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The 2011 George C. Marshall Lecture in Military History
Gerhard L. Weinberg, ‘Some Myths of World War II‘
The talk engages some myths of the war that have been widely shared. The examination includes myths pertaining to the war as a whole as well as about individual leaders and groups of individuals. Included among the latter are Adolf Hitler and his generals, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Yamamoto Isoroku. The text also touches on such issues as the Yalta Conference, the Morgenthau Plan for Germany, and the disappearance of the horses from people’s image of the war.
According to traditional narratives the tactic of shock charges imported from Sweden replaced the caracole, a maneuver which involved successive ranks of cavalry advancing, firing their pistols, and retreating to reload, during the English Civil War. A successful cavalry charge was supposed to depend on close order and momentum to maximize the shock of impact. But this theory of shock is anachronistic. Physical shock is largely absent from early seventeenth century English drill books and eyewitness accounts of Civil War battles. The laws of physics and evidence from racing accidents show that if close-order shock charges could be achieved they could not give any tactical advantage. There is similarly little evidence for the continued use of the caracole into this period.
Ian Germani, ‘Terror in the Army: Representatives on Mission and Military Discipline in the Armies of the French Revolution’
This article explores the role of the French National Convention’s representatives on mission in relation to the functioning of military courts in the armies of the French Revolution. It argues that the intervention of representatives on mission, while at times dramatic, was not necessarily the only, or even dominant, factor in determining the exercise of military justice. Although both representatives on mission and court officers insisted that harsh exemplary punishment was the key in military discipline and expressed an ideological antipathy toward the officer caste, the pattern of sentencing gives evidence of both moderation and pragmatism.
Tim Benbow,’ “Menace” to “Ironclad”: The British Operations against Dakar (1940) and Madagascar (1942)’
Two relatively unknown British operations during the Second World War—Operation “Menace” against Dakar (1940) and Operation “Ironclad” against Madagascar (1942)—offer a fascinating contrast, the former being a humiliating failure and the latter a striking success. This article seeks to explain the dramatic difference in their outcomes. Both were directed against Vichy France, with which Britain was not at war, and were undertaken at a time of particularly scarce resources and competing priorities, resulting in great challenges for political leaders and military planners. Unlike “Menace,” “Ironclad” achieved the desired objective at minimum cost to either side, largely by securing and exploiting surprise.
James Lacey, ‘World War II’s Real Victory Program’
Historians have long believed that the Victory Program that formed the basis of U.S. military and production strategy during World War II was mostly the work of a sole genius—Major Albert C. Wedemeyer. This article makes the case that Wedemeyer’s paper—“Ultimate Requirements Study: Estimate of Army Ground Forces”—had very little impact during the war. Its postwar prominence as an all-seeing document of remarkable foresight is a myth perpetuated for over fifty years by Wedemeyer himself. The true Victory Program combined a military strategy worked out by Admiral Harold Stark, and a production program worked out by three almost forgotten economists, Robert Nathan, Simon Kuznets, and Stacy May.
Kenton Clymer, ‘U.S. Homeland Defense in the 1950s: The Origins of the Ground Observer Corps’
A quasi-auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force from 1950 to 1959, the Ground Observer Corps (GOC) is among the least studied components of the American air defense system during the early Cold War. This essay concludes that although the GOC never met its founders’ hopes, air defense elements considered it useful in building support for Cold War policies, especially air defense programs. The essay also argues tentatively that the GOC’s failure to achieve its goals provides some support for those who have questioned how responsive the general public was to the anticommunist crusade and alarmist assertions of Soviet intentions to attack the United States with atomic weapons.
Hal Brands, ‘Why Did Saddam Invade Iran? New Evidence on Motives, Complexity, and the Israel Factor’
Using newly available Iraqi records, this article revisits Saddam Hussein’s decision to attack Iran in 1980. His decision defies easy categorization as offensive or defensive, strategic or ideological. The invasion’s rationale reflected a diverse array of factors rather than any single overriding determinant. Simultaneously a defensive response to Iranian provocations and an attempt to exploit post-revolutionary Iranian weakness, the invasion was also thoroughly wound up in Saddam’s ideological proclivities and exalted self-conception. Additionally, Saddam viewed attacking Iran as a step toward assuming his destiny as a great Arab leader and—more intriguingly—as a potential springboard to an eventual war against Israel. Strategy, ideology, and personality flowed together, creating a potent mix.