“At a time when the humanities are perceived as the domain of lackluster academicians, and as being increasingly abstruse and irrelevant, it is odd that college presidents and search committees do not try to bolster the one liberal art that embodies the scientific and analytical rigors demanded by a corporate, entrepreneurial age.” So laments Atlantic correspondent Robert D. Kaplan in an article about the surprising usefulness of a liberal arts education at both figuring out and recounting military history. Four-Star Generalists highlights a few books that Kaplan claims do a good job at weaving together the many influences and outcomes of bloody battle.
Military campaigns, because they are fights for the sheer survival of nations and cultures, offer the most telling insights about the values, technologies, social relations, and intellectual life of historical periods. And because both death and defeat are undeniable, a military historian is forced to pierce the accumulated fog of philosophical abstractions and political agendas that frustrates other historical disciplines. Though rarely regarded as such, military history is as august a field as any in the liberal arts.