Young Churchill on the North-West Frontier: The More Things Change

Francis P. Sempa discusses young Winston Churchill’s time in India as a military officer and journalist. The two occupations famously combined when Churchill accompanied a military expedition to deal with tribal upheaval on the North-West frontier (present day Pakistan-Afghanistan).  As a result, Churchill was mentioned in dispatches – and wrote a series of newspaper articles that were published as his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).

Read More

Young Churchill on the North-West Frontier: The More Things Change

Francis P. Sempa discusses young Winston Churchill’s time in India as a military officer and journalist. The two occupations famously combined when Churchill accompanied a military expedition to deal with tribal upheaval on the North-West frontier (present day Pakistan-Afghanistan).  As a result, Churchill was mentioned in dispatches – and wrote a series of newspaper articles that were published as his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).

Read More

Bridging the “George Gap:” Recalling reflections by Peter Feaver and John Gaddis on Grand Strategy

For those of us with an interest in the classics of strategy and diplomacy, we face a particular challenge: how can historical documents, speeches and memoirs – many of them considered musty, some long forgotten – contribute, directly or indirectly, to intelligent discourse about policy, much less to policy-making itself?  Compared, for instance, to wisdom purveyed by the latest trendy theory; or to the frequent insistence that in the real world, the best we can do is pragmatically muddle through.  As Harold W. Rood once wrote: "International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen."

Read More

Bridging the “George Gap:” Recalling reflections by Peter Feaver and John Gaddis on Grand Strategy

For those of us with an interest in the classics of strategy and diplomacy, we face a particular challenge: how can historical documents, speeches and memoirs – many of them considered musty, some long forgotten – contribute, directly or indirectly, to intelligent discourse about policy, much less to policy-making itself?  Compared, for instance, to wisdom purveyed by the latest trendy theory; or to the frequent insistence that in the real world, the best we can do is pragmatically muddle through.  As Harold W. Rood once wrote: "International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen."

Read More

The Soul of the Tyrant: Xenophon’s Hiero Revisited

Perhaps there is value into looking into the soul of the leaders of nations, especially when the leader in question seems to be of a certain type: what the ancients called a “tyrant.”

Read More

The Soul of the Tyrant: Xenophon’s Hiero Revisited

Perhaps there is value into looking into the soul of the leaders of nations, especially when the leader in question seems to be of a certain type: what the ancients called a “tyrant.”

Read More

The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy (Tami Davis Biddle and Robert M. Citino)

Tami Davis Biddle and Robert M. Citino published a white paper for the Society for Military History, “The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy.” The white paper provides an account of military history’s revitalization over the past four decades and assesses its current place in American higher education. According to the authors, in addition to the sub-field’s maturation in academic terms, its enduring popularity with the public and college students makes it an ideal lure for history departments concerned about course enrollments and the recruitment of majors and minors. Knowledge of the uses, abuses, and costs of war should also constitute a part of the education of future American leaders. 

Read More

The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy (Tami Davis Biddle and Robert M. Citino)

Tami Davis Biddle and Robert M. Citino published a white paper for the Society for Military History, “The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy.” The white paper provides an account of military history’s revitalization over the past four decades and assesses its current place in American higher education. According to the authors, in addition to the sub-field’s maturation in academic terms, its enduring popularity with the public and college students makes it an ideal lure for history departments concerned about course enrollments and the recruitment of majors and minors. Knowledge of the uses, abuses, and costs of war should also constitute a part of the education of future American leaders. 

Read More

Sir Martin Gilbert: History as Chronicle

In 1960, the eminent Oxford historian A.J.P. Taylor gave a bit of advice to young students. Avoid working on three things, because they are either irrelevant or already thoroughly plowed over: maps, Winston Churchill, and unpublished documents. Fortunately, at least in one particular instance, that advice was ignored. Sir Martin Gilbert, who passed away at the age of 78, was one of the most prolific of modern historians. He wrote 88 books, including histories of the Holocaust, of the world wars and of the 20th century. He is best known as the official biographer of Churchill, having assumed that duty after the second volume from Churchill’s son, Randolph (Gilbert had served as Randolph’s research assistant).

Read More

Sir Martin Gilbert: History as Chronicle

In 1960, the eminent Oxford historian A.J.P. Taylor gave a bit of advice to young students. Avoid working on three things, because they are either irrelevant or already thoroughly plowed over: maps, Winston Churchill, and unpublished documents. Fortunately, at least in one particular instance, that advice was ignored. Sir Martin Gilbert, who passed away at the age of 78, was one of the most prolific of modern historians. He wrote 88 books, including histories of the Holocaust, of the world wars and of the 20th century. He is best known as the official biographer of Churchill, having assumed that duty after the second volume from Churchill’s son, Randolph (Gilbert had served as Randolph’s research assistant).

Read More

Tocqueville, Early American Foreign Policy, and Contemporary Chinese Politics

Classic works of comparative government and political sociology, such as Democracy in America, can also provide insights into other nations and cultures (which of course was one of Tocqueville’s purposes).  Does this hold true for non-Western societies as well?  In 2010, Ceaser published a paper for the American Enterprise Institute’s Tocqueville on China Project. According to Ceaser, Tocqueville was one of the first thinkers to treat two of the great themes that have preoccupied modern scholars of China: modernization and transition. His writings on these themes were the forerunners of such classic works as James Bryce's Modern Democracy (1921) and Samuel Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), and they thus indirectly help inform the wave of scholarship in comparative politics on "democratic transitions" that appeared after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Read More

Tocqueville, Early American Foreign Policy, and Contemporary Chinese Politics

Classic works of comparative government and political sociology, such as Democracy in America, can also provide insights into other nations and cultures (which of course was one of Tocqueville’s purposes).  Does this hold true for non-Western societies as well?  In 2010, Ceaser published a paper for the American Enterprise Institute’s Tocqueville on China Project. According to Ceaser, Tocqueville was one of the first thinkers to treat two of the great themes that have preoccupied modern scholars of China: modernization and transition. His writings on these themes were the forerunners of such classic works as James Bryce's Modern Democracy (1921) and Samuel Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), and they thus indirectly help inform the wave of scholarship in comparative politics on "democratic transitions" that appeared after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Read More

Journalistic Classics of the Crimean War: Tolstoy and William Russell

In the Western media’s analyses of Russia’s recent moves in the Crimea, the historical context of great-power conflict over the region is often overlooked, including that of the Crimean War (1854-1856).  It is often said that the Crimean War – generally known in Russia as the Eastern War – constituted the first modern conflict, as it clearly foreshadowed the military developments that characterized the following century and beyond (most immediately, the American Civil War). These elements included the employment of railroads and steam-powered naval vessels for the transportation of troops and supplies (including the first appearance of iron-clad vessels, for bombardment), modern rifles, and telegraphic communications. It is known in popular imagination, if at all, for the charge of the Light Brigade and the British-French siege of Russian troops in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol (Sebastopol).

Read More

Journalistic Classics of the Crimean War: Tolstoy and William Russell

In the Western media’s analyses of Russia’s recent moves in the Crimea, the historical context of great-power conflict over the region is often overlooked, including that of the Crimean War (1854-1856).  It is often said that the Crimean War – generally known in Russia as the Eastern War – constituted the first modern conflict, as it clearly foreshadowed the military developments that characterized the following century and beyond (most immediately, the American Civil War). These elements included the employment of railroads and steam-powered naval vessels for the transportation of troops and supplies (including the first appearance of iron-clad vessels, for bombardment), modern rifles, and telegraphic communications. It is known in popular imagination, if at all, for the charge of the Light Brigade and the British-French siege of Russian troops in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol (Sebastopol).

Read More

On Strategic Thinking: Patterns in Modern History

It is precisely during the historical lulls, the quiet backwaters, that the most thinking about strategy should be done—by officers and by political leaders, both serving or aspiring to service. Nor are democracy's other citizens free to ignore defense and foreign affairs; they too might attend to Kipling's poem of warning. Thinking about strategy in peacetime is even more vital than material preparation, though both are vital. Because when war comes, it may be too late. During war, it may be too difficult. In defeat, it will be of no use.

Read More

On Strategic Thinking: Patterns in Modern History

It is precisely during the historical lulls, the quiet backwaters, that the most thinking about strategy should be done—by officers and by political leaders, both serving or aspiring to service. Nor are democracy's other citizens free to ignore defense and foreign affairs; they too might attend to Kipling's poem of warning. Thinking about strategy in peacetime is even more vital than material preparation, though both are vital. Because when war comes, it may be too late. During war, it may be too difficult. In defeat, it will be of no use.

Read More

Herodotus, The Histories (5th Century BCE)

Herodotus, who wrote a generation after the Persian Wars, puts these battles in the context of a great clash of civilizations, between Greek freedom and Asian despotism. He seeks to explain why and how a relatively poor, small, and divided collection of Greek-speakers were able to defeat a much larger, wealthier, and centralized empire. On the battlefield itself, on land and at sea, the Greeks were better disciplined and employed superior close-order tactics, such as staying in ranks rather than attempting to kill the greatest number of enemy soldiers in open combat. But Herodotus' generic answer reflected the views of his contemporaries and greatly influenced the West's understanding of itself: "As long as the Athenians were ruled by a despotic government, they had no better success in war than any of their neighbors. Once the yoke was flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world."

Read More

Herodotus, The Histories (5th Century BCE)

Herodotus, who wrote a generation after the Persian Wars, puts these battles in the context of a great clash of civilizations, between Greek freedom and Asian despotism. He seeks to explain why and how a relatively poor, small, and divided collection of Greek-speakers were able to defeat a much larger, wealthier, and centralized empire. On the battlefield itself, on land and at sea, the Greeks were better disciplined and employed superior close-order tactics, such as staying in ranks rather than attempting to kill the greatest number of enemy soldiers in open combat. But Herodotus' generic answer reflected the views of his contemporaries and greatly influenced the West's understanding of itself: "As long as the Athenians were ruled by a despotic government, they had no better success in war than any of their neighbors. Once the yoke was flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world."

Read More

Tom Ricks on Piers Mackesy

Tom Ricks, the Post's Senior Military Correspondent, calls Piers Mackesy’s book on the “strategic history” of the American Revolution, “the single best such work that I have ever encountered.”

Read More

Tom Ricks on Piers Mackesy

Tom Ricks, the Post's Senior Military Correspondent, calls Piers Mackesy’s book on the “strategic history” of the American Revolution, “the single best such work that I have ever encountered.”

Read More