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History Department

Aaron B. O'Connell

Associate Professor

Cultural History of the U.S. Military

  •  E-mail:
  •   The United States Naval Academy
        572 Holloway Road
        Annapolis, MD 21402


  • Ph.D. - Yale University
  • Certificate in Security Studies - Yale University
  • M.Phil. - Yale University
  • M.A. - Yale University
  • M.A. - Indiana University
  • B.A. - Trinity College, Hartford, CT

Research Interests

I view myself as a cultural historian of the U.S. military. I am principally concerned with exploring the various narratives told by and about the U.S. military in the 20th century – both inside and outside the United States – and with tracing the effects of those stories on American society, U.S. foreign policy, and the world.  My work crosses over into the fields of international history and globalization studies, military history, diplomatic history, American Studies, history of memory and trauma, and civil-military relations.

Prizes and Awards

2015 Admiral Jay L. Johnson Professorship in Leadership and Ethics (Co-Winner)
2013 Underdogs named an Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 by the American Library Association Journal Choice 
2009 Distinguished Dissertation in American History Prize, Yale University History Department
2007 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation Research Grant
2007 Smith Richardson Dissertation Fellowship, International Security Studies, Yale University
2006 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Lemuel S. Shepherd Memorial Dissertation Fellowship
2005 Smith Richardson Dissertation Fellowship, International Security Studies, Yale University
2003 Research Grant on Islamic Fundamentalism, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization
2002 Virginia Lafollete Gunderson writing award, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.


Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012). 

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

“Defending Imperial Interests in Asia and the Caribbean, 1898-1941,” in James C. Bradford, ed., America, Seapower, and the World (New York:  Wiley Blackwell, 2016). 

"The Lessons and Legacies of Afghanistan," in Beth Bailey and Richard Immerman, eds., Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York University Press, 2015), 453-487.

“Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the Cold War American Empire,” in Michael J. Hogan and Mary Ann Heiss, eds., The National Security Establishment and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman (Independence, MO:  Truman State University Press, 2015). 

“A Harsh and Spiritual Unity: A New Look at Culture and Battle in the Marine Corps’ Pacific War,” International Journal of Naval History, vol. 7, no. 3 (December 2008).

“Saving Private Lynch: A Hyperreal Hero in an Age of Postmodern Warfare,” War, Literature and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities (Fall, 2005): 33-52.

Op-eds on Military Culture in America

“Why these Marines Love ‘Frozen’ and why it Matters,”  The Daily Beast, June 27, 2014, online publication.

“Gun Culture in the Red Dawn Films,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 11, 2013 (print edition)

“The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, November 5, 2012 (print edition)

Book Reviews

Stacey Peebles, Welcome to the Suck: Narrating the American Soldier’s Experience in Iraq. Reviewed for Journal of American Studies (UK), 2013.

Brian Glyn Williams, Afghanistan Declassified, A Guide to America’s Longest War. Reviewed for Journal of Military History, November 2012

Beth Bailey, America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force. Reviewed for Parameters, Spring 2011.

Stephen S. Evans, U.S. Marines and Irregular Warfare, 1898-2007: Anthology and Selected Bibliography. Reviewed for Journal of Military History, July 2009.

Video Links and Other Publicity

To hear Professor O’Connell discuss his work, please click here: (3 minutes) (17 minutes) (20 minutes)

To watch Professor O'Connell in the classroom, please click here: (one hour)

To read Professor O'Connell's thoughts on identity politics in military history, click here:


Recent Conference Papers

“A War of Words: Academics and the Military Establishment in the Age of Terror,” American Historical Association (AHA) Annual Meeting, January 6, 2016, Atlanta, GA.

“Confronting Social Change:  Gender, Sexuality, and the U.S. Military,” Organization of American Historians (OAH) Annual Meeting, April 12, 2014, Atlanta GA.

“Cultures of 20th Century Extremism: Marine Corps Culture and the Tenets of Fundamentalism,” American Historical Association (AHA) Annual Meeting, January 3, 2014.

“Left Alone in American Studies: The American Military and Military Culture in America,” American Studies Association (ASA) Annual Meeting, November 22, 2013, Washington DC. 

“The U.S. Armed Forces in America and in the World,” The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) Annual Meeting, June 21, 2013, Washington DC,

“The Lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Temple University's Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy (CENFAD), October 5, 2013, Philadelphia, PA. 


Public Lectures and Selected Presentations

“Moving the Mountains:  Culture and Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan,” Yale University, International Security Studies at Yale, September 10th, 2015, New Haven, CT.

“The United States Marine Corps in America and in the World,” University of Maryland’s Miller Center Annual Lecture in Public Policy, March 28, 2013, College Park, MD.

“Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex,” Roundtable on Eisenhower and the Lessons of Leadership at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, January 15, 2013, Washington DC.

“The War in Afghanistan: Cultural Friction and Strategic Options,” commissioned lecture for The George Washington University, April 2012. Washington DC.

“Marine Corps Culture and the Networks of Military Power,” Public lecture at the Council on Foreign Relations, November 1, 2012, New York, NY.

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