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The ‘Verse Part III: Abu Muqawama

Today were going to look at one of my favorites, a blog I’ve been a fan of for several years but have kept largely to myself, sort of like the favorite Indie Rock band you think is great but want to keep within your own little clique. First and foremost it should be said this blog has by far the best header/back round/mascot of any blog I’ll post on here.

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The ‘Verse Part Deux: Kings of War

Kings of War

Another blog that really should need little or no introduction. Written by the folks over at Kings College London, War Studies Department this blog has gained a sizable reputation and following and is highly regarded as one of the more prestigious and influential academic blogs on the study of warfare. It provides a great range of material covering current topics both from UK/US centric approaches as well as pieces of a more historical nature. Great source for editorial style pieces on topical issues written by people dedicated to the topics, often backed by significant academic and personal research.

Something I’ve planned for sometime to start on this blog but haven’t quite found the time was a running column exploring the wealth of knowledge and ideas that can be found on the topic of warfare and state security in the vast reaches of the internet. About 2 years ago I started dipping my toes in the world of mil-blogging and have since spent countless hours scouring the internets reading many interesting pieces and articles. This column will by no means be an exhaustive exploration of the field but simply an introduction to some of the more (in)famous blogs or just ones I find fun and worth a read. One won’t have to take a lot of time to work their way from blog to blog discovering many new things such as I have. To Kick this off I’ll start with a blog, that by now everyone who reads this blog should have been exposed too:

Wired Magazine’s: Danger Room

A blog that really should need little in the way of introduction to anyone that read even a fraction of the articles I shared on our Facebook group last year. One of the first major military related blogs I stumbled across sometime ago, it has continued maintain an exceptional standard both in terms of its broad range of content as well as its exceptional reporting from some of the most promising digital journalists around.  This blog has (with good reason) been at the top of my list of daily reads for over 2 years now and has provided some exceptional commentary on military technology and development as well as exceptional frontline reporting.

Must Read Article: How the Afghan Air War Got Stuck in the Sky*

*Seriously, I can’t recommend highly enough that you read that article, even though times have changed a bit its a great piece.

Steven Spielberg is a credible historian!

Being a keen enthusiast of all things military, and an avid reader (at least one likes to think so), I’m not exactly difficult to buy for when it comes to birthdays and Christmases. A book about tanks or knights or war in general, and I’m going to be a fairly happy chappy. So you can imagine my excitement last Christmas when I was presented with a number of book-shaped presents. Overall I got a pretty good haul: there was a couple on Arnhem, one on burning down Washington DC and one on firearms of the 20th century. There was however one book which both bemused and intrigued me from the moment I unwrapped it.

The book is entitled “What If? Military historians imagine what might have been” (2nd ed, London, 2001) and is a collection of essays compiled and edited by Robert Cowley, the American-born military historian who founded the journal MHQ. Contributors to the book include John Keegan and Geoffrey Parker –so surely this must be a work of credible and insightful intellect? Alas, the cover of the book swiftly puts down that thesis. Dominating the cover is a picture of Adolf Hitler, arm outstretched in salute. Flying over his left shoulder is a group of Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. Yes, the ones used by Americans in Vietnam. Wait, it gets better. Stood one side of Hitler is a group of advancing Japanese soldiers, who I would guess are from the late 19th century, and to Hitler’s right are a handful of soldiers fresh from the late seventeenth century. Suddenly I’m not feeling that optimistic about this book…

“What If?” is a prime example of counterfactual history, a branch of historiography in which historians speculate as to what may have been if a certain event in history had not happened/happened differently. One such example from the book looks at the question ‘what if D-Day failed?’ Apparently it would have resulted in atomic bombs being dropped in Germany, resulting in a vacuum in central Europe which would have been filled by the Red Army and the Anglo-American alliance, who would have undoubtedly clashed. Then, in the summer of 1945, Stalin would have invaded and occupied Japan. Oh, and NATO would never have been formed. Would that really have happened had D-Day failed? Stephen E. Ambrose thinks so, and it certainly is a possibility, but it is one of many, and that’s the thing about counterfactual history – its one great big grey zone.

The world of ‘what if’ has unlimited possibilities, and it’s surprising that Hollywood hasn’t leaped upon the concept to create a plethora of real far-fetched blockbusters. That said there are some examples that come to mind. “Jack Boots on Whitehall” (2010), a satire that was released in October looks at the question ‘What if the Nazis had taken London?’ It also portrays Hitler in a dress, Churchill blasting away on the front line and Nazi legionaries, but we’ll glaze over that bit. One example from the realm of video games is “Turning Point: Fall of Liberty” (2008), in which Churchill dies in 1931, resulting in the eventual invasion of the USA in 1953. It’s intriguing stuff, even if it is only one of many possible outcomes. Steven Spielberg is rapidly running out of real historical events to butcher, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we see Russell Crowe playing a disgruntled American soldier as he fights the Soviets in 1950 for control of India, out for revenge against the Commissar who butchered his old platoon, causing him to be demoted (not that Crowe has been typecast).

So is counterfactual history of any use to us? Surely it’s just historians indulging in a bit of fantasy, creating completely fictitious and sometimes very tenuous strings of events? Whilst that may sometimes indeed be the case, I don’t think you can apply that to all instances. There are many instances where the historians have carefully analysed all the factors in order to put forward a plausible scenario based on changing a single variable. To analyse a multitude of factors in such detail is a difficult skill to master, and it seems to me that practising it by writing counterfactual history is a pretty effective way to refine that skill. Go on, give it a go. Pick a historical event you know fairly well, change one thing about it and use your knowledge to create a plausible alternative chronology. Just don’t go overboard and claim that had Catherine of Aragon had had a son, Hitler never would’ve been born. That’s just silly. When you’ve come up with a theory, send it in (war@guild.bham.ac.uk) and I’ll put the best of what I get up here on the blog. Who knows, maybe we could publish our own book of counterfactuals!

 

It’s All Going Pear Shaped

This piece over at Foreign Policy is terrific, even though it paints someone I greatly admire (Petraeus) in a less than stellar light. Recent rhetoric on Afghanistan has become a bit schitzo, the military is trying to tell everyone things are going well and the White House is trying to tell everyone its not improving all that much. One would think any signs of positive change in the conflict would allow Obama to stand a bit more firmly on his much maligned withdrawal plans for mid-2011. One would also think it would be in the best interest of the military to paint things in a less flattering light so as to force further commitment from the Executive branch, however it seems things have come out a bit backwards.

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Kaboom by Matt Gallagher

Amazon: When Lieutenant Matt Gallagher began his blog with the aim of keeping his family and friends apprised of his experiences, he didn’t anticipate that it would resonate far beyond his intended audience. His subjects ranged from mission details to immortality, grim stories about Bon Jovi cassettes mistaken for IEDs, and the daily experiences of the Gravediggers—the code name for members of Gallagher’s platoon. When the blog was shut down in June 2008 by the U.S. Army, there were more than twentyfive congressional inquiries regarding the matter as well as reports through the military grapevine that many high-ranking officials and officers at the Pentagon were disappointed that the blog had been ordered closed.

Based on Gallagher’s extraordinarily popular blog, Kaboom is “at turns hilarious, maddening, and terrifying,” providing “raw and insightful snapshots of a conflict many Americans have lost interest in” (Washington Post). Like Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead, Gallagher’s Kaboom resonates with stoic detachment and timeless insight into a war that we are still trying to understand.

Simply put one of the best modern combat memoirs I’ve read, Gallagher is perhaps the Chuck Palahniuk of combat writers, focusing as much on the psychological and emotional effects of life in a war zone as the actual events themselves. Kaboom is essentially a diary of Gallagher’s roughly 15 month tour in Iraq at the height of ‘the Surge’ from about November of ’07 till Feb/March of ’09. As such it amounts to an excellent bookend piece when paired with Nathaniel Fick’s One Bullet Away, as Fick’s work covers the initial invasion and looks at how it all went pear shaped in the early years and Gallagher chronicles the post-Surge month’s where the Awakenings movement and the COIN strategy helped turn the tide and stabilize areas that had once been chaotic to say the least. Throughout the book Gallagher’s cutting wit and depth of insight, into both the culture of the U.S. Army and the personal effects of ‘low intensity’ warfare,  helps hold the readers interest in spite of very few moments of actual combat. One of the best books on the conflict to date and something I strongly recommend to anyone interested in Iraq or perspective British Army officer candidates that might like to better understand how the U.S. Army works, knowledge that could serve them well in current and future conflicts were sure to face together.

Tally ho old boy!

So here we are. After literally hours since it was first dreamt up, the WarSoc blog is online and running smoothly. I would expect nothing less to be honest, especially considering site traffic at the moment is quite light – 4 view the site has received so far. 3 of those views was me previewing it to make sure it looked flash and beautiful. The fourth was a colleague of mine. Still, early days yet!

Welcome. Welcome one and all. And welcome specifically to my section of the blog – A View from the Parapet. Obviously the content is somewhat thin at present, and it will remain fairly thin for some time to come I should imagine. This is due to the fact that we at present just entering the exam season, and this joyous occasion apparently warrants our full attention. I’ll get onto that as soon as I’ve made this post. Honest.

So by now I trust you all know what this blog is about, who its run by, and who its for. If you don’t head on over to the about page (linkage is up there ^) and you can find out. There is also a disclaimer there that is very much important – the views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, not the Guild or the University. The views within this section are those of my own, and could quite possibly seem a bit extreme at times. But that’s what this is about – stimulating conversation!

I do hope you enjoy this blog, and remember to please get in contact if you have any contributions you would like to make.

Best wishes to those with exams,

DaveG

Welcome to The Home Front!

Hello and welcome to The Home Front – the official blog of the University of Birmingham’s War Studies Society – or WarSoc. As explained in the “About” section, this blog is all about providing information about the War Studies society, and also providing an open forum in which WarSoc members can upload articles they’ve written, and discuss issues relating to one of the most intriguing courses offered at British Universities today.

If you have stumbled upon this blog and are not a member of WarSoc, welcome anyway! We hope you find some of the articles here of interest, and please do feel free to join in the discussion that is bound to take place here (he says hopefully).

The exact content of this blog is yet to be determined. I myself hope to post interesting (and probably controversial) ideas over the coming months, and I’m pleased to announce that our secretary Nick will also be making semi-regular contributions. All members of the society are welcome to submit articles, please email them to me to be posted (if you dont know my email, please ask, or send them to the society email – war@guild.bham.ac.uk)

All that leaves me to say is good luck with the oncoming exams, and I look forward to seeing you all on the other side!

Dave (VP WarSoc)

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