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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Talk at Civil War Institute

A few days ago, I was grabbing coffee at the 7-11 near the Naval Academy (for those who know the area, it's the one with notoriously inadequate parking), and I ran into my colleague at the Naval Academy, LCDR (Sel) Claude Berube, USNR, who made some very gracious comments about a talk I gave at Gettysburg College's Civil War Institute last summer. C-SPAN now has it archived on the web here. The talk was great fun, and I especially appreciated some of the audience members' tips on better public speaking (regarding eye contact and now swallowing the end of my sentences). One of the great oddities of modern academic life is that although we're one of the last professions where public speaking is a necessity, we spend so little time cultivating the art for the most part.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Medal of Honor Controversy

I had heard a bit about the McClatchy article on Cpl. Meyer’s citation for the Medal of Honor, but didn't read it until just now, courtesy Tom Ricks' blog. What a headache... Not having access to the documents McClatchy claims to have looked at, it's hard to make heads or tails of Landay's argument that the citation narrative got crucial facts wrong (Landay himself was at the famous ambush). For me, the crucial part of the piece is Landay's concession that even if one accepts the premises of his article:

"What’s most striking is that all this probably was unnecessary. Meyer, the 296th Marine to earn the medal, by all accounts deserved his nomination."

The article struck me as something of a distraction from Meyer's valor. It's hardly earth-shattering to hear that Meyer's own account of the battle was garbled, or that service politics played some role in the award. The idea that human beings are flawed, or that bureaucracies are driven to some degree by self interest shouldn't be news to anyone, and it shouldn't be confused with the sort of personal heroism the Medal of Honor is supposed to recognize. The Marine Corps might very well have perhaps handled the issue of the published narrative better, but this isn't a question of academic history, where the facts and details are and should be king. The one most important thing for the citation is not the specifics of the narrative, but whether out of the chaos of conflicting data, one has the firm belief that Cpl. Meyer's actions in their totality deserved this sort of recognition. And even Landay seems to recognize that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best military history book I've read in a while...

I just finished reading Beatrice Heuser's The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge, 2010), and it's the best military history I've read in a while.  The writing felt a bit clunky at times, and seriously, has Cambridge University Press forgotten how to copy-edit?, but the research and erudition in the book is truly tremendous.  I felt the sections on counterinsurgency and insurgency to the be especially superb, giving this very current pressing issue its due, without overstating its importance.  Air, naval, and nuclear strategy also were extremely well covered.