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Correlation vs. Causation from the High- to the Late- Middle Ages (1000-1500)

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Correlation vs. Causation from the High- to the Late- Middle Ages (1000-1500)

A comparative book review of
Castles, Battles and Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History by Jurgen Brauer and Hubert van Tuyll and Battle: A History of Culture and Combat by John Lynn

Nicole Campagnola
0774953

HIST*2040 (DE) W13
Professor Davison
March 31, 2013

Despite proven facts and primary sources, historical investigation always has an element of subjectivity. Each historian has a different perspective, and focuses on different events and principles. Different historians and authors will often reflect upon the work of their peers, so an educated reader has the opportunity to decrease bias by expanding the list of sources that information comes from. Information that is accurately cited from appropriate sources does not always have a concrete and inarguable conclusion. There will always be differentiations based on the perspective that the author is striving to communicate, and the original intent behind their research.
Castles, Battles and Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History by Jurgen Brauer (an economist) and Hubert van Tuyll (a historian) focuses on historical events with the foundation of economic principles, and uses these principles to explain past military decisions and strategies. Battle: A History of Culture and Combat by John Lynn argues that most historians have mistakenly defined styles of warfare and resulting successes based on technological advancements in weaponry, when in reality the conceptual advantages are what set them ahead, with technological advancements merely being an application of strategic developments. He also emphasizes that culture is the root of the military decisions and that different approaches, mentalities and technological advancements are results of the culture. Both authors humbly acknowledge that the approach that they are taking is merely another perspective, and not necessarily superior to previous analyses. These two books are written from very different perspectives; however, they are not fundamentally conflicting. It is possible to use either of these perspectives to further support the other, as they complement one another. The synergy achieved by these two books creates an even stronger proposition, which is visible through application of opportunity cost and asymmetric information analyses to three of the cultural realms – societal, military, and strategic – from the High Middle Ages to the Late Middle Ages (1000-1500). By applying neo-classical economics to the cultural investigation of this era, it is possible to better understand the “how” and “why” of historical war than if only one of these two perspectives was used. Prior to analysis, it is important to define the principles that are being considered. Rather than simple a dictionary definition, it would be decidedly apposite to also use the descriptions that are provided by these authors, as they will better reflect their application. Lynn introduces the three cultural realms that he believes are focused on most often: societal, military, and strategic. Societal culture implies a study of society norms, and Lynn states that “many aspects of societal culture impact upon the military”, identifying religion and masculinity as examples of this cultural realm. Throughout the time frame being studied, however, he identifies several more examples, such as tradition, law and upbringing. Wayne E. Lee, an author who uses Lynn’s book Battle as a foundation, states that “societal culture encompasses not only the silent assumptions that common soldiers bring with them from society into military, but also the public’s expectations and values about war that form the environment”, exhibiting this aspect as an inseparable and essential part of thoroughly understanding military history.
Lynn identifies military culture as a separate cultural realm, despite it being largely impacted by the societal culture. He addresses this term as a method of identifying “ways in which different armed forces do things in different ways for reasons that are not simply dictated by reality”. Lynn broadens this term to include conceptions of war, as he repeatedly emphasizes this as a major contribution to victory in battle.
Although there is certainly less concentration regarding the realm of strategic culture, Lynn still defines it as a crucial element when examining the cultural impact on war, and that it derives from “civil values and practices as well as from military conceptions and capabilities”. He also identifies that it encompasses both societal and military cultures, and that it goes hand in hand with the identification of societal and military aspects to make a broader conclusion about the historical situation. This foundation is where Brauer and Tuyll’s economic studies will be directly applicable, as they often identify different strategic applications through a further understanding of economic principles. The concept of decisions being made in the war is not argued; it is apparent that the planning and implementation of war requires choices. These authors use this idea to pinpoint a direct correlation to economics, defining it as the analysis of decision making. Specific to the time period being considered, Brauer and Tuyll focus on two main economic principles – although it is important to note that in most cases, multiple elements of economics can be applicable. The first of these is the principle of opportunity cost, which is found in the study of the High Middle Ages (1000-1300). This concept is that all wants face constraints, and “choosing, and pursuing, any one want necessarily entails not choosing, not pursuing, one’s other wants”. Every purchase one makes is money not spent on another thing, and time spent at work is time not spent relaxing. Opportunity cost suggests that one will choose the most valuable option, as it provides the greatest benefit when chosen and the greatest cost when not chosen. This does not always mean the most desirable cost – which is important to note as it is likewise the case in some military decisions – but merely the one with the least cost. Therefore, despite one’s preference to be at home relaxing with family members, there would be a greater cost to not having a job, than to working a job to earn money to provide that relaxing, family-oriented environment. The authors also insert a quote from Eisenhower, identifying that every financial investment towards war is therefore money not spend feeding the hungry or clothing the poor. Every decision made comes with an infinite number of decisions not made. This is easily visible in warfare, as the very decision to go to war is an inevitable opportunity cost. The pros must outweigh the cons, the advantage must outweigh the disadvantage, and the potential with fighting must be greater than the potential without fighting. Although Brauer and Tuyll focus on the Renaissance period of 1300-1600, this time frame overlaps with Lynn’s study of the Late Middle Ages, and therefore the economic applications within this case can still be useful for this comparison. The economic principle applied is the concept of asymmetric information, specifically hidden actions. These are actions that pose dilemmas following a decision or commitment that has already been made; first believing one thing, only to discover later that there was deception. This principle focuses on acting truthfully after trust has already been given regarding a situation. One basic example provided mentions taking one’s vehicle to a mechanic to fix squeaky breaks. If they quote the repairs to be $400, knowing that there is an alternative repair that only costs $40, they are not acting truthfully and providing asymmetric information. Therefore, efforts are generally taken to reduce the possibility of hidden actions, especially regarding major decisions. Basic examples include putting security tags on merchandise in stores to reduce the possibility of theft, or monitoring employee action on computers at work. One specific example used is provided by textbook authors Katz and Rosen, regarding the manufacturing of explosives in the nineteenth century. To ensure that employees were taking appropriate manufacturing precautions, the owner’s family home would be located right next to the plant. Throughout the history of war, and specifically in this time period case study, military decisions were made to reduce that possibility of hidden actions and consequential negative results. Despite the fact that the cases studied in these two novels are not identical, the time frames in which they take place do overlap, and therefore the evidence of both the need to understand culture and to understand economics is visible. Brauer and Tuyll actually introduce this connection between the two themselves, stating that an understanding of culture generates powerful social strictures and provides a foundation regarding what economic principles will be most prevalent and what can be expected as a result. The study of the High Middle Ages is executed from an economics perspective, specifically opportunity cost. This time period displays a large focus on the construction of elaborate castles, many times with great sacrifices of labour, finances (often through taxation), and other substitutes that the resources used could have been applied to. The overall cost was undoubtedly extreme – there was rarely an abundance of resources that could simply be applied to building more castles – every decision made to invest in castles meant a significant sacrifice somewhere else. The study that these authors conduct focuses mostly on the decisions made to invest in castles as opposed to armies. Opportunity cost means that the benefits of building castles must outweigh the benefits of investing in armies, and likewise the costs of investing in armies must outweigh the costs of building castles. Specific facts and figures are not what are necessary to prove that these two books support each other, however it is interesting to note the obvious costs of both options. This case focuses largely on Edward I, known specifically for the extravagant castles he invested in, and the taxation and labour required to construct them. The average building time of an elaborate castle was roughly two seasons of six or seven months each, whereas Edward I’s castles rarely took less than five seasons. The number of workers required on just one castle was a significant portion of the population, and often meant that people had to be brought in from faraway locations. Having such a large percentage of the population working manual labour to build the castle meant that these people were not in other occupations, such as farmer or blacksmith. The cost of armies on the other hand included many similar investment costs – finances, planning, labour and organization – however the costs are more long-term. As the authors identify, there are two separate costs of armies: “the actual expense of raising and maintaining armies and their limited utility, that is, the opportunity cost compared with that of the castle”. The cost of building castles was often more than what could be afforded financially, yet history shows today that that despite this large investment, opportunity cost implies that this was still a better option than armies. This is reflected in one sense in the long-term observation: castles took a significant number of people to build but then a much smaller number to guard afterwards. Armies on the other hand require a steadily large number of people. Castles also were built to be impenetrable, and Edward’s castles were impervious to the military machinery of the day. This is also reflected in potential situations: unless the army was significantly stronger than its opponent they would not even attempt the fight, and if a fight were to occur the weaker army would often just retreat behind the walls. This is where a cultural understanding becomes crucial to truly interpret all the information about historical military events. Even an entirely accurate analysis of finances or military tactics does not fully explain why and how decisions were made. In order to truly understand this, information regarding societal, military and strategic culture should be applied. In this specific case, castles already begin to make more sense when the military culture of using castles to hide from war altogether is explained. The huge sums spent on war also elevate its importance overall, and the investment in castles both as a resource for war and a fortress that directly showed the military ideas of the ruler are elements of the military culture which support the study of opportunity cost further. The societal culture in comparison to today helps to put things into perspective. Understanding that relative to the culture at the time, the scale of war was actually tremendous both in resources consumed as expenses of war and also through the destruction inflicted by war. Recognizing that tradition was an important value in society, and therefore the building of castles served as far more than simply a tool of war but a visible element of regal recognition, and the advantages of historical recognition in the tangible form of a royal building versus stories of armies were many. Acknowledging that the taxation system was less efficient than today and therefore provided fewer resources, accounts for why it was easier to invest in a castle which would often be budgeted ahead of time and result in predetermined upkeep costs rather than an army. Understanding the consequences for treason helps to explain how the costs of potential hidden actions when hiring architects and designers to develop the building of the castle still did not exceed the benefits. It was necessary for them to keep quiet about strategic secrets, and yet when it is understood that it was with the weight of their own lives it resulted in being hardly an issue. Many of the elements of economic application to history require a thorough understanding of the culture at the time in order to further support and interpret the situations. Just as the application of culture is useful for the study of economics, applying Brauer and Tuyll’s perspective to the case studied by Lynn is also beneficial. Lynn focuses on cultural aspects that were held with high regard in the Middle Ages, specific to knights, rather than castles and armies. There were many qualities directly associated with that of knights, such as chivalry and courage. Honour was correlated with these two qualities, and “men could fight for no other reason than to avoid any suspicion of cowardice. In fact, a sense of masculine honour led to the common, almost casual nature of violence”. As the stereotype of defending damsels in distress implies, knights were expected to defend those who were more defenseless than they were. However, even more important was their role to defend those of the noble class. Societal culture directed a lot of the mannerisms and behaviours that were evident when historically examining the actions of these men. Culture was also defined through war, as it was regarded as a source of wealth through plunder. Understanding that the military culture of this era was more often about what could be gained, so much so that “some troops fought for nothing else but what they could take on campaign”, provides a foundation for analyzing opportunity cost of the warfare in this time period. What could be gained in plundering would be considered a higher valued attribute. It was also a common tactic to gradually weaken an enemy, often through impoverishing the subjects, which could sometimes be achieved before defeat through demanded ransoms. Again, strategic culture is visible throughout each of these details, which are only a fraction of the examples given by Lynn to describe the culture of this era. Each of these details provides foundation to defend the potential economic analyses that could take place based on the information that Lynn has already provided. For example, the potential of opportunity cost could be investigated further regarding the situation of plundering. Perhaps an enemy is on equivalent standing ground as far as power and threat, but they have a lot of tangible and financial rewards to gain if defeated; then perhaps their lack of advantage in military is not enough of a cost for the army to hold back versus fighting. The economic principal of hidden actions through asymmetric information could potentially be studied regarding bias in defense as a knight; whether or not duty to protect the noble actually overpowered desire to protect one’s own loved ones. Ultimately there is no right or wrong application until facts have been considered in detail, but if these economic principles were applied it would provide better understanding of why the decisions were made and possibly how they were implemented.
The application of any economic principle requires consideration of all variables; therefore, in the case of an economic application to any historical event, all areas of possibility and probability must be acknowledged. To apply solely economic analyses to history without also applying detailed information on the societal, military and the strategic culture of the nation under observation can still be accurate, but the addition of these elements will make the proposition stronger. Likewise, many historians have studied societal, military and strategic elements of culture without the application of economics, which can similarly result in a fully accurate and insightful perspective; however, appropriate utilization of economic theories can strengthen the argument and widen comprehension. By combining both the perspective that Lynn has taken regarding cultural analysis and conceptual theories, with the perspective that Brauer and Tuyll have taken in applying economic theories, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. Historical information can be interpreted further with a greater understanding of different valuable aspects. These two approaches to historical investigation are both strong independent of one another; however one is not necessarily better than the other, and combined, they could have an even greater result.

Works Cited

Brauer, Jurgen, and Hubert van Tuyll. Castles, Battles and Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, Kindle Edition.
Katz, Michael L., and Harvey S. Rosen. Microeconomics. Homewood: Irwin, 1991.
Lee, Wayne E. "Mind and Matter - Cultural Analysis in American Military History: A Look at the State of the Field." The Journal of American History, 2007: 1116-1142.
Lynn, John A. Battle: A History of Culture and Combat. New York: Boulder, 2003, Kindle Edition.
Roland, Alex. "Volume 39, Number 4, Spring 2009." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2009: 569-570.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Roland, Alex. "Volume 39, Number 4, Spring 2009." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2009: 569-570
[ 2 ]. Lee, Wayne E. "Mind and Matter - Cultural Analysis in American Military History: A Look at the State of the Field." The Journal of American History, 2007: 1120
[ 3 ]. Lynn, John A. Battle: A History of Culture and Combat. New York: Boulder, 2003, Kindle Edition. Loc. 229
[ 4 ]. Ibid., Loc. 237
[ 5 ]. Brauer, Jurgen, and Hubert van Tuyll. Castles, Battles and Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, Kindle Edition. Loc. 399
[ 6 ]. Ibid., Loc. 531
[ 7 ]. Ibid., Loc. 557
[ 8 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1334
[ 9 ]. Ibid., Loc. 997
[ 10 ]. Katz, Michael L., and Harvey S. Rosen. Microeconomics. Homewood: Irwin, 1991: 626
[ 11 ]. Brauer and Tuyll, Castles, Battle and Bombs. Loc. 1038
[ 12 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1465
[ 13 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1471
[ 14 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1709
[ 15 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1392
[ 16 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1294 &1392
[ 17 ]. Ibid., Loc. 1226
[ 18 ]. Lynn, Battles. Loc. 1980
[ 19 ]. Ibid., Loc. 2121
[ 20 ]. Ibid., Loc. 2130 & 2166

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