Question of the Week

December 2008


What period of military history is your favorite and why? Thanks!

Posted by Jim Dolbow in History

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Stevekaw

    The American Civil War – it defined (and still defines) so much of what we are as a country…

  • Rubber Ducky

    Not necessarily ‘favorite’ (not sure what that means), but for Navy types, the most informative is the Civil War. This is where sea-service types can go to understand land warfare. These reasons:

    1. Incredible scholarship. The Civil War is probably the most studied conflict in history, certainly for American interest. New information is rolled out every year and old judgments revisited and challenged. McPherson, Catton, Freeman (I’d add Simpson now that I’ve read his biography of Grant): these are the classics and should be thoroughly read, both for the consistent history and for the play of time on historical judgment. Add to the list ‘The Mind Of The South’ by W. J. Cash to put the war in its true context.

    2. Accessible relevance. You can visit preserved battlefields and relate what happened then to what’s in place now.

    3. Simplicity. The battles and the sweep of war are contained and understandable. All of land warfare is here.

    4. Juxtaposition of technology. Studying the problems facing commanders then makes for better appreciation of the role military technology plays in general and the advantages to current commanders specifically from overhead sensors, airplanes, modern communications, intelligence fusion, etc.

    5. The play of politics. Many modern warriors are convinced that political considerations are a new thing in war and ‘we’d always win if the politicians let us.’ The political forces and constraints that played out in the Civil War are worth reviewing to see how naive this viewpoint is.

    6. Eternal verities. Logistics really matter. Assumptions can kill you. War ain’t solitaire. Mass matters. Who won the battle is a judgment, not an outcome.

  • Byron

    Complete agreement, RD, especially the areas of technology and logistics, the key reasons the South was at a disadvantage from day 1. Just look at railroads and telegraphy. The South had 1/10th the railroad capacity, and never really utilized it the way the North did. Couple that with industrial capacity, and the North could afford to lose thousands of weapons, ammunition and uniforms daily and still be able to not only make good the losses, but to also get them where they were needed in time. Telegraphs made it simple to pass messages across vast distances quickly, leading the link between communications and battle efficiency (with the glaring exception of Viet Nam, where too much was a very bad thing).

    My favorite period is the Revolution and the period up to the Barbary Wars when the Navy was first feeling its way.

    RD, have you ever read Gingrich and Fortschens books on Gettysburg to the end of the war? Historical fiction? Has some pretty nice alternatives to the Pennsylvania campaign, and the authors make good cases. Nice reads.

  • WWII –
    The total scope of the conflict from when it started in the 1930’s till its finish in 1945.
    That every ocean was a front in the war.

    And the results of the war still shape global politics today.

  • Eagle1

    World War II and its aftermath. As the Civil War changed the U.S. as a nation, WWII changed the U.S. and the world, spelling the end of empires, the rise of new nations, global enterprises and developed the industrial might of the U.S.

    There was an American swagger: “Can Do” and “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.” And it wasn’t bragging, because we could do it.

    The logistical challenges that were overcome set the stage for so much of the following decades as well as giving Americans the confidence that nothing was impossible. The race to control the atom, aviation advancements, rocket technology, computers and electronics all continue to impact our modern world in space flight, communications satellites, GPS navigation. As the world shrank, there was sharing of goods and food stuff on a scale never imagined before. You can argue that modern health care grew out of the needs of the services and that massive government projects needed to power the wartime industrial system brought power and light to our interior. New forms of transportation like oil and gas pipelines shipped energy from remote areas to population centers.

    The GI Bill sent millions to college and grew our universities. The VA home loan guarantees sparked our modern housing boom. The Defense Highway system grew our transportation and shrank our country.

    The fostering of new democracies in Germany and Japan and the rebuilding of their economies instead of imposing harsh punishment showed lessons learned from the first Great War.

    Atomic weapons, used twice, may have ended war on a global scale forever.

  • Herb Schaltegger

    WWI – It was the last conflict where combat (especially at sea) was so singularly in the hands of individual ship and squadron commanders, operating mostly independently or under conditions of very limited oversight, with very real logistical issues and relatively few technological aids for navigation, communications, control and combat. Ships and men often fought as truly independent entities, doing the best they could under extremely difficult constraints to follow often vague or contradictory orders, using only the limited supplies on hand and the training and experience they had earned. Disclaimer: I am currently re-reading Massie’s “Castles of Steel” at the moment, which no doubt informs this answer.

  • sid

    The period between the War of 1870 and World War One. It is the period that most resembles these times…

  • fabulous comments by all thanks

  • I mostly enjoy the battle history of the Navy. For overall warfare I think I gravitate towards WW2. For living it? Cold war easily, having been a “Cold Warrior” from 1981 to 1985.