The Enduring Nature of Military History

“I think almost all military history is actually a study of the human condition and what humans are cable of accomplishing, both for the greater good and, unfortunately, as a destructive force,” explains Bill Allison, new editor of the University Press of Kansas’s (UPK) Modern War Studies series.

UPK was founded in 1946, began publishing military history books in 1986 and has published more than 250 titles in its acclaimed Modern War Studies series since then.

“Kansas was one of the first university presses to publish in military history,” explains Editor in Chief Joyce Harrison. “The first book we published in the Modern War Studies series, America’s First Battles, was published in 1986. Our military history list started because of the connections between the outstanding military history programs at the University of Kansas and the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.”

In fact, America’s First Battles – a collection of eleven original essays by many of the foremost U.S. military historians, focuses on the transition of the Army from parade ground to battleground in each of nine wars the United States has fought up to 1965 – is the Press’ best-selling military history book. Nearly 46,000 copies have been sold and, according to Military Review, the book remains “Must reading for the serious student of history, whether military or civilian.”

Brian Steel Wills, director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era at Kennesaw State University and author of 3 UPK books including Inglorious Passages; Noncombat Deaths in the American Civil War and The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman believes that the enduring popularity of military history has less to do with guns and ammunition, and more to do with people.

“Military conflicts have a dramatic influence on all aspects of life,” Wills explains. “I tell my students all the time that if you have an interest in music or the arts or civil rights, then you have an interest in military history. I think a great deal of interest in the Civil War revolves not around the actual battles, but around the stories of families. How did brothers who fought on opposite sides reconcile after the war ended? How did families move on and make a life after the fighting stopped? Those are fascinating, human-interest questions.”

Timothy B. Smith, who has written 11 books about the Civil War (including UPK’s Grant Invades Tennessee, Shiloh and Corinth 1862), echoes Wills’s thoughts about the draw of human-interest stories that develop during, and because of, times of war.

“Folks want to know what their granddaddy did in World War I and World War II,” he explains. “And for that matter, they want to know what their great and great-great granddaddy did in the Civil War. I think as vets age and pass on, there is a sense that we need to tell these tales in an effort to memorialize what they did. That’s why academic interest in the Civil War seems to be waning and more people are studying the world wars and the Vietnam and Korean wars.”

Harrison says that UPK’s goals with the Modern War Studies series are straightforward.

“Our mission is to advance knowledge, and our books have made and continue to make a tremendous impact, shaping the way historians and military professionals think about, study, and write about military history,” she says.

Bill Allison agrees that publishing military history is a two-part mission.

“A lot of people get into military history because of the guns and drums,” he says. “But the deeper you dive into any military conflict, the more layers, both military and personal, you find. I think that’s the root reason military history continues to fascinate people. There’s always one more aspect you can consider.”

Let’s Stop Making Veterans

9780700621361Every year on Veterans Day, I call my dad and brother, both Veterans. I’m proud they are, but I wish they weren’t. My hope is that one day we will stop making Veterans, a hope that seems increasingly naive as our president “intensifies” efforts against ISIL by putting “boots on the ground” in Syria. There will be more Veterans next year.

Ten years ago on Veterans Day, my brother was in Iraq on his first deployment—on the road to becoming a Veteran like our father, who had been in Vietnam 37 years earlier. My brother kept a journal during his deployment in East Hit. I want to share some excerpts as we mark the ten years since he became a Veteran.

[Dec 23, 2005] The [locals] have been very friendly thus far, I have even smoked the hookah with them, also got to try some food that I think was bean based, but very good. I do sincerely hope that we do not upset the locals too much and that the rest of days will go on peacefully as they have thus far.

[Dec 31, 2005] The Iraqi troops have quit on us. They no longer want to go on patrol or stand post. I’m not quite sure why that is, hopefully they are not bitter at us. I understand that they are under great pressure from their people and some go to great extents to hide their faces and identities while on patrol to protect their families, but obviously they could not last more than one week out patrolling with us Marines.

[Jan 21, 2006] I honestly do not see how they [Iraqi soldiers] will ever be able to maintain law and order in this country.

These diary entries are from ten years ago. Ten years ago, my brother recognized, with genuine and heartbreaking disconcertion, the impossibility of stabilizing Iraq. Ten years ago, we had far fewer Veterans then we do today.

So here we are on another Veterans Day. And with a mixture of gratitude and shame, I find myself choking on the realization that tomorrow we will have the most Veterans we’ve ever had; and if we keep going at the rate we are going, the fewest we ever will. But we can stop it. We can do something different. When I call my dad and brother to thank them, I will again say a silent prayer for peace, hoping that next year I won’t have to.

–Written by Lisa Ellen Silvestri, author of “Friended at the Front: Social Media in the American War Zone