Echoes of War

Echoes of War: A Thousand Years of Military History in Popular Culture

Michael C.C. Adams
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 296
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    Echoes of War
    Book Description:

    Americans are often accused of not appreciating history, but this charge belies the real popular interest in the past. Historical reenactments draw thousands of spectators; popular histories fill the bestseller lists; PBS, A&E and The History Channel air a dizzying array of documentaries and historical dramas; and Hollywood war movies become blockbusters.

    Though historians worry that these popular representations sacrifice authenticity for broad appeal, Michael C.C. Adams argues that living history -- even if it is an incomplete depiction of the past -- plays a vital role in stimulating the historical imagination. InEchoes of War,he examines how one of the most popular fields of history is portrayed, embraced, and shaped by mainstream culture.

    Adams argues that symbols of war are of intrinsic military significance and help people to articulate ideas and values. We still return to the knight as a symbol of noble striving; the bowman appeals as a rebel against unjust privilege. Though Custer may not have been the Army's most accomplished fighter, he achieved the status of cultural icon. The public memory of the redcoated British regular soldier shaped American attitudes toward governments and gun laws. The 1863 attack on Fort Wagner by the black Fifty-fourth Massachusetts regiment was lost to public view until racial equality became important in the late twentieth century.

    Echoes of Waris a unique look at how a thousand years of military history are remembered in popular culture, through images ranging from the medieval knight to the horror of U.S. involvement in the My Lai massacre.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5921-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface: Citizens Who Quest (For Knowledge)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  5. ONE Knights on Horseback
    (pp. 1-34)

    In this chapter, we shall consider the rise and fall of medieval knighthood as a viable military-political order. Our discussion will be illustrated through the examination of three battles, all of them important in the history of the knight. They are Hastings (1066), Agincourt (1415), and Bosworth (1485). We shall also offer some explanations for why the image of the knight and the ideals of chivalry continued to exercise a fascination for modern people, and helped frame their identities, even down to our own technological age.

    Although knighthood as a dominant military institution was waning by 1500, its images continue...

  6. TWO Brutal Soldiery
    (pp. 35-71)

    We usually don’t realize when we hear contemporary Americans voicing distrust of their government, along with related fears of conquest by a tyrannical New World Order, that these concerns are linked historically to social traumas produced by political-military developments in the English-speaking world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In this chapter, we shall trace the roots of current thinking to early modern Anglo-American hatred of mercenary soldiers and the developing regular or standing army of the central state.

    The English writer and social critic H.G. Wells commented in his 1909 novelTono-Bungaythat, “Civilization is only possible through confidence,...

  7. THREE New Men with Rifles
    (pp. 72-109)

    In the following pages, we shall trace the growth of an indigenous American portrait of a new type of fighting man, a profile that was clearly sketched even before the Revolutionary War. The new American warrior was not a mercenary or regular solider but an amateur, a farmer or hunter. He drew his strength not from professional training, but from closeness to God and Nature in the New World environment. A reluctant warrior, the New Man was slow to anger but implacable when roused. In harmony with the environment, he was not ashamed to seek cover behind sheltering trees and...

  8. FOUR Unlikely Heroes
    (pp. 110-146)

    In 1854 and 1863, two actions were fought by British and American forces that were clear defeats. Neither probably should have been fought as they were. Each involved poor judgement or weak communication, or both. Yet each came to be seen by important cultural interpreters as examples of sublime heroism in the service of important common values, and therefore worth the price in lives. These engagements were the Charge of the Light Brigade of British cavalry at Balaclava, October 25, 1854, and the Union assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston harbor, July 18, 1863. Together, the two actions suggest a...

  9. FIVE Bearers of Burdens
    (pp. 147-179)

    Although most people don’t know much about U.S. military operations in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, two famous cavalry regiments caught the public eye at the time and have remained in our collective imagination since. These units were the Seventh U.S. Cavalry and the volunteer Rough Riders. They came to attention partly because they were led by colorful, newsworthy individuals, George Armstrong Custer and Theodore Roosevelt, but they stayed in mind because they played symbolic roles for society. This chapter will suggest that these men in blue shirts have been the bearers of cultural burdens, first to carry...

  10. SIX Innocents at War
    (pp. 180-226)

    The people who endured World War I entered it with romantic and often naive notions about the reality of modern combat fought with high-powered advanced weaponry. A century of costly conflicts followed. Yet, as we exited the millennium, a large sector of the American public appeared as innocent of the nature of war as when the bloodshed began. Despite the praise for realism of treatment extended by critics to such movies as Steven Spielberg’sSaving Private Ryan, Hollywood has not done all it might in helping to educate the public about the full nature of combat in modern war. Media...

  11. Afterword: Historians with Axes (To Grind)
    (pp. 227-231)

    Certain central themes recur throughout this work. In closing, it might be helpful to suggest some conclusions toward which they appear to be heading.

    First, history matters, not only to those born with an innate interest in the past, but to anyone who wishes to better comprehend the world we live in. Today is indelibly shaped by yesterday, and neither can be fully understood without reference to the other. We live in the palm of the hand of history. Military history is of great importance, because wars still play a central role in human activities. When and how we wage...

  12. Exploring Further
    (pp. 232-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-278)