|Interrogating the Project of Military History|
March 9, 2004 - Today's discussion of the Nhongo-Simbanegavi chapters went well, despite the fact that it's the last week of the quarter and we're all getting a little burned out. We benefited a lot from having Norma Kriger with us (see Entry 16). I won't rehearse the details. The chapters reinforce much of what I've already discussed in earlier entries dealing with the Tanya Lyons essay and Ingrid Sinclair's Flame. (Incidentally, Norma's take on the film was almost exactly the same as mine.)
At one point, while the rest of the group was doing something else, Norma turned to me and asked what I thought military historians would make of the body of literature on the Chimurenga. I said I guessed that they would endorse the idea of somebody else building on it but wouldn't take much interest in it themselves. I forgot that I had already gotten a much better response to this question from historian (and blog aficienado!) Jeffrey Grey of the Australian Defence Force Academy. I include it here as a sort of guest commentary:
23:] Your comment on the Chimurenga prompted some further thoughts
that I'll share (briefly) with you. There certainly are military
historians working in southern Africa, and their work is often worth
reading. The problems though (the case is specific, but I could apply it
to other contexts) are as follows:
We (meaning you) don't often encounter these people because their currency sucks (even worse than the Pacific peso aka the Australian dollar) and they often can't afford to travel to northern hemisphere conferences. If you don't know them, or know about them, you are less likely to look out for their stuff. Actually, at SMH [Society for Military History] gatherings over the last 3-4 years a couple of my South African mates have attended, prompted by myself and others as part of a process of reaching out to the wider academic community in the field. It's a small start, but at least it's a start.
During the era of the bans on apartheid South Africa, a whole generation of contacts withered and (sometimes literally) died. This was certainly true of inter-Commonwealth relationships, and would be even more true of those with the US since there weren't as many to begin with. English South Africa was in any case focused on the UK and the Commonwealth, and Afrikaner South Africa has long had a continental western Europe focus. Neither, at least in the field of history, had strong links with north America.
The BIG issue, though, is access to publications, and this is not just a South African issue. Simple fact is, stuff gets published but you never hear about it, and can't get copies even when you do unless you have benevolent contacts locally who will purchase stuff for you. It's hard to get Canadian books in the US, which is ridiculous. It's hard to get Australian books in either the US or UK. It's hard to get Canadian books in Australia. It's virtually impossible to get South African books outside southern Africa. Books published in the US and UK are much more nearly a universal currency in distribution terms. This reflects the international copyright legislative regimes and other agreements concerning distribution rights for publishers. This a long and complex issue, but it has actively worked against the free flow and interchange of books, in particular, across the English-speaking world for a long time. Being part of a great big successful (internal) market, you guys probably haven't even noticed.
My office is being moved at the minute (i.e., I have just become the most highly paid storeman/packer in the country for about a week), but when I get settled I'll send you some citations for books on the Chimurenga that you might like to try to chase down (though, given the foregoing, good luck).
[Note: This book turns out to be
neither at Ohio State (which actually has pretty good holdings on the
Chimurenga) nor any library in Ohio. In fact, according to WorldCat,
only twenty-one libraries in the world own a copy. Five are in the
United States, one is in Canada, three are in Europe, and the rest are
in--you guessed it--Zimbabwe. Which bears out Jeffrey's earlier
By the way [I asked in the original version of this entry], would you elaborate on the "obvious but quite different reasons" military historians have overlooked the Zimbabwean and South African struggles?
To which Jeffrey replied:
|What are the usual but
quite different reasons why military historians, especially in the US,
have largely ignored the Chimurenga and the liberation struggle in South
Africa? Several things come to mind. The difficulty in procuring the work
of many southern African historians has been discussed already. Archival
access is an issue, at least in Zimbabwe, as is personal safety. The
archives in South Africa, in my experience, are very accommodating and
rich in their holdings, but they suffer from lack of resources and
facilities, and to work in the military archive in Pretoria you need
permission from the SANDF [South African National Defence Forces, I would
guess]- not difficult to get in practice, at least to date.
Another reason I suspect is that there hasn't been much interest in LIC [low intensity conflict], counter-insurgency and revolutionary war in universities or in the US military since Vietnam, although that may change shortly with the situation in Iraq. The struggle in South Africa was a symbolic and rhetorical exercise for many in the West, who never really engaged with it beyond that level. (That's not true of everybody). The outcome in Zimbabwe is deeply disappointing, though broadly predictable, and I would second everything that Professor Kriger was quoted by you as saying with regard to coercion of the civilian population during the transition to power - everything I have heard from Australians and Brits involved in the ceasefire monitoring force there at the time confirms it. Much easier just to move on.
And let's face it, outside Africa, who
really pays deep, concerted sustained attention to Africa itself? I don't
think that's true only of military historians. I think that many of those
who profess an interest in Africa are enthralled by the idea of
Africa, not by the often grubby reality, at least in academic circles.
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