Walk into the military history section of your bookstore or library. Search for a famous battle. There will be many, many books (assuming it’s a well-known battle) on the tactics and strategy of the fight, the commanders, even the common soldiers.
Looking for whose farm became a battlefield? Who were the widows and orphans affected by the stark casualty numbers? Searching for the civilian experience in war? Good luck. It’s there, but you’ll have to search to find it. Occasionally, there will be diamond-valued book digging in-depth into the subject of civilians during a particular war or battle. But usually these people are forgotten.
When I started my studies as a serious historian (at the end of high-school and beginning of college), I discovered that I was interested in the campaigns and battles, the commanders, and the soldiers. But ultimately, I found myself gravitating toward “forgotten” characters or people groups from the past, particularly civilians or military medical staff. My end-of-college paper was a lengthy report and analysis of the Ladies of the Confederate Homefront during the American Civil War. Then I launched an eight month study of the civilians of Gettysburg which was the foundation for my newly-released book, Blue, Gray & Crimson.
This month (July 2015) I’ve decided to do something a little different. Rather than pick just one historical era or event to write about on Fridays, I’ve chosen to write generally on the topic of civilians and war. But I promise not to make it depressing…okay? We’ll talk about the many exciting ways civilians have played a crucial role toward victory.
Today, however, is an introduction and I thought I’d share a few of my musings on the topic.
1. Civilians Are Often Forgotten In Studies Of War
I’ve already touched this topic in this post, and I’ve preached on it in my “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesday” series. So I’ll not weary you again.
I’d just like to mention that there has been an increase in “Women’s Studies” in the last couple decades, but, personally, I don’t feel these are covering the civilian story very well. What about the men who did not enlist? What about the children? (And, be careful: “women’s studies” often have a very specific agenda which may not reflect the real feelings of ladies of past eras.)
2. Civilians Pay An Price During War
If a country is at war, civilians will be affected. That is the simple, hard truth. Loved ones in the military may be killed or maimed. The economy may suffer. Civilians themselves may become directly involved in the fight. Civilians may be innocent bystanders (so to speak) and become casualties of war.
These facts are seen in every era, every war in history – from Ancient Times to our own era. I think I became most aware of this when I studied World War I during high school. In the text book, the military casualties were listed, then the civilian casualties. Allied military forces alone lost about 10 million. Recorded allied civilian deaths numbered around 7 million. And yet…we forgot them.
I am not going to write extensively on this, and I will not write an entire post on the subject at this time. But, do not forget the civilians involved directly in the war, whose deaths are forgotten because they were not on “glorious” battlefields.
3. Civilians Have Done Extraordinary Things During War
Spying. Building thousands of airplanes. Raising money. Sheltering guerillas. Keeping up morale. Caring for the sick and wounded. Forcing governments to seek peace.
We will be exploring more of these roles in the next few weeks.
I’ll look forward to seeing you on Fridays as we discuss the courageous role of civilians throughout the centuries. I promise lots of action and adventure…certainly a different type than you’ll find on the battlefields, but still crucial to victory.
P.S. How much time have you spent considering / studying the civilians’ role during a battle or war? Are you particularly inspired by the civilians of a particular era or incident?
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