Here's a nice review of my new book from Stars & Stripes. (Sorry, Hunter.) They get to the point quickly: "The idea that people who aren't good at their jobs must be fired shouldn't be a revolutionary concept in a place like the Army, where failure gets people killed." The bottom line: "Army leaders would do well to take notes."
I also was on NPR's Talk of the Nation earlier this week with two novelists whose work I admire, Karl Marlantes and Tim O'Brien. They are both Vietnam vets. It was a moving show. I teared up during one of the phone calls.
I just learned the other day that George Marshall began planning for the postwar demobilization of the Army on April 14, 1943, before the landings on Sicily, and indeed before a single American soldier was fighting in Europe. That's confidence.
But no, George Marshall was not perfect. On July 16, 1946, the Pentagon "suspended Army enlistment of Negroes (except certain specialists) because Negro recruits enrolled at a rate of 1 to every 5 white recruits, exceeding Army's 1 to 10 ratio." I read in another book that that ratio was set at the end of the Civil War, so hard to blame on Marshall. But still.
Finally, I didn't know that an estimated 20,000 American servicemen publicly demonstrated in Manila in 1946 to be allowed to return to the United States sooner than planned.
(All three facts from the Army's official 1952 History of Personnel Demobilization in the United States Army)
Library of Congress
That's the question that occurred to me as I read Douglas Allen's fine essay on how the Royal Navy managed its skippers -- and provided incentives for aggressive approaches -- during the age of fighting sail. I was struck by his passing observation that in the mid-18th century, 8.5 percent of its captains were dismissed or court-martialed.
That's not far from the rate of relief of 16 out of 155 U.S. Army generals who commanded divisions in combat in World War II -- the point of departure in my latest book. So I wondered: In organizations determined to enforce standards and insist on aggressive competence, is there a natural rate of relief of roughly 9 or 10 percent? Business is not the same as military operations, but I also remember that three decades ago, when I was a Wall Street Journal reporter based in Florida, one of the better banks in the state, Barnett, had an annual branch manager relief rate of 10 percent. A couple of people also have reminded me that GE, under Jack Lynch, had a policy of easing out the bottom 10 percent of its managers every year.
But the piece on the Royal Navy is much more far-ranging. It essentially is a study of how the Navy leadership of the 18th century addressed the important question of how to run a large organization with global reach but iffy communications. (The person who sent it to me was thinking about how one might organize command and control of a future U.S. space fleet.) It was also a successful organization, in which, despite being "constantly outnumbered in terms of ships or guns,...still managed to win most of the time." Professor Allen outlines what he calls "the critical rules of the captains and admirals" that ensured that commanders would operate more or less in the interest of the nation rather than in their own. "The entire governance structure encouraged British captains to fight rather than run" -- and so also to have crews trained to fight.
Prize money was especially important. Some senior officers grew rich off the capture of enemy ships. "At a time when an admiral of the fleet might earn 3,000 pounds a year, some admirals amassed 300,000 pounds of prize money." The awards also trickled down: In 1799, when three frigates captured two Spanish ships, each seaman in the three crews received 182 pounds -- the equivalent of 13 years of annual pay.
A reader writes with this request for you well-informed BD readers. It reminds me that I read the other day that Russia took more casualties at Stalingrad than the United States suffered during the entire war:
While I've read many books about World War II, they've all been from the Western perspective (and predominantly about the United States' role in the war). I've been reading Dominic Tierney's mediocre but salvageable How We Fight, and he made a particularly interesting note about Russia's more significant role in WWII compared to the US -- more loss of life, greater stakes, and ultimate victory.
I've never read an account of WWII from the Russian perspective, and I'm not quite sure where to start in my search for one or two good volumes. I was hoping you might either have a suggestion, or be interested in posting to your blog to see what answers may come.
I suspect that the ease with which the U.S. military has accepted openly gay personnel may have encouraged the Pentagon to drop the much-tattered combat restriction on women. The same arguments that were made against integration of blacks in the 1940s and of gays over the last 10 years were made against allowing women to openly serve in combat roles. But, despite those Chicken Littles and Henny Pennies, the sky didn't fall. And the failure of those dire predictions of destroyed unit cohesion to pan out undercut the argument against women in combat. Also, there was a powerful argument that we already have seen women fight in Iraq -- and be decorated for valor in combat.
Ironically, integrating women into infantry units may be far harder than it was to integrate blacks and male gays. The real battle is yet to come: It will be over whether there will be different standards for women than for men, and if so, how different. Or, as retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger puts it, "'If you want to ride this ride, you must be this tall' must be the mantra, not 'everyone gets to play.'"
I was thinking over that question last night as I fell asleep at the Army War College, where I am visiting. I think one reason President Obama excites so much emotion is that he represents the end of the Reagan revolution.
Look at this way. FDR's New Deal lasted about four decades, until it began collapsing under President Carter. Then Reagan came along. In a nutshell, he inverted the New Deal: Government was not the answer, he said, it was part of the problem. He also began a massive transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the top 1 percent of our society. One reason he could do this is that he didn't get us into an expensive war.
In both cases, eventual successors from the other party lived with the work of their predecessors. Just as Eisenhower did not try to undo the New Deal, Clinton did not try to reverse the Reagan revolution.
I don't think Obama killed the Regan revolution. I think it was getting old -- it had lasted nearly three decades. But I think the Reagan influence effectively was killed by President Bush's lengthy Iraq war, which proved so expensive that it was no longer possible to transfer wealth to the rich at the Reagan-era rate without running up huge deficits.
Obama, I think, buried the corpse, especially with his second inaugural. Government, he is saying, often is part of the answer. I think people are ready to hear this. They don't mind paying taxes as long as they believe the results are concrete: fewer potholes, longer library hours, healthier kids -- and disaster relief for the victims of Sandy.
A few years ago I swore off reading more books about the Civil War because I decided I needed to broaden my scope and learn more about other events.
But just when I think I am out, I get pulled back in. The other day I picked up the Army's official History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775-1945, a 1955 publication. I was looking for information on the history of U.S. military drawdowns, but instead found myself fascinated by the breakout of some personnel statistics from the Civil War.
I was surprised by how small the initial calls for manpower were in April 1861. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Arkansas each were given quotas of 780 men. The four biggest initial providers of federal manpower were New York (13,906), Pennsylvania (20,175, far greater than its quota of 12,500), Ohio (12,357), and to my surprise, Missouri. This last state had a quota of 3,123 but furnished 10,591 men. Anybody know why? (I don't.)
New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio held their positions during the war as the three largest suppliers of soldiers. But Pennsylvania stands out as the largest source of "paid commutations." Some 28,171 of its people hired a substitute or paid $300 to get out of being drafted. That's about 10,000 more than New York, the second largest commutator. I wonder if this reflects the fact that there were a lot of wealthy Quakers in Philadelphia? (I know the Amish also are pacifists, but I doubt that farmers could afford to pay $300 in 1860s dollars, unless somehow the community collectively raised the money.)
The overall desertion rate also surprised me: Of a total of 2.7 million men raised for the force, there were nearly 200,000 desertions.
Black troops overwhelmingly came from the south. The largest provider of any state was Louisiana, with 24,052, followed by Kentucky (23,703), and Tennessee (20,133). The surprise to me here was Texas, which is listed as providing 47, fewer than any other state, even including Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. My wife, the 19th century historian, says this is because Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee were occupied, while Texas was "the least occupied state." At any rate, the black contributions were significant -- Louisiana and Kentucky provided more black troops than total troops sent to the war by Rhode Island or Delaware.
The WTF moment for me in Obama's second inaugural address, delivered Monday at noon, was his use of the phrase "peace in our time." This came during his discussion of foreign policy, and in such circles, that phrase is a synonym for appeasement, especially of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. What signal does his using it send to Iran? I hope he was just using it to jerk Netanyahu's chain.
I also simply didn't understand what he meant by "a world without boundaries." But my immediate thought was, No, right now we need boundaries -- like those meant to keep Iran out of Syria and Pakistan out of Afghanistan.
Two things I did like:
Overall, I'd give it a C-. It wasn't a terrible speech, but I am grading on the curve because I have seen him do so much better. Overall, the rhetoric seemed tired, like second-rate Kennedyisms, which may reflect the pack of Hill rats and political hacks staffing the White House. It made me wonder if the president is depressed. I mean, I wouldn't blame him. But not a happy thought.
The new issue of Journal of Military History carries two reviews of my new book. One is by Edward Coffman, one of the grand old men of American military history, who calls The Generals "fascinating." His bottom line: "This is a well researched and written book which informs readers about the Army's command problems since the Korean War."
The other review is by Roger Spiller, a bit more of a military insider than Coffman, having taught for decades at Fort Leavenworth. I've read several of his books, and used one of them quite a lot in writing The Generals. I had expected him to do the "con" review to balance Coffman's. Rather, he also is complimentary. He says I have the reputation of being "the best American military correspondent since Hanson Baldwin." (I think he may need to check out the works of Peter Braestrup, C.J. Chivers, Sean Naylor, Dexter Filkins, and several other people.) His bottom line: "Ricks's assessment may well provoke discussion in official circles, but one might ask whether the leaders produced by the system are capable of reforming themselves."
When I was writing my most recent book, one of the things that struck me is how rotating commanders undercuts military effectiveness. So when reading a West Point oral history interview of Eliot Cohen, the Johns Hopkins strategist and historian, I was pleased to see him hit the point solidly:
The rotation of commands, by the way, is -- this is kind of a technical point -- but it's -- it is still insane that what we do is we rotate divisional headquarters and corps headquarters to these places. And that's just military malpractice. I mean it means you have no institutional continuity whatsoever.
Tom again: Cohen makes an interesting observation in the same interview:
...the military obviously likes to say, "Don't come to me with a problem. Come to me with a solution." I think that's sort of bogus. I think first you've got to realize that you've got a problem, and sometimes the solution to the problem may not be clear. But you're only going to begin figuring it out once you acknowledge that you've got a problem.
Johns Hopkins University SAIS
As defense secretary, Charles Hagel is likely to be particularly attuned to the needs of enlisted soldiers and skeptical of the demands of senior officers. That's my takeaway from reading the transcript of an oral history interview he gave to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Sure, he was in Vietnam 45 years ago -- but he made these statements in 2002.
"The people in Washington make the policy, but it's the little guys who come back in the body bags," he said near the end of the interview.
He also came away from Vietnam underwhelmed by his senior leaders. Here's an extended comment about that:
I was not much impressed with our -- our battalion leaders, our XOs. I don't -- I didn't ever get a sense that they came down in, enough into the platoon company level to really do what I thought officers should do. And the lieutenants and the captains carried the bulk, as they do in any war, essentially. But it was the sergeants. It was the senior enlisted that carried the weight. I mean really carried the weight. And it was obvious to everybody. And they -- the senior sergeants were the reassuring, calming guys. And in many cases, many cases, these were the guys that didn't fall apart. And some of the officers did. And some of the officers couldn't read maps very well. And I just -- I never had much confidence in -- in a lot of the officer corps. Now, there were exceptions to that. Some exceptional officers that I saw and I served with.
It is also striking how the Army he served in differs from today's. In 1968, Hagel had been in the Army less than two years, yet for a short time after the Tet Offensive, he served as "acting company sergeant." That's a green force.
Other stuff that struck me:
Charles T. Hagel (AFC/2001/001/2230), Photographs (PH02), photographer unknown, Veterans History Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
By Jeff Williams
Best Defense office of reviewing books about obscure weapons
"History does not repeat itself but it rhymes" - Mark Twain
As the centennial of the First World War is nearly upon us, it is rather ironic to note that Mark Twain's insight bears some relevance in today's world. A hundred years ago there was also an intense naval competition between two great powers. Today we find American naval supremacy being challenged by the up and coming Asian land power China. This is not so different from the early 20th century when Great Britain's rule of the waves was challenged by the powerful European land power Germany.
Like contemporary America and China, Great Britain and Germany were very substantial trading partners, but also global strategic rivals. As that rivalry increased in tempo it drew British naval power away from her far-flung empire closer to home in the North Atlantic and North Sea. These two bodies of water in effect acted as a gate to the maritime ambitions of Germany.
This situation is not so different from China's strategic concern today about its own access to those sea areas that it considers of vital strategic interest. In light of this, both the United States and China find themselves in a competition to develop strategies and tactics for new technologies that in many ways resembles the century old contest between Great Britain and Germany.
To help us understand that naval rivalry between the British and Germans, comes the familiar figure of Norm Friedman, a highly regarded naval writer well known among those with an interest in naval warfare past and present. His previous works such as U.S. Aircraft Carriers and Naval Firepower are the gold standards for a more in-depth understanding of both naval aviation and surface gunnery in both World Wars. Friedman's new book Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations is an excellent addition to his library of naval writings.
The real impact of Friedman's book is the tracing of the development of weapon systems, how they were understood, and their influence upon tactics and strategy. For instance, the long-range torpedo had a significant impact upon the thinking of both British and German naval theoreticians. The 1914 British adage was that "gunnery fills a ship with air but the torpedo fills it with water." The Royal Navy's tactical response to this observation was to increase the range and rate of fire of their gunnery, in order to disable an enemy vessel, followed by the coup-de-grace of a destroyer-led torpedo attack.
However, there were unintended consequences to increases in the rates of fire of a battleship's main armament. Certain key safety precautions were informally set aside, such as keeping turret ammunition flash doors open rather than having them safely shut during action. Many naval historians like to point out that the deck armor of the ill-fated battlecruisers Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and Invincible was too thin. In actuality their tragic loss had much more to do with the "tactical factor" of dangerous ammunition handling techniques adopted to speed the rate of fire rather than the "design factor" of deck armor thickness. The original concept of the battlecruiser as a class was high speed for scouting ahead of the battlefleet. These ships likely could never have reached their designed speed if deck armor was made thick enough to protect against excellent German AP shells, thus defeating the rationale of their operational intent.
German ammunition handling procedures at Jutland were far safer, albeit slower, in that flash doors remained closed and ammunition was stored in brass cases rather than vulnerable silk bags. This did reduce their rate of fire but also considerably lessened the risk of a catastrophic explosion. Consequently, the hard school of battle forced the British to rethink ammunition handling and enforce safer procedures. Battle also instructed them on developing improved fire-control to overcome German maneuvering, designed to disrupt fire-control solutions.
Additionally, the British had studied and liked the idea of a massed torpedo attack at the culmination point of a battle and without further evidence made the assumption that the Germans did also. While the Germans might have liked to make massed torpedo attacks, they didn't. German doctrine considered torpedoes far too expensive and valuable to be squandered in such a fashion. The famous turn away of the German High Seas Fleet at Jutland, screened by only a few torpedoes, was far from being the massed attack that Admiral Jellicoe, the British Grand Fleet commander, anticipated.
One of the most surprising revelations Friedman makes concerns the fact that while it was long-standing Royal Navy practice to maintain a tactical fleet plot during an engagement, it was not German practice. According to Friedman, what happened at Jutland "was that the German commander Admiral von Scheer, discovered to his surprise that he had no idea whatever of what was happening -- he maintained no plot and the situation was far too complicated for anything less. In that sense he was profoundly defeated and the only important conclusion he drew was that he never wanted to fight the British fleet again." Von Sheer's self-induced confusion was largely responsible for allowing Jellicoe to place his fleet across the Germans not once, but three times. Additionally, it seems the primitiveness of German tactical doctrine was largely responsible for the failure of von Scheer's initial cruiser scouting plan. The botched job of scouting led directly to von Scheer's later surprise and confusion.
Freidman's book also discusses the use of mines as a highly potent weapon. Tactically laid minefields constrained the maneuvering of both fleets in the North Sea and had probably more direct implications on immediate naval operations than any other single factor, other than the submarine. The mine was the ultimate passive-aggressive weapon whose cost-benefit was highly efficient and remains so to this day. He also reviews the primitive beginnings of ASW and thoroughly discusses both its limitations and future promise to be fully revealed in the Second World War.
Norm Friedman's book is not a page-turner, but if you have an interest in naval history and the interplay of technology, tactics, and strategy, you might enjoy this new addition to his library of naval literature. In my view, just the coverage of the British and German experience at Jutland is worth the price of the book.
-Many thanks to ‘Tyrtaios' who contributed many important suggestions to the writing of this review.
Jeff Williams spent his working life at IBM and Merrill Lynch, but always sustained a deep curiosity about military and naval history. His paramount interest has always been the Royal Navy of the Georgian era but his fascination with the First World War has led him to extend that interest to the naval campaigns of that conflict.
I may be in your neighborhood soon. Here is list of my speaking engagements for the coming months:
Wed. Jan. 23 -- Two events at Army War College, Carlisle, Pa. -- lunchtime talk and an evening seminar
Tues. Jan. 29 -- RAND, Pentagon City, Va. (noonish) -- talk
Tues. Feb. 5 -- Army-Navy Club, Washington DC (6:30) -- talk
Tues. Feb. 12 -- Lewis Sorley's group, The Tertulias (noonish) -- talk
Wed. Feb. 13 -- members of Congress, Capitol Hill (6:30) -- discussion
Thurs. Feb. 14 -- GAO national security staff, DC (2 pm) -- talk
Sunday, Feb. 24 -- George Marshall house, Leesburg, Va.
Tues. March 12 -- The Basic School, Quantico, Va. (4 pm) -- talk
Wed. March 13 -- Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pa. (7:15) -- talk
Tues. April 2 -- Marine Corps University. (2 pm) -- talk
Rear Adm. John Kirby
Chief of Naval Information
Here are 15 books that have made an enormous impact on me, personally and professionally. Indeed, I can honestly say that each of these has affected not only the way I do my job, but the way I think about the way I do my job.
These are books I have read and re-read several times and often give as gifts.
It's not an all-inclusive list by any stretch. I love to read lots of different stuff. There are no works of fiction on it, for example, and there are no works of naval history -- both of which I enjoy immensely. I chose, rather, specific books that have helped me make sense of the world around me and shaped the ways in which I try to communicate for the institution.
I claim no particular expertise in public relations. I've never received any formal education in the field. These books, then, have largely served as my reference library for a career built through "on-the-job" training. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
1. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
This is THE definitive book on how to write powerfully and clearly, everything from memoirs and travel pieces to science and technology articles. Right in the opening pages -- on page five in fact -- he talks about the unspoken transaction between a writer and his readers: "Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from paragraph to the next, and it's not a question of gimmicks to ‘personalize.' It's a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength." If you want to write with clarity and strength -- and we should ALL want to do that -- this is the book you need to read. Then pick it up a few months later and read it again.
2. Brave Men, by Ernie Pyle
War is messy and ugly, cruel and destructive. But it is also a STORY, a story of drama and skill and pain and suffering. It is tragedy and comedy all rolled into one, the exclamation point at the end of the human sentence. Nobody -- and I mean NOBODY -- tells that story better or more simply than Ernie Pyle did. Brave Men, first published in 1943, is a collection of his syndicated columns from the time he landed with our troops at Sicily until the liberation of Paris. He writes about World War II from the perspective of the troops, from the average Joe. There isn't a lot of strategy in this book, but there is an awful lot of heart.
3. Generating Buy In: Mastering the Language of Leadership, by Mark S. Walton
Adm. Mullen made me read this book before we left Naples to come back to DC. We both found it enormously helpful as he prepared to be CNO. It's not a big book, but it's full of big ideas about how to communicate effectively. I still consult it frequently. It's a MUST read. And don't let the title fool you. This is not some boring, new-age business book. It's about telling good stories and about being persuasive.
One of the chief lessons author Mark Walton -- a former CNN producer -- tries to impart conveys is the power of THREE. People typically don't remember more than three things at a time. That goes for messages, too. When you make a pitch, deliver a speech, or write a PA plan, keep it to three points and make them as personal as possible. Take the audience on a journey with you and you'll get "buy in."
4. The Eloquent President, by Ronald White
We all know that Lincoln was a powerful speaker, but what many people don't realize is just how hard he had to work to develop that skill and just how vital he considered it.
Examining a different speech, address, or public letter in each chapter, White explains the evolution of Lincoln's rhetoric from the lawyerly tones of the First Inaugural to the "immortal poetry" of the Gettysburg Address. He shows how hard Lincoln worked to be good at communicating. This is one of the best books I've read in the last five years, and it only reinforced for me the enduring power of the spoken word -- the speech --and the art form that is speechwriting.
5. The Savage Wars of Peace, by Max Boot
America has never really been an isolationist power. That's the premise of Max Boot's book. But just as critically, he says, we're pretty good at fighting "small wars."
We've had lots of practice, as Boot points out, basically staying "involved in other countries' internal affairs since at least 1805." And, let me tell you, THIS is a Navy-Marine Corps story: the Barbary Wars, Panama, Samoa, the Philippines, the Boxer Rebellion, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Beirut, Grenada. The list goes on. We were there.
You may take issue with Boot's conclusions about how and why such wars are fought, but his views deserve a hearing -- especially when we still have tens of thousands of troops fighting such wars in Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere, even while we stay ready for the large ones which may yet loom.
6. Let the Sea Make A Noise, by Walter McDougall
OK, this is a doorstop-sized book. Let me just get that out there right now. But it is well worth the time it will take you to read it. McDougall tells the twisted and sometimes sordid international history of the North Pacific since about the 16th century.
He does this masterfully and, as one reviewer says, "with a special emphasis on the intertwined histories of the Americans, Russians and Japanese." But he also tells the story by dreaming up seminars hosted by ghosts: Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary; Kaahumanu, consort of Hawaiian King Kamehameha; William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state; Count Sergey Witte, prime minister to Russia's Nicholas II; and Saito Hirosi, Japanese ambassador to the United States. The ghosts argue with him and with each other, as they debate the relevant issues and try to derive lessons for us today.
Diving into this book will prove useful for any Navy leader as we begin to focus more of our attention and intellectual capital on the Asia-Pacific region. It's a beast, but also a good refresher.
7. Other Men's Flowers, by Field Marshal Lord Wavell
I have become a big believer in the power of poetry. Poetry is not written for the eye. It's written for the ear, for the heart. It has rhythm and meter and symmetry -- the very things one needs to be a good communicator. It pulls you in even as it makes you smarter.
This is my favorite collection of poems, selected by Field Marshal Lord Wavell, a veteran of both World Wars and a scholarly man. Here is Kipling and Sir Walter Raleigh and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here is Browning and Asquith and G. K. Chesterton. Wavell collected these works for himself, to give him sustenance and comfort. "I have a great belief in the inspiration of poetry towards courage and vision," he said. "And we all want all the courage and wisdom at out command in days of crisis when our future prosperity and greatness hang in the balance."
8. Journalism Next, by Mark Briggs
I'm an old guy, which means I have very little imagination anymore. What I like about this little book is that it forces me to think about "what's next" in the field of journalism. I know enough to know that if I can't understand that, I'm dead in this business. I can't afford to stop learning.
Briggs does a great job laying it all out in simple, clear language -- complete with lots of graphs and pictures so the history major in me can get it. You'll learn the future of micro-blogging, how to edit digital audio and how to make news "participatory." It's a textbook of sorts for digital journalists, but PAOs and MCs can benefit a lot by reading it.
9. Counselor, by Ted Sorensen
I didn't like everything about this book, to be honest. At times I thought Sorensen was being way too self-serving. But then I needed to remind myself that virtually ALL autobiographies are self-serving. And it's a long read too, coming in at a whopping 896 pages.
But there is no denying that Sorensen was to John F. Kennedy what all good staff officers should be to their principals -- a MOST effective advisor. He didn't just write JFK's speeches (which were fantastic no matter what you think of Kennedy's politics); he advised the President on nearly all matters of state -- from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the decision to go to the moon.
Sorensen had plenty of chalk on his cleats. They were covered in it. We should strive for the same.
10. Profiles In Courage, by John F. Kennedy
Speaking of President Kennedy, I have always enjoyed re-reading this Pulitzer Prize winner of his. Artfully written, it tells the stories of eight U.S. Senators who defied constituent and/or party loyalties on conscience alone. He writes, for instance, of John Quincy Adams' break with the Federalist Party, Sam Houston speaking out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and Nebraska Senator George Norris, who opposed the arming of U.S. merchant ships as a violation of our neutrality in the early days of World War I.
All of these men suffered politically -- and sometimes personally -- for taking these stands, but they took them anyway. They had moral courage. This isn't a book about being right. It's a book about doing the right thing. And it's a classic.
11. Freedom at Midnight, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
It wasn't until I read this book that I felt like I truly understood the turmoil we continue to see in South and Central Asia. Ostensibly, this is a book about the partition of India, which took place at midnight on 15 August 1947. And it tells that story exceptionally well. The book reads like a novel. Indeed, the movie Gandhi was based on it.
But it really takes the reader inside the psychology of the four men most responsible for dividing up the British Raj into modern-day India and Pakistan: Lord Mountbatten, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It also reveals the utter brutality of that partition. It's a tragic story, but a critical one to understand if you want to understand why we still struggle with extremism in that part of the world.
12. Stride Toward Freedom, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am ashamed to admit that I didn't read this book until only a few years ago. It ought to be mandatory reading for every high-schooler. Not only was Dr. King a brilliant writer, he was also a good storyteller. And in this small but powerful work, he tells the story of the Montgomery Bus boycott -- the beginning of the civil rights movement.
Why does it matter? Because that was a seminal moment in American history -- the moment when we finally started to grapple with just who really were the "WE" in "We the people." It traces the journey of an entire community, dedicated not just to each other but to a better future for their children, and shows how a young man with passion and natural leadership ability helped transform a nation.
We cannot function as good advisors if we ourselves cannot understand other perspectives. And I don't believe you can begin to understand other perspectives until you feel them. Dr. King made me feel them.
13. The Life of Reilly, by Rick Reilly
I was never much of a sports fan as a kid. I played a lot of sports, but I didn't follow them much. The details of sports coverage just didn't interest me. Then, in college, I took a part-time job as a sports clerk with the St. Petersburg Times. I got to know a bunch of sportswriters and came to appreciate how difficult their job really is. Sure, it's fun to cover sports, but making it interesting and fun for readers is a whole different matter. That takes talent.
There is no more talented sportswriter than Rick Reilly. His column graced the back page of Sports Illustrated for nearly 23 years. Even my wife, no lover of sports, loved to read HIS stuff. She would often get to the magazine before I could and go straight to the back page. When he left Sports Illustrated in 2007, we canceled the subscription.
This book is a collection of his best columns up to about 2003. Some are funny, some are sad, some are poignant. But all of them make you think, and all of them are crisp.
It's like he's talking to you. You don't READ Rick Reilly, so much as HEAR him. That's good writing.
14. Following the Equator, by Mark Twain
Twain has always been my favorite author. I love his humor, his wit and the ease and simplicity of his writing. Following the Equator captures his essence best, in my view. It's a travel log of a trip he took around the world in 1897.
For Twain, the book was an attempt to make some badly needed money, but for his readers -- then and now -- it serves as a window into the world, a window we can still look through. He tackles racism and strip-mining and military adventurism. He lays bare the prejudices and the vices with which many foreign governments administered their colonies. And he does it all with the precision of a scalpel, making you think even as you laugh out loud.
Twain ends the work with this line: "Human pride is not worthwhile; there is always something lying in wait to take the wind out of it." A good lesson for us all.
15. Public Opinion, by Walter Lippman
Lippman was sort of the Tom Friedman of his day -- a columnist, a thinker, a provocateur. He wrote about pretty much everything: politics, social issues, the economy. He published this book in 1922 as a fundamental treatise on the nature of human information and communication. It is still very relevant today.
Divided into eight parts, the work covers such varied issues as stereotypes, image making, and organized intelligence. Though dense in places -- with examples that can be difficult for modern readers to follow -- Lippman lays out the cultural and psychological factors that affect the way people think about events.
"The analyst of public opinion," he writes, "must begin by recognizing the triangular relationship between the scene of action, the human picture of that scene, and the human response to that picture working itself out upon the scene." You don't have to look any further than today's headlines to see how true this phenomenon remains. We would do well to remember that it isn't just "what happens" that affects public opinion. It's what people THINK and FEEL about what happens. It's about the imagery those events call to mind.
You can have personal reading lists and professional reading lists. Here is the Navy's official compilation. It is quite different from Admiral Kirby's, but both are useful and interesting. Explanations and additional info here.
1812: The Navy's War
Cyber War: The Next
Threat to National Security
SEAL of Honor
Wake of the Wahoo
Shield and Sword
Crisis of Islam
Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
Red Star Over the Pacific
Execute Against Japan
The Man from Pakistan
Time Management from the Inside Out
The Morality of War
In the Shadow of Greatness
Wired for War
A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy
Navigating the Seven Seas
As you compile your resolutions for the new year, Best Defense is offering three different reading lists to help you. Here is a list from CIA veteran Hayden Peake. One reason I don't write much about intelligence is that I don't know much about it -- as this list reminds me -- I haven't read any of them. But he does.
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance: Acquisitions, Policies and Defense Oversight, by Johanna A. Montgomery (ed.).
The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English, by Joseph C. Goulden.
Black Ops Vietnam: The Operational History of MACVSOG, by Robert M. Gillespie.
Classical Spies: American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece, by Susan Heuck Allen.
Dealing With the Devil: Anglo-Soviet Intelligence Cooperation During the Second World War, by Dónal O'Sullivan.
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben Macintyre
Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner.
Franco's Friends: How British Intelligence Helped Bring Franco To Power In Spain, by Peter Day.
Gentleman Spymaster: How Lt. Col. Tommy 'Tar' Robertson Double-crossed the Nazis, by Geoffrey Elliott.
The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, by Joshua Kurlantzick.
Joe Rochefort's War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway, by Elliot Carlson, with a foreword by RAdm. Donald "Mac" Showers, USN (Ret.).
Malayan Spymaster: Memoirs of a Rubber Planter Bandit Fighter and Spy, by Boris Hembry.
Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence, by I.C. Smith and Nigel West.
Israel's Silent Defender: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence, by Amos Gilboa and Ephraim Lapid (eds.).
Learning from the Secret Past: Cases in British Intelligence History, by Robert Dover and Michael S. Goodman (eds.).
Main Intelligence Outfits of Pakistan, by P.C. Joshi.
The Politics of Counterterrorism in India: Strategic Intelligence and National Security in South Asia, by Prem Mahadevan.
Stalin's Man in Canada: Fred Rose and Soviet Espionage, by David Levy.
Stasi Decorations and Memorabilia: Volume II, by Ralph Pickard, with a foreword by Ambassador Hugh Montgomery.
From T.P. Cameron Wilson, who was killed in 1918:
. . . The gates of Heaven were open, quite
Unguarded, and unwired.
By Col. Gary Anderson (USMC, Ret.)
Best Defense department of defense de-organization
Three decades ago, when the military reform movement was beating the drum for what became the Goldwater-Nichols legislation, a number of us in uniform and out, were trying to sound a cautionary note. We got outvoted and the legislation passed. "Jointness" became the new mantra, and arguing against it became heresy, if not hate speak. Based on recent events, it may be time to reassess Goldwater-Nichols.
The proponents of the elevation of jointness to absolute military supremacy claimed that it would prevent long open ended wars such as Korea and Vietnam by giving the President and Secretary of Defense better military advice than they got in such conflicts. The reformers also promised more competent and professional military leadership and less cumbersome command arrangements. The results of the wars in Kosovo and Operation Desert Storm in the immediate aftermath of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation seemed to confirm the validity of those promises; but somewhere in the ensuing decades, the wheels came off.
Instead of fast and clean conflicts, we got Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only were they long and strategically muddled, they were also poorly executed by the joint institutions that Goldwater-Nichols was supposed to fix. In his new book, The Generals, Pulitzer Prize winning author Tom Ricks ruthlessly exposes the myth that our generalship was improved by Goldwater-Nichols. He argues that the generalship of the likes of Tommy Franks and Ricardo Sanchez was marked by absolutely mediocre planning and strategic leadership. In Afghanistan, we have had averaged one supreme leadership change a year. In addition the Navy relieved more commanders than in any time in its history, and the other services have been plagued by instances of misconduct by senior officers.
Many of those who argued for Goldwater-Nichols used the German General Staff as a model to aspire to. While the German generals were superb at tactics, they were lousy strategists. After winning the wars of German unification in the nineteenth century, they lost two disastrous world wars. As Ricks points out, our generals are good tacticians, but poor strategists. Ironically, the reformers got what they wished for.
The problem is not just with general officers; our joint staffs have become bloated with unneeded officers due to the legislative mandate that every officer aspiring to reach flag rank has to serve two years in a joint billet. No-one has ever explained how serving as a Joint Graves Registration Officer will produce our future Grants, Shermans, or Pattons. There was a time when being selected for major was the great cut in an officer's career. Today the running military joke is that if you can answer a phone, you can become a Major.
Strengthening the unity of command of joint operations was a good idea, but most of our regional joint staffs are bloated to a point where they ill-serve the commanders who lead them. Because of the number of joint officers the law requires. Admiral Halsey and Rommel won their most famous victories with staffs a fraction of the size of the average U.S. Army brigade combat team staff today.
This can be fixed. Unfortunately, we will need even more legislation. First, we need to get rid of the requirement that all general officer candidates be joint certified. All of our generals and admirals don't need to be superb joint war fighting experts. Rommel was not a General Staff officer, and Halsey would not have wanted to be one. The joint staff track should be reserved for those who aspire to eventual joint command and staff positions, but there should not be a stigma for those who want to lead air wings, Marine Corps Expeditionary Forces or Navy fleets; we need real warriors as well as soldier-diplomat strategists.
A smaller, more elite joint staff corps would allow us to concentrate on creating real strategic expertise. Joint Staff candidates should be put through a series of rigorous force-on-force seminar war games that would test their capability to make both diplomatic as well as military decisions against competent, thinking opponents. Those candidates who come up short in such tests should be sent back to their services with no stigma to their careers. Successful graduates would still spend time with troops, fly airplanes, or drive ships when not serving on joint staffs; however, once selected for flag rank, their command and staff positions would be primarily joint. This would allow joint staffs to be smaller and more efficient.
Goldwater-Nichols has institutionalized mediocrity. We can, and must, do better.
Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps officer, is an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs.
As a holiday gift for myself, I read an advance copy of the last of Rick Atkinson's trilogy on World War II in Europe. The book is out in May, but you can pre-order on Amazon right now.
It was like slipping into a warm bath: Good writing ("Sherman pyres on the Caen plain") and fine narrative.
But most of all, fascinating facts:
Colonel Gentile, a strategic bombing expert who also was a cavalry squadron commander in Iraq in 2006, concludes that I am both simplistic and dangerous: "In one sense Mr. Ricks is right that the American army has not produced strategic thinkers in its higher ranks. But his simplistic solution is also quite dangerous if the policymakers and others who read it come to believe it is true. America at war with Syria, Iran, Yemen, sure -- just relieve a few generals, get the right ones in place, and victory will be assured."
Then, in a really low blow for a historian, he accuses me of having the mindset of a political scientist: "He undertakes a political science approach to the exploration and analysis of history, developing a template and then compelling the past to conform to that template."
He also says the book is a regression from the works of John Keegan. Well, if I have to regress from anyone, I'll take Keegan. I am not as good a baseball player as Derek Jeter, either.
What I don't get is that he accuses me of failing to show that relief of generals leads to better results. I don't know how he can say that, given that I discuss how Africa went better after Fredendall was ousted, Anzio went better after Lucas was booted and Truscott took over, Korea went better after Ridgway went over there and started cleaning house.
Does he think Vietnam would have gone any worse had any generals been relieved for being ineffective? But then Gentile is a big fan of Westmoreland -- "Westmoreland, I think, was very efficient, very proper, highly intelligent, a good organizer, a good manager, and I think up to a -- and I think a good leader" -- and I am not.
Also, I'd like to file an objection to the way he uses "narrative" like it was some kind of dirty word. Rather, I think it is what makes us human -- putting together events to try to make sense of the rushing world of reality. We know other animals use tools, but as far as I know, we are the only animal that uses narrative.
For the most part, I do not believe that the military should imitate business. The differences are too big, especially the risks: In wartime you risk lives, while in business you generally risk filing for bankruptcy. Hence the inclination in business to go for the 51 percent solution, which I think is generally too dangerous in military operations.
That said, there are some parallels that illuminate situations. For example, Alfred Sloan, in his autobiographical history My Years With General Motors, which I just finished, makes a sharp distinction between what General Motors did every day and what it sold. What it did was cut and bend metal. What it sold was not basic transportation (from the mid-1920s on, he said, that was the job of the used car market, and so not his business), but instead a form of more expensive transportation -- a new car that offered style, speed, and comfort. This is the departure point in strategy: Figuring out you who are.
One thing that struck me reading it is that Flint and Detroit in the 1910s were a lot like Silicon Valley in the 1980s, with Sloan hanging out on weekends with Walter Chrysler, Charles Nash, and the like.
Sloan placed an enormous emphasis on running the company with centralized policy and de-centralized execution. This strikes me as another way of saying "mission orders." It is a lot harder than it looks. Much of the book depicts how he went about implementing this. The line guys had genuine power, the staff guys only the power to make recommendations.
As part of that, he developed the sense of a corporate need for what military people call "doctrine." In explaining the structure he devised for General Motors, he writes, "The Operations committee was not a policy-making body but a forum for the discussion of policy or of need for policy. . . . In a large enterprise some means is necessary to bring about a common understanding." That's a good layman's explanation of doctrine, in a military sense.
Details also matter, and understanding your process. One of the biggest problems in the automobile industry is managing inventory, even now. It used to be that one of the slow points in moving inventory was waiting an average of three weeks for paint and varnish to dry and cure. It also took up a lot of real estate. Du Pont (a major investor in GM) invented a new lacquer process that allowed a car to be finished in one eight-hour shift.
Finally, the book reminds me of war in that it consists of long boring sections interrupted by points of brilliance.
Two WWII bonus facts: I didn't know that the tail fins of Cadillacs and other automobiles of the 1950s were directly inspired by the P-38. Nor did I know that the price of a GM-made .50 caliber machine gun fell from $689 on Dec. 7, 1941, to a low of $169 in the fall of 1944. (As production numbers were cut after that, the price rose $5.) So I guess that the better we were doing, the cheaper the .50 cal usually was.
I was talking about the 1943 American/British/Canadian campaign in Sicily the other day, which got me sidetracked into talking about the film Patton, which is how most Americans today know anything about that fight. Two little-known facts: The film was produced by Frank McCarthy, who had been an aide to George Marshall during World War II.
And, it was written by one Francis Ford Coppola. Given that much of the film takes place in Sicily, does that make it a kind of prequel to the Godfather series?
I spent a lot of time recently reading poems from World War I, much of it new to me. Rather than discuss them all at once, I am going to feature one poem or even one line a day.
Here is W.W. Gibson's "Breakfast":
We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread
That Hull United would beat Halifax
When Jimmy Stainthorp played full-back instead
Of Billy Bradford. Ginger raised his head
And cursed, and took the bet; and dropt back dead.
We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
British military might rested on its navy for centuries, Paul Kennedy reminds us in The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, which I am just finishing. That changed almost exactly 100 years ago with the advent of the submarine. "There is no doubt that this new weapon almost brought the British Empire to its knees," he writes.
By 1937, British spending on the RAF passed spending on its army, and a year later, also passed the navy's budget.
One of the drawbacks to being the pioneer in the Industrial Revolution, Paul Kennedy writes in The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, was that the British, being first, simply were not accustomed to competition. Hence both their industrial and social practices were encumbered, he writes, by "complacency and inefficiency."
As a result, he continued, the British educational system failed to keep pace with the Americans and Germans in churning out engineers and technologists. And even when innovators surfaced, they did not necessarily succeed. Britain was a major innovator in the steel industry, he writes, but was surpassed because its wealthy did not back innovation with investments.
Paul Kennedy reports that in World War I, when the Japanese were allied with the UK, they patrolled the Indian Ocean at the request of Britain. They also "dispatched a dozen destroyers for anti-submarine work in the Mediterranean," he notes.
Nor did I know that in the German defense plan of 1938 called for it to build four aircraft carriers.
Finally, I learned that during World War II, more German U boats were sunk by Allied aircraft (288) than by surface ships (246). (Another bunch were deep-sixed by combined actions.)
As I said, I've been reading Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, in which I learned in an aside that the Puritans had tried to start a colony in Honduras. I didn't know that. In checking it out I also saw that some Puritans were the first Britishers to live in Belize, aside from maybe a few pirates and shipjumpers.
Puritans in bikinis? It just don't seem right.
That question had never occurred to me until I was driving along the Mass Pike yesterday to the Motel 6 in Springfield, and thinking about Paul Kennedy's analysis of the strategic positions of France and England in the 17th century.
The British strategic situation was relatively easy to discern: As an island, it was clear that it had foremost had to be a seapower. But France had both land and sea to consider. Moreover, like the United States, it had to weigh how to protect two major non-continuous coasts. The result for France, writes Kennedy, "was to cause an ambivalence in national strategy for the next few centuries, for it was never clear to her leaders how much attention could be devoted to building up sea power as opposed to land power."
Anyone know of a good essay that explores this dilemma in the context of the French and the Americans? Does the United States need to be foremost a seapower or a landpower (or an airpower or a cyberpower)? It is like we have five coasts.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.