Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Professional Relevance of Official history
Abstract: Nearly every military service or defense agency has an official history program. How their history impacts the institution and national policy varies considerably. This panel seeks to explore the relevance of official history by examining the documentation of military operations as a means for applied history. It comprises three papers entirely based upon primary sources that encompass different but related case studies. One paper describes how U.S. military historians documented the 2008 Haitian earthquake response. This was a complex, contemporary operation in which historians participated in key staff meetings, conducted oral history interviews, and collected official records. The paper also shows how history helped U.S. officials understand, interpret, and respond to the modern humanitarian disaster. Another paper examines how the American Expeditionary Force captured and used lessons learned to not only influence conduct in the Great War but also with a longer view of influencing the interwar Army and ultimately the force that would fight World War II. It explores combat lessons learned pamphlets, the Superior Board Reports, and how veterans in the school system guided the development of doctrine. The final paper offers a very unique examination of the Islamic Republics of Iran's expansive field historical collection effort during the Iran-Iraq War. Based entirely on Persian sources, this paper describes the formation of Iran's large-scale historical collection effort and how it evolved over the course of the war. This effort was designed to preserve the lessons of the war and to inform future generations about the sacrifices made during the conflict. It grew into a large, comprehensive think tank that continues to shape Iran's military leaders about future conflict and the development of an Iranian way of war.
David Crist, Department of Defense
Bradley Coleman, Virginia Military Institute
Participant's Paper Title: Historians in Haiti: U.S. Military Historians and Operation Unified Response, 2010
Participant's Paper Abstract: In 2010, the Barack Obama administration dispatched over 22,000 U.S. military personnel to the Caribbean to save lives and mitigate suffering following a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. Military historians provided extensive support and assistance to U.S. forces during the humanitarian assistance/disaster response mission dubbed Operation Unified Response. In the Joint Operating Area and beyond, they documented U.S. military activities for posterity?and studied historical aspects of the mission to inform U.S. decision-making. The Office of the Command Historian, U.S. Southern Command, an element of the Joint History Program, designed, organized, and managed the multifaceted historical effort.

"Historians in Haiti" examines the work of U.S. military historians during Operation Unified Response. The paper describes how U.S. military historians documented a complex twenty-first century operation. Historians participated in key staff meetings, conducted oral history interviews, and collected official records. The paper also shows how history helped U.S. officials understand, interpret, and respond to the disaster in Haiti. U.S. military historians prepared a dozen historical studies that shaped high-level decisions from Port-au-Prince to Washington. Finally, "Historians in Haiti" treats outreach activities to preserve and perpetuate Haitian historical collection endangered by the earthquake. Throughout, "Historians in Haiti" offers a window into the important work of the Joint History Program.
Brian North, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Participant's Paper Title: Lessons of the Great War: The Influence of the Great War on the Interwar Years which enabled Rapid Task Organization Changes in 1944 Europe
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the breakout from Normandy and subsequent race across France in 1944, the ease of changing task organizing divisions and corps provided the United States Army essential operational flexibility to maintain the pressure on the German Army. One of the factors which enabled this flexibility was the result of the American officer corps incorporating lessons learned from the Great War into their interwar doctrine and education system. The process started before the first American units arrived in Europe, as General Pershing implemented a system within the American Expeditionary Forces to capture lessons learned and share them broadly. After the armistice, Pershing directed his combat leaders to conduct an intensive review to capture their experience with doctrine, organization, and equipment into the Superior Board Reports. The U.S. Army officer corps used their experience in the Great War to shape the interwar force in preparation for what they saw as the inevitable next war. These combat veterans lead the effort to enshrine what they learned by placing officers in key positions in the Army education system. The school system developed the doctrinal concepts for employing division, corps, and army headquarters which provided the basis for how the U.S. Army would fight in the expanding front of western Europe in 1944.
Brandon Pinkley, United States Air Force
Participant's Paper Title: Guardians of History: The Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Historians in the Iran-Iraq War
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) developed an extensive network of field historians who documented the IRGC's experiences and tried to identify what distinguished their strategies and methods from those of their counterparts in Iran's regular armed forces and their Iraqi adversaries. Since the war, IRGC historians have pursued an aggressive research and publication agenda that has gone largely unexamined by English-speaking academia due to obvious biases. While IRGC publications are narrow depictions of history, to the extent that IRGC publications are organizationally controlled narratives, these histories provide insight into IRGC leadership's preferred framework for understanding the organization's past, adversaries, and roles in the region. This study focuses on the development and histories published by the IRGC's Center for Sacred Defense Documents and Research regarding the Iran-Iraq War, as well as IRGC commanders' public statements about the war. It examines Iran's war history as a form of propaganda in its most general sense as "organized persuasion" that acts as a normative framework for the IRGC. By examining IRGC histories for what were and were not deemed legitimate, authentic, or effective ways of fighting, historians can reconsider familiar descriptions applied to the IRGC. By considering how these narratives change over time, historians can trace how the IRGC's normative frameworks are appropriated to new challenges. Studying how the IRGC has remembered, retold, and used the memories of this war, this research project aims to explore how the war was fought, how it has been remembered, and how narratives such as "Imposed War" and "Sacred Defense" have been appropriated in different ways to meet the various challenges facing Iran ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

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