Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link Weider History Group RSS feed Weider Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Letter From Military History - November 2007

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: October 16, 2007 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

All Warfare Is Local

When the late Massachusetts Congressman and Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill famously and shrewdly observed, "All politics is local," he meant that for all the big-picture action at the national level, what counts most is turnout at the community level. That is where democracy really works, as participating voters resolve their differences in win-or-lose contests.

It is perhaps a mark of the long-suspected link between politics and the military that O'Neill's dictum applies equally to warfare, to battles—and to military history. One can discuss the subject at the highest level of generality and abstraction, even to the point of summarizing a major battle in a single short sentence: "At Waterloo, Napoleon lost." It is possible, similarly, to compress the strategic consequences of a whole war into a single statement: "The Franco-Prussian War redrew the map of modern Europe."

But wise historians seem to know in their bones that to understand what a war, a campaign, a battle, an action, even a skirmish was really about, one must move well down the stairway of generalization to ground level, where individuals pull levers or pull triggers. That is where the real action is. That is where things actually get decided, sometimes one soldier, one decision, one mistake, one weapon, one shot, one casualty at a time.

At this level of individual conflict, of individual action, history is well nigh inexhaustible, which is one good reason we can keep retelling the stories of Ghost Mountain or Kings Mountain or Mance Ravine or No-Name Ridge. And because we all respond to human drama and love a good story, it is the place where history becomes most satisfying and most meaningful.

Examples of compelling local military history—call it the platoon level—are legion, but some current works demonstrate anew just how engaging and illuminating it can be: When David Halberstam delivers a line like, "At one point, Stewart told his superior that he was standing in the blood of his radio operator who had just been shot, and held the handset out the window so they could hear the deafening sounds of battle," you know you are reading military history at the local level. And you know that you are in the company of a historian who, like Shakespeare himself, can conjure the whole human cavalcade with a few precisely penned lines.



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.


Related Articles


History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer
HISTORYNET READERS' POLL

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
STAY CONNECTED WITH US
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet?

The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Weider History, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
Weider History

Weider History Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer! | StreamHistory.com
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 Weider History. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy