Cathal Nolan

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:

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Traditionally, much literature on war details battles and campaigns. Quality varies from compilations of précis to full-length books on “decisive battles.” Much of this work is overly heroic and largely uncritical, but some is deeply scholarly. Accurate battle and operational history is extremely hard to write, especially about wars distant in time. It is also hard to read and understand, and it requires intimate knowledge of topography, not to mention an appreciation of logistics, leadership, command and control, and tactics that frequently change depending on the time and place and what army is involved. Traditional histories were often overly reliant on a few eyewitnesses or took the “top-down” approach dictated by heavy reliance on commanders’ memoirs. Thus, they too often were concerned primarily with military reputations, critical tactical decisions made or not made by commanders which putatively turned the tides of whole campaigns and even wars. From the 19th century, war diaries and letters home by more educated men sprinkled among a generally and more commonly illiterate soldiery enriched battle and campaign reconstructions, but still emphasized command decisions in battle reconstructions. Indeed, they amplified that bias by leaving out the common soldiers’ experiences, recollections, and perspectives. Modern accounts often benefit from the necessary collaborative writing by teams of historians or military professionals working from a multitude of sources on enormous battles of the 20th century, or extending this methodology back to earlier times. Eyewitness oral histories, interviews, and detailed after-action reports have become key sources in writing battle and campaign history, in addition to “official histories” and ever-wider publication of battle memoirs by even very low-level participants in modern wars. Battle study today nearly always includes “bottom-up” social and cultural issues, better reflecting the “face of battle” as it has been and continues to be experienced by ordinary soldiers.

Article.  6817 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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