Military History Brings Context to Conflict
By John E. Persinger
Alumnus of American Military University
The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his book On War that war is continuation of politics by other means. For the military historian, this means that the issue is more complex than simply reviewing the armies in the field.
Analyzing battles and the armies that fight them are at the core of the study of military history, a discipline that teaches the skills of conducting research to support ideas, as well as the ability to apply neutral, critical thinking to analyze all points of view and influences for a given topic.
After a quarter-century in an unrelated field, I decided to major in military history. A life-long passion for the American Civil War may have been enough to have piqued my interest, but I found many more benefits.
Military historians look at the tactics involved, the evolution of those maneuvers through time, and what great leaders are able to accomplish through their application of these principles. Additionally, the geographic influences upon the battle are evaluated with consideration given to not only terrain features, but weather, transportation of the armies and their supplies, and the reaction and possible resistance of the local inhabitants to the force conducting operations.
Inherent to this basic evaluation is the composition of the armies: who were the soldiers, how were they trained, and who were their leaders? In order to have a fair understanding of the soldiers who served in a particular force, the military historian must also evaluate the social and economic classes of the society providing them to reveal any ethnic or religious trends and how national traits influence those who serve and the policies of the leaders who command them.
The military historian must consider every aspect of history in order to produce a fair and complete evaluation of the conflict. Focusing an undue amount of attention on one area only serves to slight the degree of importance of another. In looking back through time to analyze an event, the military historian must strive to remain neutral and not impart modern values on the actions of the past.
Earning a degree in military history will do far more than provide the ability to develop a step-by-step narrative of a conflict. The military historian must consider and evaluate all aspects of the conflict in order to have a complete understanding of why the armies are there, who is serving in them, what is their purpose, how they fought, and the factors that influenced the actions.
The experience of locating and validating sources to support their thesis will enhance the military historian’s ability to conduct research and support their ideas, as well as their ability to remain neutral in considering all points of view and influences for a given topic. A degree in military history is a sound choice for anyone seeking to enhance their research, writing, and analytical skills, while learning the importance of considering possible influences and contributing factors for any situation.
About the Author
John Persinger is a U.S. Army veteran (1985-1989) and a 2014 graduate of American Military University with a B.A. in Military History. As a member of the Washington Civil War Association, he has participated in living history events since 1994, commanded units representing both sides of the American Civil War, and served five years on the WCWA Administrative Board as the Union Brigade Commander.
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