1. a historian at the army war college

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John A. Bonin, Ph. D.
Professor, Concepts and Doctrine
U.S. Army War College

My name is John Bonin and I am a historian. I have been on the faculty of the United States Army War College for almost twelve years and I received my Ph.D. in history in 2006 from Temple University after ten years as a graduate student. While I don't specifically work as a historian at the War College, my knowledge of history is an asset in all that I do. For my first seven years on the faculty, I was an active duty Colonel and was the Director for Army Planning in the Department of Military Strategy, Plans, and Operations. I am now the civilian Professor of Concepts and Doctrine in the Department of Academic Affairs. My other major duties include serving as a seminar faculty instructor and historian as well as participating as an instructor in electives and other courses conducted here at Carlisle. This spring I will also serve as an instructor for several different courses. In addition, I provide advice to the Department of the Army on its internal organization.

As the War College’s Professor of Concepts and Doctrine, I coordinate the review by the faculty of all Joint and Army doctrinal publications and then submit recommended improvements to the preparing authorities. I also inform the faculty on the latest doctrinal publications useful for their courses. In preparation for the congressionally mandated Process for Accreditation of Joint Education, I ensure for the Dean of Academics that our curriculum is based on that the appropriate doctrine. I have recently participated as a member of the Army working groups that revised FM 1, The Army, FM 3-0, Full-Spectrum Operations, and FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency Operations. I also attend the semi-annual Joint Doctrine Conferences and recently provided significant input to Joint Pubs 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, 3-0, Joint Operations, and 5-0, Joint Operations Planning.

As a faculty instructor, I am completely involved in the War College instruction provided to one of twenty resident course seminars. Each seminar has seventeen students representing all four military services, the reserve components, two international countries, and at least one civilian agency. While it is the Army’s War College, less than one-half of the students are from the Active Army. I serve with one instructor from each of our three teaching departments as part of a seminar teaching team, with myself as the designated seminar historian. I provide faculty advice and the final academic report for three to four of the students and serve as the Project Advisor for two or three others for their major paper, the Strategy Research Project. Every year I also serve as the faculty sponsor for the International Fellow from Romania and provide assistance in their arrival and living arrangements in Carlisle.

As the designated seminar historian, I provide the introductory history lesson and a Gettysburg Staff Ride during the initial Fundamentals of Strategic Thinking. The introductory three hour history lesson is intended to provide our students, almost all of whom are not historians, with some insights into the many types of history and the uses and abuses of history that they may encounter during the coming year. The staff ride is an all day operation in which we travel to the nearby Gettysburg National Battlefield and walk the ground in order to gain an appreciation for some of the timeless aspects of war: leadership, combined arms, personalities, friction, and courage. As one of the College’s qualified staff ride historians, I also conduct staff rides during the year to Gettysburg as well as for the Antietam Campaign for other diverse groups ranging from United Nations’ peacekeepers, an Afghani military delegation, or a local college ROTC unit.

Because of my experience and interests I also teach several lessons involving history in three of our core courses. During the Theory of War and Strategy Course we investigate the history of the use of force in the Western World dating back to the Greco-Persian Wars. In the Strategic Leadership Course we survey civil-military relations from World War II to the present. In addition, during the Implementing National Military Strategy Course, I provide specific instruction to my seminar on the current capabilities and roles of the U.S. Army. To a great extent, my expertise on the U.S. Army has been built upon my years of study of the history of that Army, which include my eight years under Professor Russell Weigley at Temple.

In addition to my work with a resident seminar, I participate in a variety of other duties. In the spring, I serve as one of three seminar lead instructors for the Campaign Analysis Course that surveys military campaigns from antiquity to the present. I provide the Roman Way of War overview lecture to all three seminars in which I analyze the Roman conduct of counterinsurgencies in Germany and Judea during the 1st Century. Three times a year I provide a presentation on Army capabilities to the Joint Force Land Component Commander’s Course conducted at Carlisle for fifteen specially selected General Officers. Similarly, I serve as the principal instructor on landpower and Army doctrine for our resident course Advanced Strategic Art Program and for the Strategists Program conducted for majors at Carlisle twice a year. In addition, I conduct annual presentations on the Army’s new Modular Force during the non-resident Distance Education Course summer phase and for our forty Senior Service College Fellows attending year-long courses at other institutions in lieu of attendance here.

During the course of my duties at Carlisle I have prepared several documents that involve history. In 1996 I conceived of a Joint Force Land Component Command Primer that detailed the history and functions of land focused commands since World War II. This pamphlet was the basis for subsequent Army and Joint doctrine and has been used by the Canadian Staff College. As the Director, Army Planning, I developed and continually update an Army Employment Data Pamphlet that is used not only at Carlisle, but also at the Air War College, the Naval War College, and the Joint Forces Staff College. In partnership with Mike Matheny, another Temple graduate student, we edited and compiled a special text for use at the War College describing and presenting a collection of American War Plans from pre-World War II to Operation DESERT STORM. In 2003 I prepared a monograph detailing the Army Component of Central Command’s functions during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and leading up to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

Due to my expertise on Army structure and doctrine I was personally selected to perform as a member of the Army Chief of Staff's Task Force Modularity from September 2003 through March 2005. On that task force I participated as the lead designer for transforming the Army from a division-based to a brigade-based organization. I relied upon all of my past education and knowledge of the history of the U.S. Army as well as my personal experience of over thirty years of Army service to develop and justify the rationale for one of the greatest changes in the U.S. Army’s structure. After the formal termination of the Task Force I have continued to provide advice to the Department of the Army for requirements and resource decisions concerning the Modular Force. Presently, I am assisting with the design for the additional units that the Army will gain as part of an announced 65,000 person increase.

In all that I do at the Army War College or for the U.S. Armed Forces I perform better because I am a military historian. While I am not a member of a traditional university history department, I employ my love and knowledge of history in a wide variety of ways to motivate students to appreciate history and to solve practical problems.


by Drew McKevitt, Ph.D. candidate

On my seventh birthday, I received a Nintendo Entertainment System. I fell in love. Now that I can lay claim to the most unique opening statement to ever grace the pages of Strategic Visions, allow me to explain why Nintendo is relevant to my short career of studying force and diplomacy in some very unorthodox ways.

I grew up in a New Jersey shore town in the 1980s. While the local setting of my childhood instilled in me quirks I’ll never outgrow (try pronouncing the word “both” with an “L,” or “Washington” with an “R”), it was larger trends of national and global—especially global—culture that shaped my young identity. I was a citizen-in-training of what Lizabeth Cohen calls the “Consumer’s Republic.” But while Cohen writes about the consumerist definitions of American citizenship in the postwar era, I was developing a different sort of citizenship: in small ways I was becoming what former Sony President Akio Morita called a “global citizen.” Enter the aforementioned Nintendo. While many of my young peers were playing with GI Joes (a tool of nationalist education if there ever was one), I was hooked on a little Italian plumber from Brooklyn named Mario who ate mushrooms and fought flying turtles. And I wasn’t the only one—by the late 1980s, Nintendo of Japan was one of the most profitable companies in the world, one of many “global” corporations based in Japan that were making tremendous profits in the American consumer market. One might argue, and I do, that the messages contained in this new medium were devoid of many the assumptions about the (American) nation-state found in other forms of popular culture at the time. While GI Joe stood in front of an enormous American flag a la George C. Scott’s Patton, national identity was ambiguous at best in Super Mario Bros.

I must have done more than play video games as a teenager because I entered St. Joseph’s University in the fall of 1998 as a biology major on a pre-med track in preparation for medical school and a financially lucrative career as a M.D. After all, I was a “smart kid,” and since no one in my family had ever graduated from college, the assumption was that “smart kids” became doctors. Two agonizing semesters of cellular and genetic biology later, I jumped ship. A lifetime of conversations with a Civil War-buff grandfather had sparked a dilettante’s interest in history, so the history department was where I landed. St. Joseph’s history department is one of the hidden treasures of the Philadelphia academic scene. Under the mentorship of Professors Katherine Sibley and Thomas Marzik, I took a number of classes in U.S. foreign relations and Russian and Soviet history. (To this day, I haven’t met anyone else with a minor from St. Joe’s in “Russian and East Central European Studies.”) Despite my naivety, they patiently guided me through the graduate school application process. I applied directly to Ph.D. programs assuming that such programs were the only way to avoid paying for my own graduate education, since I could never afford to pay for a master’s degree. I was lucky Temple accepted me and gave me a research assistantship in the now-defunct Center for Public Policy.

As a senior in college I had spent an entire year writing an honor’s thesis, fittingly titled (for a Catholic university), “The Saved, the Damned, and the Bolsheviks: A Study in Wilsonian Ideology.” I asserted that in 1917 Wilson responded to Lenin and the Bolsheviks harshly because he conflated the concepts of capitalism, democracy, and Christianity and expected newly self-determined states to fit into this vision of a free society. (Looking back, I would have had more success if I had followed the historiographic trend of coining a new word to describe Wilson’s ideology, like “Christocapitocracy.”) I planned to continue studying Wilson at Temple, and in my first two years I wrote several papers on U.S. foreign relations in the Wilson era.

Eventually my interests turned elsewhere. Along with my close personal connection to the popular culture of the 1980s, I was always fascinated by Ronald Reagan. I still remember getting choked up watching his farewell speech. Even though I was too young to understand how divisive Reagan could be, to me he was America. He spoke well, had shiny hair, looked like everyone’s grandfather, and told that guy with that thing on his head to tear down some wall. The subtitle to Gil Troy’s recent history of the U.S. in the 1980s, Morning in America, is “How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s.” To this former impressionable 9-year-old, that makes perfect sense.

Full of 80s nostalgia, I approached my advisor Richard Immerman a couple years ago about the prospects for writing a dissertation on the 1980s. While he encouraged me, he made it clear that the sort of sources that historians of U.S. foreign relations are accustomed to using—State Department materials, presidential archives, the personal papers of advisors—were nearly impossible to come by because many of those who shaped Reagan’s foreign policy remained alive, if not still in power. I would have to think of another way to get at Reagan.

Enter Nintendo—again, sort of. My younger brother was attending college as a “video game design” major (believe it or not), so he was knee-deep in the contemporary manifestation of the global video-game culture that I had soaked up as a child. His interest in video games grew to a general interest in Japanese popular culture, including the inescapable global phenomenon of Japanese animation, also known as anime. Out of curiosity I borrowed some of his anime DVDs and was instantly struck by the medium. One of the first films I watched, the 1988 Katsuhiro Otomo classic Akira, rendered a post-apocalyptic Tokyo rife with corruption, crime, fascism, revolutionary upheaval, and the political and social consequences of nuclear experimentation—hardly the stuff of children’s cartoons in the U.S. (While nearly all American animation is made for the children’s market, a great deal of anime is made for, and consumed by, Japanese adults.) Not only did I find the texts fascinating, but I soon grew interested in how this product first came to U.S. shores. Many of us who watched cartoons as children in the 1980s might remember series like Voltron and Robotech, with their ambiguous Japanese origins; they were popular, but stripped of their “Japaneseness” through the extensive editing by their American producers. What really interested me instead were the small local anime fan communities that went to great lengths to import “underground” anime and proselytize it to wider audiences. I had a list of just a few names, but it was enough to start. I eventually made contact with dozens of fans from the earliest days of U.S. “fandom,” beginning in 1977. I began writing.

The story of small groups of people in the U.S. importing foreign cultural products with evangelical zeal was interesting in itself, but it did not satisfy all the questions I was prone to ask as someone trained to write about “force and diplomacy.” Despite the tectonic historiographic shifts toward culture of recent decades, I believe that historians of U.S. foreign relations have unique insights to contribute to the historical profession based on their traditional concerns. No other subdiscipline is as well equipped to study uneven power relationships between groups of people with vast social and cultural differences—diplomatic historians have been doing so for many decades. Thus the historiographic turn toward culture in the field of U.S. foreign relations will only prove successful if it can connect newer cultural insights with the field’s traditional concern: power in the international (or transnational, or global) arena.

Therefore I naturally asked of the anime fan communities, “Where did they fit into the larger picture of U.S.-Japan relations in the 1970s and 1980s?” The story of the fan communities actually runs counter to the traditional narrative of U.S.-Japan relations during this period. That traditional narrative portrays Japan as a rising economic power (at the time many said “superpower”) challenging the U.S. for global hegemony. This stirred up, so the narrative goes, nationalistic reactions across the U.S.—everything from UAW workers smashing Toyotas with sledgehammers at union picnics to popular fiction and films like Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun. For these small anime communities in the U.S., though, the period instead witnessed increasing cultural interactions and a growing affinity for all things Japanese.

Based on subsequent research I have come to argue that during the 1970s and 1980s there were two competing (and occasionally intersecting) grand narratives of U.S.-Japan relations: the first was the louder nationalistic narrative of the “trade wars” and the “new Pearl Harbor,” as journalist Theodore White put it. The second, though, was more subtle—the narrative of globalization. In the dissertation I explore how a variety of groups in the U.S.—from business leaders and academics studying the changing nature of international business and finance to local fan clubs dedicated to anime—actually imagined Japan as the nucleus for a globalized world radically transformed by new media technologies and capitalism’s post-World War II permutations. By the 1990s these economic and cultural changes were popularly labeled “globalization.” But just as globalization achieved buzzword status in the post-Cold War era, Japan fell from economic preeminence. As the United States celebrated its Cold War “victory,” it positioned itself at the center of the emerging new world order—globalization—when in reality Americans learned what globalization meant not from their own successes but from the challenges and opportunities presented by the U.S.-Japan relationship in the 1970s and 1980s.

My attempted reevaluation of both the U.S.-Japan relationship, and our understanding of contemporary globalization, returns me to the traditional concern of historians of U.S. foreign relations: power. The two competing discourses—nationalism and globalization—ultimately concerned new understandings of power. How and why did Americans come to see Japan as a “superpower” and a threat when it lacked traditional power in terms of both force and diplomacy? My hunch is that it rested on a redefinition of what power meant in the international arena, shifting from national to transnational and global understandings of power. Japan served as the exemplar of these shifts. Caught in the middle of these global transformations were an impressionable seven-year-old and his Nintendo, marketed under the prophetic slogan: “Now you’re playing with power!”

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