The Writing of American Military History: A Guide

The Writing of American Military History: A Guide: PAM 20-200

I had this idea to that writing Sports History would be similar to writing Military History. I wanted to see if anyone had had that thought before. No.
I couldn’t find a lot of info on writing Military History, but I did find this booklet published in 1956 by the US Army on

It was dry as toast and more than a little out of date, but it was interesting and I made some notes. (See below)
Some of tips I was already doing for my Bison Hoofbeats blog.

133 pages

Excerpts From My Kindle

Chapter IV: Research And Writing (page 55)

General Historical works of greatest value in military education should go beyond a simple account of past military operations or activities.They should include a critical analysis of the facts, the determination of conclusions, and if possible, the lessons to be learned from the account. According to Clausewitz, such writing should follow three steps:

  1. The historical investigation and determining of doubtful facts. This is properly historical research, and has nothing in common with theory.
  2. The tracing of effects to causes. This is the real critical inquiry; it is indispensable to theory, for everything which in theory is to be established, supported, or even merely explained, by experience can only be settled in this way.
  3. The testing of the means employed. This is criticism, properly speaking, in which praise and censure is contained. This is where theory helps history, or rather, the teaching to be derived from it.

Clausewitz elaborates on the last two steps as follows:

In these two last strictly critical parts of historical study, all depends on tracing things to their primary elements, that is to say, up to undoubted truths, and not, as is so often done, resting half-way, that is on some arbitrary assumption or supposition.
As respects the tracing of effect to cause, that is often attended with the insuperable difficulty that the real causes are not known. In none of the relations of life does this so frequently happen as in War, where events are seldom fully known, and still less motives, as the latter have been, perhaps purposely, concealed by the chief actor, or have been of such a transient and accidental character that they have been lost for history. For this reason critical narration must generally proceed hand in hand with historical investigation, and still such a want of connection between cause and effect will often present itself, that it does not seem justifiable to consider effects as the necessary results of known causes. Here, therefore, voids must occur, that is historical results which cannot be made use of for teaching. All that theory can demand is that the investigation should be rigidly conducted up to that point, and there leave off without drawing conclusions. A real evil springs up only if the known is made perforce to suffice as an explanation of effects, and thus a false importance is ascribed to it.
Besides this difficulty, critical inquiry also meets with another great and intrinsic one, which is that the progress of events in War seldom proceeds from one simple cause, but from several in common, and that it therefore is not sufficient to follow up a series of events to their origin in a candid and impartial spirit, but that it is then also necessary to apportion to each contributing cause its due weight. This leads, therefore, to a closer investigation of their nature, and thus a critical investigation may lead into what is the proper field of theory.
The critical consideration, that is the testing of the means, leads to the question, Which are the effects peculiar to the means applied, and whether these effects are comprehended in the plans of the person directing?

And then in commenting on the use of historical examples and the role of a military writer, Clausewitz summarized his views as follows:

It would be an immense service to teach the Art of War entirely by historical examples… but it would be full work for the whole life of a man, if we reflect that he who undertakes it must first qualify himself for the task by a long personal experience in actual War.
Whoever, stirred by ambition, undertakes such a task, let him prepare himself for his pious undertaking as for a long pilgrimage; let him give up his time, spare no sacrifice, fear no temporal rank or power, and rise above all feelings of personal vanity, of false shame, in order, according to the French code, to speak the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.
1 Clausewitz, op. cit. I, page 130.

– location 988–1016

As the facts or data are recorded, many comments and ideas regarding those facts will come to mind—points regarding their significance and accuracy, interpretations of their meaning and relationship to other facts, and other such generalizations. These thoughts about the facts should be recorded at once on the same card rather than trusting to memory, for often a long time elapses between note taking and the actual writing of the paper- To avoid later confusion, the author should clearly indicate the facts and his own comments. – location 1130–1134

Few men engaged in battle have any clear conception of what is going on, although with modern developments in communications it appears that the fog of war has lessened, at least for unit commanders. – location 1162–1164

No statement should ever be torn out of its context. The propagandist’s technique of quoting statements, or fragments of statements, out of their context is well known, and is abjured by all reputable writers. But one should be careful not to apply his own preconceptions or subconscious prejudices to his sources in order to elicit the conclusions he thinks he ought to reach. – location 1181–1184

Final Steps Before Writing

Now that the writer has chosen a subject, developed a bibliography, studied his material, organized his notes, and subjected his data to critical analysis, there are a few final steps to be taken before writing the draft. He should make a final check to make sure that no important sources have been overlooked. – location 1221–1223

For economy of effort, writing should begin before research is complete. Nothing else reveals so clearly those areas where research is ample and those where further investigation is needed. The gaps may be passed over and filled in later. Many authors find it practicable to begin writing at a point where their research is about half-way complete, but no final rule can be applied to every project. One experienced historian says that he begins to write when he is first able to “see” his subject, that is, when its main outlines take definite form in his mind. For flexibility in adding, deleting, and rearranging material, loose-leaf form should be used. – location 1246–1250

A military historian of current events is frequently only doing basic research for a future historian. He should, therefore, try to anticipate requirements of the future historian. This means that he must secure information that answers the questions: “What was done?” “How was it done?” “Why was it done?” – location 1341–1343

About craigmaas

I do a little web design work and support a couple web sites and blogs. My primary focus is lighting and energy consulting where I use a number of computer tools to help my customer find ways of saving money and improving their work environment. See my web site for more information:
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