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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    no evidence is presented that other cultures act differently, and we can't prove a negative. Sep 20, 2017 at 17:03

6 Answers 6


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 extent, 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 those 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. Mar 27, 2012 at 19:42

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.

  • VD Hanson is a neocon shill.
    – quant_dev
    Mar 27, 2012 at 12:03

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.


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.


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. Mar 26, 2012 at 11:19
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    @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, 2012 at 10:58
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    @BrotherJack - Ever hear of Sherman's March to the Sea?
    – jfrankcarr
    Mar 27, 2012 at 13:49
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    @BrotherJack Don't forget the Mexican War, where the Mexican Army invaded our territory, after all the Alamo was a last stand for the US. We've faced relatively few threats but my point is that until the 20th Century we had plenty of wars on our soil.
    – MichaelF
    Mar 27, 2012 at 19:27
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    @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, 2012 at 15:39

I am not necessarily sure that we Americans are "more obsessed with the military aspect of History". From my own personal educational experiences, the historical education I received over the years-(from the secondary, to the graduate), certainly spent a good deal of time examining wars, battles and Generals. However, there was a sizable percentage of time dedicated to other areas of history that were not exclusively or primarily rooted in the origins of warfare.

My History classes, over the years, spent plenty of time examining the landmark contributions of figures, such as Socrates, Aristotle, Archimedes, Cicero, Virgil, Galileo, Shakespeare, Locke, The Founding Fathers, Hegel, Twain, Edison, Einstein, Freud and many, many, many other Thinkers, Writers, Explorers, Statesmen, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Diplomats, Inventors, Philosophers and Scientists. The Military aspect to my historical orientation, education and graduate training, was, in retrospect, parenthetical, when related to other areas of History. This is not to say that wars, battles and Generals were not studied in detail-(they certainly were), but it is to say that the Origin of warfare was not the central focus of my orientation and education.

I am sure different people have diverse educational experiences and observations regarding this topic, though I am not so sure that an empirically convincing and persuasive case can be made for such a topic. The question is so wide ranging and far reaching, that it would require, as well as necessitate, lengthy examinations and studies of American attitudes towards history-(in particular, the so-called military mindset or orientation that Americans are alleged to have regarding the study of history).

If I was to answer this question, "at face value", I don't believe that most Americans "are more obsessed with the military aspect of history". I think that the American historical educational system, while far from perfect, has and does provide the majority of its citizens with plenty of resources-(textual, written, artistic, architectural, archaeological, technological, mass media, as well as Museum based) for accessing and learning about varieties of History, as well as multidisciplinary approaches towards historical understanding.

With all of this said, the military aspect of History, is, for the Americans, a sizable, but partial interpretation of the historical experience.

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