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Sputnik I—The Beeps Heard Round The World

by Christopher R. O’Deavia Military History in the News
Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Space Age opened in October 1957 when the Soviet Union’s Sputnik I became the first satellite to orbit the earth. Launched during the International Geophysical Year, Sputnik I orbited earth every 96 minutes for 21 days, traveling more than 40 million miles as it transmitted a steady beep signal that was soon recorded and broadcast to American radio listeners. The satellite itself was visible to viewers in the United States during dawn and twilight, providing directly observable evidence that the United States—for the moment at least—was trailing its chief geopolitical rival in the emerging technology that would define the balance of power in an era of nuclear stand-off.

Alliances: Past, Present, And Future

by Williamson Murrayvia Military History in the News
Monday, September 30, 2019

In the 1930s, the British military pundit B. H. Liddell Hart argued vociferously that traditional British conduct of war in the seventeenth and eighteenth had represented a strategy of minimal commitment to the wars on the European Continent while focusing on a blue-water strategy to attack the enemy on the periphery. Thus, Britain’s effort in the First World War with its emphasis on the British Expeditionary Force in France had been a terrible mistake. He could not have been more mistaken. 

Intelligence And Imagination

by Williamson Murrayvia Military History in the News
Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Military historians tend to spend far too much time on the combat arena in which armies, navies, and air forces contend. Yet, underlying their performance is the organizational behavior of intelligence agencies which should be responsible for guiding and framing their actions and reactions. Nothing displays this more clearly than a comparison of the cultures of the British and German intelligence organizations during the Second World War. The latter was hierarchical, compartmentalized, and separated the military from the civilians. Within the German system, there was virtually no tolerance, much less interest in, passing opinions and original ideas up the chain of command. But perhaps the greatest weakness in German military culture was the general contempt for intelligence and its purveyors.

Who Carried the Burden in the Second World War?

by Williamson Murrayvia Military History in the News
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Over the past several decades, as historians have unraveled the archives of the Red Army after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new narrative of the history of the Second World War that has emerged has emphasized the fighting on the Eastern Front as the crucial theater of the war in Europe. Certainly, the casualties that the Soviet peoples endured were far beyond the losses the Western Allies suffered, while the fighting on the Eastern Front contributed substantially to breaking German ground forces. Yet, an overemphasis on Soviet casualties, no matter how impressive, fundamentally distorts the extent of the effort that the Western Powers waged against the Third Reich.

On the Eightieth Birthday Of WWII

by Williamson Murrayvia Military History in the News
Monday, September 16, 2019

Eighty years ago this month the most catastrophic war in history broke out. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded her neighbor, Poland. From before dawn German shells and bombs fell across the breadth and width of the country. Despite the obvious buildup of military forces on the other side of the frontier, the Poles had not fully mobilized because British and French statesmen worried that such a mobilization might encourage Hitler to go to war—as if he needed any encouragement. In every sense, the German invasion of Poland proved to be a disaster for Poland, a disaster exacerbated by the willful policies of appeasement that the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had fostered over the previous two and a half years.

How Civil War Ignites

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Military History in the News
Monday, August 26, 2019

On August 10, 1932, General José Sanjurjo, commander of Spain’s army and former commander of its Civil Guard, declared rebellion against Prime Minister Manuel Azaña’s government. The General treated the Prime Minister as a Leftist enemy, and the Prime Minister treated the General as a monarchist enemy. Both were correct. Both were trying to use the government to harm their least favorite causes and people. The rebellion failed. The General was condemned to death, but only exiled. The level of mutual hate was yet insufficient for civil war. That changed.

The Power Of Retreat

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Military History in the News
Monday, August 19, 2019

On August 18, 1812, General Mikhail Kutuzov, 67 years old, took command of Russia’s army, which had been forced to retreat as Napoleon’s Grande Armée, the world’s best fighting force and three times its size, advanced into Russia. Destroying the Russian army was Napoleon’s objective. Preserving it had become the Russians’ proximate objective. 

Deus Vincit

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Military History in the News
Friday, August 16, 2019

On August 6, 1682, the Ottoman Empire, at the height of its power, declared war on the Holy Roman Empire. Muslim domination of Europe extended from the Balkans northward through Hungary and reached into Poland. Westward, only Habsburg Vienna barred the way. Louis XIV, for his own reasons, preferred dealing with the Ottomans rather than with the Habsburgs. Were the Muslims to have been victorious, they might have ruled from the Mediterranean to the Baltic.

Poland: Caught In The Crosshairs

by Angelo M. Codevillavia Military History in the News
Tuesday, August 13, 2019

On August 1, 1944, the Polish Home Army rose against Warsaw’s German occupiers. The Soviet Red Army, in force on the Vistula’s eastern bank, had told the Poles that it would attack the Germans as soon as they rose. Instead, the Russians stood by as the Germans killed virtually all 16,000 Polish fighters along with some 200,000 civilians, and destroyed old Warsaw. Germans and Russians faced each other at that location consequent to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, in which the two had effectively jointly erased Poland from the map. 

The 100th Anniversary Of The Treaty Of Versailles

by Peter R. Mansoorvia Military History in the News
Friday, June 28, 2019

Today the world celebrates one of the final centenarian milestones of the Great War, the signing by the victorious Allied Powers and defeated Germany of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought to an end the First World War. Although U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had hoped to conclude a peace based on his “14 Points” speech to Congress delivered on January 8, 1918, the blood debt incurred by the allies made such an idealistic peace impossible. Allied politicians had to justify to their constituencies the slaughter of a generation of young men in the trenches. One way to do this, in their eyes, was to ensure German militarism would never rise again.

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Wars, terrorism, and revolution are the daily fare of our globalized world, interconnected by instantaneous electronic news.

Military History in the News is a weekly column from the Hoover Institution that reflects on how the study of the past alone allows us to make sense of the often baffling daily violence, not by offering exact parallels from history, but rather by providing contexts of similarity and difference that foster perspective and insight—and reassurance that nothing is ever quite new.