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Keynote speaker Sir Hew Strachan talks to the audience on Thursday night

Photographer: Adam Birkan


Nicholas Lambert (standing) makes a point while the other members of the Outbreak of War panel look on during Friday's session

Photographer: Adam Birkan


War and Military Change panelist Michael Neiberg talks at the podium while the other panelists listen on Friday

Photographer: Adam Birkan

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Baker Peace Conference speaker breaks down World War I strategies

Author and historian Sir Hew Strachan kicked off the 2014 Baker Peace Conference with his keynote speech, "Military Operations & National Policies, 1914-1918," at Baker University Center Ballroom on Thursday evening.

Strachan, one of the world's most renowned World War I experts, is the Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford and has been a Fellow of All Souls College since 2002.

Contemporary History Institute Director Steven Miner joked that the Baker Peace Conference Committee deliberated for all of two minutes before deciding that Strachan was the perfect choice as the keynote speaker.

"We thought it would be proper to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war," Miner said. "He (Strachan) is the foremost living authority in the world on the First World War."

During his welcome speech, Miner said World War I was a turning point because it was a change in military technology and diplomacy and it ushered the United States in as a world power.

Throughout his talk, Strachan shared details of the strategies and tactics in play during what many historians consider the first modern war.

"We're accustomed to seeing the coordination of military operations and national policy in the First World War in terms of civil-military relations," Strachan said.

Strachan said one of the problems when you discuss civil-military relations, particularly in the United States, is you have to consider the thoughts of author Sam Huntington in his 1957 book, "Soldier of the State." The book assumes that the norm is that the military should be subordinated to civilian control.

"The First World War was waged by recognizably modern states, which should in the Huntingtonian norm have soldiers who understood that war is the continuation of policy by other means," Strachan said. "Therefore in the Huntingtonian argument, soldiers should be subordinated to political control."

Strachan said World War I was a war in which monarchs didn't command their armies in the fields. Instead, it was a war waged by cause with constitutions sufficiently advanced to make their governments accountable to their people, even if they were not fully fledged democracies.

"The point remains that civil authority was more to blame from the exercise of military command than it had been," Strachan said. "The problem of political inspection and conduct of operations was not something that concerned Frederick the Great or Napoleon, both of whom united civil and military authority."

Strachan said the tension in civil-military relations set the tone for several memoirs, including a famous one by former German Field Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg.

"The point I want to make is that the emphasis on civil-military relations too often misses a key point," Strachan said. "The reason we get agitated about civil-military relations is because we are concerned to find an effective means which enable us to harness military power for national ends."

Strachan said it is not about producing the optimal solution for domestic order in peacetime, it is about the business of how to wage war. He said to judge how these things are done, we need to think about the character of the First World War itself.

"We need to think about the dynamic created by the War, which involved all sides in an interactive and escalatory spiral, as opposed to an internal domestic dynamic that is specific to each belligerent," he said.

Strachan said the later entrants in the War entered because of alliance obligations, local and regional considerations, and desires to achieve frontier rectifications (ex. claim your neighbor’s land). He said policy and the conduct of war are all convergent paths if the issue is national survival.

"France in 1917-18 coined the phrase 'total war,' refrained specifically to the mobilization of the entire nation for the sake of national survival," Strachan said. "My point is that the ends, the objects of this war, were not divisive of civil-military relations. What was divisive and caused friction was the means to the end, the business of making strategies."

He added that civil militarizations in Democratic states are not means to themselves, they are means to enable the effective formulation of strategy. It was that business of making strategy, which caused friction, because there was more than one way to bring military operations and national policy into harmony.

Baker Peace Conference panelist Kimberly Jensen of Western Oregon University said Strachan's speech was both informative and applicable to today's world.

"One of the great things about the speech was that he invited us to think about big picture issues that involved World War I, but also apply it to our own day," Jensen said. "What is the role of the military? Do we want a military in place all the time or do we want to have civil and political authorities in charge of that. It's a compelling question that we are facing today as well."

Miner also said he appreciated the important message that Strachan delivered.

"He talked about civil-military relations and the formulation of grand strategy and how democracies work as opposed to authoritarian regimes," Miner said. "I thought it was a well-thought out lecture and received a good audience response. It was a great way to start a conference."

On Friday, the Baker Peace Conference concluded with three panel discussions that addressed the origins of war, social change during the war with special regards to women and military change caused by World War I.

The Contemporary History Institute annually hosts the Baker Peace Conference to analyze how peace can be established and maintained throughout the world. It was established in 1984 and is funded by the John and Elizabeth Baker Peace Studies Endowment.