Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vanishing Military Historians? Not Really

Mark Grimsley takes issue with John Miller's piece about vanishing military historians, which I commented upon earlier this week. [Full disclosure: I asked Grimsley for is take on the piece--and apparently I wasn't the only one]. In short, Grimsley thinks Miller's partisanship has skewed his analysis and that miller purposedly ignored the successful military history programs at such "liberal bastions" as Duke and UNC. Grimsley also did his own research into the University of Wisconsin situation that Miller used as an open to his piece. As they say, "read it all", and this follow up (and there will be more from Grimsley, I'd imagine).

UPDATE: John Miller has responded:
How clever of him to have uncovered my sinister conspiracy not to mention Duke or UNC! As it happens, I did quote UNC's ROTC commander, who is also a professor of military science at the school. I suppose I could have written that Duke and UNC have great programs—a couple of my sources said as much. More often, however, I heard OSU, Texas A&M, and Kansas State mentioned, so those are the ones I cited in the piece (along with West Point, which is a special case). But these are highly subjective judgments and professors get jealous about such things, so I'll say right now, on the record, that Duke and UNC have quality programs in military history.
Grimsley continues to post about it, including putting up a comment from a reader, which echoes my own feelings on this matter:

Having read Miller’s piece, the responses herein, and being a recently retired faculty member, I must say that the whole thing here seems to be a matter of umbrage taken unnecessarily. I cannot discern in Miller’s piece any disrespect for the field of military history, and to presume that he’s trying to implement some secret plan to kill it off simply to be able to make a point about the liberal biases of academia leads straight to paranoia.

It seems that Miller’s piece was incomplete, and no doubt he regrets any significant omissions — but looking upon you as persons who understand that any conveyance of facts about an event or circumstances by necessity must be limited, I would expect more understanding of this to be displayed.

The commenter also sketched a rough guideline how to approach the subject more analytically, which Grimsley has fleshed out.

Unfortunately, I think Grimsley seemed predisposed to assume the worst about Miller's motivation for writing the article and approached the matter too tendentiously in his initial response. In an email to Miller, Grimsley stated that:
My recent posts on both Cliopatria, the big history blog, and my own individual blog devoted to academic military history, respond to your September 26 article, “Sounding Taps.” The tone I have taken is contentious but I hope not abusive. Basically your article struck me as deliberately constructed so as to catastrophize the position military history has within the academy.
Grimsley's piece is not "abusive", but it's contentiousness is surrounded by a large amount of flippancy. It seems to me that the best way to engage in a debate over an issue is to--at least initially--take the argument at face value, offer correctives or refutations and proceed. By assuming the worst of Miller's motivation, I think Grimsley has needlessly applied a bellows to a fire that--according to him--need not have been kindled in the first place. Both have good points, and a healthy, respectful dialogue would probably be more useful and productive. (I'm off the stump now).

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