Archive for February, 2012

Just a couple of short items that might be interesting to those of you who find ancient/medieval things of…interest?  Ever notice how certain words tend to repeat themselves?  Like, “loquacious parrots are loquacious”?  It’s so easy fall into this trap. I mean, just the other day I noticed that one of my job cover letters used the construction “preparation has prepared,” etc. Really??   Needless to say, that has been corrected.  My personal favorite repetitive construction is “nomilicious noms are nomilicious.”  Can’t argue with that.

ANYway, my rumination on military acts as locations of memory is still being formed, but I’m taking a short break from tearing the dissertation apart again to list a few items that I want to close on my browser…

My friend Chris acquainted me last week with the European State Finance Database, a collection of data on a wide range of scholarly questions contributed by scholars from around the world. Definitely worth checking out, especially for those of you who appreciate data sets.

Now, in my field we’re all tolerably familiar with English Heritage and their Register of Historic Battlefields. For the first time the other day I actually read their explanation of why battlefields are important, and it’s worth thinking about in terms of our own pedagogy and scholarly approach to these topics (naturally this feeds into “battlefields-and-military-experience-as-memory-locations”):

Battlefields are significant in four ways:

  • As turning points in English history, for example the Norman Conquest which followed the Battle of Hastings in 1066, or the turmoil of the Civil Wars in the seventeenth century which changed the roles of monarchy and parliament.  The reputations of great political and military leaders were frequently built on battlefield success.
  • Tactics and skills of war still relevant to the defence of the country evolved on historic battlefields
  • Battlefields are the final resting place for thousands of unknown soldiers, nobles and commoners alike, whose lives were sacrificed in the making of the history of England
  • Where they survive, battlefields may contain important topographical and archaeological evidence which can increase our understanding of the momentous events of history which took place on their soil

Apparently a scholarly team is going to report on findings in a first-century Jewish tomb in Jerusalem. Some of the ossuaries apparently have (authentically?) early Christian symbols on them, and unlike the now-discredited “Jesus Family” ossuary are apparently genuine.  We’ll see.  As you can read, there’s an unavoidablely large amount of conjecture built into this possible analysis, but time usually tells with items like this.

Speaking of that time period, someone posted a link the other day to an interactive map of the Roman and Celtic worlds.  A bit general in some ways, and has just a suggestive hint of a false comparison between “Roman” lands and “Celtic” lands as monolithic blocks, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

That’s all for now.  Back to the dissertation…

If you’re looking for some good reading on the American Civil War, may I suggest the following titles below?  I’m not sure if the Civil War exceeds World War II in the volume of publications it incites, but it’s got to be close at least.  Which is an indirect way of saying that no recommended reading list can ever claim to be comprehensive.  But I’m finding the books below to be intriguing, insightful, and/or provocative. Some I have yet to look at, others I’m in the process of reading in my copious spare time.  I’ll give more extended comments on them at a later date, as this week is quite action-packed, and I have another chapter to finish revising.  There’s no particular rhyme or reason to the list below; they’re simply books I’ve come across that seem to address some aspect of the Civil War that I’ve long wanted to know more about. Some are strong candidates for required or supplemental reading, should I ever teach a Civil War course. Others are more for personal curiosity (for example, the various studies about North Carolina’s experience in the war).  Well, speaking of North Carolina, I have to say that the UNC press holds the lion’s share of quality Civil War publications. Anyway…

Confederacy in general, and battles:

Kenneth W. Noe, Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates Who Joined the Army after 1861.  Provocative, and essential reading on morale and motivation.

Victoria E. Bynum, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

Daniel W. Crofts, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.

Mark A. Weitz,  More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army. A crucial book for understanding the Southern war-machine and war-making capacity.

Kent Masterson Brown. Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign. Ok, this book I know of only by reputation, but supposedly it’s one of the very best operational studies to be published in the last twenty years or so…So it’s high on my reading list right now.


As a former OCS trainee who has seen first-hand the high quality of person in the Marine Corps, I’ve been greatly saddened to read of the scandals that have been rocking it recently. And one is caught with the completely true contradiction in terms, that on the one hand what the various groups and individuals have done is not reflective of the entire Corps, that such behavior is not condoned by or in the spirit of the institution. And on the other that at some level incidents such as these do put the entire institution at fault, and cause doubt in the integrity and reputation of a fighting force that prides itself on both.

The response from various Marine and Marine-affiliated publications has been interesting, and in general encouraging.  Richard Hicks’ column in the Marine Corps Gazette from January 17th does a good job laying out the issues and reaction to the Marines who urinated on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters.   Most of us have heard about this case by now.   Then, of course, is the recent verdict of “not guilty” in the trial of sergeant for the hazing of a lance corporal who later committed suicide has gotten everybody talking about that particular incident again.   And now comesthe notorious picture of Scout Sniper Marines posing with an American flag and a very prominent banner beneath it, on which are SS runes.   A USMC investigation determined that the use of the runes was not “racially motivated”, and that the soldiers involved may not have understood the implications of using the SS symbol.  Given the amount of popular mythology out there regarding the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is indeed the case.  An investigation of the wider implications of the incident is being conducted at the Secretary of Defense’s behest.   Word is that it’s long been common to associate the SS runes with Scout Snipers. If that’s the case, it’s long been wrong, incorrect, and reprehensible.  Brett Friedman’s article, again from the Marine Corps Gazette, makes a number of very good points, and has a lot of links to relevant articles.  Going out on a bit of a limb, I’d generally agree with his incrimination of bureaucratization drowning professionalism as well.  You can advance all the counter-claims you want, but I see little of value in a perfectly creased trouser leg while the body in the uniform has been left deficient in understanding the laws of war or the difference between good and bad moral symbols. You can be perfectly turned out as a Marine, or any member of the armed forces for that matter, but if you fetishize the Wehrmacht, let alone the Waffen SS, I say you are seriously deficient in the moral training any democracy or morally-conscious government should expect in its military.

On a more positive note, and speaking of leadership, Lt. General Hejlik’s blog, at the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, has a lot of good, thoughtful, and practical things to say about leadership–the kind of leadership to which everyone, in the Corps or not, should aspire.  The gist of it is, leadership is a learned trait for most of us, and a lot of it is counter-intuitive to what we normally think of regarding the quality.  If this is the case (and I think it is), then that only makes the issue that more important for the entire institution–top down and bottom up.  I tend to be optimistic about the USMC where leadership and ethics are concerned, because I believe that the Corps’ leadership does take values, symbols, and behavior seriously.  We’ll see where all this goes.