WARS DO VERY LITTLE to influence history. At least that is the claim of a growing army of scholars and pundits, according to James Lacey and Williamson Murray. In their new book, Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes That Changed the World, the two respected military historians brood over a new school of thought in which “battles, wars, generals, and statesmen are…colorful but materially insignificant blips on the radar screen” of history.
Allen Guelzo—director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College and author of a new book on the Battle of Gettysburg (see review, page 89)—raises a similar alarm. Many of his colleagues, he writes, are drawn to the Civil War but see the study of its battles as “close to pornography.”
For these three historians, the bottom line is this: War does matter. Guelzo writes that much as anyone would like to argue that the social and political goings-on around war trump the conflict itself, “we cannot talk about the American 19th century without talking about the Civil War, and we cannot talk about the Civil War without acknowledging, even grudgingly, the Civil War era’s singular event was a war.”
Perhaps MHQ should adopt “War Matters” as its motto. For nearly 25 years, we’ve been writing about battles, wars, and generals exactly because they often determine history. Through the ages, armed conflict has settled questions of who is in power, what ideas prevail, and which nations rise and fall. In almost every instance, war leaves behind a legacy that continues to push and pull at events for decades, if not centuries.
In this issue, you’ll find stories about George Washington and Alexander the Great. You’ll also read contributing editor Thomas Fleming’s picks for the most notable graduating classes at West Point—including the class of 1915, which boasted Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and a host of others who cut their teeth on World War I and then led the Allies to victory in World War II. These men are “insignificant blips” in history?