Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Dissertation: Roman Lessons for Afghan Counterinsurgents

The Dissertation: Roman Lessons for Afghan Counterinsurgents I spent a lot of my time as an undergraduate studying the Roman campaigns in ancient Britain. As I read the accounts of Caesar and Tacitus, I was always struck by the obvious parallels between the Roman campaigns in Britain and modern campaigns in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. I've wanted to write a lengthy paper on the subject for several years now, and I got started on it in 2010. I've done some more work on it since I've returned from the Middle East, and I think that it has the potential to be a good dissertation topic, if it can be made relevant to current strategic thought.

My goal is to present a detailed survey of the Roman campaigns in Britain from Caesar to the end of Julius Agricola's tenure, followed by a brief outline of the last two hundred years of Afghan history, then compare and contrast the two. I'll conclude with relevant observations from the Roman campaigns that should be applied to the campaign in Afghanistan. The introduction will include an explanation of the contemporary relevance of seemingly obsolete examples from ancient history, and the first major section will offer some historical context to the Roman foray into Britain.

Sourcing will be interesting. I wrote a long paper in 2003 about the Roman campaigns in Britain, so I'll be drawing extensively from that - both the format and the sources. Unfortunately, I drew from several loosely reliable web sources, including a nascent Wikipedia, so I'll need to review my more credible sources to ensure accuracy in the parts I'll be including. With respect to ancient sources, I have and will make copious use of The Annals, Histories, and of course The Agricola, all by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus. Of course, Caesar's dispatches from Gaul are a critical resource, and several relevant sections can be quoted from Suetonius. Good modern sources on Roman Britain include the works of R.G. Collingwood and H.H. Scullard, and a fantastic book by Ramon Jimenez about Caesar's campaigns. The Jimenez book will be especially helpful with respect to identifying additional sources.

My recital of recent Afghan history won't have to be as exacting, as it has been covered in exhausting detail elsewhere. One potential source of articles will be the Middle East and South Asia section of the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office website. There are a handful of other great websites run by a variety of military and military-affiliated institutions, but the actual narrative about Afghanistan isn't the most critical element of the paper - in fact, the Afghan connection may be dropped altogether, given the impending precipitous withdrawal and the fact that I'll be completing this dissertation in the waning months of the campaign.

I'm an extremely good writer, but I'm not sure that even I can convince my dissertation advisors that this topic is relevant to modern strategy. Regardless, this paper will be written, by hook or by crook.

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