If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development. – Aristotle
What role does military history play in understanding the world around us? In an age when our all-volunteer armed forces seem increasingly separate from civilian society, and we from those men and women who serve our country, military history might seem a niche subject in the standard Social Studies curriculum, and perhaps not an essential one in the age of No Child Left Behind. But in reality, such a situation is far from the case. As Aristotle knew, it is difficult to understand the present without knowing what came before, and much of who and what we are as a nation and a people has undeniably been formed by conflict.
Why is awareness of our military heritage an important component of education? It is not just about reciting a litany of battle statistics and weapons technology. Understanding past mistakes can facilitate more informed decisions about the present. Studying military history provides a lens into understanding concepts such as service, dedication, devotion to duty larger than oneself, cooperation, conflict and conflict resolution, and sacrifice. A quick glance at current events on the national and international stage suggests that such skills are sorely lacking and much needed in our contemporary society.
The Delaware Military Heritage & Education Foundation (DMHEF) is a private nonprofit incorporated in 2005 with a mission to Honor and Preserve Delaware’s Military Heritage. DMHEF firmly believes that military history is an intrinsic component to understanding how our society developed, and our organization is working to ensure that audiences of all ages learn about Delaware’s military past. In terms of secondary education, military history can be used to engagingly address Delaware state standards in subjects like economics, civics, and democracy; explore technological changes through times as a means of teaching math and science skills; and be used as an essential component in cultivating leadership skills.
As an organization still in the formative stages of development, DMHEF currently has four elements that comprise the core of its education program:
- The Student Leadership Seminar for high school students brings together speakers from the business, nonprofit and military worlds to explore concepts related to leadership.
- Our Speakers into High School Classrooms program promotes interactions between students and servicemen and women. Sometimes the best way to learn about a subject is first-hand. We work with public and private schools as well as junior ROTC programs to bring soldiers, veterans, and people involved in military support agencies into classroom to talk with students about their experiences.
- The Military History Lecture Series brings to Delaware an annual slate of speakers to discuss topics that cover a broad range of military history. On September 22, our next speaker, Kevin J. Weddle, Ph.D., of the US Army War College will explore the life and career of unsung Civil War Naval hero Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont.
- Public Events and Reenactments: Each year DMHEF sponsors outdoor events and military history days that include reenactment units, military maneuvers and artillery demonstrations, performances of patriotic and American music, activities for families and children, as well as a chance for military support and resource organizations to meet with the public.
Over the last 350 years, Delaware has had a strong connection to military service. Today, our men and women in uniform remain a vital presence in our state as well as an economic force, and those who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country begin their final journey home at Dover Air Force Base. From the beginning of recorded time, humankind has chosen to sometimes resolve conflicts through warfare and will continue to do so—we can and should learn from these experiences. Military history provides a lens to examine multiple messy aspects of humanity with the ultimate goal of better understanding ourselves and the society in which we live.
Stephanie Przybylek is the Executive Director of the Delaware Military Heritage & Education Foundation.