Some recent stories on civil-military relations

On Thursday and Friday, I taught the MilArt lesson on 17th-century Britain; basically it goes from Charles I to William and Mary, and functions as a the second of a two-chapter diptych on contrasting systems of war, politics, and society, the other being a France chapter.  One of the problems with old history is that, unless they’re history buffs, students often have a hard time grasping the drama and immediacy of small things like the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” for example. Also, and I think this affects the actual teaching of history-as-discipline, students often have a hard time realizing that “history” gains in personal relevance if you think it somehow impacts what you think and believe. Blatantly obvious, right? Sure, but from what I’ve seen students often have problems shifting from concept to historical example and back again. If you can find that spark to possibly ignite their passions and curiosity, you will have done a great thing. So in that sense, I like to balance “historicist” with “presentist” in the classroom. THIS lesson, on Britain, seemed to lend itself to discussing the relationship of militaries to their societies and governments, and so I asked them to discuss what they thought were the hallmarks of a beneficial and effective civil-military relationship. It went really, really well; they all had opinions which they debated with each other quite vigorously, and by the end of the hour we had brought it back to 17th-century Britain, naval power, and the use of force. There was general agreement that it was a very useful class.

In doing my prep, I assembled a two-slide list of some recent articles and news stories that reflect the ongoing debate on civil-military relations, which I’ve attached to this post. As I pointed out to my students, you can’t have this conversation without someone appealing to history to back up their opinions.  Also worth noting, but not on the slides, is that the term is often used to describe U.S. “global engagement” efforts–such as at the Brookings Institute. And there was a 2005 Harvard publication by Peter D. Fever titled Armed Servants, which might bear some reading, though as public commentary it’s already nearly ten years out of date.  Finally, Suzanne C. Nielsen’s 2005 article “Civil-Military Relations Theory and Military Effectiveness” is also worth a look.

Some important pieces on civil-military relations

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