Fred Thompson

If you went to college in the sixties, like I did, you might not know how much higher education has changed since then. Universities today are different places. At Vanderbilt, where I got my law degree, I hear you can take courses in third wave feminism or colonial governmentality.

Your guess is as good as mine.

On the other hand, some of the courses that we took for granted aren't around at all. One area of study that's almost disappeared from universities today is military history -- the history of warfare.

I was reminded of this recently, reading a piece in The New Republic by historian David Bell. He's certainly not the only person to mourn this change, though. One of my favorite historians, Victor Davis Hanson, wrote on the same subject several years ago in National Review.

There are a number of reasons that military history is no longer taught. Partly, it has to do with the ideological shift in university faculties over the past few decades. The post-Vietnam anti-war movement tends to see all wars as mutual mistakes -- with both sides in a conflict equally wrong. Some of these folks think war can be avoided by refusing to have anything to do with it.

Hansen thinks it also has something to do with the spread of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. In an age with intercontinental ballistic missiles, the old subjects of strategy and tactics can seem obsolete. The importance of battles at Valley Forge or the Alamo might not be evident if you're thinking of warfare in terms only of pushing big red buttons.

The enemies of civilization, though, have adapted -- as they always do. Nuclear deterrence won't protect you if the other side thinks they win if we all die together. Furthermore, they've learned to hide among the innocent. Iran's missiles, nestled among civilian neighborhoods and UN outposts in Lebanon, were fired into Israel -- but Iran was never hit back. The British and the Spanish have discovered, through terrorist attacks on bus and train lines, that the enemy is studying us daily. They learn our every weakness by living and working among us – but our schools have stopped offering courses that would help us meet their challenge.

All of this means that if there were ever a time to put our best minds to the study of warfare, it is now. I know that, for many people, it's an unpleasant topic they would just as soon avoid -- but history that ignores the importance of warfare is not history. There is a reason that both sides in the Civil War studied Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” – though it was written in the 5th or 6th Century BC.

Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson has been a lawyer, actor and United States Senator. He writes exclusive analysis and commentary for Townhall Magazine.

Be the first to read Fred Thompson’s column.
Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.
Sign up today