Why Fight?

What do soldiers fight for? Scholars have poured rivers of ink examining the origins and outcomes of war throughout history, but how have soldiers made sense of their own participation in armed conflict?

Dr Yiannis Kokosalakis (UCD)

Why Fight? Ideology and politics in militaries and paramilitary organisations, 1916-2001

What do soldiers fight for? Scholars have poured rivers of ink examining the origins and outcomes of war throughout history, but how have soldiers made sense of their own participation in armed conflict? On 20 February 2021, leading historians of war and conflict came together online to discuss just this question.

‘Why Fight? Politics and ideology in militaries and paramilitary organisations’ was a free, online conference hosted by History Hub and the UCD Centre for War Studies with the generous support of the National University of Ireland and organised by Dr Yiannis Kokosalakis, European Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow at UCD School of History.

Panel papers on topics including Russian Navy officers, Cypriot nationalist insurgents and Wehrmacht officers turned US Army historians were pre-recorded and can be watched below on and on History Hub’s youtube channel.

The online conference featured Q&A sessions and live keynote talks by Professor Pierre Asselin (San Diego State University) and Sönke Neitzel (University of Potsdam). Click here for the full programme.

Keynote 1: Sönke Neitzel: “What are soldiers fighting for? Remarks on the German case from the Kaiserreich to the Berlin Republic”

Keynote 2: Pierre Asselin, “‘Determined to Fight, Determined to Win’: Communist Military Strategy in the Vietnam War”

Panel on Military Identities

Jenna Byers, “The Battle for History; Identity in the Army of the First Austrian Republic”

Kirill Nazarenko, “The ideology of the ‘Old’ naval officers during the Civil War in Russia (1918-1921)”

Colin Brett Gilmour, “Symbols of the Volksgemeinschaft? Re-evaluating the Ideological Role of Orders and Decorations in the German Military during the Second World War”

Panel on Political Strategies

Sfefan Kurz, “The Austrian ‘Volkswehr as political army and factor in post-war politics”

Iaroslav Golubinov, “Between Reds and Whites: the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries government and its People Army in 1918”

Jonathan Matthews, “The Wrong War? Zionist Parties in British Mandate Palestine during WWII”

Panel on Motives and Functions of Paramilitaries

Karianne Hansen, “The Meaning of the Bunker: Examining SS paramilitary violence in the Bunker of Block 11 in KL Auschwitz

Joshua Chakawa and Tinashe Tony Chikafa, “The Strategic Logic of Using Militias for Counterinsurgency in Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation”

Efrosyni Panayiotou, “Why the Cypriots fought: The goal of Enosis and the EOKA struggle”

Panel on Ideology and Military Practice

Alan Donohue, “German Ideological Influences on American Cold War Strategy: The US Army Historical Division, 1947-1954”

Ákos Bartha, “Theory and praxis of ‘total racialism’: ‘Ragged Guard’ and KISKA auxiliary forces in Hungary (1938–1945)”

Jason Koutoufaris-Malandrinos, “Fake it till you make it: The concept of a democratic army (1916-2001)”

While the keynotes, by Sonke Neitzel and Pierre Asselin, will be given live at the webinar on February 20th, all other papers will be made available to watch here and on our Youtube channel in advance. Register for the webinar, watch the videos in advance and then join us for discussion on 20 February.

The webinar has panels on military identities, ideology and military practice, motives and functions of paramilitaries, and, political strategies. Click here for the full programme.

List of participants

Sönke Neitzel is Professor of Military History and Chair of War Studies at the University of
Potsdam. His latest book is Deutsche Krieger: Vom Kaiserreich zur Berliner Republik – eine Militärgeschichte.

Pierre Asselin is the Dwight E. Stanford Chair in the History of US Foreign Relations at San Diego State University. His latest book is Vietnam’s American War: a history.

Jenna Byers is a PhD student at King’s College, London, specialising in national identity construction in the army of the First Austrian Republic.

Kirill Nazarenko is Professor of History at Saint-Petersburg State University, specialising in the history of the Russian Navy. His latest monograph is Ledovoi Pokhod Baltiiskogo Flota: Korablekrushenie na more Revoliutsii.

Colin Brett Gilmour is Colin Gilmour recently defended his doctoral thesis at McGill University on the ideological utility of hero culture in Nazi Germany. He is currently undertaking further research into the political role of orders and decorations as vessels of “symbolic capital” in wartime society.

Alan Donohue earned his PhD in History from Trinity College and is currently an independent researcher. He is working on a monograph on the ‘forgotten year’ of the Eastern Front, 1943-1944.

Ákos Bartha is a researcher at the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Jason Koutoufaris-Malandrinos is a lawyer based in Athens and a PhD candidate in Constitutional Law at the University of Thessaloniki.

Karianne Hansen is a first-year PhD student at the Stanley Burton Center for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide, University of Leicester. Her research interests centre around the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, with a particular focus on integrating prisoner perspectives and deconstructing ‘survival’.

Joshua Chakawa is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of History of Midlands State University. He has published extensively on the war of liberation in Zimbabwe and is currently working on a book project on Security Force Auxiliaries.

Tinashe Tony Chikafa is an MA candidate in Conflict, Security and Development at the University of Sussex.

Efrosyni Panayioutou is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin. Her research interests include the modern history of Cyprus and the Mediterranean region in the context of the development of political ideas and concepts, political violence, and decolonisation.

Stefan Kurz is a research assistant at the Military History Museum/Military History Institute in Vienna and a PhD candidate at the University of Vienna. His research interests include the military history of the Habsburg Monarchy, military diplomacy, and the history of the Armed Forces of the Austrian First Republic.

Iaroslav Golubinov is a senior researcher at the Institute of History and Archaeology, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Jonathan Matthews is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research explores the way nationalist literature dealing with Irish Independence and the Easter uprising disseminated and later influenced anticolonialmovements within the British Empire.

Lior Tibet is a PhD candidate at the Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research focuses on Nazi cultural policy towards Ireland, 1933–1945.

Yiannis Kokosalakis is Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow at the UCD Centre for War Studies. He has recently completed a monograph on the rank-and-file of the Soviet communist party. His current research examines the function of political officers in the Red Army.