Historians often face difficulties in naming events, including wars.
Although many people assume that events simply occur, historians are acutely aware that “events” are socially and culturally constructed. Historians have to grapple with the difficulties of arbitrarily determining when an “event” starts and finishes within a broader continuum of changes over time.
Ideally, the historical emplotment of each “event” is carefully crafted, with each choice in designating an “event” justified by a careful consideration of diverse documents and perspectives. Yet, even when care is used, the construction of an “event” (whether fistfight, protest, train wreck, market day, stock market crash, court trial, or battle) is a creative act by observers and historians.
Andrew Bacevich, Professor of History at Boston University, considers the problems of naming wars in a recent piece on TomDispatch. The historical construction of wars as “events” is incredibly complicated, since wars often involve entire societies and incredibly complex social dynamics.
This piece was reposted on HNN.