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Tugging at the Heart-Strings

18 Oct
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I know thinking about the Koreas and Maldives in the same light might be surprising, and heretical. It’s just that the images are certainly jarring, but also manipulative. Continue reading

Jude Law on Hamlet

6 Oct

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Most of the time I hate these interviews with actors or other artists about their performances and works. I find it an insult to my ability to interpret the movie or book. Once in a while I actually have to listen, though. Jude Law talking about his take on Hamlet is an example of the latter. I’d really like to see this production live. But, even more, I need to read this play more. It’s my favorite, bar none. But, I’m almost afraid of it. It’s just too personal for me, and I’m far too good at avoiding that.

Attila Can Teach Us

11 Sep

It's Inconvenient for Thinking!

War is a very dramatic event that somehow doesn’t have its own academic discipline, but Edward Luttwak finds in Attila and the Huns the need for accepting war’s salience:

In our day, many historians do not have a problem with Attila or any other “Great Man of History.” They accept the very personal role of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the rest in shaping history, “bottom-up” history notwithstanding; and so they can accept Attila’s importance as a historical factor as their Marxist predecessors could not. But they have a terrific problem with the Huns, and the reason for this is simple. It is the nullification of military historiography in contemporary academia. “Strategy” exists in a few government or political science departments, but such “strategists” steer clear of military history. The academic consensus that all wars are pointless apparently extends also to the study of their history.

There is almost no place, and almost no prestige, for anyone who wants to research and teach how and why battles and wars were won or lost–that is, military history strictly defined–as opposed to social history, economic history, and some forms of political history, including newly rehabilitated biographical approaches but excluding “kings and battles.” Even research on “presidents and wars” is unwelcome unless there are cognitive or psychological pathologies to be studied. And there is the added impediment that military historiography is an arcane field, requiring serious archival research, often in languages other than English.

While scholarly readers have an insatiable demand for military historiography, and students are very keenly interested in battles and wars, the faculties at our universities prefer to scant both. Appoint a military historian? The eminent Chicago Byzantinist Walter Emil Kaegi has explained why it almost never happens: tactics cannot matter, weapon techniques cannot matter, operational methods cannot matter, theater strategies cannot matter, because wars do not matter–as a subject of their own, rather than as epiphenomenal expressions of other causes and realities. Given the academic consensus that wars are almost entirely decided by social, economic, and political factors, there is simply no room for military history as such.

Here’s one of those grand comparative projects, combining East Asian, Eurasian, and the Roman history I still idolize, that sheds light on breaks and discontinuities of human history. It’s the flip-side of the scientific project with its sweeping theories. It involves the paradoxical: a theory of the exceptional, the rare, the unprecedented.

The days are past when Christianity, poisoning by lead pipes, or any other cause could be invoked to explain the fall of one-half of the Roman Empire while disregarding the survival of the other half, though it was just as Christian or just as poisoned. Only the possibility that a military difference, a difference in strategy between east and west, might have determined the outcome has remained unexplored–until now.

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