Great Courses: War And World History: Part IV, taught by Professor Jonathan P. Roth
As this course winds to its conclusion it is clear that the professor wants to make this particular course a lot different from most when it comes to contemporary military history. Rather than adopting a chronological approach that allows the listener to gain some insights on particular wars and conflicts in a temporal context, the author chooses instead to discuss contemporary warfare in a thematic fashion. The lectures also allow the author a chance to talk about his own complex relationship with war as an anti-Vietnam War protester who later served as a volunteer officer in the New York State National Guard and has had friends who died as a result of their involvement in war as writers and historians, all of which makes for a complex picture. And this complex picture is both interesting and not as enjoyable as the narrative approach to history serves for me personally. While it is certainly worthwhile that the author attempts to present military history in a way that would be appealing to academics, but it would have been preferable had he done so in a way that is appealing to those who are interested in military history
The final twelve lectures of this particular course go as follows. The professor discusses the issues of face and class at war (37), not an uncommon interest for contemporary academics before moving on to a discussion about imperialism and the west’s triumph in the late 19th century over the rest of the world (38). After that the author discusses the 19th century culture of war (39) as well as the common way of war that was practiced in the 20th century (40). After this comes a discussion of 20th century ideology and its effect on war (41), the persistence of nationalism through contemporary times (42), and a look at the surprising robustness of wartime economies during the century (43). After this comes a look at culture and war in the twentieth century and how high culture became increasingly hostile to military matters (44). The weaponization of information (45) and issues of guerrilla war and terrorism (46). Finally, the author concludes his lectures with a discussion about the struggle for peace and justice (47) and how anti-war movements did not coincide with a general pacifism as well as a discussion of war at the turn of the new century (48), as the author eschews an attempt to prophesy on the future of warfare.
There is a lot that can be said about this class, but in my mind it somewhat ends with a whimper instead of a bang. It is interesting to hear about the author’s own complex experience with warfare and military service and certainly the professor deserves a good deal of credit for attempting to bridge the gulf between an increasingly professional and intellectually competent military leadership in the Western world and an academic world that is immensely hostile to military service. As a graduate of a military history program I suppose I am unusual in being intellectual without being hostile to the military per se but my own experience is similarly complex like that of the professor. Since the professor mainly looks at warfare from the point of view of cultural politics and the rise of various ideologies, it makes the lectures less interesting than earlier ones which had more to say about literature and history than about contemporary ideological matters. As is often true when it comes to history, the field is a lot more interesting when one can focus on the subject of history rather than have so much that reminds one of the less pleasant aspects of contemporary society around.