24 October 2008

Stress Test

I'm finding this M.A. course enjoyable, but a bit overwhelming. There's always something needing to be done, and it's going to get worse before it gets better - rather like the economy, it seems.

To my surprise, I'm finding my US History 1877-1920 seminars and my teaching assistant duties more stimulating than my two war-related courses. I do wonder, though, whether I've reached a high-water-mark on the US stuff. We just did David Montgomery's The Fall of the House of Labor, which is a real monument in many ways. The description of how work was organized in the 1870s and then reorganized at the beginning of the twentieth century opened a whole new perspective on what Marx thought socialism might mean, in contrast with how it came to be implemented. It'll be hard to top that for giving me a new angle on a major influence on my thinking. I don't think St Augustine or Macchiavelli were key figures in this era in American history.

Meanwhile, another Montgomery, the British field marshal of Normandy fame, popped up in another seminar course. In contrast to the stimulating labour history, it seemed more of the same stuff I've been handling for twenty years. It gets repackaged every ten years or so, when someone expands the frontiers of our knowledge by looking at a different level of action. But nothing I've yet seen really retrieves Monty's reputation. (Which is one reason why I left Britain to do a degree - you can't be against Monty and hope to get on in the world of professional military history in Britain.) The soldier on the course rushed to defend the monumental reputation of this horrid, vain man. But his defence seemed more appropriate to a Lloyd George vs the generals argument than armchair strategists + American generals vs a British general. At the end of the day, for me, Monty was his own worst enemy. If he hadn't claimed to be a genius, I probably would regard him as a workmanlike wartime commander.

To sidestep my old hobbyhorse of the Master of Battle, I thought I'd share this, which was on a handout given by Whitney Lackenbauer, who is prof on my War & Society in the 20th Century seminar, where we discussed Montgomery. This is from the week before, when we covered Hong Kong 1941 and Dieppe 1942. It's a single sheet, on which Professor Lackenbauer has written 'Dieppe', and is entitled 'The Lessons Learnt'.

338. Unless the means for the provision of overwhelming close support are available, assaults should be planned to develop round the flanks of a strongly defended locality rather than frontally against it.

Yes, that would do it.