The nerves of war are not revolution, but money. Seriously, Cicero’s dictum that “the sinews of war are money” remains accurate. If you doubt it, just read analysis of DoD’s new budget. From an historian’s perspective, I think that we often forget this basic fact when trying to assess military innovation. One of emphasis of my 14th-century research has been that we need to distance ourselves from the phrase “the rise of infantry,” which tells us little and obscures the fact that there were many periods throughout “medieval” history in which infantry was an important or even dominant combat arm. To my mind, Stephen Morillo, in Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings, basically wins the argument when he says on page 181 “[M]oney strengthens central authority, strong central authority tends to favor good infantry.”  (I’ve been reading Morillo’s work for a small project I’m trying to wrap up over break.) Now, whether the pursuit of war leads to new ways of accumulating money is still debated. Recent works such as David Parrott’s outstanding The Business of War suggest that the relationship is more complicated that we thought.

Thankfully, I think we have moved past “revolution in military affairs,” discussion of which seems to have dropped off after 2010. Interestingly, there have been a couple important articles this month on the RMA phenomenon, one from the always-interesting War on the Rocks titled “Top 10 Failed Defense Programs of the RMA Era.”  The other is a fascinating review of Krepinevich and Watts’ new biography of Andrew Marshall, director of the Office of Net Assessment and the person largely responsible for introducing the RMA theories that many historians have used in Parzival-like wanderings for the last thirty years. It’s possible we might be seeing a new resurgence of the concept, which I don’t think would be a good thing. Lt. General H. R. McMaster has expounded in multiple venues on the intellectual bear-traps posed by the RMA, and I think the director of ARCIC has been proven right far more often than wrong.

This isn’t to contest Emile Simpson’s recent talk at the IISS, regarding the trends in current and future conflicts. I think in this, as in much else, Simpson’s work is fascinating and on track. But as an historian, I would say that as a general rule it is societies that make war, not militaries. If you want to understand a given conflict, study the societies waging it. Don’t be so focused on bellum that you forget the pecuniam, and by extension the societatem, that keeps the gears of war turning.

These are not subjects on which I post frequently (well, I haven’t been posting frequently on anything of late), but these articles caught my eye.

The Peshmerga has been in the news recently, in both video, here detailing the fighting in Kobani, and in image, in this case Veronique de Viguerie’s photo essay. There’s also a Kurdish news agency, which I hadn’t seen before, with recent updates such as the news that the Bundeswehr will be training some Kurdish troops.

The difficult, even bizarre, position of the Peshmerga is hinted at in this article on operations near Mosul: high morale, insufficient equipment, and facing a weakened but still formidable opponent who uses American weapons systems captured from the Iraqi Army, and whose armor Kurdish weapons can’t penetrate.

Other news sources are reporting that some Iraqi Christian communities are forming military forces, called Doekh Nawsha; story is here.  In refugee camps around Irbil, attempts to prepare Christmas celebrations are meant to help the c. 100,000 Christian refugees who have been homeless since the summer.

And on the U.S. military front, a slightly older article on the new 1st Special Forces Command, a formation doubtless designed to generate some…wait for it…synergy. Hey, what can I say, the word is trendy. But seriously, my impression is that this makes sense for fighting the kind of war the U.S. currently finds itself fighting in the Middle East. At least on face.

If you live in the New York City area this January, and are an historian, you’re in luck: the AHA is in our back yard this time around. Of course, we’ve also been thrown a curve ball in that New Year’s Day is a Thursday, so the conference goes all the way through Monday (ick…).  Now, from a medievalist’s perspective the AHA tends to be pretty grim. There are very, very few premodern sessions, and the ones that do exist aren’t always in one’s area of interest. That being said, here are the sessions that caught my eye in the program, complete with hyperlink to more detailed information. Maybe I’ll see you at some of them!

Friday, January 2

AHA Session 2  Teaching and Learning the Great War in the Digital Age

Time and Place: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM, Beekman Parlor (New York Hilton, Second Floor)

Society of Civil War Historians 2 Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North

Time and Place: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM, Conference Room J (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)

AHA Session 42 Digital Tools: From the Archive to Publication

Time and Place: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM, Beekman Parlor (New York Hilton, Second Floor)

Co-sponsored by MapStory Reception for History Bloggers and Twitterstorians

Time and Place: 5:30 PM-6:30 PM, Central Park East (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)


Saturday, January 3

AHA Session 75 Imperial Policing and the Networks of Empire

Time and Place:8:30 AM-10:00 AM, Conference Room D (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)

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