‘If I must make War, I prefer it to be against a Coalition’ – Napoleon Bonaparte
A little over two months ago, I set myself an ambitious set of goals for 2018. Those who follow this Blog will recall I wanted to continue the ‘War Talks at PCL’ series which I founded in July last year, try to breathe life into the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize, which had not run since 2016, and complete a think-piece on ‘Adaptability’ for DCDC, the sponsor of my Army Fellowship at RUSI. In essence, I have achieved all that and much more: The Talk series has just had its eleventh talk in seven months and enjoys audiences considerably larger than those of last Summer, the British Army Military Book of the Year 2018 is on its feet, with a launch last week and the announcement of a winner due in September, and a think-piece which has grown into a Joint Concept Note almost overnight. In addition, I have conducted two battlefield tours in Belgium and Northern France, with two more to come in March, organised a First World War Study Day on behalf of HQ Regional Command, and had a book review published in the British Journal of Military History.
Last week, I was privileged to speak at the Defence Research Network’s Workshop at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, on the value of networking and collaborative working for postgraduate students and Early Career Researchers. The Defence Research Network is a group of students and young academics from across the UK, all of whom are conducting research in the broad church that is ‘war studies’. The audience varied in age and interest, with those interested in cybersecurity sitting alongside those investigating the social problems associated with being a veteran. The variety was eye-opening and so was the friendly, helpful way in which the members of such a diverse group conducted themselves. It seemed to me that whether practitioners, academics, or students these people had laid ego down and agreed to collaborate in pursuit of their passion for learning. Of particular interest was the Veterans and Families Research Hub, a virtual meeting place for those investigating that area of ‘war studies’; how wonderful it would be for every area of our subject to have a similar site, operating under a collaborative umbrella, encouraging a cross-pollination of ideas between historians, practitioners, social scientists, and scientists! In turn, I thought of all those people to whom I am grateful for allowing me to do what I do, and who lend an often unseen hand in my projects: my soldiers who help to set up the auditorium for the Talks, my Chain of Command who allow me the time to pursue my objectives, my family and friends who encourage and support at every turn. No project is truly a lone effort, ‘Every man is part of the continent’.
If only it were possible for us all working in ‘war studies’ to get along, lay down the egos, and forget the schoolyard politics. Perhaps there is something about the very study of war which creates an atmosphere in which many of the participants want to fight and strategise, the subject area certainly seems replete with factionalism and skulduggery? I am a historian of operational military history, this is my interest and my passion, others are interested in gender and war, others in the cap-badges of the 25th of Foot, none is invalid, all are equally important in understanding war. Some are Professors, some have no formal qualifications, some are Generals, others are Private soldiers; does this matter? Surely the only thing that matters is the quality of the output and the advancement of knowledge? So, my message is that we should stand up for each other, assert the importance of education, and through compromise and maturity seek to promote our study in all its glorious diversity. In the end, if we don’t study the scourge of mankind in width, depth, and context what hope can there be to understand it, and ultimately tame it? Oh and Napoleon, Old Chap, you were wrong, it was a series of coalitions which finally defeated you!!
Take care, and before you start scheming, think am I the solution, or part of the problem.
All the best,