War is a crucible of history that can raise empires and propel individuals to enormous power and notoriety, as well as cause suffering and the deaths of millions of civilians and combatants alike. Understanding war is one of the keys to understanding history, and many history and social studies classes require students to write research papers on the history of armed conflict.
Competing Strategic Theorists
A persuasive research paper attempts to convince the reader of the truth of a proposition by stringing facts together with logical arguments. One fertile ground for a paper about war is to study theories on the origins of war and why some combatants are victorious while others are not. The recognized giants of this field are relatively few. Carl von Clausewitz is one such theorist who many consider shed great light on the nature and conduct of armed conflict. Another such theorist is J.C. Wylie, while a better-known one is J.F.C. Fuller. Try reading the works of these authors -- as well as some analysis on their theories -- and write a paper that attempts to persuade the reader of the correctness of one of these thinkers.
Counterfactual Military History
Using primary sources and reputable contemporary analysis, try to convince the reader that a specific war or battle might have had a substantially different outcome if the leaders had decided differently. Consider what might have happened if -- instead of attempting to achieve decisive battlefield victories against the Union in the U.S. Civil War -- the Confederacy had opted for a scorched earth guerrilla campaign against invading northern armies. Think about the political, logistic and military realities that would have enabled leaders to make that decision. Let your imagination germinate in the era and in the decision you choose and then tie your arguments to the facts. Consider the possibility that some wars might not have happened had different decisions been made.
The Future of Armed Conflict
Research current threads of thought on the future of armed conflict in the information age. Examine how this age offers broader access to technology, increased globalization and more readily available biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Write a paper that supports current views or come up with your own vision of the future of war. Defend your argument with facts and logical arguments.
Research competing points of view on an element of war tactics from a past or present war. Write a persuasive paper arguing that one point of view is correct and the others are incorrect. Think about the justification of using Napoleonic tactics until the end of the 19th century. Discuss which roadblocks could have prevented different tactical systems from implementation. Research why the Germans were so quick to develop effective tactics for the trenches of World War I and why the allies were so slow. Research all the threads that lead to the element under study -- from the logistical and technological to the political.
- On War; Carl von Clausewitz
- Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control; J.C. Wylie
- J.F.C. Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart
- The United States Military Academy at Westpoint: Dept. of History; Napoleonic Wars
- PBS: Napoleon at War; Campaigns and Battles
- The U.S. Dept of State: Office of the Historian; Napoleonic Wars and the United States, 1803–1815
- Civil War.com: Features
- History.com: American Civil War
- History Place: The U.S. Civil War 1861-1865
- PBS: 1914-1918; The Great War
- Photo Credit James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images
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