When he was growing up in Sulphur Springs, Bill Allison probably would have laughed right along with his family and friends if someone had told him he’d be a published author and instructor, much less a visiting chair at the U.S. Army War College.
But, Dr. William Thomas Allison has nearly a dozen published books and numerous publications to his credit and is currently under contract with University Press of Kansas for another book. He also currently serves as professor of military history at Georgia Southern University, where he was chair of the history department from 2008-2010 and is the General Harold K. Johnson visiting chair in military history at the U.S. Army War College. He has presented papers and lectured all over the world, including at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Australian Defense Force Academy.
“I’ve been really lucky to be part of a cool business, which has allowed me to do and see some really cool things,” Allison said earlier this week in a telephone interview from his office at Georgia Southern.
He noted that while he wasn’t as serious a student as he could have been in his younger years, while attending East Texas State University he discovered a passion for military history — instilled by his parents, Tommy Allison of Sulphur Springs and Kay Allison of Wimberly, who took him to museums and other historical sites, teaching him a deep respect for history. They shared their interest in history and what it means with him.
In fact, one of the photos he remembers most vividly from childhood was taken when he and his parents toured Yorktown. While he doesn’t remember much about the day, the picture of him as a really small boy half in a mortar stands out in his mind. Although the photo was damaged in storage, it’s not one Bill Allison will forget any time soon.
“I was doomed from the beginning, especially with military history,” Allison laughed. “Dad was interested in military history and mom was good at history too.”
He added that when he first started college in Austin, it was expected he’d join his father, Tommy Allison, in his law firm. But, after some growing up, he finally found his niche — military history.
“History was neat, ideal,” he admitted. “When I started at ET, I mostly had my act together. I got my master’s in history there. I did well. It was cool and I thought, ‘I should do this.’”
“I was anxious to get a copy of the military justice book to dad. He inspired it, really got me into it. He also helped along the way,” Allison said.
Tommy Allison served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1968-1969 as an attorney, and was a short infantry officer with a rifle company for three months. He worked with defense counselors and prosecutors, and handled foreign claims. He shared what he experienced and observed with his son, pointing out some of the difficulties.
“He did a really good job on it,” Tommy Allison said. “His mother and I are very proud of him. I’m not a writer. He has to get that from his mom.”
Bill says his editors and other friends of history have been a significant factor in his writing.
“I love the research. I’m not that good of a writer. I love it though,” he said. “When you finish a chapter or two, you ask other friends of history to look at chapters for content and writing. It’s fun to read what others are doing before it comes out. The copy editors help out too. Having your own style, in history, isn’t as easy. I’m still figuring it out.”
The key for all writers, he’s found, is reading others’ work. He’s especially partial to historian David Gaub McCullough, Larry McMurtry and Michael Palen. He’s read “Lonesome Dove” several times and continues to find new things each time.
“It’s not so much the story but a turn of phrase, the way McMurtry crafts a paragraph of conversation — something you just can’t quantify. I’m currently reading Michael Palen, you know the Monty Python guy. He published his diaries and they are amazing, just unbelievably good. He’s a meticulous writer, even in his diaries. It’s not the type of diary like ... Facebook. He talks about how they crafted the sketches. He’s really something. It’s really emotional,” Allison said.
Of course, as is often the case, Allison didn’t start out teaching or publishing books about military history.
“Military history is tough,” Allison said. “There was a little problem with stuff, especially post-Vietnam. Academics didn’t want to do it. So I pushed it to the back burner and pretended to be in something else. I did diplomatic history. As I got into the job and started writing books, off came the sheep’s clothes. Breaking into academia is tough, especially in military history.”
Allison started out teaching and writing about early U.S.-Russian relations. He even learned to read Russian to pass one of the required tests for teaching. His master’s European history thesis at ETSU in 1991 was “Allied Intervention in North Russia, 1918-1919.” His first book, “American Diplomats in Russia: Case Studies in Orphan Diplomacy, 1916-1919” was printed in 1997. In 2002, “Witness to Revolution: The Russian Diary & Letters of J. Butler Wright.”
“You look for things publishers want to get into, what the academic press wants, career-wise you look for what what looks best and where it will coincide with your interests,” Allison said. “When you’re writing, you look at how it plays in different events. With academic tenure, a full professor can break away. We’ve got to write for a broader audience, not just each other. You try to let your own voice out as an author. It’s not really me becoming a much better writer, it’s about telling a story.”
Allison’s held various levels of professorship at Bowling Green University in Ohio, the University of Saint Francis-Fort Wayne, Ind., University of Utah and Weber State University-Utah. In 2008, he was hired at rank with tenure as a professor at the Department of History at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga.
He has earned many honors and awards over the years for his research, presentations and publications, including fellowships and grants.
Topics he’s presented across the country and world include American nation-building in the 20th century, 1968 in America, the Tet Offensive, World War II memorials, coalition building in the new International order, the Goldwater-Nichols Act, military obligation, police violence and history, American policing, the black market in Vietnam, drugs and the American War in Vietnam, jurisdiction over American military and civilian personnel in Vietnam, American military lawyers as cultural bridges, civilian lawyers as judge advocates in Vietnam, Woodrow Wilson and U.S. foreign policy, the Cold War, Wehrmacht and the Holocaust, geopolitics of Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Civil War era and America’s two-party system.
In 2007, he co-authored “American Military History: A survey from Colonial Times to the Present” with Jeffrey Grey of the school of history at the Australian Defense Force Academy and Janet Valentine, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College; and wrote the book he introduced to his dad, “Military Justice in Vietnam: The Rule of Law in an American War.”
He served on the Department of Army Historical Advisory Committee from 2007-2011. Allison was a visiting professor in the Department Strategy and International Security at United States Air Force Air War College from 2002-2003. In the 2010-2011 academic year, he was a visiting professional of military history USAF School for Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and from 2012 through the present has been the General Harold K. Johnson Visiting Chair in military history at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Penn.
At the War College, Allison teaches military officers in seminar-style lessons that are like “extreme graduate school” work. For instance, one group may be officers transferring from the field or brigade command to senior leader. Allison’s job is teaching them not necessarily what to think but how to think broader – think of all impacts including economic and disciplinary, not just tactics. His lessons include “a lot of theory” and contemporary use of history is highlighted.
“It’s a lot just to be invited to do it. Being the Johnson chair is a real honor. ... to see the names on the wall [of former Johnson chairs], to really be there with the list of others that’ve been there since the 70s — wow!” Allison explained. “I’m at this point [in my career] where you can really contribute to other groups of people, other groups of professionals.”
And, he’s still employed at Georgia Southern, just with a much lighter load while serving as Johnson chair.
“Essentially, I did all my teaching [at GSU] in the fall, so in the spring I’m open to work on a book, ‘1968,’” Allison noted. “It’s been awesome.”
His various works have opened many doors and often lead to new opportunities. While working on his 2012 book, “My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War, a part of the Witness to History Series,” Allison was approached about and signed a contract to write a book for University Press-Kansas called “On Nostalgia’s Alter: America 1968.”
The book will explore how 1968 a “plays in different events.” Allison says the book will look at the things of nostalgia people have for 1968, try to separate the myths, explore what makes the legends so great. He’ll focus on what forces contributed to these events, what they mean, if they were really what people remember. He’s just started writing the book. The manuscript is due in this summer, and likely won’t be out until 2014.
“Who knows what door will open up next, offer opportunities to do some really cool stuff. Whoever thought I’d write a book? I’ve lectured in Australia and the War College. I’ve definitely had opportunities to do some unexpected things. A lot of them will surprise you,” Allison said. “You’re not paid great, but there are other benefits. You get to travel a lot, meet guys and gals at seminars. You teach and get to do amazing things. You learn so much from them. I’ve had great experiences, explored things that fascinated me.”
Allison will be returning to Northeast Texas at the end of the month to speak at his old alma mater, Texas A&M University-Commerce, as an Alumni Ambassador. He said his topic will likely be “1968.” He’ll visit various departments, have lunch with TAMU-C president on Friday, visit a few classes and meet with graduate students to give them a different perspective on the job and profession.
He also plans to visit with his family — something he only gets to do about once a year — and hopes to squeeze in a visit to Hopkins County Veterans Memorial and the renovated downtown square. His dad has kept him abreast of progress, but he’s anxious to see it for himself for the first time.
More information about Allison’s achievements, including a list of his books, can be found at http://class.georgiasouthern.edu/history/facultydir/Allison.html.
|< Prev||Next >|