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Globalization, Progress, and Race in Military Reformers’ World Observations after 1865

Johannes Nagel

Pages 651 - 677



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This article analyzes the military reform movement that emerged from the U.S. officer corps after the American Civil War. Placing this movement in its global context allows me not only to elaborate on under-researched aspects but also to address this special issue’s challenge to established dichotomies and the question about the relationship between reform and (racialized) othering. In the first section, I characterize the reformers’ milieu as conservative, but their ideas as ­anti-traditional. I relate this to an emerging global professional military culture and show that this contextualization better characterizes the military reform movement than the common association with imperialism and Progressivism, both of which stem not from a global but a national analytical framework. In the second section, I analyze how reformers compared U.S. and European developments. Although their notion of war and preparedness was Eurocentric, early reformers were aware of specific circumstances that limited the applicability of European ideas to the United States. Only towards the late nineteenth century did arguments for an outright emulation of European practices become more influential. In the third section, I look at reformers’ observations of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. This case reveals that their Eurocentrism is better described as an expression of an ideology of progress rather than essentialism.

Keywords: conservative reform; the United States in the world; Military History; practices of comparing; Eurocentrism

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