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November 10, 2008



"Rather, it would be better to re-concieve the study of strategic affairs as a multi-disciplinary social science major combining sociology, international relations, philosophy, political science, cognitive science, economics, history, and "pure" military theory."

You just nailed the description of what my graduate program was (supposed) to be. I graduated with an MA in War Studies, which was generally a combination of military history and polisci with both qualitative and quantitative elements.


Yeah, I imagine some graduate programs are like that.

On an undergraduate level though, I think that kind of program would be a worthy substitute for military history.


A.E. : I'm not stayin' in anywhere near the US but do youths in the US even READ anythin' decent? Much less articles on anythin' related to military thought or history, off - line or otherwise.

Methinks a culture of perusin' good literature is a start. Gotta start eradicatin' the bias against "geek culuture". I'm a geek myself but I love the same things other dudes have a passion for : autos, Bodyglove & Diesel T shirts & of course, pus - er, I mean, women. So what gives? Geeks are not "UNCOOL". Some of us even love video games & violent contact sports too.

People have gotta start perusin' GOOD books besides auto & fashion mags. Have the high schools in the US do somethin' 'bout this. Maybe Zenpundit has some bright ideas.

May I add Virilio to the above curriculum, but of course, taught in ENGLISH & not hyperbole. War viewed from the lens of other ethnic groups would be a useful addition.

You may not be f***in' interested in war but it sure is interested in ya!

Account Deleted

A very exciting post!

I agree.

I like the idea of an applied social science a lot.

The research-end of social science focuses on explaining variation. The application-end should focus on how to use this knowledge practically, and also how to recognize BS or unfalsifiable claims as the marketing/classics stuff they are.

Dead-on about the need to avoid becoming one of the "Classics."


Yeah, I'd imagine Virilio would be taught as part of a "Critical War Studies" or "Postmodern Views of Warfare" course.

And dan, thanks for your praise.

Stephen Pampinella

Solid post that will go on the bulletin board of my polisci dept. I agree about an interdisciplinary post, especially because International Relations (or at least what I've been exposed to), has focused on being scientifically neutral and empirical, idolizing quantitative work above all others.

There is a small literature on Strategic Adjustment, including scholars like Ed Rhodes and Emily Goldman. Perhaps scholarly work that you're describing could build on those foundations. Certainly with the strategic adjustment made by the US military in the Long War, that field should experience a resurgence soon.

Also agreed on avoiding the Classics. The surest way to make strategy a 'dead' subject of study is to place it alongside dead languages.

Instead of fearing the Left, there is much that military theory could in fact borrow from it and turn it on its head, much to the chagrin of Frankfurt School types. John Boyd has already done this, only his ideas are not widely read for their impact to truly sink in.


Stephen : Methinks the reason John Boyd's ideas is not readily accepted in military circles was 'coz he was a REAL maverick. Not one of those kiss ass types hungerin' for promotion. Too many c***suckas everywhere, not just in the military.

Would threaten the status quo if all the young officers in the USAF were to follow his patterns of thought, & I meant his behavior, not just his theorizin'.

To be or to do.



An excellent post that offers sound suggestions on how to breath life into a much maligned subject. As Hanson noted in his piece, military history courses when offered are taught to full classrooms.

As the academia of Boomer-Anti-War Vietnam, naval gazing Era begin to retire, I predict a shift to those of the current civic generation, many who are returning Vets, will slowly bring it back to it's rightful place.

I for one who is teaching un-tenured in post-secondary academia, can not wait for the day to be able to take my military history side out of the closet. Your post offers the best avenue for reviving this important subject.



Thanks for the big-up re: your department. I think that military theory is the last applied social science that has yet to be touched by critical theory. When it has, it's been completely adversarial, with critical theorists who understand little of military matters commenting on it. One of the few people who actually "gets" the military and critical theory is James Der Derian of Brown University.

On the other hand though, the military is instinctively hostile to new theoretical approaches and especially those from leftist French academics. Only the Israelis (see Shimon Naveh) have been able to make this work because of the unique nature of their society and the essentially European intellectual culture of Judaism.


Thanks for your praise. I am going to speculate more on my idea for this in future posts.


Interesting piece.
When I was studying business, I was also looking for extra sources of strategy.
The study and analysis of war could have a special relation to business and management, the same way economics has.


It's kind of a fad for business managers to read military strategic texts, but I think that only a few understand it on a non-superficial level. This has more to do with their limited patience for deep reflection and introspection than anything else.

I do think, though, that there needs to be a serious intellectual effort to do the kind of thinking you are talking about, and Chet Richards' "Certain to Win" is probably the best example of it.


A.E. : One of the strange things 'bout western institutions is that they seem to "compartmentalize" knowledge. I don't see much of a contradiction between military studies & critical theory. Der Derian has definitely amalgamated both strands of thought effectively. Probably the best example of synthesis are the articles by Virilio. Will check out the works of Shimon Naveh, have yet to peruse his articles.

Perhaps the institutions in the west should take a page from the ancient orientals.

For 'em old dudes, the universe is a whole entity, once you start separatin' things by name or order, it simply just becomes unnatural. Like those blind dudes tryin' to figure out the shape of the elephant.

Account Deleted

Perhaps I have had a bad experience, but every exposure I have had to critical theory in an academic setting has been agenda-driven, qualitative, and sloppy.

It's the antithesis of a social science, and (in my experience) the mirror image of the classics: a waste of time for understanding the world, but as good of a source as any for getting ideas.


In regards to CT, it by definition is qualitative, but I am interested in having both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

The main problem with it in academic settings is that it is hard to find someone who can teach it with a modicum of academic rigor. Teachers who do tend to be "I'm going to save the world on your dollar" types whose impotence in the larger political world motivates them to indoctrinate their students.


A.E.:I completely agree that business managers to read military strategic texts is a fad, but having it integrated into a strategy class wouldn't be.
It needs to be a serious effort into understand business through the lens of war.
Military strategy is much older than business strategy, and has more depth of thinking.
It won't be as simple as reading a military strategy book.
I've not read Certain to Win, what did you get from it?


Certain to Win is a exposition of Boyd's theories and how they can intersect with certain business strategies. It's one of most accessible Boyd books and contains many of Richards' own strategic theories and opinions.

Smitten Eagle


Pardon the late reply. Things get quite hectic in a cross-country move.

You wrote a fair appraisal of the strategy I put forth at Chicago Boyz for revitalizing military history. A few words on that...

1) I think your framework here is well-constructed. Military history, like all history, is by definition interdisciplinary. Indeed, historians since Thucydides have recognized that argument + evidence is what makes history. I would argue that almost all evidence comes from disciplines outside of history--whether literature, journalism, hard science, etc. Thus the very idea of a history constructed on interdisciplinary grounds isn't novel or revolutionary. It is the very core of what actually is. Kudos to you for recognizing that.

2) The primary point I was making in the series of CB posts was to show that the discipline of military history, as well as history in general, has been savaged by social scientists. This argument has been made by many before me, and I think that it's supportable. I still think that placing the core of a professional military education under the purview of a social science department is dangerous to the discipline. It is worth noting that the arrangement of military history courses under social science departments is something that is fairly common today, to the extent that military history is taught, and it is this very arrangement that is so caustic to the MH discipline.

3) I still think it worth mentioning that military history is certainly a sociological study. This does not require it administratively/bureaucratically to some Dean of Social Science. Likewise, MH has very strong technological aspects, yet we don't place military history in the purview of engineering or natural science departments (this is not a radical idea. Enlightenment thinking placed military history in the realm of natural science. Even Westpoint and Annapolis are mainly engineering schools!).

4) Military history has something to offer sociology, and vice versa. However, military history, if it is to survive as a discipline, needs protection from the sociologists. It doesn't make much sense to study operational art if the classroom discussion is going to devolve into a blathering about the moral rectitude of warfare (something I've witnessed several times at a certain Big Ten campus).

5) Place MH in the Classics dept, or place it out of the purview of any department, as many International Relations degrees are, and recognize it as truly interdisciplinary...do whatever is necessary to keep the social scientists at bay. Let the sociologists contribute to the study, but don't let them run the show.

6) Here is a post detailing several relevant discussion threads and posts. It is worth looking at:


Semper Fidelis,


SE, thank you for your intelligent reply.

I suppose I error in not fully laying out the nature of what I am proposing. Essentially, I think it is more important to teach the concept of strategy (a conceptual lens from which to analyze military affairs) than the rescuing of military history (which may be so far gone at this point that it probably could be put under the banner of classics).

I think we both agree that strategy or MH has to be truly independent and interdisciplinary to be taught effectively. Other disciplines will impose their dictates on it, and both have so many factors that enter into analysis (war is the most basic--but complex--human activity) that it must be broad by design.

I do not agree about social science though. While many social scientists are warped by their ideology into a kind of quixotic quest to save the Other by brainwashing their students, military history and strategy can only gain through the use of social science methodology. That ultimately, however, requires a more flexible kind of academia.

I think that discussions of operational art and tactics can be successful in a classroom environment as long as the teacher acts to keep the debate focused in the proper direction.

In the long run, I see this as a project that could be successful. And if any academics attack it as a product of "imperialist oppression," I will bash them over the head with my giant Foucault anthology.


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