Russell F. Weigley

By Levitt, Martin L. | Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Russell F. Weigley


Levitt, Martin L., Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society


2 JULY 1930 . 3 MARCH 2004

RSSELL FRANK WEIGLEY was the preeminent American nilitary historian of the twentieth century, and arguably the most distinguished scholar at Temple University during his long career there. Weigley was born on 2 July 1930 in Reading, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. from Albright College in 1952, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1953 and 1956 respectively. His Ph.D. dissertation was written under the supervision of Roy F. Nichols, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, himself among the best historians of his generation.

Professor Weigley began his career in academia with short appointments at the University of Pennsylvania (1956-58) as instructor, and at Drexel University (then the Drexel Institute of Technology) as assistant professor (1958-60) and subsequently associate professor (1960-62). In 1962 Weigley was appointed as assistant professor to the faculty at Temple University, where he spent the remainder of his career. He was tenured in 1965. In 1985, Weigley was named Distinguished University Professor, the highest honor the university can bestow on a faculty member. Only a handful of Temple faculty have received this honor. It has been described as "Temple's crème de la crème, [who] are chosen in consultation with the Educational Policies Committee of the Board of Trustees in recognition of outstanding scholarship."

Professor Weigley distinguished himself in his scholarship and his teaching. His books included the influential Towards an American Army: Military Thought from Washington to Marshall (Columbia University Press, 1962), and The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (Macmillan, 1973). These remarkable texts surveyed the nature of civil-military relations and the establishment of military power under uniquely American circumstances. Among other ideas, Weigley explored the political ambivalence that an increasingly powerful American military engendered in a democratic society; moreover, Weigley was interested in the growth of the American officer corps, which was established under circumstances so different from those of the contemporaneous European models that were the most respected in the world; the role of the military as an extension of American imperialism; nationalism and (the failure of) diplomacy; and the military as both agent and product of increasing American world power during the twentieth century. Weigley also wrote a seminal history of the army, History of the United States Army (Macmillan, 1967), still considered a classic survey, and Elsenhower's lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany 1944-1945 (Indiana University Press, 1981). The latter, one of five finalists for the American Book Award in 1982, argued that American military leaders in Europe at the close of World War II "lacked a clear conception of war." Weigley's writing did not romanticize war, however, as the newsletter Strategic Visions recounted: "In addition to meticulous research, compelling arguments, and crisp, graceful prose, Weigley's writings were permeated by a strong moral element. . . . 'Armies,' he once told a classroom of shocked undergraduates, 'are simply state-organized instruments of mass murder.'" Nonetheless, Weigley's graduate classes were routinely populated by active-duty American military officers eager to study with Dr. Weigley.

Professor Weigley's 2001 book, A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865, won the Lincoln Prize as the best book of that year related to Lincoln or the Civil War. As he often did, in the introduction to this volume Professor Weigley recounted how his childhood visits to Gettysburg had sparked his interest in military history. He wrote there, "The battleground of Gettysburg offers the bright face of a vacation destination at noontime, but there is always a chill in the air nevertheless, and at dawn or dusk the emanations from too much violence, suffering and killing become palpable. …

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