Like everything these days, the value of studying history is debated. And, hey—that’s okay. Despite some quivering pleas, division isn’t always bad. One camp says the reason we study history is actually for our future. Understanding the past will give us a working model for our trajectory. Another view is the intrinsic value of knowing as much as we can about our past. It’s good to know, plain and simple. A third synthesizes these two; knowing our past has worth for its own sake, but this knowledge also helps us recognize patterns to follow, avoid, etc. in the present.
Can it possibly be argued there isn’t an attack on history these days? The ahistorical trend in the USA is all the more appalling because it seems to be growing like a twittering tumor. Ahistorical can mean a few things too. Chief among them; lobbing trinkets from the past that aren’t true, or—and I’d argue far worse—not caring about the facts at all. Its feelings that matter, damn it! And chances are mine are offended!
The latter fits our era, at least on the popular scale, one that has come to be coined the Post-Fact World. As per usual, feeding this beast are the usual suspects hailing from both sides of the outdated, binary paradigm of Left/Right politics.
The real “party” to adhere to—to get the membership card and rally behind—the party of truth, fact, fairness, and reason. . . wherever those ideals take us. And if we dry then mold these ideals out of the current muck it’s easy to see from a mile away how often one will be forced to cross party lines from time to time.
And in this, as always, fits the military class—the veteran class—the warrior class.
Pulitzer-prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel is no light lunch. This puppy could kill someone if dropped off a tall building. For those looking for a read requiring some saddled devotion, this book holds more explanatory power for the “fate of human societies” than just about anything else out there. And interestingly enough, all these tiny little pleas about racial supremacy, or white villainy, or rather sad misunderstandings about a number of statues—Guns, Germs, and Steel puts a nice muzzle on literally both factions currently frothing at the mouth.
Military readership seems to fall into several categories; war accounts (the there I was types), warfare how-to’s (picture that SEAL fanboy quoting The Book of Five Rings on Instagram while showing the kickass lotus tattoo on his hand while awkwardly holding a Glock 19) and the history of warfare (e.g. your uncle with the Charles Darwin beard reading about Fort Sumter on his porch). But one category seems to be the big dog, in that all others orbit it in some fashion. While the three can and do intersect, all three are inescapably linked to military history.
Military history is rarely about who did what and with what equipment. For those who look for it, there are economic, religious, and in this case striking anthropological and geographic explanations for not only why belligerents fought, but why the result came out as is.
While there is no shortage of redundancy, this is probably necessary considering the breadth and depth of the content. For instance, there is about 50 pages alone explaining how the domestication of plants lead up to further innovations that finally lead to conquest and booming cannons. Only real complaint from the peanut gallery is the string of editorials that pander to our sthenstive political climate (but hey—it did win the Pulitzer. Don’t hate the player hate the game, I guess).
Beyond these slight issues, Guns, Germs, and Steel appeals to the history of war in an illuminating way. Rather than who was victorious over who (though, that’s in there too), we learn explanations for the disparity between peoples at crucial moments on the timeline, asymmetric clashes and in the wake of such how our present landscape was shaped.
It’s been my experience many minds in our brood hold a lot of curiosity. Some more than others, of course. So for those on the farther end of that spectrum if you’re feeling froggy and want to learn about land-dwelling crocodiles in prehistory Australia, why a company size element of Spaniards mopped the floor with a division size Mesoamerican army, or how a particular species of wheat helped one empire rise and another fall, check out this tome. You’ll get more than you bargained for. *Then don’t be afraid to quote passages to our contemporaries who so desperately need it.