Humility and the Study of War

Image courtesy of the New York Times. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

Today’s New York Times included a short article by Adam Hochschild, based on his book To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.  Having read this book a couple years ago with great interest (marking it beyond capacity with tiny Post-It notes!), I followed the essay’s argument very closely.

In particular, two of the lines troubled me for the way they speak to us in the present:

“…the men who led Europe into the First World War found it more comforting to look elsewhere – at battles where victory was swift and the enemy had little firepower.”

“The Europeans were so enraptured by the power the machine gun gave them over colonial rebels that they never bothered to plan seriously for facing the weapon themselves.”

We are human also.  Were we led astray by lightning bolt victories (i.e. Desert Storm)?  Do we think our technology is invincible (i.e. drones)?  At times, military history can be an industrial-size bucket of cold water for the fire of the next “dominant” weapon or idea.  Hochschild’s essay strongly suggests intellectual humility ought to be a requirement for membership in the Profession of Arms.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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