Military Professionalism and the Tuition of Military History in the South African National Defence Force: an Historical Perspective

Visser, G. E. (1997)

The original publication is available at http://scientiamilitaria.journals.ac.za/pub

Journal Article

From an occupational point of view, the study of military history serves three main purposes. Firstly, military history is used in a practical or utilitarian fashion to foster esprit de corps or to derive military lessons from past wars. Secondly, military history, like other subjects, is studied at tertiary level for its educational value. In the third place, and in a way linked to both the aforementioned functions, knowledge of military history is an important element of military professionalism. The management of violence, which has traditionally been considered the unique (professional) skill of military officers, is in a continuous process of development and it is generally accepted that the military professional must have some knowledge and understanding of the historical development of that process in order to keep pace with his/her profession. The issue is how much knowledge of military history does the military officer require to be a true professional, and on which level must military history be studied for that purpose? From a scientific point of view, true military professionalism would demand the study of military history at university level, so as to enable the military officer to approach the subject with full knowledge of both its potential and its limitations. In view of its perceived occupational value, military history is indeed taught on various levels at military training and educational establishments throughout the world. In South Africa, military history has been taught on various officers' courses since the days of the Union Defence Force. It was initially taught on a more utilitarian level, but since the inception of the Military Academy in 1950, also on university level. Military History, with its main emphasis on the evolution of warfare through the ages, was initially seen as a cornerstone of military education and was a compulsory subject for all undergraduate courses at the Military Academy. Since the early 1960s, however, the emphasis on Military History declined to the point where it is currently no longer a compulsory subject for any course at the Military Academy. Military history also received very little systematic attention at other military training establishments in South Africa until 1996, when a process was started to introduce meaningful tuition of military history at the various SANDF Colleges as part and parcel of officers' development. However, the fact that Military History is not a compulsory subject at the Military Academy, suggests that there is still no full recognition of the value of military history and its relationship to military professionalism within the South African National Defence Force. Military History should be re-introduced as compulsory' subject for all undergraduate students at the Military Academy. This will satisfy the demand of true military professionalism for military history to be studied at an academic level and will provide the SANDF with a pool of qualified officers to optimize the teaching of military history at other SANDF training establishments. Military professionalism will thus be enhanced throughout the Defence Force and SANDF members enabled to maintain themselves in an international milieu where a sound knowledge of military history is accepted as an ipso facto component of the accoutrements of the military professional.

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