Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My response to Ross Mahoney's post on Professorships of War

Ross Mahoney wrote: "You can not make such a comparison between war and Hitler. That is to misunderstand the whole purpose of these Profersorship. We have for too long ignored the subject of war in academia. It has been vilified as the realm of the military and in doing this academic history has ignored the most important aspect of human history, war. To understand this is to try and grasp human nature itself. Is this not a cause worth understanding then I am not sure there is much else to bother with. War encompases all aspects of human history, therefore, it is right that these chairs are established to further our understanding. "

My response is:

1. Clearly all comparisons are by their very nature improper. That is, all comparisons are made for particular purposes. My purpose was to illustrate that focusing on a particular subject, by the very act of so focusing, enhances the status of that subject. I do not see that Mr Mahoney disagrees with me on this point.

2. However, Mr Mahoney asserts that the PURPOSE of having "professorships of war" is to "try and grasp human nature". This is a most interesting point, and were this to be so, I would expect the Professorship concerned to be titled something like "Professorship of Human Nature" with some suitable sub-title indicating that how this Professorship of Human Nature differed from (for example) psychological and sociological Professorships was that this one focused on examining war for this purpose.

3. In what I have read of the work of such Professors, I have not found a particular emphasis on understanding human nature. In all likelihood, this is simply my lack of suitable guides in the field, and I will be grateful to Mr Mahoney for drawing my attention to suitable works that do focus on this area.

4. It is a moot point whether "war encompasses all aspects of human history" or vice versa.

5. I have some experience of academia, in various capacities, since 1965. I am unaware of any ignoring or vilification of the subject of war or the military in academia. Again, this probably reveals the extent of my ignorance or unawareness, and I will be glad to have my attention drawn to any evidence of this. Studies of war have had a place in academia at least as long as acedemics has existed.

The list of writing on the subject is historically and geographically extensive, and would not have survived without at least minimal patronage from the elite (including the academic elite) - The Jewish Bible, the Koran, Kautilya, Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Frontinus, Gaius Julius Caesar, Renatus, and even Machiavelli (not The Prince but The Seven Books on the Art of War), de Saxe, Frederick the Great, Bonaparte, von Clausewitz, Jomini, Mahan, von Moltke, and so on, down to Mao, Che Guevara, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Schwarzkofp, Weinberger, Powell and so on, down to the present. Sphere: Related Content

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