military history

If you are just looking for some quick information on German soldiers and French civilians in the war of 1870–71, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71.” Otherwise, please read on.

I decided to upload my MA thesis to Google Docs to make this information available to the general public. The file is huge, 34.9 MB, because I had to scan the original some time ago, having produced it on my 1987 Mac in 1994 and not having electronic copies of the illustrations or a way to make the pagination of the text come out the same as the original on my old ImageWriter. I tried to reduce its size with the usually magical PDF Shrink, but the result looked awful in this case.

Before I get to the thesis, though, let me list two relevant articles I wrote, which are better, in case that is what you are after. This might seem like a silly, self-agrandizing exercise to some, but since this blog frequently get hits from people using search engines like Google to learn about this war, I think getting this information together in one post could be helpful.

First, there is “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. (Reprinted in Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. Edited by Peter Wilson. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.) Here’s the abstract. The advantage to this article is it is all in English, and it integrates my earlier findings into the total war debate discussed at a productive series of conferences launched in 1992 by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. (See the titles that contain “total war” on this page, but ignore the links, which don’t seem to work outside the institute.) In terms of the actual subject, it devotes quite a bit of space to a close-up view of Bazeilles.

The other article I wrote on this topic is “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39. If you don’t read German, I’m sorry. Check out the link at the end of this paragraph and then move to the next one. If you do read German, this article lets you see the original language of the sources, instead of making you read my translations. It is also in an interesting edited collection on atrocities. The big difference between this and the article in English is that I do not spend much time on Bazeilles here, instead devoting much more attention to other interactions with civilians, both positive and negative. Also, I had to try to frame it in a way that fit the volume’s overall concept. For more information, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71,” which summarizes the highlights.

Personally, I think my articles on the Franco-Prussian War are much more readable than my old master’s thesis, and their arguments are certainly more mature, not least because they engage more recent historiography. Still, I own the copyright to this thesis, but not my articles, so why not share? Here: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–71.” M.A. thesis, Universität Augsburg, 1994. One oddity: It is written in English, but all the quotes are in the language in which I found them, usually German. That will irritate some, but it will possibly help anyone who wants to see the original German quotes that I translated into English for the War in History piece.

Lastly, for the sake of completeness, here’s a short blog post that explains how I happened upon this topic: “Paradoxes.” It was my first post on this blog. I thought it would become a part of a series, but the blog has had less focus than that, as blogs often do.

Now if anyone wants to suggest an appropriate internet archive to upload my MA thesis to and can explain why that particular archive is a good bet, I’m all ears. I’d be especially interested in finding something that deals with either the military topic or this period in German history. For now, though, my Google Docs solution will have to do.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

Here is the description for the course I’m planning to teach at George Mason University this summer:

Hist 388-B01: Approaches to European Military History.

This course examines manifold approaches to the military history of Europe. On one hand, it is a historiography course about military history’s questions, methods, and assumptions. On the other hand, it is an overview of the varieties of history that focus on war and the military in their societal context. In part, we will consider military history’s location within academic history more generally, as well as its relationship to military education and even the mainstream book market. In the main, though, we will focus on the varieties of academic military history and its many areas of research, including how battles were fought, how soldiers experienced those battles, how war and war planning looked in staffs and cabinets, the position of peacetime militaries in their societies, the effect of war on civilian societies and economies, the implications of gender studies for military history, and images of soldiering and war among aimed at youth. We will also address some of military history’s controversies, including the role of technology in effecting historical change.

This course is intended for anyone interested in history. It assumes no prior knowledge of military history, though a basic knowledge of European history would be helpful. The course will be based on readings and discussions, not lectures. Part of the time we will read articles and books in common, and other times students will read individualized assignments and discuss their findings with the class. In this way we will leverage our numbers to learn more as a group than we could as individuals. We will concentrate on secondary sources, though we might occasionally look at primary source excerpts that shed light on the historiography. Grades will be based on class participation (including reading presentations), three short historiographical papers based on the readings, and an annotated bibliography that focuses on a specific historical topic.

This summer I am teaching “Approaches to European Military History.” I suppose the European caveat is unfortunate, but I haven’t read widely enough to feel comfortable teaching a world history course on military history, not yet anyway. You see, I trained as a European historian first and foremost, and I just happened to do military topics along the way.

The course will be in a compressed summer session that meets for over two hours per night, twice a week, for seven weeks. My experience with a World War One course last summer was that time was too short to cover a book per session, even though we did this for many classes. In the two best sessions we had, everyone presented a different book in only about five minutes and then fielded questions. The format worked particularly well, because in some cases students noticed common themes and addressed those spontaneously in their presentations. I am thinking about using this format for more classes and also having students work on different articles.

Still, there will have to be a common set of readings too. The first one will be Michael Howard, War in European History (1976, 2009). While its results are somewhat outdated in places, it covers the grand sweep of developments in war and society in Europe in well under 150 pages, making for a manageable text that will provide the class with a common knowledge base.

The other book I have been able to settle on is Stephen Morillo with Michael F. Pavkovic, What is Military History? (2006). Parts of it are quite basic, discussing how historians think about various issues in history. Just that quality lends itself to an undergraduate course that will include mainly, but not exclusively, history major who are still learning to talk about history per se—as opposed to specific topics in history. The book also includes some sophisticated explanations of the historiography in this field and its relationship to separate and overlapping audiences in the academy, the military, and general book trade. (Academics in general would do well to read this material before prejudging the entire subfield of military history.)

Other than these two books, which I will probably break into several reading assignments, I will offer some articles and primary sources that everyone reads in common. The other reading assignments will be individualized.

The last nut to crack is assessment. Reading quizzes for materials that everyone covers are probably necessary, because undergraduates often need this motivational aid, even for a 300-level class, at least in a compressed summer format. Beyond that, I have noticed that a good quiz question at the beginning of class in History 100 can get everyone on the same page and ready for discussion, especially if I also have students compare answers right after I have collected the quizzes.

Beyond these quizzes, though, I am not sure if exams will work for this kind of course. I’m not sure how they would even look. So I will need to build in some sort of writing assignments that relate to their readings and presentations. To do this, though, I need to wrestle with the compressed format and the amount of time I can devote to helping them sharpen their analysis and prose. Right now I am thinking about a combination of book reviews and summaries or journal entries, but I’m still very much at the beginning of this thought process.

I’ve made a little more progress in my Great War course thanks to the early deadlines for book orders. We can’t cover as many books as I might have liked because of the compressed time period: three three-hour meetings per week for one month. I can’t fill all that time with lectures either, for then the main question would be who succumbs to fatigue first, me from speaking or the students from listening. More depth and less breadth is my goal, though the reading schedule will remain rigorous.

We’re going to do four major units with six books. First, there will be the origins question with July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen, and the Coming of the Great War by Samuel R. Williamson, Jr. and Russel Van Wyk (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2003). We’ll supplement this documentary history with the first chapter of The First World War by Hew Strachan (Penguin 2005) Second, we will use several classes to cover the course of the global conflict using Strachan’s survey together with the personal narratives in Intimate Voices from the First World War by Svetlana Palmer and Sarah Wallis (HarperCollins 2005). Third, we will use Modris Eksteins’ Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Anchor 1990) to consider the cultural impact of the war. Finally, we will look more closely at the war in two countries with Imperial Germany and the Great War by Roger Chickering (Cambridge 1998) and France and the Great War by Leonard V. Smith, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, and Annette Becker (Cambridge 2003).

I might add some articles or online sources when I write the syllabus, and students will get a broader feel for the literature through brief oral book presentations at the end of the semester.

Because students will need a little time to begin reading in the first place, I will begin the class by looking at a selection of classic films. There could also be a lecture at the beginning on broader trends in war and society, although I’m tempted to forego that in favor of students raising related questions during discussions.

Incentives for students to read will be not only the subject matter and two short papers, but also a midterm and final exam. While I am no big fan of exams in history courses, many undergraduate students seem to need this carrot and stick. They might even appreciate it, though I would expect none to admit as much.

What happens during classroom time will depend largely on class size. The theoretical upper limit is 45, but I’m told 25 is more usual in the summer. Even that would be too large for meaningful discussions, so I’m thinking about what kind of discussions among small groups of students could occur within the larger classroom, with the groups then reporting results to the class as a whole. I have little experience with this setup in history; however, I regularly use the technique when teaching English to non-native speakers. I believe that this student-centered approach could be applied to history, in which learning historical thinking and a new topic is also about doing. Students need to read, think about, and discuss history in order to make it their own. Discussions in small groups could significantly increase the amount of practice that each student gets in a larger class.

Integrating these student-centered discussions into classroom time should also help with the pacing of each three-hour evening session. There will be more variety for everyone, and time usually passes more quickly for students when they are actively engaged in the class.

I still need to work out the details, but here’s my catalog description for one course I am teaching this summer:

Hist 388-C02 – The Great War

Some 9 to 10 million people lost their lives in the Great War between 1914 and 1918. Most of the dead were soldiers; however, the war affected the lives of nearly everyone, not only because of the mass mourning it inspired, but also because of its economic, social, cultural and political consequences. Why did Europe’s great powers go to war? Why did they keep fighting? How did soldiers and civilians experience the war? What were its consequences? This course seeks to explore the First World War, a total war, from as many angles as possible, including politics, diplomacy, strategy, tactics, economics, class, gender, generation, and nationality. The course will center on discussions of assigned readings, which will feel heavy during this short term. We will also consider some films. Grades will be based on class participation, two short papers, a short book presentation, and a midterm and final exam.

The particular challenge with this course is the intensive summer format George Mason University uses. The course meets for about three hours, three times per week for one month.

I am disappointed by the news Tom Ricks shares in “Fiasco at the Army War College.” In it he asks, “Did faculty members at the Army War College curtail their criticism of the Iraq war for fear of institutional retaliation?” In fact, they did more, even blackballing Ricks. I’m almost surprised, because I think highly of that institution, but I also recall how little respect the Bush administration has shown for professionalism in so many areas of government.

Thirteen more days.

Juan Cole offers some interesting historical perspective on Israel’s wars in a piece called “Gaza 2008: Micro-Wars and Macro-Wars.” Here is one of his more provocative assessments:

Israel’s political tradition seeks expansion if possible; if not possible, it seeks a balance of power with its enemies. If that is not possible, it seeks to be held harmless from its avowed foes. If that is not possible, it is willing to wage total war to punish the enemy population until it accepts at least a cold peace. Where necessary, Israel is willing to give up territorial expansion to get the cold peace.

If only I knew what “total war” means here. In modern European history it was when the distinction between soldiers and civilians was increasingly erased during the First and Second World Wars. If Israel sometimes erases such distinctions in urban situations, I am not aware of a policy that accepts this erasure, especially not for its own civilians. Presumably Cole has something else in mind or is using hyperbole, either way demonstrating how slippery the term “total war” can be.

And “cold peace”? Well, the Cold War was a rhetorical war in the metropoles and a shooting war in other countries by proxy; however, it was otherwise a peace, albeit one punctuated by extreme levels of militarization that the push of a button could have transformed into the first real total war. Perhaps then “cold war” in a generic sense means a war with no shooting. Does “cold peace” mean a peace marked by periodic violence? If so, I have not noticed any particular willingness by Israel to accept this violence. Or is this about an icy peace punctuated by the permanent threat of violence? Wouldn’t that be a cold war then?

Putting aside the overly generous use of unexplained labels, Cole’s article is worth reading, whether or not you agree with his take on “Israel’s old expansionist tendencies.” The historical context is useful, and the term “micro-wars” is at least consistent with the metaphor upon which “asymmetric war” depends, though it encompasses more dimensions than merely partisan warfare. Cole points to four specific factors in the twenty-first century: (1) the integration of the religious political parties Hamas and Hizbullah with the population around them via the parties’ social services; (2) suicide bombs, tank-piercing capabilities, and small rocket fire; (3) the support of a regional power (a common feature of other guerilla wars); and (4) “Israel’s Achilles heel, its demographic vulnerability”—a violent environment encourages emigration. Cole uses these factors as the backdrop for his narrative of Israel’s conflicts in Southern Lebanon and Gaza.

In the end, though, he wonders if global opinion might prove a bigger problem for Israel, albeit only in the long term. Public opinion is the one thing I’ve been wondering about as well.

And “macro-war”? Does Cole mean the old conventional wars that Israel used to fight with its neighbors? Or is he talking about global public opinion, which is the focus of Israel’s and its enemies’ propaganda wars and public diplomacy?

An essay on the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) that I wrote last year appeared in print this fall in a book about war atrocities from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Here’s the reference, in case you read German: Mark R. Stoneman, “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath, eds., Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39.

The essay focusses on German soldiers and French civilians using the example of the Bavarians. It examines why soldiers sometimes departed from generally accepted standards in Europe about sparing civilians the effects of war as much as possible.

The war began as a “cabinet war” that the German leadership hoped to win quickly through a series of decisive battles of annihilation. In this way the state, led by the king and his cabinet, would maintain control over the war effort and not face any undue influence from civilians, whether its own or those of the enemy. After destroying the Second Empire’s army at Sedan, however, France refused to capitulate. Its people toppled the empire and vowed to fight on. The German leadership had a “people’s war” on its hands that it took five more months to win. While the French and Germans fought most of this war with conventional means between armed forces organized by the state, the war also saw substantial civilian involvement that had the potential to lead to an ever deepening spiral of violence.

The most extensive contact between soldiers and civilians occurred as a result of the German military policy of living off the land, which made German forces more mobile. To maintain discipline, officers were supposed to take small details of soldiers to requisition what animals, fodder, and food their units required. Requisitioning resembled theft in that those whose property the German officers took had no choice in the matter, but it differed insofar as the German officers issued receipts for what they took. These would be paid off by whichever side lost. German forces were also quartered on civilian households. These circumstances enabled soldiers to pursue their own private initiatives. If their “hosts” would not give them what they needed, the soldiers often took it.

More famous, however, were reports of armed French civilians called francs-tireurs. While their number was not great enough to present a strategic threat, the German forces did have to devote some 120,000 soldiers to their lines of communication. Armed incidents led the invading soldiers to shoot suspected partisans summarily, burn down houses and even villages where such incidents occurred, and use hostages, most famously on locomotives. While some reactions had an ad hoc quality to them, the common thread was the notion of “military necessity.” The German forces found the actions regrettable but necessary, in order to prevent the war from lasting longer than necessary. The idea was to counter French “terror” with measures so harsh that the French would see the error of their ways and refrain from any further resistance.

References for these incidents and the historiography of the Franco-Prussian War are available in this new essay as well as the following related one, in which I devote a lot of space to the events in Bazailles, which the Bavarians infamously burned down during the Battle of Sedan: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” in: War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. Reprinted in Peter H. Wilson, ed., Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.

My source base for this research was published personal narratives, that is, letters, diaries, and memoirs. Most of them came from Bavarian soldiers and officers, though I drew on other German narratives by way of comparison. It is in some ways surprising how freely the fighting men wrote about these events, but what they were describing was either acceptable in their minds or told in relation to what lines they believed the French had crossed.

One phenomenon I found little mention of was the hostage-taking. This might be because the Bavarian veterans felt they had crossed a line, although it is also worth noting that their units were not as heavily involved in maintaining lines of communication in the rear, which is where the hostage-taking occurred. Recently I learned more about this subject from Heidi Mehrkens’ new book, which includes a section on the German military using hostages on locomotives. Mehrkens’ book is also helpful, because it uses archival sources that confirm the impressions I gained about relations between soldiers and civilians from the published primary sources.

Update (Aug. 19, 2010): If you want to learn more, see MA Thesis on Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), which links to the thesis.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

Samuel R. Williamson Jr and Russel Van Wyk make an interesting point on the last page of an undergraduate documentary history of the Great War’s causes.

At the start of the new millennium, and after September 11, 2001, there is an urgent need for civilian understanding and control of the military forces of the state. Yet paradoxically, this need comes at a time when very few civilians in western society have had any direct experience in the military, either as members of the uniformed services or as students of strategic issues. Conversely, recent studies also show that many in the military have little appreciation of the American traditions of civil-military relations and even of the assumed tenets of civilian control.

I am unable to comment on their final assertion, but the rest of their comments speaks to a problem that has long bothered me. Why do we not teach more military history in our liberal arts programs? How can we expect our civilian leadership and the electorate more generally to make informed decisions about war and peace if we do not teach these questions in our institutions of higher learning?


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