Periodical Publications on War and the Military

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Periodical Publications on War and the Military. The appearance of professional or occupational periodicals is usually a sign that a field has matured. This has certainly been the case for military and defense journals in the United States. From a slow and fitful start in the early days of the republic, serial publications devoted to war and the military have evolved into a number of forums that cover diverse aspects of this broad topic. Unlike other periodicals that cover trades or professions, military publications (which comprise the bulk of this category) are not the prime vehicles that formulate theories and major advancements. Rather, they explain and disseminate officially determined policy. Debate then takes place over details and implementation. These journals also can be a means of spreading specialized military information to the general media.

Prior to the Civil War, military journals were short‐lived. A small and dispersed officer corps, rudimentary mail and transportation systems, and a core belief that talented men could rapidly master the arts of war created an insurmountable barrier to successful periodicals. The first American military journal, Military Repository, set the pattern. It was created during a short‐term interest in military affairs in 1796 and folded the following year. A number of similar efforts met the same fate during the War of 1812. The most successful publication of the antebellum era was the Army and Navy Chronicle, which lasted from 1835 to 1844. It was a reflection of a “military enlightenment” of the 1830s. No military periodical appeared during the Mexican War.

The Civil War saw the rise of several military journals. The large number of new officers created a need for publications that covered military operations and provided basic instruction and counsel for these civilians in uniform. Several addressed this audience, the most prominent being the Army and Navy Journal (now the Armed Forces Journal International, AFJI). This publication quickly gained the confidence of senior officers and was the only such periodical to continue after the war. It settled into a routine of covering congressional appropriations, military deployments, and the social aspects of officers' lives.

The next spurt began in the 1870s. Officers in the army and navy began to address the basic tenets of their profession by forming societies. Their journals, following the model of the British Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, provided sounding boards for these officers' thoughts. The U.S. Navy was first in 1874 with the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, followed in 1879 by the U.S. Army's Journal of the Military Service Institution. The army's branches quickly began producing their own periodicals, such as Cavalry Journal, which weakened a desire for a “one‐army” voice. Both uniformed and civilian writers also addressed military topics in mainstream publications.

War had two contradictory effects on these publications. Small editorial staffs of regular officers were quickly depleted by the demands for more pressing activities. On the other hand, the influx of thousands of new dues‐paying officers who were “encouraged” to join the branch societies rapidly filled the associations' coffers. New publications arose, addressing the concerns of wartime volunteers and conscripts. The most popular enlisted ranks' periodicals have been Yank (World War II) and Stars and Stripes (both world wars and the postwar period to the present).

The post–World War II period ushered in a golden age of American military and defense journals. Each year between 1945 and 1985 saw the establishment of at least one periodical devoted to war and the military. This development was the direct result of the Cold War. The United States was fielding a large permanent military establishment for the first time in its history, creating a substantial audience in uniform and in industry. Three main sources continue to meet the needs of this readership.

The largest is the military establishment itself. The Department of Defense and its various military bodies have created a number of publications. Most attempt to disseminate official doctrine, impart useful career information, and inculcate an esprit de corps. Some address the concerns of a particular branch, such as Infantry, while others provide information to all the ranks of a single service, such as Airman. Of special interest are the journals of the various war colleges (Parameters, Naval War College Review, Airpower Journal, etc.), which provide a scholarly venue for uniformed and civilian authors. Aside from these, most of the government periodicals contain limited criticism of official policy. Over the years, there have been attempted cutbacks of service‐sponsored periodicals from both the congressional and executive branches, but the publications have endured. In fact, emerging trends spawn new journals, such as Joint Forces Quarterly.

Professional organizations are the smallest sources of defense and military journals but arguably the most in fluential. These groups either form around the major services, such as the Air Force Association (Air Force), or activities, such as the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (Signal). Their journals display an independence of thought and often reflect what the services actually feel about policies and developments. Many associations have corporate membership, providing a conduit for the views of defense contractors. Unlike their government counterparts, which cannot receive advertisements, these magazines are filled with promotions for the latest products and services of the military‐industrial complex.

“Independent” publishers form the final source of military journals and are the most diverse. Commercial publications such as Aviation Week and Space Technology and Defense News usually emphasize military equipment and the related aspects of the federal budget. As with their association counterparts, these commercial magazines carry defense contractor advertisements, sometimes in conjunction with special editorial sections that deal with the weaponry being advertised.

There are some exceptions. The first are the tabloid newspapers of the Army Times Publishing Company (Army Times, Air Force Times, and Navy Times), which provide articles that uniformed personnel need to succeed in their careers—information on pay, promotions, education, benefits, and so on. Founded during World War II, this company was so successful that it usurped the role that Armed Forces Journal International had played. For its part, AFJI in the late 1960s successfully repositioned itself to cover defense policy issues in a lively format. It has been joined by a few other commercial publications, notably those of the British Jane's Publishing Company.

Military history journals have a solid niche in popular and academic publishing. Titles aimed at a general audience such as Military History, World War II, Vietnam, Naval History, and MHQ have received an enthusiastic popular reception. More scholarly offerings such as the Journal of Military History and Air Power History have been well received in the academic community. The focus of the commercial and academic journals has been on modern (since 1400) Western military history.

The Civil War has generated a myriad of publications that address the interests of its devotees. In the decades that followed the war, most showed a decidedly regional bias, such as Confederate Veteran. Almost all of these journals had ceased by the Great Depression, but the war's centennial in 1961 sparked a popular interest that has not flagged. Civil War History is a well‐respected academic journal that covers not only military topics but all aspects of the “middle period” of American history. Civil War Times Illustrated, The Blue and the Gray, and America's Civil War service an apparently insatiable popular market. There are a wide variety of specialty Civil War serials, such as Lady Reenactor and Civil War Token Journal.

Over the years since World War I, and accelerating with the intellectual ferment during the Robert S. McNamara era at the Department of Defense, several independent scholarly journals joined the war college and branch journals in examining wider military and defense issues. Periodicals with a social science emphasis, such as Harvard University's International Security (political science) and the Inter‐University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society's Armed Forces and Society (sociology and political science), have established scholarly niches.

The final group of independent publishers consists of those dealing with peace and arm control and disarmament issues. Such publications generally arise in periods before or after conflicts and are usually organs of peace and antiwar movements. The Cold War amplified this phenomenon: a wide variety of peace and disarmament publications appeared, ranging from the semischolarly Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to the tabloid Ground Zero. A related type has been produced by organizations devoted to peace studies, such as Journal of Conflict Resolution (University of Michigan), Peace and Change (Peace History Society), and World Affairs (American Peace Society). There is not much cross‐fertilization between the peace journals and the rest of the military publications, a reflection of the lack of middle ground between their sponsors.
[See also Cold War: Domestic Course.]


Leslie Anders , Retrospect: Four Decades of Military Journalism, Military Affairs, 41 (April 1977), pp. 62–66.
Robert B. Sims , The Pentagon Reporters, 1983.
Grant Burns , Stopping the War Before It Starts: North American Periodicals of the Peace and Disarmament Movement, Serial Librarian, 10 (Summer 1986), pp. 117–42.
Michael E. Unsworth, ed., Military Periodicals: United States and Selected International Journals and Newspapers, 1990.

Michael E. Unsworth

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Periodical Publications on War and the Military

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Periodical Publications on War and the Military