The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession

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Williamson Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich
Cambridge University Press, 2006 M05 8
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In today's military of rapid technological and strategic change, obtaining a complete understanding of the present, let alone the past, is a formidable challenge. Yet the very high rate of change today makes study of the past more important than ever before. The Past as Prologue, first published in 2006, explores the usefulness of the study of history for contemporary military strategists. It illustrates the great importance of military history while simultaneously revealing the challenges of applying the past to the present. Essays from authors of diverse backgrounds - British and American, civilian and military - come together to present an overwhelming argument for the necessity of the study of the past by today's military leaders in spite of these challenges. The essays of Part I examine the relationship between history and the military profession. Those in Part II explore specific historical cases that show the repetitiveness of certain military problems.

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better prepared intellectually if not materially than for any previous
had been something of a scholarly stepchild in many collegiate
its Leavenworth predecessor it was selfconsciously grounded in military
The other difficulty is that our historical knowledge is always
the country possessed little or no real government Belgian withdrawal

For the soldier the principal challenge associated with the Clausewitzian
had blossomed on the danger to commercial air travel Use

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Page 57 - The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the 10 interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content.
Page 105 - Exiled Thucydides knew All that a speech can say About Democracy, And what dictators do, The elderly rubbish they talk To an apathetic grave; Analysed all in his book, The enlightenment driven away, The habit-forming pain, Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again. Into this neutral air Where blind skyscrapers use Their full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man...
Page 2 - And it may well be that my history will seem less easy to read because of the absence in it of a romantic element. It will be enough for me, however, if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.
Page 7 - It is an analytical investigation leading to a close acquaintance with the subject; applied to experience — in our case, to military history — it leads to thorough familiarity with it. The closer it comes to that goal, the more it proceeds from the objective form of a science to the subjective form of a skill, the more effective it will prove in areas where the nature of the case admits no arbiter but talent.
Page 93 - Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.
Page 109 - I doubt seriously whether a man can think with full wisdom and with deep convictions regarding certain of the basic international issues today who has not at least reviewed in his mind the period of the Peloponnesian War and the Fall of Athens.
Page 166 - If you want to overcome your enemy you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, viz. the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will. The extent of the means at his disposal is a matter — though not exclusively — of figures, and should be measurable. But the strength of his will is much less easy to determine and can only be gauged approximately by the strength of the motive animating it.
Page 132 - As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a remarkable trinity - composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason...
Page 108 - So that look how much a man of understanding might have added to his experience, if he had then lived a beholder of their proceedings, and familiar with the men and business of the tune : so much almost may he profit now, by attentive reading of the same here written.

About the author (2006)

Williamson Murray is Professor Emeritus of European Military History at Ohio State University and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defense Analysis. He is the author of a number of books including The Changes in the European Balance of Power, 1938–1939, The Path to Ruin; Luftwaffe; German Military Effectiveness; The Air War in the Persian Gulf; Air War, 1914-1945; The Iraq War: A Military History, with Major General Robert Scales, Jr.; and A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, with Allan R. Millet. He also co-edited numerous collections, including Military Innovations in the Interwar Period (1996) with Allan R. Millet and The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050 (2001), with MacGregor Knox.

Richard Hart Sinnreich works as an independent consultant in areas ranging from Army wargaming to defense transformation. His recent writings include 'The Changing Face of Battlefield Reporting', ARMY, November, 1994; 'To Stand & Fight', ARMY, July, 1997; 'In Search of Victory', ARMY, February 1999; 'Whither the Legions', Strategic Review, Summer, 1999; 'Conceptual Foundations of a Transformed US Army with Huba Wass de Czege', The Institute For Land Warfare, March 2002; 'Red Team Insights From Army Wargaming', DART, September 2002; 'Joint Warfighting in the 21st Century' (with Williamson Murray), IDA (2002); and A Strategy By Accident: US Pacific Policy in the Cold War. He writes a regular column for the Lawton Constitution and occasional columns for ARMY and The Washington Post.

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