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The Embattled Past

The Embattled Past: Reflections on Military History

Edward M. Coffman
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    The Embattled Past
    Book Description:

    Internationally recognized for having reinvigorated and redefined his field, distinguished military historian Edward M. Coffman is a dedicated and much-admired teacher and mentor. In The Embattled Past, several of his most important essays have been assembled into a collection that serves as an essential reference to the discipline and an initiation to the study of military history for aspiring scholars.

    Coffman's introduction to the volume charts his own professional journey and sets the book within the larger context of Americans' attitudes toward their military, both inside and outside of academia. The essays explore a range of critical issues in military historiography -- such as strategies for conducting oral history and research methodologies -- and examine questions at the heart of the field. Included are two seminal essays on World War I, which provide a fascinating overview of American war strategies and illuminate the reasons why so many historians have ignored this critical turning point in twentieth-century history. The volume concludes with an unpublished essay detailing Coffman's experience of interviewing General Douglas MacArthur in 1960.

    This exciting new book offers readers insights into more than two hundred years of United States military history while also providing a comprehensive overview of Coffman's stellar contributions to the field. Important and engaging, The Embattled Past is a primer on the profession from one of the most honored scholars of our time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4268-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: Fragments of History
    (pp. 1-12)

    Military history evolved a great deal in the past century. Traditionally, the “drum and trumpet” genre dealt with heroes and the glory earned in battle. As the field of academic history developed in the early days of the twentieth century, teachers disdained that approach and attempted to bar it from the classroom. At the annual American Historical Association meeting in 1912, a few Regular Army officers and academics, including the famous Harvard professor Albert Bushnell Hart, gathered to discuss the future of military history in academe. The then president of the AHA, Theodore Roosevelt, attended this session and advocated that...

  4. The American Army in Peacetime
    (pp. 13-24)

    The end of the Cold War is bringing about significant reductions in the military budget, with the resulting base closures and, ultimately, force reductions. For more than four decades, the presence of an obvious potential enemy focused military thinking and kept military spending and strength much larger than in other periods between wars throughout American history. Besides, there were two rather large-scale wars in the past forty years that brought about sizable buildups and partial demobilizations. As planners look to the future, however, it should be of value to know how the army has coped with the problems of decreased...

  5. The Duality of the American Military Tradition: A Commentary
    (pp. 25-42)

    Several years ago, an ad man called from Milwaukee to ask me to check out an advertisement that he had just written. Rather than calling up images of scantily clad maidens or cute infants, he wanted to exploit the American military tradition to encourage people to purchase his product. The blurb he read to me included a list of five or six famous American battles. I have forgotten all but one—Dunkirk—because that, understandably, struck a jarring note. When I told him that Dunkirk was not an American battle, he pressed me at length. Why wasn’t it? Weren’t there...

  6. The American 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1912–1938: A Vignette in Social History
    (pp. 43-66)

    In October 1932, Lieutenant William E. Carraway and his fiancée drove to Goldsboro, North Carolina, to ask her parents’ consent to their wedding. The thirty-year-old West Pointer had met Mela Royall while serving as an ROTC instructor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Now his assignment was coming to an end and the two wanted to go to his next station as a married couple. Mr. Royall was not at home so Bill explained the situation to Mela’s mother. Mrs. Royall promptly responded: “Well, if Mela wants to go, she has my consent even if you are going to...

  7. The Philippine Scouts, 1899–1942: A Historical Vignette
    (pp. 67-78)

    On 23 March 1901, a small band of Philippine Scouts captured the leader of the Philippine cause—Emilio Aguinaldo—and broke the back of the movement against the Americans. The war of Independence, or, as the Americans termed it, the Philippine Insurrection, had gone on since February 1899, and much fighting remained. Increasingly, the Americans relied on native auxiliaries—the Philippine Scouts and the Philippine Constabulary—to impose their rule on the archipelago of some seven thousand islands.

    When Brigadier General Frederick Funston, the leader of the expedition to capture Aguinaldo, asked the first sergeant of Company D, 1st Battalion...

  8. The American Military and Strategic Policy in World War I
    (pp. 79-98)

    My first thought upon being asked to give a paper on war aims and strategic policy in World War I was that there was little that I could say about the role of the American military in either. After all, war aims were tightly locked up in Woodrow Wilson’s brain and the strategic parameters of the Great War were solidly in place by the time of the American intervention; hence one might assume that the army and navy had virtually nothing to do with either war aims or strategic policy. On second thought, however, I began to see possibilities in...

  9. Why We Are Not Interested in World War I and Should Be
    (pp. 99-106)

    Among Americans the First World War ranks high on the list of forgotten subjects. The few of us who have written about that war have all experienced the blank looks which reflect most people’s lack of interest and profound lack of knowledge when the subject rarely comes up. Then, those of us who have visited the huge American battlefield cemeteries on the Western Front are also impressed by how few of our countrymen have signed the visitors’ books over the years.

    In the 1950s, a friend of mine, Gil Fite, took a book-length manuscript to the University of Oklahoma Press...

  10. The Course of Military History in the United States Since World War II
    (pp. 107-124)

    The fascination with war has been a constant since long before the first century bc when Virgil began hisAeneidwith the line—“I sing of arms and the man.” Today, popular interest in military history is still much in evidence in bookstores and on television. The popularity of this subject since the beginning of time would seem to make the question—“Why military history?”—pointless. Those of us who are students in the field, however, might be curious as to the evolution of military history in the United States over the last fifty years. The developments in academe, in...

  11. Talking about War: Reflections on Doing Oral History and Military History
    (pp. 125-138)

    Oral history goes naturally with military history. After all, veterans have told their war stories since time immemorial. William Alexander Percy, who saw combat in World War I, explained why war etches the memory of many veterans so deeply. It was “the only heroic thing we all did together.… it, somehow, had meaning, and daily life hasn’t. It was part of a common endeavor and daily life is isolated and lonely.”¹

    Wars have understandably received the most attention from military historians as human lives and the fate of nations hang in the balance. In an earlier essay in this series,...

  12. The Shadows of Time: Experience in Research
    (pp. 139-152)

    Usually the topic of scholarly lectures is the result of current research. When asked to come here, my first reaction was to follow the normal pattern. After all, I have been at work on a social history of the peacetime American army for the last fifteen years and certainly General Eisenhower spent much of his life in that environment. While I find these officers, soldiers, and their wives and children fascinating, I wondered if the subject of research itself might be of more general interest. There are two reasons for this, I believe. One is that, from my days as...

  13. Memories of Forrest C. Pogue, Oral History Pioneer and One of Kentucky’s Greatest Historians
    (pp. 153-162)

    Now that oral history is respectable and flourishing, it is hard to believe how little it was used as a source and in what low regard it was held by many historians fifty years ago. Kentuckian Forrest C. Pogue (1912–1996), one of the most significant historians of World War II, was a leader in using oral history and making it respectable.

    Although born in Lyon County, Pogue grew up in Crittenden County. A precocious boy, he graduated from the then Murray State College at eighteen and earned his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky the next year. After...

  14. “My room mate … is Dwight Eisenhower …”
    (pp. 163-170)

    “My room mate (tent mate, rather) is Dwight Eisenhower of Abilene, Kansas.…” On 30 July 1911, Paul A. Hodgson thus informed his mother of the beginning of a close friendship, about which General Eisenhower commented in December 1942: “The four years we spent in the same room more than a quarter of a century ago are still one of my most treasured memories.”

    The new cadets had been at West Point six weeks when they were thrown together more or less accidentally because each had lost his initial roommate. It was a happy accident, for they had much in common....

  15. Mentor
    (pp. 171-182)

    Thomas D. Clark is recognized as one of Kentucky’s major cultural assets, and throughout his long career he has taught and influenced thousands of students. It was my privilege to be one of the relative few who worked with him as both an undergraduate and graduate student. Having him as a mentor for more than fifty years has certainly been to my great advantage as a scholar and teacher.

    On a crisp January day in 1949, I was among some two hundred students crowding into the large classroom on the third floor of Frazee Hall at the University of Kentucky....

  16. Interviewing General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
    (pp. 183-192)

    On 26 January 1961, General Douglas MacArthur celebrated his eighty-first birthday with a dinner and a reunion with former aides and other officers as well as civilian friends. In its issue on 3 February,Timepublished a brief article about the occasion with a photograph of him cutting the cake. The writer noted that “he never gives an interview.” Actually, he had given two interviews within the past two months. Forrest Pogue, the biographer of General George C. Marshall, questioned him about his subject on 3 January and I had a two-hour interview with him on 12 December 1960 about...

  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 193-194)
  18. Index
    (pp. 195-202)