. This image may be due to an instinctual reaction against war itself or a sense that strategic thinking is not helped by military historians.
It helps us prepare for the future
The study of military history provides a universal experience that informs the long-term development of military professionals. It helps them understand context, past successes and failures, and the causation or correlation between actions. It also helps them learn the rules of warfare and combat and how to make informed decisions and improve performance.
The field of academic military history has become more diverse and interdisciplinary, bringing in new perspectives and ideas from outside historians. As a result, there is more interest in the history of non-Western and non-European wars, as well as the cultural impact of military conflict.
Nonetheless, the study of military history still faces a number of challenges. The profession tends to be heavily focused on practicality, seeking tools that solve problems, which can create misinterpretation of historical events. For example, a military leader might assume that conducting a surprise attack always results in victory. However, this assumption ignores the fact that a successful surprise attack requires a certain level of enemy predictability.