Interrogating the Project of Military History

October 24 - Just finished making a big round of alterations to the History of War syllabus.  For the most part I incorporated links to additional readings to support lectures on subjects not covered in the regular textbooks.  But I also decided to revise the lecture schedule (for class meetings after the next midterm) in order to concentrate more heavily on four subjects:  theories of people's war and national liberation; nonviolent resistance; 9/11; and the current Iraq War.

All of these subjects interest me, but the one I feel most strongly about is the one that at first glance may look out of place:  nonviolent resistance.  I'll focus on the tactics and campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and his best-known disciple, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Why nonviolent resistance?  Because unlike outright pacifists, proponents of nonviolent resistance are determined to confront those with power--they are, in short, as intent on achieving political change as any conventional revolutionary.  They simply refuse to use violence as a means to accomplish their objective.  You have to have thought very deeply about the nature of war, and even more about strategy, to simultaneously reject violence and yet be willing to take on adversaries willing to use violence against you.  It seems to me that such a perspective belongs as much in a history of war as the views of Thucydides, Clausewitz, or Sunzi (Sun Tzu).  Indeed, while the first two might not have been able to understand that the Salt Satyagraha or the Selma March were acts of war, I suspect Sunzi would not only have grasped the point, he would have been mightily intrigued.

The other thing I like about the inclusion of nonviolent resistance is the chance it affords, without being moralizing, to offer a powerful challenge to the metanarrative of military history, with its implicit, deeply-held assumption that the use of violence is not only legitimate and normal but also the only realistic way to respond to intractable threats.  Indeed, by sticking a chapter or lecture on nonviolent resistance into the military history master narrative--by which I mean a basic survey textbook or course intended to introduce students to the subject--you can pretty much have your master narrative and eat it (undercut it) too.

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