Last week marked the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season schedule in North America. (The season actually started on March 22 in Australia when the Los Angeles Dodgers played the Arizona Diamondbacks for two games at the Sydney Cricket Ground.) As a big baseball fan I find this most welcome, particularly after the Northeast’s snowy winter, but as someone who covers national and international security issues for a living this got me to thinking once again about a topic that I have been pondering for years: how a nation’s sporting culture and its military culture – or parts of its military culture – have interconnections. Back in 2011 I talked with Carl Prine on his old Line of Departure blog about this topic, but military.com has taken that blog and all of its contents down. So I thought I would rehash some of that discussion, and new thoughts, here.
Now to start, one must of course caveat any discussion like this with the obvious, sports are not war and war is not a sport. Colin Agee had a good letter to the editor in the Washington Post last weekarguing eloquently about the issue he took when journalists and professional athletes use martial analogies to describe their sports. Yet there is a difference, in my mind at least, between comparing what highly paid athletes do in a sporting arena to war and using deeply enculturated sporting cultures to explain how a nation’s military (or elements thereof) prosecute war.