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military history

military history. The study of war and its effects has a long and distinguished history, dating back to at least 2500 bc, when the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote his treatise on The Art of War. European theorists came later, but the tradition which began with Julius Caesar's Commentaries nearly 2,000 years ago created a rich vein, culminating in the 1830s with Carl von Clausewitz's masterpiece On War. In all cases, practical experience and deep thought combined to ensure that the study of military history was both analytical and fruitful.

Such a tradition was largely absent from Britain, where military history was seen as the stuff of amateurs and armchair generals. The reason for this is not difficult to find: until the early 20th cent. Britain's wars tended to be fought at great distance from home, away from public gaze, while in times of significant threat, such as during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1793–1815), naval rather than military affairs took precedence. Individual military historians emerged— William Napier's epic six-volume History of the War in the Peninsula began to appear in 1828—but they displayed a preference for straight narrative rather than insight. Indeed, this became a strong theme running throughout British military history and one that continues today. Exciting accounts of military deeds, designed to engage the reader's attention and reinforce national pride, clearly have their place, but they do not offer deep analysis. More serious military history, using the events of the past to enhance understanding of war and prepare both the army and the people for future conflicts, only began to emerge in Britain after the traumas of the First World War. Historians such as Major-General J. F. C. Fuller and Captain Basil Liddell Hart used their experiences of the trench deadlock on the western front to speculate on the ways in which warfare might be changed to avoid horrendous casualties in the future. Their views on the use of the tank and aircraft to restore mobility to the battlefield may have found more favour in Germany than Britain during the inter-war period, but their use of military history laid a new emphasis on analysis and informed speculation.

This has continued to the present day and is seen as an integral part of the process of evolving and establishing war-fighting doctrine within the British army. Other factors may come into play, not least the influence of American thinking on war, but the British experience of conflict has been unique. It is reflected in the use of military history to support a doctrine which, while emphasizing large-scale conventional war, looks back just as much to the low-level counter-insurgency campaigns that form such an integral part of British army history. Moreover, the growing seriousness with which military history is being viewed in the British academic world provides a backcloth against which meaningful study can be made.

John Pimlott

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Military History

Military History. See Disciplinary Views of War: Military History.

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