CUP Conference – CALU
Paper: What is Medieval Military History and Why Does It Matter?
Prof. John France – University of Wales – Swansea (emeritus)
Prof. John France gave a fascinating paper on medieval military history and how the media makes it palatable to the mainstream public by focusing on what “looks good” vs. what is actually relevant. He spoke about the enormous interest in the American Civil War and WWII. He lamented about the focus on modern warfare particularly WWII, which has been written about endlessly, dramatized in movies and re-iterated again and again, coining it the “Saving Private Ryan” effect.
This effect is the sanctifying of war, the self-congratulatory, good triumphing over evil score where post WWII we are lead to believe that we have ushered in an era of peace, and “feel goodism”. France contends that we did not usher in such an era. WWII has been turned into a very black and white affair and the Crusades has also been treated as a very black and white affair where it is really much more ambivalent i.e., we did not always win. Unlike WWII, there was no “we” to identify with during the Crusades. The unifying “we” in Western Europe was that Europe was under one religion (Christianity) and one common language (Latin), yet this did not prevent them from killing each other in spite of this. A good commander was what unified a medieval army.
The paper was excellent – it examined the problems with our current popular view of warfare that has been deeply coloured by our self-congratulatory attitude towards WWII. The unfortunate affect of the WWII perspective is that too much focus is given to technological advancement, looking at weapons systems, and looking at the development of “super weapons”. Medieval weaponry was not this. There is an obsession with technology and the prevailing thought that the military revolution occurred with the advent of gunpowder, but this was not the case; gunpowder was known in the 13th century.
In closing, France said that we are living in a much more unstable environment now and that WWII did not usher in an era of peace.