Reading recommendations from women. Reading about women. Reading by women.
Interested as I am in both formal and informal military education, I am an avid consumer of reading lists in the many related fields under the umbrella of national security. Along with a host of other criteria, the demography of the authors and subjects come under scrutiny. Without exaggeration, I am rarely impressed with the gender content of the lists as compared with the extant published material. As a scholar, I know the diversity of sources, approaches, and perspectives influence the quality of the learning that can be achieved. But there are other reasons this absence matters, related to the variety of ways these lists perform a mentoring function. Striking up a conversation with Miranda Summers-Lowe about this issue, and the impression these lists have upon women in the armed forces, she suggested we ought to construct relevant lists of readings by, about, or from women. I could not agree more. This is the first of two blogs from us about why this effort is important and what we intend achieve, adding at the end our first few recommendations to get the ball rolling. — JSR
Let us be blunt from the beginning. No thoughtful assessment of the many fields contained within the broad umbrella of National Security, whether in the civilian world or military, practice or academia, could overlook the critical absence of women’s voices. They are missing as public voices of expertise, whether in print or person, past or present. They are missing in government and think tanks, from panels and journals, podcasts to blogs. This omission betrays reality. Increasingly, women are being ‘found’ in the important events of history, and even the male-dominated image of the national security domain is more stereotype than truth. Quieted by a multitude of effects, there is in fact a thriving community of women occupying every space in this field. This blog and the effort it represents is an opportunity to right something of that error and bring the wisdom of women to a broader audience.
To properly reckon the the magnitude of the omission, consider for example, the recent revelations regarding Marie von Clausewitz. Once dismissed as little more than the secretarial handmaiden to her husband’s work, her newly found correspondence force a radical revisioning of the seminal work on modern strategy. Without her intellectual participation it is clear On War would have been weakened, perhaps failing to become a leading work in the literature on strategy. Although a book about a woman, her story should be of critical interest to anyone involved in strategy or modern European warfare. That her role was so easily overlooked for nearly two centuries of scholarship is emblematic of a myopia that creates a wider gap in the historical and analytical record as it concerns women. She is by far not the only missing woman in history or today. Returning to the present day, a woman led an underdog force to victory in a key battle of the most important conflict currently underway, and the response from the vast machine that churns out leadership content at a rate to sink a fleet has been crickets. Mayssa Abdo’s name should be on every tactical analyst’s lips. And it is not.
That Marie von Clausewitz was only recently revealed in a book by a woman matters. Will the work be sufficiently pushed as the beginning of a necessary corrective? Because how we share knowledge defines what is important, and here we find another gap. Across the many absences, the failure to include women in reading lists is poignantly obvious and felt. So much of the work in this area is defined by scholarship and wisdom, and so to be excluded as authors is to announce a lesser worth to knowledge. It further suggests to young women there are few role models, and to any young scholar that women do not exist as intellectual mentors. Finally, to exclude women as subjects worth reading is to deny their important role in the past as well as today. And broadly, any reading list that omits women is failing an opportunity to mentor the young women coming up the ranks, both uniformed and otherwise.
The other week Miranda Summers-Lowe and I published a first call for reading recommendations from women in national security from which to build subject and area specific lists. Our aims with these reading lists are several. Foremost, they represent the collected wisdom of women in the broad field. Next, they will introduce the important women as scholars and subjects in this field. They will also identify gaps in the a library too skewed to the male and masculine. And overall, we can begin to build a critical bibliography for the field by the women in the field. Following on that, we are also keen to include comments and essays by other women to be published here on themes related to women and scholarship in national security. Drop a direct message to @CCLKOW if interested. Finally, to male readers, whether CCLKOW regulars or others, there is an important role for you in this. Find a woman in the field — a mentor to learn from; a colleague to share with; or subordinate to lead — and encourage her participation in these reading recommendations. If you each did that, not only would the list thrive, but so too would a community of professional women whose work and effort are to the benefit of the security and defense of nations around the world.
Send recommendations to email@example.com.
Dr. Jill S. Russell
I have selected a few key historical works relevant to my work on subsistence, logistics, and strategic culture to to get things started. In the main, the titles by or about women I found on my own. No course I ever took in any national security related field (and I took many) included much women-related content. Being so used to working as the only woman in a room (or playing as the only girl on the team), this absence did not deter my interests in military affairs, foreign policy, and professional military education. But the persistent lack of those voices in the two decades since my first days has become, if nothing else, intellectually untenable. Enjoy — JSR
Introducing Erna Risch, the Godmother of US Army logistics history. You will find the vast bulk of her work in the electronic archives of the Center for Military History. You cannot do World War II logistics without her, you cannot do US Army logistics through WWII without her.
Mollie Panter-Downes, London War Notes. Corresponding with America from the pages of the New Yorker, she spoke to a nation on behalf of another nation at war, providing an ‘acute side glance’ to the opening acts of WWII. CCLKOW readers will have a passing familiarity with her from our own author, ‘Colonel Panter-Downes’, and now you should get to know her in her own right.
The journal and correspondence of the Baroness von Riedesel from her time on campaign with her husband during the American Revolution. It is a difficult find, but well worth it. This should be the stuff of a thousand dissertations.
Rifleman Dodd, by C.S. Forester. The purpose here is not only about promoting women as authors or subjects, but also as subject matter experts. Once the darling of the Marine Corps, it is remarkable to find how few people have actually read this short but impressive book. I have waxed near poetic on the character and the story myself, and at every opportunity, I recommend it, to civilian students, to military professionals, to just about anyone who wants to understand something of the human element of war and warfare, of insurgency and population-centric warfare, and of the many paradoxes of military power.
Caroline Cox on honor in the Continental Army is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the foundations of the military ethos and character in the American tradition.
Phyllis Zimmerman on the chokepoints and reform in WWI Army logistics.
For Science Fiction aficionados there is nothing better to help frame thinking on current changes and future challenges than Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. A cautionary tale on the perils of man’s genius when hubris takes control.
John Buckley’s Monty’s Men offers a corrective to what the author sees as a gendered construction of the assessments of military performance in the ETO based on negative assessments of close quarter combat skills.
Janet MacDonald’s examination of subsistence in ‘Nelson’s Navy’ is a must read in mid-modern logistics and the capabilities of the Royal Navy at the turn of the 19th century.
The Education of Henry Adams, the cheeky memoir of the famous son and grandson who gave his name to the title and his reputation to the American historical profession. My reading has always been guided in part by my father, a world class reader, and this was the single-most recommended work to me. It was, as he described, a formative work for men born of the middle 20th century decades, a pronouncement confirmed as important to my field by endorsements from both Evans Carlson and Douglas MacGregor. As a historical role model, it has also provided invaluable perspectives on many levels of my work.