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If there is anything in my mind that has been particularly pronounced about American historical interests it has been an overriding interest in the military aspects of history. This can be viewed in the curriculum of American schools, where the conquests of the Greco-Romman empires and European/American wars are given a lion's share of attention. In the "history channel" where before the channel's devolving into a series of reality shows and alien/biblical nonsense was virtually monopolized by commentary and analysis of the civil war and world war II. It can even be seen on this forum where many of the posts seem to focus on military history, tactics, and culture.

I think it is very important for America (and given its power, the rest of the world as well) to determine if (and if so, why) Americans have become so focused on the military aspects of history. Are there examples of other empires (such as England, the Netherlands, Spain, etc.) having similar cultural fixations on the military? Or is this a unique aspect of American culture? If this is a trend, what in American history has lead to the development of our military veneration?

While I believe this question may stray from the forum's Q&A format somewhat, I do believe that it neither deviates too strongly from said format or is phrased in such a way that it is impossible to provide analysis of trends which can be backed up by solid research.

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America is a country based on genocide and cemented by a civil war. No wonder it's obsessed with war. – quant_dev Mar 24 '12 at 21:47
@quant_dev: Just about any nation, when you look back far enough, is based on genocide and civil wars. That's certainly true for the European cultures, most of whose ancestors came from the east and overrun whoever lived here before, just to later be overrun in their turn by more waves of Indo-Europeans, and over the millenniums fought each other viciously. And most European nations certainly had civil wars at one time or another. – sbi Mar 27 '12 at 7:48
@sbi Yup, but both things are much fresher in the mind of Americans. – quant_dev Mar 27 '12 at 7:55
@quant_dev: Yeah, of course, they are a comparatively young nation, only recently formed. That I'd agree with. – sbi Mar 27 '12 at 8:14
@sbi I would argue that most countries are not formed on genocide per se. Many are founded on war, and I would argue that the European settlers simply had such an advantage due to technology (and disease) to turn a territorial war into a genocide. While the settlers motive may not have been morally justified to many of us, it is unfortunately a common human impulse to consider one's own supposed cultural superiority to be justification for oppression and war. – BrotherJack Apr 4 '12 at 16:11
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think this is not specific to the U.S. at all. (Although I freely admit that, from what I know American education, it would certainly benefit from being less concerned with only the U.S., and a bit more with the rest of the world.)

Politics had always been a game of power, and, historically, the only, or at least the most successful, way to gain power was war. So nations have been obsessed with either their victories over what they considered barbarians or mean adversaries, or with their oppression by those who thought thus about them. As a result, what got written down on stones, scrolls, books, and on Wikipedia is lots of victories and defeats in wars. (The rest are mostly enumerations of economics (tributes and trades) and religious texts.)

Plus, history was mostly written down on behalf of those in power — which usually were the rulers of the victorious parties. This made sure written history was to a large extend iterations of successful military operations.

Nowadays we know that there is more to history than wars (what with ecological developments, economics and politics correlating with natural disasters and other aspects), but, of course, history is an inherently conservative subject, and it takes lots of time to change the curriculum to encompass these more modern aspects.

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I think this is a solid argument. I'd guess that it isn't anything unique to the US and likely experienced by every major power to some extent. Obviously this "pro-military" sentiment is difficult to quantify (and modern polling is only somewhat effective), but from my reading of history there were similar cultural elements in modern America and Victorian England, in terms of at least military and foreign policy reasoning. – BrotherJack Mar 27 '12 at 19:42

Whithout any doubt, the history part of the contemporary Russian culture is absolutely military. About 95% of Russian alternative history novels are about how this or that war could be replayed. Is it due to Russian agressivity? It seems so... But ... the utterly unmilitary culture of the contemporary Czech republic is very much interested in ancient wars, too.

I think, it is the specific of the understanding of history. Goodies beat baddies - it is easy to understand. And understanding of economics, group psychology, pedagogics development, morals changing, is really hard. And there are not too many intelligent people in the World.

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It's part of the Greco-Roman tradition and culture that has been around roughly 5000 years. I recommend Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture for a full review of this tradition.

You can find its start with various Greek philosophers and playwrights who used war and conflict as the basis for their stories. Later authors, from Plutarch to St. Augustine to Shakespeare, reflected this aspect of Western culture in their writings and influenced the popular culture of their times as much or more as the History Channel does us today.

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VD Hanson is a neocon shill. – quant_dev Mar 27 '12 at 12:03

America is a country that was born in Revolution and came of age in Civil War. Like Rome, it has been accustomed to fighting and winning wars. For this reason, as much as any other, military history, including Greco-Roman history, has a greater place in American history than in other countries who have know longer periods of peace. (The longest stretch of peace in American history was the 33 years between the Civil War and Spanish American war; after that, the thirty-one years between the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War.)

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I would also add that Americans rarely have had to face wars on US soil or were even a serious threat to it. Most American wars were either based on conquest or proxy wars. Outside of Perl Harbor the US never really faced the devistation in either world war that ravaged the European empires and left their inhabitants with a better understanding of the true nature of war. – BrotherJack Mar 26 '12 at 11:19
@BrotherJack "I would also add that Americans rarely have had to face wars on US soil" In modern times maybe, America fought many wars on its own soil in the 18th and 19th Centuries – MichaelF Mar 27 '12 at 10:58
@BrotherJack - Ever hear of Sherman's March to the Sea? – jfrankcarr Mar 27 '12 at 13:49
@MichaelF, outside of the revolutionary war and the civil war Americans have been relatively secure., especially from outside invasion. The only other conflict I'm aware of where Americans faced a serious territorial threat is the war of 1812, which was a relatively limited engagement. Compare this to Europe with the Napoleonic wars, Franco-Prussian, Austro-Prussian, and the devastating brunt of WWI and WWII (especially for Russia!). The 18th and 19th centuries may have been more threatening, but comparatively secure compared to other regions of the world. – BrotherJack Mar 27 '12 at 19:24
@MichaelF - Err.... you were 4 days early for April Fools, so I take it this was serious? The Mexican War was provoked and started by the USA, and (outside a small disputed border area) took place entirely inside Mexican territory. Also, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Alamo. That was Texas' war of Independence. – T.E.D. Apr 4 '12 at 15:39

As long as history is mostly concerned with rulers, and military action is the chief determinant of who rules what areas, then wars will play a big part in it.

Perhaps you live somewhere where history isn't so focused on rulers? I know there's been a movement lately to try to focus history instruction more on the common people.

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