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- History - general
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- RAN Ships
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- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The King-Hall Conference provides a forum for the consideration of naval matters within an historical context. Inviting a variety of speakers to contribute their collective voices encourages us to consider, and actively engage with them in debate. Most importantly, such conferences remind us that we are history, and that we must constantly look at how history remembers specific events, and further, our need to re-examine and re-assess that knowledge and then determine how best to apply it to contemporary issues.
The premise that history should never go unchallenged and should always be open to further debate became the predominant, and, recurring parallel theme of the 2005 King Hall Conference entitled, Sea Power Ashore and in the Air. This year’s conference attracted a fascinating and exciting group of guest speakers and a significant increase in the number of attendees. One hopes that this increased interest is indicative of the desire to understand and appreciate the knowledge we share, the wish to move forward and adapt to an ever-changing world, which is nowhere more apparent, than in the defence setting.
What is the role of the historian in contemporary naval matters? Within this context Professor Lambert posed the question, `How do we use history?’ It was suggested that in terms of strategy, one of our major flaws has been to forget the lessons already learned. He said, `that lessons lost lead to failure on all counts and that this distorts history and becomes a weakness’. To illustrate, he cited the Battle of Trafalgar and the reluctance of current military minds to contemplate its lessons as relevant today. His point though is valid. Although the nature of warfare has changed significantly since Trafalgar, it is the broad contextual lessons which are important to us today rather than the specifics of the event. Since we fail to make this significant distinction in our thinking and planning, if such lessons are considered only to be of academic interest, we lose a valuable resource.
Professor Lambert went on to say, `that how we think is what matters, not what we know’. Therefore, the question follows, how can we apply what we know? This is where the historian plays a significant and vital role, not only in the recording and telling of history, but also in the shaping of current, and future, military strategy. The historian reminds us of the lessons already learned. However, Professor Lambert advised that a watchful eye must always temper this in itself, therefore ensuring that a `repackaging of history to suit specific agendas’ ((As suggested by Professor Andrew Lambert, King’s College London, in his Keynote Address at the 2005 King-Hall Conference.)) does not colour the facts.
Collectively, the other presentations examined the way in which the symbiotic relationships, which exist between sea, air and land defence strategies, have influenced the course of military history. Commodore David Farthing ((Commodore David Farthing, DSC, RAN (Rtd), Barrister at Law, Commander 3rd Contingent RANHFV, President Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia, His presentation paper was entitled, The RAN and air mobile operations in Vietnam.)) in his paper highlighted the long-term effects of discarding unpopular professional advice and the need to preserve and examine our historical lessons again. He reminded us, that by using history as a critical tool we become aware of the pitfalls which wait, should we choose to follow well-worn and weary paths. However, without critical re-examination, that is exactly what we do.
Dr Andrew Dorman ((Dr. Andrew Dorman, King’s College London, presenting the paper, Projecting sea power ashore and in the air: the challenges for medium navies in the Post Cold War world.)) postulated that the big picture consideration is `how we learn things and how we remember them is what is important i.e. knowledge, experience, lessons’. It was suggested that even our most contemporary memories are sometimes overshadowed and forgotten in our haste to move forward. One of the fundamental things we fail to recognise is that, in order to move forward and grow, we need to constantly look over our shoulder and see what has gone on before. That the military chooses a tunnel vision that sees only the future, is limiting and ultimately, self-defeating. In his summation, Commodore James Goldrick neatly tied together the individual papers and reiterated this when he commented that, `the Navy has a pre-occupation with the present which can he a weakness’. This comment brings us back yet again to the common refrain that history is a vital tool in planning and strategy, which the military has taken for granted.