In the ever-growing category of things I didn't know:
The first time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ever flew in an airplane was on 15 September 1938, to see Hitler at Berchtesgarden. Seeking to bolster his policy of appeasement, Chamberlain flew to Germany twice more that month, first to Bad Godesberg and then to Munich.
Also, Churchill, stunned and alone after the Munich agreement, retreated to his country house, where his first visitor was Guy Burgess, then a producer for the BBC, but of course also a Soviet spy. No indication that Churchill knew anything about that.
Both facts from Martin Gilbert's fine Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.
I always thought that President Obama wanted to model his domestic policy on Lincoln and his foreign policy on Eisenhower.
But the news this week of the IRS harrassing right-wing groups and the Justice Department harrassing the Associated Press evokes the Nixon era for me.
On the other hand, Nixon had better relations with the military (despite contemplating firing Creighton Abrams in Vietnam).
This is me really going off the Obama reservation.
Military Review had a pretty good understanding of mission command back in 1986, when it ran an article by Daniel J. Hughes titled "Abuses of German Military History." (The article itself starts on p. 66 of the linked issue.)
To understand how the German military worked, Hughes writes, it is crucial to understand that "by current standards, no ‘system' actually existed. Improvisation was the key to the Prussian-German approach which regarded the conduct of war as an art -- a free, creative activity with scientific foundations."
Something else I didn't know: Use of the word auftragstaktik was "exceedingly rare" in the Germany army of World War II and before.
Democracies, from France at the end of the eighteenth century to the United States in the middle of the twentieth, have failed to live up to the expectations of eighteenth-century liberal thinkers. On the contrary they have repeatedly displayed a bellicose passion reminiscent of the worst years of the Wars of Religion....The doctrine that peoples if left to themselves are naturally peaceable, like its converse that they are naturally belligerent, begs far more questions than it answers.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler's story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven't seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the "urgent need" for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board -- a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done's ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the "war-dog handler" into modern day.
It's a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has -- men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that "some things never change."
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed "would use the exact same phrases" when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. "I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond."
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don't give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Winston Churchill, writing in My Early Life, mentions how wealth affected one's choice of branches in the British Army:
I qualified for a cavalry cadetship at Sandhurst. The competition for the infantry was keener, as life in the cavalry was so much more expensive. Those who were at the bottom of the list accordingly were offered the easier entry into the cavalry.
Tom again: So, by making the cavalry expensive, the wealthy aristocracy was able to reserve largely for itself job openings in part of the military -- perhaps a place to store second sons without sufficient brains for other jobs? I asked Douglas Allen, an economic historian who has studied the political economy of the British military. He wrote back, "No doubt though, it took a long time for the aristocrats to be replaced by attrition, and they probably did use a price mechanism to keep the vulgar middle class out of their preferred positions."
My CNAS colleague Phil Carter, reacting to yesterday's item about how the experience of Iraq is affecting the Obama administration's consideration of intervening in Syria, sent me this thoughtful note:
Iraq has replaced Vietnam as the lens through which we see foreign policy decisions. However, I don't like the term "Iraq syndrome" -- in large part because it suggests there's something wrong, and that this is a condition to be ameliorated or recovered from. Instead, I prefer to think of our national sense of the Iraq war as "Iraq experience" or "Iraq wisdom." We gathered this experience and wisdom the hard way, acquiring it at a cost of trillions of dollars, and tens of thousands of killed or wounded, to say nothing of the cost to the Iraqis. We ought not casually discard this wisdom and experience, or set it aside so that we can once again go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, to use John Quincy Adams' memorable phrase.
Tom again: I think he is right, but I think there also is a generational aspect to this. I think younger people -- and to me, that means anyone under 40 -- are more affected by this than are older people.
One of the great things about CNAS is that we actually have conversations like this. In my experience, not all think tanks do. You can find out more by coming to the annual hoedown on June 12. It is, as we have noted, the Woodstock of wonkery. But with better refreshments.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Quote of the day: Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, tells Dexter Filkins in this week's edition of the New Yorker that in considering intervening in Syria, "Here's what we wrestle with: there are huge costs and unintended consequences that go with a military intervention that could last for many years."
Another White House official tells Filkins, "The country is exhausted." I don't think that second comment is quite accurate. It is more that the country is tired of being involved on the ground in the Middle East and deeply skeptical of the efficacy of another try.
Filkins also quotes an academic expert who predicts that eventually all of Syria's Alawites will be pushed into Lebanon, with the eventual refugee flow doubling that nationette's population.
The vibe of the article is that the Obama administration increasingly is leaning toward intervention -- from the air, in aid and intelligence, but not with ground troops.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Quote of the day is from Tony Judt, now unfortunately gone: "the market for history books is enormous, but most professional historians are simply unable to satisfy it." (P. 263, Thinking the 20th Century)
By the way, Judt's book Postwar is essential reading for, among others, anyone interested in the effect of World War II on Europe.
By Commander H.B. Le, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 1975, a 34 year-old South Vietnamese Navy commander -- the commanding officer of Nha Be Naval Support Base near Saigon -- navigated a small fishing trawler towards the South China Sea. Saigon had just fallen, and the trawler, crowded with 200 refugees, cautiously weaved its way down the Soi Rap River. In the span of just a few hours, as other refugees were plucked from smaller or sinking boats, the passengers had swelled to 400. After two uncertain days at sea and on the first birthday of the commander's youngest child, the refugees were taken on board the tank landing ship USS Barbour County (LST 1195).
On November 7, 2009, along with the U.S. 7th Fleet's flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), my ship arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam for a scheduled goodwill port visit. This visit was my first return to Vietnam since my father, mother, and three of my seven siblings and I departed in that fishing trawler. My father had navigated the trawler to sea, and, for me, navigating USS Lassen (DDG 82) into Da Nang Harbor brought me full circle to our past.
During that unforgettable port visit, I was interviewed by local and international news media. Most questions dealt with my thoughts on returning to my native country. Like my siblings who had come to America in 1975, I have always felt fortunate to grow up in the United States and to enjoy all the opportunities this great nation offers. It was a privilege for my sailors and me to represent USS Lassen and the U.S. Navy to the people of Vietnam.
It was also deeply moving for me to travel to my birthplace of Hue, joined by one of my older brothers who had graciously flown from Singapore, where he worked. Hue is just 50 miles northwest of Da Nang, and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours reuniting with two aunts, an uncle, and extended family members.
Throughout the port visit and for several days afterwards, I received heartwarming e-mails and notes from family and friends, as well as from people I did not know. Easily the most remarkable was a short letter I received in the ship's mail on November 18, eight days after USS Lassen departed Da Nang Harbor:
USS Lassen (DDG 82)
FPO AP 96671-1299
November 6, 2009
Congratulations on your command. I read with interest the press release about your visit to your homeland. I was the Executive Officer of the USS Barbour County (LST 1195) at the time of your rescue. I have wondered throughout the years what became of the myriad people we took on board and transported to the Philippines (Grandy Island). Again, congratulations and enjoy your tour.
Russ Bell CDR, USN (Retired)
I was thrilled when I read the letter and e-mailed my father right away. He wrote in response from his home in Virginia:
We finally have the opportunity to express our gratitude to one of the people who saved us and gave us a new beginning in the United States of America. Would you please send our thanks to CDR Russ Bell and his crew for helping and saving us at sea on May 2nd, 1975 and bringing us to Freedom? I still remember that on the 3rd of May, the XO was the one who gave me an envelope and then helped to send my letter from the Barbour County to Uncle Ed Rowe at his parents' address in Kansas City, MO. It comes back to my memory very clearly now, just like it happened yesterday! God bless the crew of USS Barbour County and their families. God bless the U.S.A.
Today on behalf of my family, I wish to thank Commander Russ Bell, U.S. Navy (Retired) and the crew of USS Barbour County. Also, thank you to Uncle Ed -- Colonel Ed Rowe, U.S Army (Retired) -- and his wonderful family for sponsoring us all those years ago... and happy 39th birthday to my dear brother, Phil.
Commander Hung Ba Le was the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) from April 2009 to December 2010. One of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, Lassen's namesake is Commander Clyde E. Lassen, who received the Medal of Honor for his courageous rescue of two downed aviators while commander of a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam. Commander Le is currently serving as a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs in Cambridge, MA.
By Brig. Gen. Kim Field, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
As a general officer and a mother of four sons, I still look back on our entry into the Iraq War with disbelief. There may have been good reason, but explanations to date satisfy almost no one. I deployed three times to Afghanistan and better understood our entry, even if the prosecution of our effort became increasingly baffling. I am dismayed that my sons are learning in school to lump the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the same causal bucket. What are they learning about who America is, what we stand for, why we do what we do?
Recently, there was an article in the New York Times about the split in the Republican Party on the appropriate foreign policy stance for America. To oversimplify, isolationists are warring with the traditional aggressive foreign policy advocates under the same tent. Further, the article was a bit shocking in that foreign policy was equated with use of the military instrument. How can any of this be?
The Democratic Party is a little more coherent, but I am not sure that there is agreement with Jimmy Carter's statement: "Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood." Right or wrong, under Democratic leadership, we have done almost nothing in Syria to protect human rights. Is "human rights" the most important thing to our country and is this how we should represent ourselves to the world?
Inside the Pentagon, I watch and in some cases participate as we wrangle over the "rebalance to the Pacific." Should the military really be the agency doing the most in what was a reasonable shift in strategic emphasis? Maybe, but the explanations why are not satisfying and Air-Sea Battle is downright mystifying. Do we intend to "contain" China, and if so, do we mean militarily, economically, in the information domain? Or do we want to "shape her decisions?" Something else? These are very different paths with significant consequence, and to my mind, we should have the answers before we charge off, possibly committing billions of dollars.
What do we stand for? Many of us think domestic policies are likely on an inevitable path toward a more European model of capitalism-social consciousness and think our choices with regard to international matters are indeed more free and more significant. But watching the machinations of the Congress over forced across-the-board cuts (sequestration), feeling confident that DOD could take a cut but not the way we are forced to do it, it is clear that this problem of identity is foundational to all dimensions of what we do as a country.
As a soldier, I have nothing to say about wither our foreign policy endeavors. But I sure wish I understood better what we could be asked to do and why. How is the military to represent itself overseas when our muddled sense of American identity is reflected in so many testy issues, beyond the normal and healthy tensions of party politics?
Having taught international relations theory for three years, I do believe when the strength of our values coincides with the level of our national interest, we have the makings of good, sustainable foreign interventions. But this means understanding what our values are, who we are as Americans. Do we still believe in American exceptionalism? If so, why? What makes us exceptional a decade into the 21st century? We should be specific and clear about this in a necessary debate.
Just as senior military officers should be professionally guided by the conviction of clear personal values and not just the Army Values dogtag around their necks, it is insufficient for the collective American people to point to the Constitution as a clear, present day expression of who we are. The base case is there, but it's not always helpful in execution. Sacrilege.
It will be very difficult to avoid diving into the issues of immigration and healthcare and countless other issues through which party divides run deep. And a Congress that makes DOD accept compensations it doesn't ask for even when that means we reduce the training that will keep soldiers alive in the future, a Congress that makes us buy equipment we don't want beyond that which keeps the industrial base warm, can't lead this effort. The Congress is full of smart, well-intentioned individuals held captive by a system that cannot help us produce a sense of identity that would then enable meaningful party debates over how to make that identity come alive. The president is a party member. He can't lead this either, no matter how good a leader he is.
I believe the American people want this discussion. I do not believe the military has the market on service. I do not believe the average American values his or her Nikes and iPhones more than they do a conversation over what it means to be an American. My sister-teacher, as well as good friends Paul Yingling and John Nagl, who have chosen to leave the world of security affairs for the profession of teaching, will be part of this debate, as will their students. My father and his senior friends who have time, interest, and continued desire to serve, will be part of this. My boys and nieces and their classmates, all of whom had to complete community service on the path to college, will be part of this. Servicemembers will be part of this as long as the issues do not become partisan. And so many more from so many other walks of American life. I am tired of hearing that Americans need the most important of issues dumbed down, that we simply don't care about anything that does not directly affect the material goods that come into our homes. I don't believe it. In fact, I can't even contemplate the possibility of leaving my boys without a mother for years, or forever, if this were the case.
I am so honored to serve the way I do -- representing a people that comprise a country of goodness the world has never before seen. We have to stop the recent wandering that has confused so many inside our ranks, within our borders, and throughout the world. As we bring the face of America home after 12 years of steady war and before we inevitably send it out again, greater clarity on the question, "who are we, we Americans?" is essential.
BG Kim Field is deputy director of policy, plans and strategy on the Army staff. She has served three tours in Afghanistan, two tours with State, and taught international relations in the "Sosh" Department at West Point.
On Saturday I dropped by the Korean War Veterans Memorial. (No, I didn't see Justice Breyer fracture his shoulder.) I hadn't been there before. I kind of liked it. It is hyper-realistic, a real contrast to the Vietnam memorial just on the opposite, north side of the National Mall's Reflecting Pool.
As I walked around it I counted 19 statues of soldiers, of which several appeared to be carrying radios. (As in this foto, 3 appear to be carrying.) Why so many radios?
Nineteen also struck me as an odd number -- kind of midway between a squad and a platoon. I asked a docent and he said that the number, when reflected in the black rock, signifies the 38th parallel. I dunno.
Here are the results of our survey of good books of military history that aren't about the U.S. military.
There were so many British books mentioned that I moved them into a second category. The first part here is genuinely foreign books -- not necessarily written by foreigners (though most are) but about wars in which the British and Americans were not major players, or at least not written from the Anglo-American perspective.
Most of these mentions were in the comments, but about 10 percent came in by e-mail.
I offer them in no particular order. Not even cleaned up -- just pasted in. For details on the books, go back to the comments section -- lots of explanations there about why a particularly book was nominated.
David Glantz, When Titans Clashed
Rommel's Infantry Attacks (2 nominations)
Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War 1961-74
Martin Van Creveld, everything but especially Command in War
Michael Oren, Six Days of War (2 votes)
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon
Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory
Noel Mostert's The Line Upon a Wind
Patrick Rambaud's The Battle
Roland Perry, Sir John Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War
Larteguy's The Centurions and The Praetorians (3 nominations)
Harold Parker's Three Napoleonic Battles (short treatments of Friedland, Aspern-Essling, and Waterloo, with observations uniting all three)
John Elting's Swords Around a Throne (the Billy Yank/Johnny Reb treatment of what it was like for soldiers, leaders, and specialists in Napoleon's Grande Armee)
David Galula's Pacification in Algeria
Legionnaire, by Simon Murray
B.H. Liddell Hart's Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant
Colonel Saburo Hayashi, Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War
Hoito Edoin, The Night Tokyo Burned
No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, by Hiroo Onoda
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson
The Franco Regime, by Stanley G. Payn
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin
Sean Maloney's three-volume history of the Canadian experience in Afghanistan (Enduring the Freedom, Confronting the Chaos, and Fighting for Afghanistan). He also did a narrative of the first eight or so years entitled War in Afghanistan: Eight Battles in the South.
Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale (2 nominations)
The Reluctant Admiral, by Hiroyuki Agawa (Yamamto)
Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War
Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar, by his wife Dorothy with an introduction by David Halberstam
Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung
Either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure or The 47 Ronin
Heart of Darkness for anyone about to do an AFRICOM rotation. (And one de-nomination.)
Lester Grau, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
Avigdor Kahalani, Heights of Courage
Rabinovich's Yom Kippur War
On the Banks of the Suez: An Israeli General's Personal Account of the Yom Kippur War, by Avraham Adan
Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer (2 nominations)
All Quiet on the Western Front, and the lesser known but just as powerful sequel to the book, The Road Back, both by Erich Maria Remarque
Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel
Coalitions, Politicians and Generals -- Some Aspects of Command in Two World Wars, by Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell
Strange Victory, by Ernest May
Julian Jackson's The Fall of France
Witness to Surrender, by Brig. Siddiq Salik
The Way It Was, by Brig. Z.A. Khan
In the Line of Duty, by Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh
Guerrilla Warfare, by Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Afgantsy, by Rodric Braithwaite
The Jungle is Neutral, by F.Spencer Chapman
The War in Paraguay: With a Historical Sketch of the Country and Its People and Notes Upon the Military Engineering of the War, by George Thompson
On British military -- listed separately because more familiar
Keith Douglas, Alamein to Zem Zem
George MacDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here (3 nominations)
John Masters, first two volumes of his memoirs
Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up
Keegan's Face of Battle
William Slim, Defeat into Victory (4 nominations)
The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, by Andrew Gordon (4 nominations)
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of The Great War, by Robert K. Massie (4 nominations)
The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, by John Lukacs
How the War Was Won: Factors that Led to Victory in World War One and The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War 1900-1918, two volumes by Tim Travers
The Story of the Malakand Field Force, by Winston Churchill
Churchill and Seapower, by Christopher Bell
J.F.C. Fuller's Strategy
Donald Morris, The Washing of the Spears (Zulu Wars)
Gordon Corrigan's Mud, Blood, and Poppycock (attempts to bust many of the popular myths about WWI on the Western Front)
Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (doorstopper-sized analysis of WWI)
Andrew Roberts' Masters and Commanders
The Tizard Mission: The Top-Secret Operation That Changed the Course of WWII, by Stephen Phelps
Not Mentioned in Dispatches
18 Platoon, by Sidney Jary
The Defence of Duffer's Drift, by Maj. Gen. Ernest Dunlop Swinton.
Brazen Chariots, by Robert Crisp
My War Gone By, I Miss It So, Anthony Loyd, ex-British soldier in Bosnia.
Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper
The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War, by H. P. Willmott
Battle for the Falklands, by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins
Sassoon's The War Poems
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Bingen on the Rhine, by Caroline E. Norton
Was it Normandy? Blenheim? Waterloo? Goose Green? No to all.
Perhaps Naseby or Culloden? No again. El Alamein? Nope.
It was, indeed, Imphal and Kohima, the turning point in the fighting in South Asia during World War II. Now, I'm a Burma theater fan as much as the next guy. But this still surprised me. I wonder why they picked that. It wasn't just because President Obama's grandfather served there. Perhaps it was the ever-growing reputation of General Slim?
(HT to PL who had to read the original article upside down)
Richard Haass is a pretty smart guy, but he let someone talk him into this headline: ‘The Irony of American Strategy.'
Like, gag me with a spoon. Cute? Maybe. But I think that headline could only be written by someone who had not lost someone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12 years.
Actually the article isn't bad, although it leans heavily on the weak thought that 10 years ago the United States got deeply involved in the Middle East when it didn't need to, but now when it wants to get out, it can't. That strikes me more as an op-ed (or blog post) than a full-blown Foreign Affairs thumbsucker.
The other day a couple of commenters discussing innovation in the military mentioned one change (fwiw, the company-level intelligence cell) as a big reason why "we won in Iraq."
Hmm, I thought: Did we actually win that war? I am not sure. It doesn't feel like it. Yes, we got out with our shirts on. But win?
I thought about this again when I read this thoughtful comment by Lt. Gen. James Dubik in the May issue of ARMY magazine:
America is confusing "withdrawing from a war" with "ending a war." The two are very different. A war ends when strategic objectives are met or an enemy is defeated and recognizes its defeat. In Iraq, the war continues -- albeit at a level that the Iraqi security forces are, so far, able to handle and the Iraqi government can manage.
A major in the 101st Airborne suggests that we do a reading list of modern military books that are not about the American military experience (and not the usual classics). Three of his suggestions are The Dambusters, Defeat into Victory , and Churchill's Generals.
To that start, I'd add Keegan's Face of Battle and Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace. What else? I'll allow histories, memoirs, novels, and poetry.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
The other night I went to a preview of Manhunt, a HBO documentary that will air on that network on May 1 and thereafter many times on CNN.
The documentary was like a high-class version of a Frontline episode, filmed and edited well, with expensive touches like music. One of the themes was how many of the analysts who targeted bin Laden were women. Another was how isolated it felt to be in the CIA after 9/11. Overall, I found the film a great document, but too inclined to give the CIA a pass, especially on the issue of torture and on some specifics, such as how the Khost bombing that killed seven CIA officers in December 2009 was allowed to happen.
But what I want to talk about today was the discussion following the film, which was even more interesting. (I took notes, having asked Peter Bergen, the documentary's executive producer, beforehand if I could, and was told yes.) It felt historic, a bit like being in the same room with the D-Day planners.
It also felt a bit like an encounter group. Clearly there had been strong disagreements within the CIA about the course they took:
What I found myself wondering as I listened to all this was a question an Army officer who worked on Guantanamo issues asked me years ago: How can you win a war for your values by using tactics that undermine them?
At the end of the discussion, I turned to the woman standing next to me, who I think had just been identified in the film as the chief bin Laden hunter. "So, are you Jessica Chastain?" I asked, referring to the actress who played that role in Zero Dark Thirty. (Yes, I know, on reflection, it was a stupid way to put it. I have been told that the Chastain character was a composite of several of the CIA women, including Jennifer Matthews, who was killed in the Khost bombing.)
"No," the woman replied, "Jessica Chastain wasn't there." Great answer!
By Richard Coffman
Best Defense bureau of Vietnamese War affairs
Hanoi's War is an important book drawing on secret Vietnamese Communist Party and government archives and chronicling how Hanoi planned and waged war in Vietnam following the defeat of the French in 1954.
More than that, the book surfaces serious dissension at the highest levels in Hanoi over priorities, strategies, and resources undermining, among other things, preparation for the Tet Offensive of 1968 and leading to arrests and purges. Had Washington and Saigon had a clearer picture of this, the war certainly would have been fought differently, and the outcome might well have been more favorable. It's probably fair to say that we knew as much about Hanoi's leadership then as we do the North Korean leadership today.
As it was, this book describes how badly U.S. bombing in the North and significant ground incursions into communist base areas in Cambodia and Lao hurt Hanoi's war effort. It further shows the utter failure and enormous cost of Hanoi's major offensives in 1968, 1969, and 1972, which forced the North into greater dependence on the Soviets and Chinese and ultimately to engage in negotiations to force U.S. withdrawal.
The author, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, a native-born Vietnamese, naturalized U.S. citizen, and professor at the University of Kentucky, had access to a wealth of official Vietnamese language archives, personalities, and unpublished manuscripts. Among others, she interviewed Hoag Minh Chinh, once North Vietnam's leading communist theoretician and a purged dissident. She had access to the unpublished memoirs of the first of communist party First Secretary Le Duan's wives, who served in the Mekong Delta for years
Lieng-Hang not only plows much new ground, but does so in a well-organized, lucidly argued, and well-written chronological treatment of the Vietnam War and Hanoi's direction of it. Readers will be grateful for her facility in writing and organizing this substantively dense material, and that she makes clear that the archives she reviewed were sanitized and by no means complete.
To students of communist ideology and tactics, Hanoi's War neatly describes the rise to the pinnacle of power of communist party leader Le Duan and his close associate Le Duc Tho, and the marginalization of Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap. Indeed, these latter two internationally acclaimed heroes of the Vietnamese communist revolution, widely thought to wield unchecked power in Hanoi, sat out the Tet Offensive, Giap pouting in Hungary and Ho taking the waters in Beijing.
We further learn that despite Le Duan's repeated failures of strategies and tactics in the war in the South and immense personnel losses and the virtual destruction of the northern economy, he held on to power by virtue of brutal and non-stop repression. Even before the infamous Hanoi Hilton imprisoned U.S. airmen, it held scores of Le Duan's political opponents and dissidents, both real and imagined. His purges even claimed senior military officers close to Giap and some who helped plan the Tet Offensive.
In these and scores of less consequential matters, this book should humble Western intelligence and diplomatic observers, journalists, historians, academics, and the international left who got so much of North Vietnam wrong then and whose mistaken interpretations and judgments persist to this day.
Make no mistake, this is not revisionist history. The book's subtitle gives us a clue to her leanings: "An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam."
The author persists in describing the Vietnam War as "unwinnable" for the United States, which certainly must come as news to such eminent contemporary historians as Lewis Sorley and Mark Moyar, whose recent works, even without primary sources on Hanoi's troubles, make clear that the outcome in Vietnam was far from inevitable. Moreover, she has a palpable antipathy for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger even while brilliantly and in great detail describing how they simultaneously leveraged both Moscow and Beijing to squeeze Hanoi -- and against his deep instincts, Le Duan -- to get the best possible negotiated deal extricating the United States from Vietnam.
Indeed, Le Duan so preferred massive offensives designed to trigger popular uprisings in the South that he sent his right-hand man, Le Duc Tho, to Paris to keep the lid on the negotiations. This follows Le Duan's pattern in dispatching trusted generals to command the headstrong southern communists who believed their revolution was betrayed by the 1954 Geneva Accords. How ironic -- or perverse -- that Le Duc Tho won a Nobel Peace Prize for his service in Paris.
Finally, she attributes Hanoi's victory not to its persistence and tenacity, not to winning hearts and minds in the South, not to the enormous sacrifices of North Vietnam's armies and people, nor to U.S. politics which hamstrung and undermined the U.S. effort, particularly under Richard Nixon, but to the unwavering and irresistible pressure of post-colonial, third-world, anti-war nations fed by Hanoi's clever propaganda and diplomacy and eager to teach the United States a lesson. This, she avers, is perhaps the greatest legacy of Hanoi's war and serves as a model to those planning future revolutionary campaigns against Western powers.
This flight of fancy only slightly detracts from what is otherwise a major and unique contribution to our understanding of what we faced in Vietnam. Students of military history, the Vietnam War, and revolutionary communism have much to look forward to as these archives are more fully mined in the years ahead.
Richard Coffman served as a Marine Corps officer in Chu Lai and Danang, RVN in 1965-1966. He then served in the CIA for 31 years, analyzing the North Vietnamese leadership there from 1967 through 1972.
By Noel Koch
Best Defense guest columnist
In the run-up to President Obama's trip to the Middle East, apologists for Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy civilian convicted of spying for Israel, urged Pollard's release. This has become a recurring event led, strikingly, by Israeli leaders.
Here are two reasons why it is absurd to consider ever releasing Jonathan Pollard:
First, the Israelis have never told us who his co-conspirators were.
Second, the Israelis have never told us how much of the information they obtained was traded to nations hostile to the United States.
Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 while trying to escape into the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In March 1987 he was convicted in a plea bargain that permitted him to avoid a public trial, as a result of which there would be no public record and thus no public awareness of the full extent of his crimes or why he committed them.
The narrative aggressively promoted by his supporters in Israel and the United States paints Pollard as a committed Zionist prompted by his love for Israel and concern for its security. It ignores other facts, e.g. before he began spying for Israel, he had already reached out to other foreign intelligence organizations, one of which actually was an enemy of Israel, in an effort to capitalize on his position as an analyst with access to classified U.S. information. The plea agreement also helped obscure the fact that Pollard was bought and paid for by the Israelis; his motive was money, not warm feelings for the Jewish state.
Israel's damage control efforts included the contention that the Pollard escapade was a rogue operation not carried out through the nation's normal espionage channels. This much would prove to be true. Pollard was not being run by Mossad. As is often the case with missteps between states, this one was rooted in personal animus. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger's reluctance to put the lives of American military personnel at the disposal of Israel's interests promptly produced the usual result: a smear campaign in which Weinberger was implied to harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Especially ill-disposed to Weinberger was his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. Among other things, Sharon was convinced Weinberger was refusing to share intelligence of interest to Israel. Accordingly, Sharon set about to get the alleged intelligence on his own.
Sharon's agent in this endeavor was legendary Israeli intelligence operative Rafi Eitan. Rafi found his dupe in the buyable Jonathan Pollard. Here begins an aspect of the matter hidden from public view by the manner in which Pollard was prosecuted. It has served the Israeli narrative for Pollard to be seen as some sort of super spy. He was nothing of the sort. He simply exploited his trusted access to Navy computers to withdraw information his handlers instructed him to get. At least some of the documents were secured behind alpha-numeric designators. Pollard had no idea what these designators represented. He was simply told to extract the associated documents.
Thereupon rests one reason Israel has from the outset been anxious to retrieve Pollard, and one of several very good reasons Pollard should remain in prison to the end of his life sentence. U.S. intelligence personnel have long known that Pollard didn't act alone and that there were other, still unidentified (or at least unprosecuted), traitors to America involved in this undertaking. Who identified for Pollard the specific documents he was to pull out of the computers? Israel hasn't told us.
In the netherworld of espionage, competent national agencies trade information. It is known that the information Israel bought from Pollard was exchanged with other national agencies to the detriment of U.S. interests. Some of the damage to the United States is known. Some may not be. In any case, Israel has never given the United States a complete accounting of what was stolen (to be sure, Pollard himself doesn't know) and what was passed to enemies of the United States.
Jonathan Pollard got what he wanted: money, jewelry, and paid trips in exchange for his treachery; he got what he deserved: life in prison. Unlike Judas, who had the grace to hang himself in shame, he lives in the hope that his purchasers will spring him so he can enjoy the apartment set aside for him, the money they have been banking for him, and the hero's welcome they have promised him for betraying the United States.
Noel Koch served in the U.S. Department of Defense from 1981 to 1986. During this time he worked with Rafi Eitan, advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on terrorism, and later with Amiram Nir, who held the same position with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
In our cynical age it is easy to forget that sometimes the newspapers get it right. I was struck while reading George Orwell's diaries by the reports he cites in August 1939, just weeks before World War II began in Europe.
The Manchester Guardian comes off particularly well. It reports that month that "German mobilization will be at full strength halfway through August & that some attempt to terrorise Poland will be made."
A few days later, Orwell notes, the same paper's diplomatic correspondent predicted that "Spain will almost certainly remain neutral in case of war."
In a footnote in the Orwell diaries, I learned that more British civilians were killed by enemy action during World War II than were members of the Royal Navy (60,595 vs. 50,758).
Meanwhile, in other news related to World War II, for the first time in nearly 70 years, there is not a single American tank on German soil.
I like this list below. First, it is a good summary of the wisdom and humor in one military field.
Second, it is typical of a military genre -- the grim but humorous compilation of hard-won knowledge. I've seen multiple copies of a similar one on infantry ("Friendly fire, isn't"), but would like to see other examples you might have.
EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW IN LIFE I LEARNED AS A HELICOPTER PILOT IN VIETNAM.
1. Once you are in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.
2. It is a fact that helicopter tail rotors are instinctively drawn toward trees, stumps, rocks, etc. While it may be possible to ward off this natural event some of the time, it cannot, despite the best efforts of the crew, always be prevented. It's just what they do.
3. NEVER get into a fight without more ammunition than the other guy.
4. The engine RPM and the rotor RPM must BOTH be kept in the GREEN. Failure to heed this commandment can affect the morale of the crew.
5. Cover your Buddy, so he can be around to cover for you.
6. Decisions made by someone above you in the chain-of-command will seldom be in your best interest.
7. The terms Protective Armor and Helicopter are mutually exclusive.
9. "Chicken Plates" are not something you order in a restaurant
10. If everything is as clear as a bell, and everything is going exactly as planned, you're about to be surprised.
11. Loud, sudden noises in a helicopter WILL get your undivided attention.
12. The BSR (Bang Stare Red) Theory states that the louder the sudden bang in the helicopter, the quicker your eyes will be drawn to the gauges. The longer you stare at the gauges the less time it takes them to move from green to red.
13. No matter what you do, the bullet with your name on it will get you. So, too, can the ones addressed "To Whom It May Concern."
14. If the rear echelon troops are really happy, the front line troops probably do not have what they need.
15. If you are wearing body armor, they will probably miss that part of you.
17. Having all your body parts intact and functioning at the end of the day beats the alternative.
18. If you are allergic to lead, it is best to avoid a war zone.
19. It is a bad thing to run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas all at the same time.
20. Hot garrison chow is better than hot C-rations which, in turn, is better than cold C-rations which, in turn, is better than no food at all. All of these, however, are preferable to cold rice balls, even if they do have the little pieces of fish in them.
21. Everybody's a hero...On the ground...In the club...After the fourth drink.
22. A free fire zone has nothing to do with economics.
23. The further you fly into the mountains, the louder those strange engine noises become.
24. Medals are OK, but having your body and all your friends in one piece at the end of the day is better.
25. Being shot hurts and it can ruin your whole day.
26. "Pucker Factor" is the formal name of the equation that states the more hairy the situation is, the more of the seat cushion will be sucked up your ass. It can be expressed in its mathematical formula of S (suction) + H (height above ground ) + I (interest in staying alive) + T ( # of tracers coming your way)
27.The term 'SHIT!' can also be used to denote a situation where high Pucker Factor is being encountered.
28. Thousands of Vietnam Veterans earned medals for bravery every day. A few were even awarded.
29. Running out of pedal, fore or aft cyclic, or collective are all bad ideas. Any combination of these can be deadly.
30. There is only one rule in war: When you win, you get to make up the rules.
31. C-4 can make a dull day fun.
32. There is no such thing as a fair fight -- only ones where you win or lose.
33. If you win the battle you are entitled to the spoils. If you lose, you don't care.
34. Nobody cares what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow. What is important is what you are doing -- NOW -- to solve our problem.
35. Always make sure someone has a P-38. Uh, that's a can opener for those of you who aren't military.
37. Flying is better than walking. Walking is better than running. Running is better than crawling. All of these, however, are better than extraction by Medevac, even if it is technically, a form of flying.
38. If everyone does not come home, none of the rest of us can ever fully come home either.
39. Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR.
40. A grunt is the true reason for the existence of the helicopter. Every helicopter flying in Vietnam had one real purpose: To help the grunt. It is unfortunate that many helicopters never had the opportunity to fulfill their one true mission in life, simply because someone forgot this fact.
If you have not been there and done that you probably will not understand most of these.
I always read the Pentagon casualty notices and MIA notices. This one jumped out at me yesterday, as it would to anyone familiar with the history of the Chosin Reservoir campaign.
Lt. Col. Don Faith, Jr. was the unfortunate leader of one of the biggest disasters in American military history, taking over command of the Army regiment on the east side of Chosin after the commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment was killed and the other two battalion commanders were badly wounded. The regiment, badly outnumbered and hampered by inept general officers, suffered a 90 percent casualty rate. Its colors now are displayed in Beijing, I am told.
However, the sacrifice of the Army regiment bought much-needed time for the Marine division consolidating on the west side of the reservoir.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that a serviceman, who was unaccounted-for from the Korean War, has been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr. of Washington, Ind., will be buried April 17, in Arlington National Cemetery. Faith was a veteran of World War II and went on to serve in the Korean War. In late 1950, Faith's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), was advancing along the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, in North Korea. From Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 1950, the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces (CPVF) encircled and attempted to overrun the U.S. position. During this series of attacks, Faith's commander went missing, and Faith assumed command of the 31st RCT. As the battle continued, the 31st RCT, which came to be known as "Task Force Faith," was forced to withdraw south along Route 5 to a more defensible position. During the withdrawal, Faith continuously rallied his troops, and personally led an assault on a CPVF position.
Records compiled after the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, to include eyewitness reports from survivors of the battle, indicated that Faith was seriously injured by shrapnel on Dec. 1, 1950, and subsequently died from those injuries on Dec. 2, 1950. His body was not recovered by U.S. forces at that time. Faith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor -- the United States' highest military honor -- for personal acts of exceptional valor during the battle.
In 2004, a joint U.S. and Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (D.P.R.K) team surveyed the area where Faith was last seen. His remains were located and returned to the U.S. for identification.
To identify Faith's remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence, compiled by DPMO and JPAC researchers, and forensic identification tools, such as dental comparison. They also used mitochondrial DNA -- which matched Faith's brother.
The National Defense University and Fort McNair last week dedicated Grant Hall, which contains a re-creation of the 1865 court room where the Lincoln conspirators were tried. Below are comments made at the dedication by Hans Binnendijk, former vice president of NDU, who led the team that remodeled Grant Hall and recreated the trial scene:
This evening we are gathered to dedicate Grant Hall and to witness the recreation of the 1865 court room where justice was dispensed to those conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln and to decapitate the United States government. It is here that the last chapter of our calamitous Civil War ended.
It is fitting that this historic building be named in honor of Ulysses S. Grant, the General-in-Chief of the Union Army during our Civil War and subsequently our 18th President. He was in command while the trial of the Lincoln conspirators took place and this part of the original penitentiary was preserved during his presidential administration. Grant Hall's proximity to Lincoln Hall reminds us of the friendship and trust these two men shared.
The trial began on May 9, 1865, less than a month after Lincoln's assassination. A laundry room above the Deputy Warden's quarters was converted to a court room. That court room now looks much as it did in 1865. The eight defendants were held in the cells isolated, handcuffed and chained. The men were forced to wear cloth hoods over their heads. The nine person jury or commission was made up predominantly of Army officers. The use of a military court to try civilians was controversial at that time, as it is now. A simple majority was needed to find guilt and a 2/3rds majority was required for the death penalty. Defense attorneys were given very little time to prepare. There was no appeal except to President Andrew Johnson. And he was in no mood to grant appeals.
The trial lasted longer than Secretary of War Edwin Stanton would have liked. He wanted a very speedy trial to avoid any chance of rekindling the Confederacy. A total of 351 witnesses were called. On July 5 the commission sent its verdict to President Johnson who concurred with all of their findings except for clemency for Mary Surratt.
On July 6 the defendants were told about their fate and on July 7, 1865, four were hanged. Alexander Gardner captured their execution in a series of photos that set a new standard at the time for photojournalism. The other four defendants were sent to prison in the Dry Tortugas - three returned alive. Three of the four who were hanged (Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold) were in my view clearly guilty of a capital offense. Powell assailed and nearly killed Secretary of State Seward. Atzerodt got drunk and decided not to assassinate Andrew Johnson, but he had advance knowledge of the plot. Herold joined Booth in his escape.
The fate of Mary Surratt has led to continued controversy. Many books and now the movie The Conspirator argue her case. She was certainly a Confederate sympathizer and her son John Surratt was among the earliest of Booth's conspirators. Her boarding house on H Street was considered to be "the nest in which the plot was hatched." She visited her home in what is now Clinton, Maryland, on the day of the assassination to deliver a package for John Wilkes Booth; that was Booth's first stop after assassinating Lincoln. The issue became "what did she know and when did she know it." There was clearly some witness-tampering and she was convicted based on circumstantial evidence.
With this ceremony, Grant Hall joins several other buildings that played a crucial role in the events surrounding Lincoln's assassination and that have been renovated. There is Ford's Theater with its wonderful museum in the basement, the Peterson House where Lincoln died; the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland; and now Grant Hall. Mary Surratt's boarding house on H Street has a historic plaque on it but remains a Chinese restaurant. That should be the renovators' next target.
National Defense University
The first is by Marine Lt. Col. Robert Bracknell. "Specifically identifying the Army's modern-era reluctance to effect senior leader reliefs as a departure from the pattern of history, Ricks paints an image of the ultimate country club, self-righteously convinced of its own infallibility -- an Army for the sake of The Army, rather than for the sake of the Nation," he writes. He faults the book, though, for underestimating "the moral component necessary to maintain the respect of privates, sergeants, captains, and colonels." His bottom line is that, "If the military truly is as reflective and self-critical as it likes to advertise, The Generals should land on the Chairman's and Service chiefs' reading lists soon." (Tom: Not holding breath.)
The second review is by grand old strategist Alan Gropman, who singles out the Vietnam section of the book: "The strategic debacle in Vietnam is exceptionally well treated." I appreciated that because I thought the Vietnam discussion was one of the most interesting parts of the book and so I have been surprised that so few reviewers commented on it.
Gropman disagrees with my sections on counterinsurgency, because he has concluded that we simply can't do it:
Ricks appears to believe counterinsurgency combat is a valid combat mission for the U.S. military. It is not. I do not understand why any political decisionmaker, after costly failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, would advocate counterinsurgency. We go to war in places we do not understand -- in order to save nondemocratic and often corrupt states that are open to attacks by insurgents -- against adversaries who have greater knowledge than we do of the countries we fight.
Tom again: I would say that the war you can't fight is the war the enemy is most likely to seek.
Gropman's bottom line: "read Tom Ricks' The Generals to appreciate better the awful costs to the United States of failures in strategic thinking."
I see the Spanish seem to be contemplating a replay of the battle of Trafalgar.
That reminds me of something I read the other day, that Lord Nelson's form of mission command was very intensive conversation before the fight, very hands off once it began, observed A.B.C. Whipple:
Nelson believed in sharing tactical options with his captains, discussing every possible situation and emphasizing that when battle was in progress, every captain would be on his own. If a captain saw an opportunity to do damage to the enemy, he was free to attack without awaiting signals from the flagship's masthead. The old line-ahead dogmas of each ship's blindly following the leader was not only dead, it was replaced by something previously unheard-of in the Royal Navy: delegation of authority.
By Lt. Col. Tom Cooper, USAF
Best Defense aerial book critic
In order to support our Best Defense host's desire to learn more about Air Force history, I thought I'd provide an airman's perspective on The Generals. Many reviews of Tom's most recent book ping-pong back and forth against the Army and in favor of the Army but make no mention of the teamwork required to execute military operations since World War II. I don't have much experience working under direct Army leadership but I do know that the contributions of the joint team were not fully accounted for in the book.
The subtitle of Tom's book, "American Military Command from World War II to Today," is not a complete statement because it neglects all naval and air leaders who have made significant contributions to military operations in the same period. Fortunately for the nation, more than just the Army and Marine Corps conduct military operations. The narrow vision of "the military" presented in the book does not fully capture the lessons of leadership for the way joint warfighting is conducted today. It is joint teamwork that makes American military operations succeed. And it is perspectives born from different service experiences that help broaden the thinking of leaders and produce the high-level of trust needed for joint success.
Unfortunately, many assume the strategic leader ought to wear the same "boots" as the guys sent to fight -- probably tactically appropriate, but unproven strategically. A single-service strategic perspective does not take advantage of the joint force the nation has prepared to fight its wars. The Joint Task Force Commander should be surrounded by a diversity of thought, not same-service minions that benefit from agreeing and reinforcing the same-service leader's way of thinking. The military successes (and military failures) of the leaders highlighted by Ricks require deeper examination through a joint warfighting lens. Each success in The Generals embraced diverse viewpoints of how to fight over single-service concepts.
Many people assumed that the wars of the past decade needed leaders with a ground perspective, but leaders who can approach problems from other viewpoints might have led to different outcomes. A different perspective might have created innovative ways to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan that may have cost less and risked less. In My Share of the Task, General Stanley McChrystal's descriptions of increasing the pace of operations of Task Force 712 to hunt Zarqawi is similar to the military challenge General Carl Spaatz faced when put in charge of achieving air superiority before D-Day. I don't know if General McChrystal ever studied air operations over Europe, but the challenge of generating an operational pace that can exhaust your enemy while not exhausting your own was a significant lesson Carl Spaatz learned in the skies over Europe in early 1944. Similarly, "it takes a network" rings very closely to how airmen across generations thought about generating an effects chain to disrupt enemy actions before "effects-based operations" became a "concept that should not be spoken of" by a respected senior leader.
To understand the diversity of thought brought by different military experiences, consider the following academic example. As an airman, I chose a path that did not train me to understand the tactics of an infantry squad, and I have no expectation that I should lead in the infantry. However, in choosing the Air Force, I chose a service that develops an innovative mindset not hindered by geography and more conscious of range.
This became particularly evident to me while participating in a recent Army-led Antietam staff ride. The experience included the entire South Mountain campaign and siege of Harpers Ferry, giving a more strategic viewpoint than what happened in the individual, but instructive, skirmishes. We began on a hillside looking north towards Frederick, Maryland, where our leader, a well-respected, retired infantry colonel, asked us what Lee was trying to do by moving towards Pennsylvania. My Army counterpart, a SAMS graduate who has thought about these things at length, responded, "The terrain in the valley was a natural funnel for Lee to take the ground ahead of him and move into the North." I looked at the terrain, thought of the geography, remembered my very slight skimming of Landscape Turned Red and said, "Didn't Lee really want to get across Maryland into Pennsylvania to gain access to the industrial capacity of the North and possibly show the European allies that the Confederacy was for real?" Right or wrong, what struck me was that I saw "terrain" across a broader distance like you'd see from the air and my Army counterpart's view was shaped by infantry experience of being on foot. It was the sharing of two diverse viewpoints that created a broader view of what Lee was trying to accomplish.
Similarly, Ricks's most successful examples in The Generals used contributions of diverse thinking airmen to strengthen the fight. General George Marshall's embrace of the yet-unproven Army Air Corps and faith in its leader, General Henry "Hap" Arnold, to strengthen the independent Army Air Forces early in World War II is proof alone of the need for a broader viewpoint towards warfighting. Marshall's trust in Hap Arnold to grow the AAF to a robust, independent fighting organization, sometimes at the expense of ground force priorities, was critical to military success. Just as highlighted by Ricks, it is Marshall's superior leadership that many look to for a superior example of how a strategic leader should lead. Marshall's leadership skill is solidified by the fact that all his ground Army subordinates in both theaters embraced the contributions of airpower.
In Europe, Eisenhower clearly understood the use of airpower to change the situation on the ground. Eisenhower had significant trust in RAF Air Marshall Arthur Tedder and AAF commander in Europe General Carl Spaatz. Tedder was Eisenhower's second in command for the invasion of Normandy. Spaatz was "Eisenhower's Airman" as he commanded United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe. Eisenhower understood the integration of ground and air forces so well that when it came to establishing his headquarters in England, he co-located his with Spaatz. Eisenhower rated Spaatz and General Omar Bradley as the two leaders who did the most to defeat the Germans, specifically describing Spaatz as an "Experienced and able air leader: loyal and cooperative; modest and selfless; always reliable." A final testimony of this trust is in what Eisenhower wrote to Spaatz in 1948: "No man can justly claim a greater share than you in the attainment of victory in Europe." General Omar Bradley, when asked by Eisenhower to rank top generals in prioritized order based on their contribution to the defeat of Germany, listed Spaatz as number two and General Elwood R. "Pete" Quesada as number four. Two in the top five were airmen. (Bedell-Smith was one, Courtney Hodges was another, and Patton didn't make the top five.)
In the Pacific, General Douglas McArthur's relationship with General George Kenney is one of the more interesting stories of how an innovative air leader changed the way we fought on the ground during World War II. Kenney's ability to integrate both air and ground fighting to hop through the southwest Pacific is what MacArthur's success was built on. From innovative new bombing techniques to airdrop methods using bombers and cargo aircraft to cutting trucks in half to move them into the fight, at every turn Kenney used his unique experience and perspective to strengthen the fight on the ground. MacArthur's own words about Kenney are the most descriptive of what he contributed: "Of all the commanders in the war, none surpassed him in those three great essentials of successful combat leadership: aggressive vision, mastery over air tactics and strategy, and the ability to exact the maximum in fighting qualities from both men and equipment." It is clear that Kenney had MacArthur's trust to use his unique viewpoint on how to fight to achieve military victory.
Numerous examples exist and all become clear in a recently released volume of biographies titled Air Commanders. This book's detailed descriptions of air commanders in conflicts ranging from World War II to Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom highlight the role played by airmen and the contributions of airpower to these conflicts. The unique perspective provided by these air leaders to achieve military effects differently than what would have been achieved by fighting through a single-service lens is a critical lesson for future commanders. Each example is stronger or weaker based on the teamwork between the ground commander and the air commander. Our most successful military operations tend to have leaders that understood fighting in the air as strengthening the fight and not as threatening to the Army as they increasingly have since the early 1950s. A couple of the less lauded Army leaders in The Generals begin to exhibit fear of airpower during the Korean War. Maj. Gen. Ned Almond was opposed to the Air Force's concept for conducting air operations and Gen. Mark Clark advocated that tactical air forces should operate purely under the command of the ground commander. In both cases, airpower's flexibility was not embraced and may have limited airminded solutions for fighting in Korea. Just look to one of the heroes of The Generals for what a dose of airmindedness can achieve -- General O.P. Smith's first action during fighting at the Chosin Reservoir was to build a runway.
Services don't fight wars, the nation does. The nation fights wars by the application of the full capabilities of joint force to achieve a military outcome. Ground combat should not be the goal of military leaders when they develop plans, in fact it might be argued that we should fight in a way that makes forces on the ground engaging the enemy a last resort. By discussing generalship and its effectiveness purely in terms of the Army, it discounts the strength of the joint team and what our nation expects and deserves. Our nation invests heavily in building a trained joint force that integrates diverse warfighting perspectives across the spectrum of military operations. Using examples from one service viewpoint, without recognizing joint teamwork, is half the story and does not strengthen future leaders with examples of leadership that truly strengthens how we fight today. As we continue toward a smaller, more capable, more adaptable military for the United States, leadership examples with unique perspectives, teamwork, and, most importantly, trust are increasingly important and should be emphasized.
Lt. Col. Tom Cooper is deployed from Headquarters Air Force to the Office of Security Cooperation -- Iraq, where he works to build more than just one strong Air Force.
Myles Cullen, U.S. Department of Defense
I've long wanted to know more about what the Iraq war looked like from the side of the insurgents. I actually had hoped one day to write a book about this in collaboration with Anthony Shadid, but he was killed about 13 months ago while trying to cover the fighting in Syria.
But I got a bit of insight, unexpectedly, when reading Ernie O' Malley's On Another Man's Wound: A Personal History of Ireland's War of Independence, which was recommended recently by one of this blog's guest columnists. (I didn't know when I learned that the book and his other memoir were the basis for the great film The Wind That Shakes the Barley.)
Here is O'Malley's net assessment of the war. It sounds kind of familiar, no?
The enemy could have regular meals, a standard of comfort, the advantage of numbers and training, more than ample supplies of ammunition, and well-cared-for and efficient weapons, but they were...operating in a hostile countryside when they left the shelter of their barracks....The British could defeat some of our columns and round-up our men, but they could not maintain civil administration when they had lost the support of the people.
Tom again: O'Malley found that the British army, though full of veterans of World War I, was slow to adjust to the situation in the Irish fighting, where the rebels could move among the people. "Few [British] might be elastic enough for guerrilla fighting," he concluded. He detected in the British soldiers "a glum, swarthy melancholy."
As a captive, he concluded that, "Soldiers make bad gaolers," or jailers. He eventually escaped. The British never even figured out his true identity, even though they beat him and threatened to torture him with a red-hot poker, holding it close enough to his face to burn his eyebrows and singe his eyeballs. Calling Abu Ghraib!
What did victory look like? One day early in 1921, the fact that the fence-sitters were coming over to the side of the rebels made O'Malley realize he was winning: "We were becoming almost popular. Respectable people were beginning to crawl into us; neutrals and those who thought they had best come over were changing from indifference or hostility to a painful acceptance."
One important difference, though I don't know quite what to make of it: The British soldiers and their Irish foes were much closer culturally than were the Americans and Iraqi insurgents. They could even speak to each other, which meant that O'Malley could sort of apologize to some British officers held prisoner before executing them. O'Malley's brother had even been in the British army.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.