Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Ethos and Victory: Military Culture in Wars Small and Large, 1879 - 1945
Abstract: Military culture has always been recognized as one of the critical ingredients of success in war. From Vegetius' De Ri Militari to current debates over female integration into America's combat arms, the ethos of military formations and services has been studied and debated from the very beginning of recorded military history to today. This panel seeks to examine national, service, and branch military cultures, and their role in battlefield and campaign success and failure.
The panel's diverse papers offer examinations of military culture in small wars, world wars, and interwar military services. Covering campaigns in the Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa, the panelists examine the critical role of military culture in forces ranging from gendarmes to a blue water navy. All three look at militaries in the interwar period, and how the personnel, training, and doctrinal practices of peacetime succeed or fail when exposed to the stress of sustained combat. Justin Pergolizzi describes the formation and training of the Dominican Republic's Guardia Nacional, and the success of US Marines in building an indigenous force in their own image. Ryan Wadle looks at the careers of interwar US Navy officers, with a focus on the greater career diversity possible during a time of rapid technological change. Gil Barndollar examines the British "cavalry spirit," its similarity to the German concept of auftragstaktik, and the results when these two military cultures faced each other in the Western Desert during the Second World War. Taken in sum, the papers to be presented offer attendees insight into under-studied military forces, leaders, and cultures, all of which contain lessons and insights of enduring relevance.
Gil Barndollar, Independent Scholar
Participant's Paper Title: Auftragstaktik with Spurs: the British "Cavalry Spirit," 1879 - 1945
Participant's Paper Abstract: The recent wave of revisionist scholarship on World War I and the interwar British Army has exposed the facile dismissals and caricatures of the cavalry that were endemic to the accounts of Basil Liddell Hart, J.F.C. Fuller, and others. Revisionists like Stephen Badsey, Gervase Phillips, and David French have done much to overturn this flawed traditional view of the cavalry. They have painted a compelling picture of a military branch that realized its own limitations, and that, for the most part, saw the writing on the wall as the internal combustion engine and the armored fighting vehicle replaced the horse as the shock arm of modern warfare.
However, the British cavalry's concept of the "cavalry spirit" has received only passing attention from scholars, despite its striking similarity to the contemporary German idea of auftragstaktik (mission tactics). Like the celebrated (if not fetishized) auftragstaktik, the cavalry spirit preached a culture of individual initiative by tactical commanders, with primacy given to the judgment of the man on the spot. This philosophy derived in part from the comparative speed of the mounted arm, but also from the resulting tendency of cavalry to operate in small detachments, particularly in the small wars that were the Victorian Army's main task. Cavalry officers were also, by birth and upbringing, predisposed to be confident leaders and decision-makers, with a fine eye for ground. Centuries of work as the Army's mobile arm, combined with this heavy strain of aristocratic self-confidence and decisiveness, had created a British cavalry ethos of initiative, self-reliance, and decentralized command. This paper will examine what the cavalry spirit was, compare it to auftragstaktik, and offer further food for thought on the struggles of the Royal Armoured Corps in the Second World War.
Randy Papadopoulos, United States Department of the Navy
Robyn Rodriguez, Defense POW/MIAC Accounting Agency
Ryan Wadle, Air Command and Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: Naval Officers First: Generalists versus Specialists in the Interwar US Navy
Participant's Paper Abstract: In recent years, pundits, analysts, and academics have often complained about a deficit of strategic thinking occurring at the highest levels of policymaking within the US government. The culprits they identify for this problem vary widely, but one, the increasingly specialized careers of the officer corps of every US military service, deserves greater scrutiny. While the trajectory of an officer's career allows for multiple opportunities to gain perspective on intra- and inter-service issues, the fact remains that officers are strongly discouraged from changing career fields lest they have to re-establish their bona fides in the middle of their career. If they are discouraged from free movement between career paths, officers' professional growth is inhibited and their perspective artificially narrowed by reinforced intra-service tribalism.
This state of affairs did not exist in the interwar US Navy. Many prominent officers changed career fields, oftentimes sensing new opportunities for advancement and command in new branches. In doing so they acquired valuable experience in shaping new weapons systems. Many of the interwar Navy's most important strategic and operational minds, including Harry Yarnell and Ernest King, moved from blue-water surface ships to submarines and aviation during their careers. The newness of submarines and aviation certainly helped by creating new opportunities for advancement, but the fact that both men reached flag rank suggests that the interwar Navy personnel system tolerated and even encouraged such experimentation. I argue that this ability to gain greater perspective on different aspects of the service was valuable in allowing officers, especially Yarnell and King, to craft strategies that took full advantage of the Navy's new capabilities.
Justin Pergolizzi, University at Albany, SUNY
Participant's Paper Title: Snap and Pop in Santo Domingo: Combat, Esprit de Corps, and the Pursuit of Pax Americana in the Dominican Republic, 1917-1919
Participant's Paper Abstract: In order to bring peace to the war-torn Caribbean island of Hispaniola, United States Marines invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916 and established a military government in Santo Domingo with a reform agenda prioritizing creation of a constabulary to assist with civil administration and in wresting power from regional warlords. The Guardia Nacional Dominicana, organized in 1917, was an amalgamation of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Haitians, and North Americans trained, equipped and commanded by US Marines. This work examines the unique institutional culture of the Guardia that developed from the fusion within its ranks forged on both the parade deck and the battlefield. Under a leadership cadre of North Americans, the imposition of US military standards of appearance, drill, and operational procedure in the Guardia allowed it to achieve a level of discipline that engendered esprit de corps, considered to be an attribute of the ideal citizen-soldier that was necessary for winning wars and maintaining a peaceful democracy. The Guardia also had a reputation for ferocity in combat that endeared them to the US Marines and intimidated their adversaries, diminishing resistance to the occupation. Drawing on material from the Dominican Archivo General in Santo Domingo, the National Archives in Washington, DC, and the archives of the US Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, this paper highlights the service of Caribbean Americans to the United States and reveals the intimate bonds formed between the US Marine Corps and its Dominican progeny during the First World War.

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