Military History is not just a simple record of the past that needs to be forgotten. It contains information of life and death situations which provides learning experiences that might be useful in the future. The problem with our society is the little effort done to insure that the dissemination of key learning experience is provided to the general public. Very little about military history is being studied and written, and if there are, they are studied by non-military historians that lacks the direct experience and in-depth understanding of military language.
The purpose of this study is to explain the importance why military professionals should take some time to study military history. This study examines the need for military professionals to study military history as opposed to merely leaving these studies to non-military historians. The study also takes into account that military professionals have the extra time to spare for studies despite their busy schedule.
Studies for Non-military Leaders
There is a need for military professionals to study military history in order to generate study results that could be forwarded to non-military leaders who makes crucial decisions during wars or insurgencies. Non-military leaders can make better decisions in times of war if they are equipped with proper understanding of military history in the past. For example, in a cabinet meeting to plan the 2001 attack on Afghanistan, advisers argued against using American ground forces because of the nationalistic uprisings that resulted from the British invasions in the 19th century and the Soviet invasion of 1979 (Kagan, 2006).
These were historical facts which were taken out of context. The Afghan leaders had been resisting the British invasion for decades. It is something that rooted from the past. In another case, the Soviet invasion was to support a hated government which was already facing a massive insurgency. The Afghans bitterly resisted both the British and the Soviet invasions because of their overtly imperialistic nature. Resistance to this form of invasions is definitely not surprising. The American troops, however, was removing an unpopular government, was known to impose democracy and were therefore greeted with support. They were taken as liberators as opposed to being invaders. Had the military history regarding Soviet and British invasions were studied properly, the advisers would have been armed with more realistic reasons to provide a good advice.
Studies to Prevent Military from False Visionary Persuasion
There are also cases where in because of the lack of understanding of military history, they are easily persuaded by non-military professionals to follow their directions without really knowing the bigger consequences. The tendency of non-military professionals to rely on fragments of the past military history to persuade the military is often a cause of tactical errors. A good example is when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cited the German experience in World War II, which showed, he argued, that a partially transformed military could revolutionize warfare (Kagan, 2006).
He based his decision primarily on the idea that a partially transformed Wehrmacht with a handful of panzer divisions crushed Poland and France in 1939 and 1940. Rumsfeld’s failure to study the larger picture that the same Wehrmacht failed to invade Russia in 1941, due primarily to its incomplete transformation. These sorts of looking into fragments of history without studying the totality of the military history had often led military into destruction. Just imagine the useless loss of lives that it can bring.
Studies to Provide Military Professional Understanding and Prevent Errors in the Past from Recurring
The main purpose of studying the past is to prevent previous errors from occurring again. The recent US military takeover of Iraq is a good example. If we look at the present situation, many lives were lost already due to the continuing resistance of Saddam supporters. There are continuous attacks and bombing to US military personnel. It should be noted that this will go on forever until a government is properly reinstated and is able to re-institute reforms that would immediately uplift the economic conditions in Iraq.
The US military are quite right about the tactics being employed by the Iraqi insurgents, they are using the methods employed by Lawrence of Arabia in 1916-18 against Turkish Rule. The US military believes that by defeating this one method, they will be able to end the ongoing insurgencies. “It’s the only tool the enemy really has left in order to be able to take us on and cause casualties,” Lt. Gen. James Conway, head of the Operations Directorate at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in November (Bazzi, 2006). “And when we defeat that one method, you know, it’s over.” Lawrence would surely disagree with this statement.
The military should have recognized that success of Lawrence will repeat again because they are exactly in the same situation. According to Lawrence, a small insurgency with mobility and natural cover would eventually wear down a foreign occupier. This statement is true, and the US military officials should have recognized that this is a no win situation if they will continue to fight the insurgency in the same manner. This is as if that they have never learned from the past, but rather they tried to go against the history. This is just one of the examples where military should have done an in-depth study of the past in order to prevent errors from happening again in the future.
It is therefore clear that there is a need for military professionals to study military history because of their understanding of the military language. One reason is to provide better understanding for non-military officials who provide critical decisions in times of war. Another reason is to insure that military professionals cannot be easily persuaded by visionaries using only fragments of the past military history to take incorrect actions. Finally to insure that military as a whole learns from their mistakes in the past.
Kagan, F. (2006). Why Military History Matters. Retrieved on January 14, 2007
from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research web site : www.aei.org/publications/pubID.24600/pub_detail.asp
Bazzi, M. (2006). The lessons of Lawrence. Retrieved on January 14, 2007 from the News.com web site : http://www.newsday.com/news/nation