Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 9.44.02 AMYesterday I came across this post on Kevin Levin’s blog and could not resist a little walk down the road to snarksville. Kevin had posted an excerpt by Civil War historian Earl J. Hess in a recent issue of Civil War History lamenting the dearth of knowledge concerning “traditional” military history when it comes to Civil War genre scholarship – in particular: memory studies. He is what Dr. Hess had to say:

In addition, despite the appearance of some top-quality memory studies by Carol Reardon, Brian Craig Miller, and Kevin Levin, a number of examples of this genre exhibit poor scholarship. Unfortunately, it is easy for a graduate student to research postwar newspapers and throw together a pale imitation of David Blight’s book. The most serious weakness is that the author, when writing the obligatory chapter or two about the war as background to their main effort, cannot get the larger story right. When encountering such manuscripts while reviewing them for university presses, I often compile a list of factual errors about the conflict, in addition to many conceptual errors about their subject. Ironically, many of these memory studies are focused on individuals whose sole claim to fame is that they commanded large armies in the field. Yet, the authors of these studies know next to nothing about what the general in question actually did during the war, and they know even less about how traditional military historians have interpreted his career. (pp. 391-92)

With my usual flair for biting one-liner commentary I noted that “graduate students throwing together a pale imitation of Blight’s book is so ten years ago.” But in all seriousness, considering the growing body of brilliant scholarship published over the last decade or so, I was disturbed by Hess’s dismissive comment. I also found the notion of the “traditional” troubling. Whenever I hear that word associated with scholarship, in the sense that one must adhere to something set and unchanging, I imagine a scholar mired hopelessly in analytical muck. Like many of my colleagues, some of whom study military history, I think this problematic “traditional” word should go away. if anything it suggests a lack of change. Let’s face it, abiding by the traditional in history scholarship is entirely ahistorical.

What do you think?

With compliments,


The Americanist Independent

A Contemporary Response to Pearl Harbor

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 11.12.25 AMThose of you who subscribe to The Americanist Independent will surely recall the wonderful collection of WWII letters written by Navy Aviator Bill Evans – published in issue three earlier this year.

On this national day of remembrance, December 7, 2014, I suggest we all revisit – or have a first look at his reflections on the attack, written only hours after the event. Subscriptions to the journal are free – and you can access the particular issue HERE.

With compliments,


December 7

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FDR’s address to the nation:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.