I just ran across this interview with Victor Davis Hanson, who’s one of my favorite public intellectuals. I had the honor of meeting him when he spoke at UT a few years ago. Most of the interview deals with modern-day foreign policy, but check out Hanson’s remarks about the importance of military history. Here are the highlights:
“Not all history is equal. If people are willing to wage their entire existence in a few brief seconds, those moments are more worthy of commemoration and study than others.…[W]hether we like it or not, strange things happen during wars that don’t transpire as often in peace time.”
When asked about Peace Studies departments’ attitudes about military history, Hanson takes the words right out of my mouth with an analogy that I’ve used myself:
“They think we feel that war brings out the best in people, that war is a ritual that’s necessary for society, or that war is a macabre interest like video games are for some people. It’s like assuming an oncologist must like cancer, because why else would he study cancer?”
Precisely. In fact, the military historian should be less prone to glory in war than anyone but the soldier, since he knows what war is and what it can do. Those who accuse military historians of glorying in war are badly in error. You don’t study war because you like it; you study it because it’s important, instructive, and (by all indications) here to stay.