Intro. #3: Kings Point and Iraq

I started working at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, NY as a member of the Commandant’s Department in 2001. With my English Ph.D., I did some adjunct teaching in the Humanities Dept. Eventually, I created some new courses and got them through the gauntlet of approvals at the department, curriculum committee, faculty forum, and dean’s office levels.  One of the courses I created was titled, “Leadership in Action: War and the Military Profession.”  The idea was to provide a course on leadership for the midshipmen, using the military profession as a kind of vehicle. In putting together this course, I searched for a text that would suit the purpose. I eventually settled on Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture, which is a very good and even a great book, but one that did not quite fit, or at least it wasn’t quite what I wanted. I came to realize that the book I wanted for the course, and one which I would very much have liked to read as well as teach, just didn’t exist. So it was up to me to write it!

At about the same time, I became interested in the “Military Revolution” of 1560-1660 hypothesized by Michael Roberts in 1955, and the subject of debate and much excellent writing ever since. I wrote an article saying that the revolution was in essence a revolution in military professionalism, knowledge and ethos.  I submitted the article to one journal. They claimed to be interested, but threw out so many suggestions for change that I retreated in confusion.  Also, contact with medieval military historian Clifford Rogers convinced me that some of the advances in professionalism had actually begun earlier than 1560. I expanded my reading to include the Renaissance and Middle Ages, and eventually got the idea that a much expanded version of the article on the Military Revolution could become the book I wanted.

My participation in the invasion of Iraq left me with some thoughts that fed into the book. First, the ease with which Iraqi society crumbled in 2003 gave me a sense of the fragility of civilization, and of the soldier’s responsibility, not just to tear down, but to help rebuild. What takes the place of the beaten order should always be better than what had gone before, since wars are always terribly destructive and must be worth the cost. Second, as I wrote in my notebook on returning home in May, I came from war with a renewed sense of the “brotherhood of all men (and the) universalizability of values.”  I didn’t write “universality,” I think because even then, in a rather giddy, starry-eyed mood (I was so glad to be home, and I’d just won a war, I thought), I understood that values aren’t universal, not yet. I did write “men,” which probably should have been “people.” I meant that people, free from brainwashing and fear-mongering, want much the same things: love and fulfillment.

So the war enhanced my sense of a mighty mission for the soldier, one that only he could perform, or anyway one for which he was needed, which is to save civilization, both from its own bouts of blindness and vulnerability and from those outside the pale of civilization who think that they want to see it brought down: “civilization’s discontents,” for whom the passing of civilization would be,I think, a bitter triumph.

More to follow.



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