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War And The Historical Profession


by Jeffrey Herf
I agree with David Bell's observations about the conceptual grounds in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century social theory for the lack of interest in and knowledge of international relations among many historians. Yet on the margins of the domestic, internal mainstream neglecting international politics, there was a minority current in social theory that sought to integrate the study of society with that of war between states. Clausewitz's On War, and Raymond Aron's Peace and War are two key classics of this tradition. In Britain, James Joll's works integrated intellectual history with that of relations between states. The British historian Michael Howard's essay collection, The Causes of War presents a number of trenchant essays about "the forgotten dimensions of strategy" that applied this tradition to the cold war in Europe. In 1991 I published, War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance and the Battle of the Euromissiles. It brought together the study of the political culture of West Germany with an examination of the balance of power between the Soviet Union and the Western alliance. Oddly, it remains one of the few, perhaps the only work that gives the battle of the euromissiles the historical significance it deserves as one precondition for Western victory in the cold war. One can still read recently published accounts of the cold war that barely mention it or even assume that it had nothing to do with the
subsequent implosion of the Soviet Union and its empire and that the events of 1989 were overwhelmingly, and again, the result of events and trends internal to the Soviet Union. In writing and researching that book, it became clear to me that policy makers in West Germany and in Washington paid a far more attention to the impact of events within societies on the capacity of states to sustain "will" and generate power than historians focused on internal histories of societies assumed would be the case. Many of them also believed that the battle of the euromissiles, far more than a "star wars" system
that was never built, was one of the turning points of the cold war. Historians of the cold war have yet to give those events the significance they deserve.

A more promising development has occurred in the integration of the history of the Holocaust with the events of World War II. Once discussed separately from one another they now are integrated in work by Gerhard Weinberg, Richard Breitman, Omer Bartov, Christopher Browning, Ian Kershaw, Saul Friedlander, Leni Yahil. Shlomo Aronson's Hitler, the Allies and the Jews and my own recent work on anti-Semitism and Nazi propaganda continue this trend. A recently published volume in the important series, Germany and the Second World War that will be published in English in the next year or two by Oxford University Press examines German society during World War II.
Weinberg's splendid collection of essays, Hitler, Germany and World War II draws out the impact of ideologies and world views in Moscow, Berlin, London, and Washington on the war. Williamson Murray and Richard Overy in different ways have examined the intersection of war, economics and ideology before and during World War II. Readers who think historians of war and diplomacy have been intellectually asleep while the real action has been taking place elsewhere have many pleasant surprises to discover in the ferment that has been going on in this part of the historical discipline.

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