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Thinking Across Time: Concurrent Historical Analysis on Military Operations

The Australian Light Horse Association participates in the re-enactment ride to commemorate the Battle of Beersheba in Israel.
1 July 2001
Dr Alan Ryan

This working paper argues that the skills of historical analysis are an essential element of military decision-making. It suggests that military decision-making is shaped by temporal circumstances and that consequently historical awareness must be seen as one of the key attributes of an effective officer. Historical knowledge and methodology have a key role to play in military operations. Not only should the Australian Defence Force (ADF) adopt a more sophisticated approach to the education of its officers in the theory and practice of history, but it needs to employ trained military historians in operational roles.

Historians have the vital function of recording military operations for posterity, but they can also have a more immediate role as operational analysts, capable of providing immediate feedback to commanders, developers of armed forces and governments. As the United States (US) Army has found, the deployment of properly trained and well-prepared historians on military operations adds value to the commander's information resources. There are many tasks that historians can perform for the military, in peacetime as well as on operations. Once the ADF starts to experience the benefits that historians can deliver, it might even emulate the US practice of using the command historian in an advisory role. By receiving concurrent and integrated analysis, commanders can adjust behaviour and correct tactical errors. The existence of a staff section of military historians on a force headquarters can help to cut through the ‘fog' that increasingly bedevils commanders in the information age. Additionally, as the modern military is expected to undertake a wide range of non-traditional tasks such as peace and humanitarian relief operations, commanders need a broader perspective than the traditional staff structures established for warfighting can provide.

It is unlikely that the ADF will move quickly to make the revolutionary cultural adjustments necessary to progress beyond the technocratic model of staff work that was developed for industrial-age warfare. Nonetheless, it does need to begin to grow officers, both specialists and generalists, who are comfortable with their responsibilities as actors on an historical stage and who can apply skills in temporal analysis to further Australia's national interests. This paper suggests just some of the ways in which the historian's craft can ‘add value' to the way the ADF conducts operations.

Last updated
13 December 2017
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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