By Peter Bacon
Best Defense department of video reality
Video games have somewhat of a bad reputation today: individuals have attacked games for their supposed contribution to obscenity and their debilitation of male virtue. Despite these fears, scientists have identified some benefits from gaming, ranging from improved self-worth to augmented surgical skills. In the foreign policy arena, video games can and should serve as a powerful tool for educating civilian and military personnel about war and foreign affairs.
Video games can serve to help bolster America's glaring deficiency in one crucial discipline: history. Video games focused on war and IR provide refreshing bursts of information about often-overlooked leaders and wars. These games can offer descriptive backgrounds of leaders or events (e.g. Age of Empires' description of Genghis Khan or the Crusades). These methods can sometimes provide a deeper and more-engaging understanding of history than just a textbook or lecture.
A subgenre of games, so-called "serious" games, goes further by explicitly trying to educate gamers about historical or political issues. For example, Niall Ferguson in 2007 played the World War II serious game Making History and played out some of his WWII counterfactual scenarios, such as war breaking out over German seizure of Czechoslovakia in 1938. His experience led him to conclude that his counterfactual historical scenarios "weren't as robust as [he] thought." As a result, Ferguson ended up advising this series. This episode, forcing critical re-examinations of events, anecdotally illustrates the range of useful educational experiences gleaned from games like Making History or other, current games such as Global Conflicts: Palestine or the future-themed Fate of the World: Tipping Point that can help civilians better understand history and policymaking, thereby making better choices when voting or arguing politics.
All of the above is great for civilians, but what about actual warfighters and policymakers? Games cannot finely simulate actual combat or crises, yet can provide training related to the planning and responses needed for tactical and strategic decisions. Indeed, military officers have engaged in a modern form of Kriegsspiel by using tactical warfare games for their training: for example, the Close Combat series proved so popular that in 2004 the developer released Close Combat: Marines explicitly for military training. Other games, such as the tank-simulator Steel Beasts or the situational training tools of WILL interactive, have been used by the military for realistic simulations of warfighting and decision-making.
Civilian practitioners, however, have not embraced gaming as readily as the military: while think tankers or civilian politicians outside the Pentagon may play games in an unofficial capacity, official efforts like the Woodrow Wilson Center's Serious Games Initiative have petered out. In stark contrast, DOD policy practitioners embrace video games even in non-kinetic planning: Michael Peck's article on a DOD budgeting game shows how policymakers can prepare for things as prosaic as the budget with games. Hopefully civilian policymakers in the future will use games, both serious, educational games and fun strategy games, to prepare for the decision-making necessary during times of crisis.
I woke up one morning and over my café au lait realized I knew nothing about Napoleon Bonaparte, probably the most significant Western military leader in modern history, so I poked around a bit and bought David Chandler's Napoleon, which seemed to be a standard text.
I read the Chandler, put it down disappointed. Lots of meaningless stuff about troop movements ("Kutusov was still determinedly withdrawing towards his rendezvous at Znaim with Buxhowden," p. 65) but little of what I was looking for about what Napoleon did that made him different from others, what his innovations were, how the enemy adjusted, and what he did next. Chandler's concluding section, on Napoleon and the art of war, did some of that -- but not the previous five chapters.
I'd welcome any suggestions for a book on Nappy that illustrates and discusses him as a military leader, and even compares him to his contemporaries.
Also, best book about Wellington vs. Napoleon?
I recently drove down to the terrific George C. Marshall Library in beautiful Lexington, Virginia, to do a final couple of days of research there. (Btw, eat at the Red Hen, downtown.) While I was going through folders (notes to Patton, even Marshall's desk litter, including his income tax statement), one of the researchers there showed me the transcript of an interview done with George F. Kennan in February 1953 about the making of the Marshall Plan, perhaps the most important foreign-policy action of the United States in the 20th century.
Marshall, not long after returning from Paris, called Kennan into his office. "After discussing the problem on which we were to work he said that he had only one piece of advice to give: 'Avoid trivia.' That was a nice laconic piece of advice, wasn't it?"
Over the weekend I was looking through some handwritten notes in the papers of Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, placed on-line by the National Defense University. The document is undated and unsigned. The NDU catalog lists it as created by Lemnitzer, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff early in the JFK era, until Kennedy dumped him in favor of Maxwell Taylor. It looks to me like General Lemnitzer wrote it or perhaps dictated it as he stewed in retirement -- but perhaps not, because on the last page there is a reference to "General Lemnitzer."
Anyway, on pages 43-44 (as handmarked; PDF lists it as pp. 45-46) of that document, I was surprised to see a summary of "CINCLANT's operational plan for Cuba," which seems to have been ordered up after the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961. In summary, the American invasion of Castro's Cuba would begin with an "Assault on the Havana [sic] by the 82nd Airborne Division and one Marine regiment." The next day, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Infantry Brigade would land. (Grasshoppers, what is "the 2nd Infantry Brigade"? Doesn't ring a specific bell. Maybe the writer mean "division"?) These units would be given 18 days to isolate and capture the capital. Meanwhile, on D+14, the 2nd Marine Division would move toward Santiago. (I don't understand the delay -- why wait two weeks? Surely not to wait for available shipping and air cover.) Between the 24th and 34th days, the two forces would link up.
And then, of course, there is that dose of sunny optimism that ends all U.S. war plans, as if by law: "D+60 to D+90: withdrawal of U.S. forces." Oh, sure.
If the American invasion had happened back then, more people would know who Ted Conway was -- he commanded the 82nd Airborne in 1961-62, and to my knowledge is the only soldier in American history to rise from the lowest rank in the Army to the highest and then in retirement to get a doctorate from Duke.
When Castro buys the collective farm, which should happen pretty soon, if Cuba descends into turmoil, I wonder if these plans will be dusted off...
I asked frequent commenter Tyrtaios if he'd be interested in reviewing the new book on Lawrence. The game was not rigged -- I told him he could write anything he wanted. But to my relief, he liked it.
Best Defense guest book reviewer
A noted fellow soldier and countryman of T.E. Lawrence, Sir William Francis Butler, wrote: "The nation that will insist on drawing a broad demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards."
Thus starts in part, the preface of James J. Schneider's Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt, along with a crisp and pithy forward by Tom Ricks, which will start the reader to understand that Lawrence's strength wasn't his ability to fight a guerrilla campaign, but more importantly, to lead one and how the man came to accomplish that, and a chronicle of events in doing so.
Once I picked the book up, I had to force myself to put it down and savor it. I found the book flowed very easily and quickly from describing Lawrence as a child prodigy, to his early characteristic of standing out from the crowd with a higher purpose, his education at Oxford that reinforced, interestingly to be sure, learning over solving the problem, to his early adventure in the pre-WWI Middle East, along with his gathering notoriety as a most remarkable individual.
The reader will further be provided with a concise description of the regional geo-political-military back-drop of the period that Lawrence would find himself operating in, and quickly move to Lawrence's most notable observations that would form his ideas, and vision of organizing the Bedouin in the north into a cohesive unconventional force, along with developing and lending to it, what I would categorize as a combined arms dimension.
Having read extensively about T.E. Lawrence prior, did I learn anything new reading Guerrilla Leader? Indeed, I was reminded by Schneider in his closing pages, something I wished had been explained to me many years ago as a younger man, something that vaguely nagged at me then, which caused Lawrence to betray his values, but he must have later grasped. I will leave that part undisclosed for the curious of you to find out, perhaps among those curious, that one "dangerous man who dreams by day with open eyes and makes it possible," as Lawrence tells us he did.
Schneider's Guerrilla Leader could easily replace several books all at once that I've seen on the recommended military reading lists for NCOs and commissioned officers alike, as well as those in mufti that work beside the military or cover it.
In closing, although I own other works on Lawrence of Arabia, I have decided that Guerrilla Leader will take a position next to the man's own words written in Seven Pillars of Wisdom on my book shelf ... too late for me now, but for some ... perhaps not?
"Tyrtaios" is a retired infantry Marine whose career spanned 28 years of both enlisted and commissioned service, and included several tours of duty in the Middle East and Africa.
Last week I participated in a discussion of Eliot Cohen's new book about America's warpath between Albany, New York, and Montreal, Canada. One of the subjects was the similarity between that era and today's, with sustained limited wars provoked by acts of terror. Cohen made a couple of comments that struck me:
-- When Champlain traveled with Indians south from Canada into hostile territory, "it's not Champlain who is the actor, it's the Indians who are the actors. The Indians are manipulating him." Likewise, these days, it's not always about us. In the post-9/11 world, "we are a powerful piece often being moved around their chessboard."
--The French did much better than the British/Americans in dealing with the Indians -- but eventually the British/Americans got "good enough" at it to use their other advantages to prevail
--"One of the great strategic virtues is empathy."
I asked an old friend to interview Professor Cohen about his new book:
Eliot Cohen: No, no, no. The movie is not all that great, and James Fenimore Cooper's book is pretty problematic too -- wooden dialogue, implausible characters, unbelievable action. But he got the landscape right. On the other hand, it's still in print, which is more than you can say of most other books coming on two centuries since pub date. But there is a kernel of truth here. Kenneth Roberts was a wonderful historical novelist whom I read when I was a teenager, and between that and a visit to Fort Ticonderoga at age ten I got hooked. Took me some four decades to go from fascination to published book, however.
Magua: Hmm. [Speaking Huron] Magua is glad this guy writes books better than he reviews movies. [Returning to the white man's tongue] Tell us a bit about this French-Canadian character who keeps popping up, would you?
EC: That would be La Corne St. Luc. He led raiding parties against the Americans in three wars (King George's War, the French and Indian War, and the Revolution) although he also offered to join them when it looked as though we were about to take Canada in 1775. He was a brilliant leader of Indians and may have had a role in the massacre at Fort William Henry in 1757. In 1761 he figured New France was finished and set sail for France. He was shipwrecked off what is now Cape Breton Island, saw his two sons slip out of his grasp and drown just before he got on shore, pulled together the half dozen survivors, built a fire, found some Indians to take care of them, and then hiked fifteen hundred miles or so to Quebec -- in the dead of winter -- to get more help. Smart enough to slip away from Major General John Burgoyne's army invading New York from Canada in 1777, just before it was surrounded and forced to surrender to the last man. Died in 1784, aged 73 (a very ripe old age by contemporary standards) one of the richest men in Canada, with a pretty young wife. Quite a guy.
Magua: The French were in so much better a position militarily. How did they blow their hold on North America?
EC: Numbers had a lot to do with it -- there were only 80,000 French Canadians and about fifteen times as many English-controlled colonists in the 1750s. But the more important explanation is the Royal Navy, which pretty much throttled the colony during the Seven Years (French and Indian) War, and the willingness of the British to pour vast resources into the conquest of North America. By 1759, when Quebec fell, there were easily four or five times as many British as French soldiers in North America, and Quebec was cut off and starving. But the French put up a ferocious fight, and might have hung on another year or so. And, in the supreme irony, at the decisive battle outside Quebec in 1759 their combination of French troops, Canadian militia, and Indians actually outnumbered the British army (almost all regulars) under James Wolfe.
Magua: Is there a lesson for our times here?
EC: I am wary of the idea of lessons. What the book shows, though, is just how deeply our way of war is rooted in our past. What is now the United States has been involved in every major global conflict since the end of the seventeenth century, and the Great Warpath was, in many ways the decisive theater for the North American bits of those conflicts. A lot of the ways we think about and approach warfare emanate from the two centuries I discuss in the book, including the paradoxical notion that one can conquer a nation into liberty. On that particular point, see the chapter about the siege of St. Johns in 1775.
Magua: What's the one question you wish someone would ask about this book?
EC: What was the most fun about researching and writing it? Two answers: (a) leaving behind the pundits (particularly the monomaniacs and wingnuts) of contemporary political discourse and spending time -- in my head, that is -- with some great historians and truly remarkable historical characters, including La Corne St. Luc, Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, and many more; (b) walking the ground, to include snowshoeing the Battle on Snowshoes and sailing the battle of Valcour Island. If the book inspires lots of people to go poking around the places I write about, I will be delighted.
That's the National Park Service verdict on Bill O'Reilly's error-filled history of the assassination of President Lincoln. My favorite example: He has the president meeting in the Oval Office-which didn't exist until the 20th century.
I really liked this exchange between "Hunter," whom we know to be an Army officer, and Eric Hammel, about Hammel's guest column Monday about his favorite Marine photo of World War II. I don't know who is correct, but both made me think. I suspect Hammel may be right here. I remember a guy who had been an intelligence officer in the Pacific in World War II recounting how he decoded a message and saw that he was going to be involved in the planned invasion of Japan. He thought, Well, that's it, I am going to die this year. Then he vomited.
I wonder if a counterintuitive metric of blog quality is how often the comments are better than the average post. (Speaking of blogs, wouldn't "The Burn Pit" be a good name for a blog about daily life while deployed to a combat zone?)
Anyway, Hunter wrote:
While it's nice to think well of these folks, and they certainly did their job and did it well...but I can't help but think, through my cynical eyes, that the thoughts running through these guys heads were "1) this shit sucks 2) we're all gonna die 3) we're skylining like mofos." In no particular order.
Sorry it's not the prettified version, but it's probably pretty real.
Eric Hammel replied:
I thought about the above comments all day. What I conclude is that you don't think the way American troops in the Pacific thought during the spring of 1945. This takes nothing away from your experience, and it adds nothing to theirs. The times are not the same.
The men in the photo knew that they were nearing the end of a long war. They thought they would die on Okinawa or Kyushu or Honshu, so they felt they had little to lose by rushing across open ground or a skyline. In fact, getting killed or wounded on any day on Okinawa was better than the pain of living in order to be killed or wounded later. My father, who had barely escaped the claws of the Holocaust and had already fought on Leyte, ended eighteen days in the line on Okinawa with a shattered hand. He felt for the rest of his long life as if, by virtue of just the last, he had won the ultimate lottery.
The Japanese on Okinawa had built a hedgehog defense within a hedgehog defense in twisted hill country composed of one skyline after another. They knew what they were about. Once the Americans engaged the outer hedgehog, they were all in a war of attrition. But the Japanese had no recourse to troops--or anything--that wasn't on Okinawa on the first day of battle. The Americans had unlimited resources to bring up and bring in as needed, which they did--two army infantry divisions and a Marine regimental combat team were added to the original Tenth Army OOB. Both sides knew how the cards had been dealt. The four Marines in the photo knew it. So the thing I think the four were going over in their heads were: Can I drop fast enough if the other side opens fire? If not, will it be quick? Because, with me or without me, we are winning.
courtesty of Eric Hammel
Like I said, I've been reading further afield lately, and am almost finished with Michael Grant's The Rise of the Greeks, which is my idea of fun. Fill in this blank: "Thus in respect of basic equalities, [ ] was the first authentic, thoroughgoing democracy among the Greeks or anywhere in the world, as far as its citizens were concerned." (P. 93, paperback)
The answer is below.
Grant also says that the early Greek philosopher Anaximander was poking around with evolutionary theory, hypothesizing that "higher formers had developed from lower forerunners, so that human beings, at first a kind of fish in the water, had shed their scales on dry land so as to adjust their way of life to this new earthy medium." (P. 162)
So what is the answer? Oddly, Sparta. He also says that Spartan women enjoyed unusual privileges, with property rights, the right to speak freely, and freedom to engage in adulterous affairs, partly "owing to the continuous and urgent need to maintain and increase the Spartan birthrate." (P. 98) I guess this was the Spartan version of "don't ask, don't tell."
Best Defense guest photo curator
Tom has kindly asked me to select and discuss my "favorite" photo from my latest -- and probably final -- book, Always Faithful: U.S. Marines in World War II Combat, The 100 Best Photos. Each photo in the book bears a caption that identifies only the operation in which it was taken. It is left to the reader to decide what they see in the photo, not read what I think.
I don't have a favorite. I selected each of them from a collection numbering in the thousands, which I have been over many times during the past six or seven years. But some have more meaning to me than others. The selection you see here is one that holds great personal significance. It is of a handful Marines about to crest a hill on Okinawa. My late father fought on Okinawa as a U.S. Army combat medic attached to an infantry company. He was wounded and evacuated. He arrived home just in time to start my personal ball rolling. I think of my father every time I see this photo.
What I see is a technically deficient photo; it's overexposed. But it perfectly captures an important truth about combat, and life: beware what's on the other side of the hill. A little of the body language the combat photographer captured suggests the caution veterans exhibit when they sense or anticipate danger. But look more closely: they're up, they're advancing, they're ready for anything. In a moment they will be gone.
" ...will be gone." On a meta level, this photo represents -- to me -- the imminent passing of the World War II generation. These were the men who raised me, who taught me, who mentored me, who inspired me. And, for the most part, they have already advanced into the great light that will take us all -- willingly, bravely, realistically, with heads held high.
courtesty of Eric Hammel
General Paul Gorman's oral history is fun for several aspects, but especially for his unvarnished account of life in the old Army. First, there was the night he lay drunk in his bed in the Bachelor Officers' Quarters at Fort Benning, having been out boozing and punching a warrant officer in the mouth:
I became aware that there was loud talk out in the hall. It was the warrant officer with a bunch of his buddies. They were coming to find me to beat out my teeth. I can recall having enough presence of mind to roll out of bed and get under it. They came in. They were all drunk and they stumbled around the room. I obviously had been vomiting because they were appalled at the condition of the floor. They left. In their wake came a captain of the battalion. He found me under the bed, got me in bed, and cleaned up the room a little bit. Then the son-of-a-bitch tried to kiss me. I apparently decked him too.
Arriving at the Korean War front in 1952, Gorman was told by some soldiers that the company XO was soliciting bribes to give soldiers early slots for R&R leave in Japan. Gorman, a new lieutenant, went to the company commander, who was spending most of his time playing poker, and wasn't interested in pursuing the allegation. So Gorman took care of it himself.
He also says that during the Korean War, the 65th Infantry Regiment had a bunch of guys who regularly used marijuana. "Every night they sat back there, puffing away on these weeds." Gorman doesn't mention it, but the 65th became notorious when many of its soldiers ran away from combat, resulting in 92 court martials, and eventually the relief of the regiment's commander.
Another excerpt from the auftrag-tastic oral history of Gen. Barry McCaffrey:
One of the things I strongly believe is that being a brigade commander or division commander has a lot of similarities to being a good company commander: Have a simple plan, articulate it early, give people authority, hold them accountable.
Tom Brown/Getty Images
By the way, here is the first review I have seen of Sorley's new biography of Westmoreland, which I read in galleys last summer, and enjoyed.
By Lewis Sorley
Best Defense Saigon bureau chief
10. He lacked the schooling and relevant experience to understand the war and devise a viable approach to prosecuting it. He was an artilleryman who missed out on the Army's great schools system, never attending the Command & General Staff College or the Army War College. Overseas during World War II he had limited line duty (16 months of battalion command, then 13 months in staff positions) and of 14 months of command during the Korean War and its immediate aftermath he spent eight months in reserve in Japan and only six months in Korea, and that during the mostly static final months of the war.
9. His senior staff lacked diversity of experience and professional outlook, consisting mostly of people with backgrounds similar to his own, especially airborne. Thus there was little internal capacity for debating or evaluating his chosen course of action.
8. He was uninterested in other viewpoints on how the war might be prosecuted, dismissing the PROVN Study sponsored by Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson (which concluded that Westmoreland's way of war was not working and could not work) and basic disagreements with Westmoreland's organization and approach voiced by his brilliant classmate General Bruce Palmer Jr.
7. He thought he could take over the war from the South Vietnamese, bring it to a successful conclusion, and then hand their country back to them and go home in triumph. He couldn't.
6. He deprived the South Vietnamese of modern weaponry, giving U.S. and other allied forces priority for issue of the new M-16 rifle and other advanced military wherewithal. The South Vietnamese thus went for years equipped with castoff WWII-vintage U.S. equipment while outgunned by the communists, who were armed with the AK-47 assault rifle and other top of the line equipment.
5. He denied senior civilian officials accurate data on enemy strength and composition, during development of a 1967 Special National Intelligence Estimate imposing a ceiling on the number of enemy forces his intelligence officers could report or agree to and personally removing from the order of battle entire categories that had long been included, thus falsely portraying progress in reducing enemy strength.
4. His war of attrition, search and destroy tactics, and emphasis on body count did nothing to affect the war in the hamlets and villages of South Vietnam, where the enemy's covert infrastructure was left free to continue using coercion and terror to dominate the rural populace.
3. He underestimated the enemy's staying power, maintaining that if he could inflict enough casualties the communists would lose heart and cease their aggression against South Vietnam. Instead the enemy proved willing to absorb horrifying losses and keep fighting. Thus the "progress" Westmoreland claimed in racking up huge body counts did nothing to win the war. The enemy simply kept sending more and more replacements to make up his losses. Westmoreland was on a treadmill.
2. He overestimated the American people's patience and tolerance of friendly losses. On a visit to Vietnam Senator Hollings from Westmoreland's home state of South Carolina was told by Westmoreland: "We're killing these people," the enemy, "at a ratio of 10 to 1." Said Hollings, "Westy, the American people don't care about the ten. They care about the one." Westmoreland didn't get it.
1. And the number one reason why Westmoreland lost the war in Vietnam: With his unavailing approach to conduct of the war he squandered four years of support by much of the American people, the Congress, and even the media.
To top off our all-book Friday file, it's an honor to present a book list from Carlo D'Este, one of my favorite historians. Here he offers up a list of books about World War II that he thinks should be better known.
Carlo adds in a note, "A couple of them (Eisenhower and Toland) were quite well-known when published but with the passage of time may be somewhat forgotten but were nevertheless added to the list. It is highly subjective: there are literally hundreds of fine books that could have been added; these are merely ten that came immediately to mind and are very worthy."
Later this month D'Este will pick up a big fat prize for lifetime achievement from the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago.
I recently re-read The Generals' War, a history of the 1991 Gulf War by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor. I thought it was a good book when I read it the first time, when it was published 16 years ago, but now I think it is even better. I would say, just terrific.
Their analyses have been borne out by time, especially of the failings of General Norman Schwarzkopf -- that his planning lacked imagination, that he didn't appreciate the political implications of the Scud attacks on Israel (and so failed to consider in his planning whether to insert Special Operators to go after Scuds in western Iraq), that he and General Powell didn't grasp the implications of the Khafji battle (which the authors say showed that Iraqi ground forces could be damaged considerably by air attacks), and so devised a war plan that backfired. Schwarzkopf wanted to use a Marine attack from the south to fix the Iraqis in Kuwait so they could be destroyed by Army forces attacking from the west. Instead, the Iraqi forces were so weakened by air attacks and desertion that the Marines pushed the Iraqis out, like a cork popping out of a bottle, and the Army arrived on the scene too late.
In a foreshadowing of the Iraq war in 2003, Schwarzkopf apparently gave no thought to the day after the war ended.
Sidenotes: I hadn't realized how much I had forgotten about the '91 war. Also, an odd sensation to be making a transition in the book I am writing from history I didn't experience (World War II, Korea, Vietnam) to history I did.
If you were Maj. Gen. James Gavin, sleeping on the ground in Holland after Operation Market Garden, it would be this, as described in a letter to his daughter written in October 1944:
Would you ask Mommie to get me a copy of the latest volume of 'Lee's Lieutenants' by Douglas Southall Freeman, I believe it is Vol. III and has just been published. It may be difficult to obtain. I'll send you a check along when I can get to my checkbook if you will let me know the cost.
(From: P. 137, Barbara Gavin Fauntleroy, The General and His Daughter: The Wartime Letters of General James M. Gavin to His Daughter Barbara.)
The other day, one of my guest columnists was citing Eitan Shamir's Transforming Command: The pursuit of mission command in the U.S., British and Israeli armies. Checking on line, I saw that the title of Shamir's chapter 4 is, "Inspired by corporate practices: American army command traditions." That intrigued me, because it relates to some themes of the book I'm currently writing. I also was impressed that he got Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a smart guy, to write a foreword.
So I was pretty disappointed when I read the chapter to find that its title wasn't supported by much evidence. Or any, really. Shamir writes that, "Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall patterned army organization on the ideas of American business." (p. 61). That surprised me because I have read thousands of pages of interviews and documents Marshall produced and corporate practice almost never comes up.
The second warning sign: Shamir footnotes that sentence about Marshall to Gabriel and Savage's Crisis in Command, which is not a very good book, and is about Vietnam, not about World War II or George Marshall. So I went down to the Vietnam section of my basement library and found on page 18 of Gabriel and Savage's book one paragraph of unsupported assertions about Marshall relying on business practice in World War II. No evidence, no footnotes, no nothing.
That is a mighty thin reed on which to build a chapter. And, like the clock striking 13, it makes me wonder what else Shamir has gotten wrong. So later in the book when I read his statement that, "The British Army has probably been most successful in implementing mission command," (P. 197) I was skeptical. I wondered what his evidence was, or whether this was simply more unsupported assertion.
Based on what I have read so far, I was surprised to see Stanford University Press published the book. I mean, Stanford is supposed to be pretty good, no? Best university west of UC Berkeley?
Tom Donnelly responds to the British official.
By Tom Donnelly
Best Defense directorate of American exceptionalism
I'm all for taking Slim
as a model, but he was much more the exception to the rule rather than the logical product of the interwar British system of leadership. Remember that the title of his wartime memoir was Defeat Into Victory. It began with an acknowledgement of defeat, and in Slim's case -- for he helped to rescue the remnants of the Indian Army on its retreat through Southeast Asia -- something he saw at close hand. Unlike the officers who planned strategy and led British forces in the region, Slim did not underestimate the abilities of the Japanese.
Two further observations. Another way in which Slim differed from the norm of British pre-war officers was his appreciation of the fighting potential of the Indians, Burmese, Malayans -- even, occasionally, Australians -- who actually comprised the bulk of his force. He was a big proponent and practioner of what we now call "Building Partner Capacity." His
predecessors emphatically were not. Secondly, he knew how to win a long, hard slog. His brilliance was more reflected in perseverance than in lightning maneuver; he did practice a kind of "mission command," and was, for example, more forgiving of Orde Wingate and his raiders than most British senior officers, but he was in no position to conduct a Guderian-like blitzkrieg, a one-campaign war. Rangoon only fell in May 1945 and the war ended before the campaign to retake Singapore, Operation Zipper, began. The Japanese were ground down, at terrible cost.
And Slim's actions when he became British chief of staff were to shake up the system. He took over from Bernard Montgomery, who, true to form, used the occasion of the change of command to whine about things. Slim's response: "What have YOU done?!" A succinct but scathing indictment of the British system of leadership.
Tom Donnelly just is, OK?
It's been so long that we've been at peace that I fear we may have forgotten what it is like. But in preparation for our wars ending (not with a bang but with a whimper), it is worth starting to think about it, and how our militaries will be affected.
I bring this up because of a comment I read the other day in General Sir Archibald Wavell's first lecture on generalship:
It is in peace that regulations and routine become important and that the qualities of boldness and originality are cramped. It is interesting to note how little of normal peace soldiering many of our best generals had-Cromwell, Marlborough, Wellington, and his lieutenants, Graham, Hill, Crauford.
It is interesting to see where this discussion has led. Here is a response from a British government official to yesterday's column by Tom Donnelly.
By "A. Gentleman Ranker"
Best Defense guest responder
I'm afraid Tom Donnelly's comments yesterday about the undeniable British failures of the past have finally prompted me to send you this, which has been in my mind ever since this discussion started. It's from Field Marshal Slim's Defeat into Victory (chapter on "Afterthoughts", pps 619-620 of the 2009 U.K. Pan edition). Slim was of course himself a product of the "British Empire's military system" which, according to the Brian Farrell quote cited by Donnelly "insist[ed that] the situation must fit the plan at all levels":
My corps and divisions were called upon to act with at least as much freedom as armies and corps in other theatres. Commanders at all levels had to act more on their own; they were given greater latitude to work out their own plans to achieve what they knew was the Army Commander's intention. In time they developed to a marked degree a flexibility of mind and firmness of decision that enabled them to act swiftly to take advantage of sudden information or changing circumstances without reference to their superiors. They were encouraged, as Stopford put it when congratulating Rees's 19th Division which had seized a chance to slip across the Irrawaddy and at the same time make a dart at Shwebo, to "shoot a goal when the referee wasn't looking". This acting without orders, in anticipation of orders, or without waiting for approval, yet always within the overall intention, must become second nature in any form of warfare where formations do not fight closely en cadre, and must go down to the smallest units. It requires in the higher command a corresponding flexibility of mind, confidence in its subordinates, and the power to make its intentions clear right through the force...
Seems a pretty good definition of (at least some parts) of Auftragstaktik to me. It prompts three thoughts:
1. You don't need to be Prussian to develop Auftragstaktik. There's no sign in Slim's writing that he's drawing on Prussian thinking, and in fact this part of the chapter is entitled "New Techniques". Of course, all things German were profoundly unpopular after the War, but given Slim's reputation for intellectual honesty, I would expect him to have at least nodded to the German experience if it had been a major influence on him. This counterbalances what I often worry is a modern attitude verging on idolatry towards Imperial and Nazi German military performance. I wonder how much this positive view of the Wehrmacht in particular is still based on the post-war Allied need to justify their poor initial performance against the Germans, on the self-serving post-war accounts of German generals, and on an artificial separation of German military actions from their political and moral context. I also wonder how much this debate is fuelled by national stereotypes and self-images, e.g. efficient and cerebral Germans, stolid and unimaginative British, informal and unstructured Americans etc.
I have a lot of respect for Col. Paul Yingling, who I know from Iraq, and whose thinking about today's military has had a lot of influence on me. He actually is the first person quoted in the book I am writing right now, as the manuscript currently stands. So I was pleased to get this from him.
There is lots of memorable stuff in this short essay. I was especially struck by his third sentence: "Mission command takes intelligent and courageous senior officers accountable for battlefield results." I also liked this one: "Great leaders do not rely on favorable conditions; they create them." And this one: "When a small unit gets in trouble, senior commanders find cover in SOPs thick enough to stop an OER bullet." And his bottom line: "Far from prohibiting mission command, the conditions of modern combat demand it."
So it is a real pleasure to recommend this to you. I think it is one of the best columns this blog has ever had:
By Paul Yingling
Best Defense chief correspondent of lost causes
MAJ Niel Smith is a good friend and a superb officer, but he's wrong about mission command. Auftragstaktik doesn't require highly trained junior officers, reforms in personnel management or professional military education, or time to integrate the latest technology. Mission command takes intelligent and courageous senior officers accountable for battlefield results. If we identify and promote such officers, the rest will fall into place. If we don't, the best trained captains in the Army's history won't save us from failure.
There is plenty of historical evidence to contradict MAJ Smith's claim that "mission command requires stable, highly trained staffs and company/troop commanders, proficient in their specialty and job." Scipio's centurions didn't have 3.5 years of brigade staff time to learn their trade before fighting Hannibal. Sherman's cavalry troops were not made audacious by rigorous PME. Guderian's race to the English Channel was not preceded by a year of stability in ARFORGEN. Patton's tank companies were not the product of enlightened personnel policies. These officers succeed because they had the intelligence to see the battlefield clearly, and the courage to act on their convictions. In any war worthy of the name, the delicate conditions MAJ Smith requires to implement mission command have never existed. Great leaders do not rely on favorable conditions; they create them.
Claims that today's wars are somehow more complex than previous conflicts will draw belly laughs from historians. Is sectarian conflict in Iraq somehow more politically complex than Rome's civil wars? Does the rate of technological change in the last ten years in Afghanistan exceed that of the last two years of World War I? Even if we accept the dubious proposition that today's wars are unparalleled in complexity, successful brigade commanders have demonstrated that mission command works. Colonel Sean McFarland helped turn the tide in Anbar Province thanks in large part to the autonomy he granted to Captain Travis Patriquin. Colonel H.R. McMaster's success in Tall Afar was attributable to a command climate in which thinking was required and PowerPoint was not. Have new and unparalleled complexities transformed warfare since 2006?
MAJ Smith's defense of detailed planning doesn't stand up to empirical scrutiny. Thick orders and elaborate SOPs haven't eliminated costly, stupid mistakes. Consider two of the most heavily regulated activities on the modern battlefield -- air strikes and detainee operations. Air strikes have killed civilians and ground troops have abused detainees, even when the SOPs regulating these activities ran to several hundred pages. Each crime and blunder adds another chapter to the tome, but none of it seems to matter. Leaders prone to crimes and blunders are not dissuaded by elaborate checklists or sternly worded prose.
Yet the production of highly prescriptive orders and SOPs, what Germans call Befehlstaktik, continues unabated; why? The primary purpose of detailed orders is not battlefield success, but rather the protection of field-grade and flag officer careers. In ten years of war, no Army general has relieved a fellow flag officer for battlefield failure. Why so many failures and so little accountability? When a small unit gets in trouble, senior commanders find cover in SOPs thick enough to stop an OER bullet. (I told the troops not to beat detainees; it's right here on page 11.) Rather than preventing battlefield failure, detailed planning often enables it. Senior officers can survive almost any debacle so long as there's a FRAGO and a captain between them and the problem.
Detailed planning can be useful in understanding problems, anticipating opportunities and risks and synchronizing activities. Prescriptive orders and SOPs have their place in performing routine mechanical tasks. However, these techniques are often counterproductive in the fog and friction of combat. Modern combat requires junior leaders capable of exercising judgment and initiative, and senior officers capable of fostering these qualities. It requires junior leaders capable of acting on commander's intent, and senior officers capable of clearly expressing their intent. It requires junior leaders capable of taking prudent risks, and senior officers willing to underwrite and reward risk-taking. Far from prohibiting mission command, the conditions of modern combat demand it.
Most importantly of all, Auftragstaktik demands accountability for results rather than adherence to procedures. Some will succeed and advance, while others will fail and find employment elsewhere. These outcomes have little to do with time in grade, PME or the complexities of the modern battlefield. Senior officers who wish to exercise mission command shouldn't wait for favorable conditions; they should create them.
Paul L. Yingling is a colonel in the U.S. Army and a professor of security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government or St. Jude.
I'd never thought of black America this way, the way Ta-Nehisi Coates describes it in the quotation below. It makes sense to me, in terms of politics. But I worry that it sets aside the contribution of African-Americans to the country and the culture before the war.
I am a child of war. The Civil War birthed modern African-American political identity. Our political leadership can be traced back to many of the soldiers who served in that War. The notions of freedom and the franchise, and specifically the notion that these are things worth dying for, come from War. Our century-long journey into the American polity can be traced back to Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend, to Harriet Tubman leading Union raiders into Confederate territory. This is not abstract -- the first proposals for the franchise were for black Union veterans.
I also liked this unrelated comment of his:
At some point you just have to say that, conservatively, a portion of Rupert Murdoch's empire was a criminal enterprise.
Let's review the month:
--My condolences to the families of the SEALs lost on Aug. 5. Oddly, I think I know the valley where they went down -- I remember going to a picnic near there in the spring of 1971. We also used to go skiing about 15 or 20 miles NE of the crash site. Even had a rope tow, and nice views of the Koh-i-Baba range.
--I'm not fed up with President Obama. I agree with the observation I saw that he is less reckless than his political opponents. I don't think he has been given sufficient credit for that.
--But I am fed up with Obama's Lincoln imitation. Here he is in Iowa in mid-August: "First of all, democracy is always a messy business in a big country like this. We're diverse, got a lot of points of view. We kind of romanticize sometimes what democracy used to be like. But when you listen to what the Federalists said about the anti- Federalists and the names that Jefferson called Hamilton and back and forth -- I mean, those guys were tough. Lincoln, they used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me." Actually, they talked much worse about Lincoln, and the country was in a much worse situation.
--Nice job wrapping up the Libyan war. This strikes me as a victory for the Libyan rebels, for NATO and for Obama. Turned out leading from the rear worked -- the United States achieved its aim, yet is not on the hook for the aftermath. Let the Libyans figure it out. Not one American died in this fight, as that is a good thing, in many ways. Was this Suez '56 in reverse?
--Commentary on the British youff riots struck me as a mirror in which everyone blamed it on whatever they didn't like. Col. Blimp types blamed multiculturalism. (I actually think Europe doesn't have a multi-culture--we Americans do have one, and it works, generally. The UK and the Euros simply have societies that generally tolerate the presence of other minority cultures.) My favorite column blamed the Americanization of Britain, as if we invented riots.
-If corporations are people, as candidate Romney asserts, why can't they be sentenced to jail, like regular people? Or even executed, like they do in Texas?
--And then there was this headline of the day:Liberia's General Butt Naked seeks redemption
Maybe first, put on some pants.
I see that the Navy ousted the CO of its "Beachmaster Unit 2," of which I never had heard. (No. 16) The comments of sailors on the Navy Times site ran in support of him, with several saying he is a good leader and that anyone could be nailed for misuse of government resources. It reminds me of what the drill instructors on Parris Island told me: "If you're not breaking the rules you're not doing your job."
And the CO of Naval Support Activity Saratoga Springs, New York, was dismissed from his position after being busted for DWI. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 17 for the year.
Also, the former XO of the USS Gettysburg also got the old heave-ho, for sexual misconduct. Apparently he was facing a choice of court-martial or retirement. The former XO of the USS Roosevelt went him one better and got a year's imprisonment for wrongful sexual contact and such.
And a shipyard inspector was sentenced to three years for lying about welds he claimed to have inspected on submarines. It is interesting to think about making him serve his term aboard the subs he inspected. But that would "unusual," and perhaps "cruel."
I spent part of my August reading the crisply written memoirs of Paul Nitze, who among other things was secretary of the Navy in the mid-1960s. One day he turned to his aide, Adm. Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt, and complained about a personnel problem, "Why does this have to happen to me?" Zumwalt responded aptly that, "If you have more than a million men working for you, every unpleasant problem that has one chance in a million of occurring will occur at least once." (P. 254)
By Matthew Irvine
Best Defense directorate of Delta force activities
After a decade of counterterrorism, the United States still doesn't quite seem to have the right formula. As we look back on a decade of lessons learned, it is useful to also study what our allies and partners have been up to in their own fights with terrorism.
Daniel Byman's new book, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, tells the story of Israel's seven decades of counterterrorism. Byman overcomes the potential minefield subject of Israel/Palestine by tracing the arc of contemporary Israeli policies and challenges to their historical roots, often dating back to the British Mandate period and the 1967 war.
What struck me when reading Byman's book?
The Israeli military and politics are truly familial. Many of Israel's political and security officials today have worked together for decades, starting as soldiers in the IDF. Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak served on the same commando team that freed a hijacked El Al plane in 1972. Somberly, Bibi's brother Yonatan Netanyahu was killed in the famous Entebbe raid in 1976. These intimate relationships and the country's close ties to its military forces make the use of force, especially commandos, a very personal affair for those in power.
The long learning curve of countering terrorism. Israeli intelligence was forced to adapt as Black September emerged in the 1970s, as the PLO built a mini-state in Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority took power after Oslo and amidst the Second Intifada and the rise of Hamas. These required a relatively small cadre of counterterror specialists to constantly look for new openings in collection, new avenues of disruption and better ways to harden defenses. Israel still hasn't perfected its methods to say the least but has established an impressive record to versatility in a persistent irregular conflict. The United States should take note as we enter a second decade of war: retaining top level talent and constantly learning is key to long-term success.
The dangers of sanctuary. According to Byman, "Israel's history shows that no factor is more important to the success of a terrorist group than sanctuary." This argument is supported by studies of insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. Israel has focused much of its historical efforts on eliminating these sanctuaries both within and outside its borders. However it is important to note that as one safe haven closed, inevitably another appeared, whether in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria or Gaza.
Oxford University Press
By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent
Is this your first visit to Syria, the passport-control man asks me. No, I tell him, I came here once before over a decade ago. He stamps my passport. I had been very lucky to get a Syrian visa this time. The travel advice was not to visit. The Syrian regime is very wary of foreigners, fearing that journalists and spies are inflaming the situation further. I collect my bag and walk through customs, passing a poster, of modest size, of President Bashar al-Assad with the words in Arabic proclaiming: "Leader of the youth, hope of the youth."
I jump in a taxi. I ask the driver how are things in Syria. Things are fine, he assures me. There has been some trouble around the country, but things are OK in Damascus. As we drive, we chat. He points out the area where Druze live. With his hand, he waves in another direction to where Palestinian refugees live, and then again to where Iraqi refugees live. Alawites are over there and in villages. Christians this way and in villages. Sunnis are around 65 percent of the population. Kurds live in the north. Many different peoples live in Syria. I ask him how he knows who someone is or whether they are Sunni or Shiite. He tells me that he does not know and it does not interest him to know: There is no sectarianism here in Syria. We pass Damascus University. Outside there are lots of flags and pictures of Assad and his deceased father. Across the city, the Syrian flag is flying strong and photos of the president are omnipresent. As I ride through al-Umawiyeen Square, I see lots of young men and women gathering, holding Syrian flags. It is not a demonstration, a Syrian tells me; it is a celebration -- a celebration of the regime. Later, I watch the event on television. It has made the international news. Tens of thousands of Syrians have come out to al-Umawiyeen Square to show their support for President Bashar al-Assad in a lively celebration that includes pop singers and fireworks.
When I had visited previously, the city had been filled with huge pictures of Hafez al-Assad; and Bashar, his son, had been studying ophthalmology in London. The death of Bashar's elder brother, Basil, in a car crash, propelled him back into the family business of ruling Syria.
In the evening, I stroll down the street to a restaurant. It is very modern and Western. All-you-can-eat sushi for $20. I try to read my emails on my BlackBerry. I switch between two different networks, but can only receive GPS, not GPRS. The restaurant claims to have Wi-Fi. I ask the waiter. There is Wi-Fi, he tells me, but it is not working at the moment. Nor is Facebook. Internet access is limited.
I walk through Souq al-Hamidiyah in the old city of Damascus. It is a wide, pedestrianized street, two-stories high, and covered. It is buzzing with life. Store owners sit outside their shops, trying to entice potential customers. Traders sell their wares down the middle of the street. Walking with the flow of people, I emerge to find the Umayyad Mosque directly in front of me.
I go to the ticket office, pay the entrance fee for foreigners, and collect a hooded gray cloak to cover myself. The cloaks come in three sizes. A woman sitting there directs me toward the smallest size. The cloak stinks, and I wonder when it was last washed and how many women have had to wear it in the sweltering summer heat. I put the cloak on over my clothes, pulling up the pointed hood to ensure my hair is covered. I enter the Umayyad Mosque -- built on the site of a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist -- looking like a member of the Ku Klux Klan except dressed in gray, and carrying my shoes in my hand. I wander into the covered area where hundreds of people are praying, men in one area, women in another. I walk out to the courtyard. In one area, a group is seated on the ground. One man is kneeling, raising his arms, weeping "ya Hussein." The others follow suit, tears flowing, looking quite distraught.
The rest of this article can be read in its entirety: here.
By John Stuart Blackton
Best Defense chief Afghanistan correspondent
Before responding directly to Major Wharton, let me step back a bit and put the concept of Afghan corruption into context.
The simple definition that most of the current practical work on corruption uses is something along the lines of: "corruption is the abuse of public position for private gain." This is a moral and legal perspective that assumes a shared social agreement on the distinction between public and private and an agreed moral and legal view of what constitutes abuse around that public/private distinction.
These basic conditions have not been met for most of the last 500 years in Afghanistan. To the extent that they have a historical basis in the country, it is quite recent as I will endeavor to illustrate in my remarks today.
The "abuse of public position for private gain" construct is a top-down view of the process. It takes the standpoint of the state. For my purposes, as the United States Military tries to relate the real, empirical fact of widespread corruption in Afghanistan to a population-centric approach to achieving stabilization of security, it may make more sense to take a bottom-up view of the process.
Viewed from the perspective of a 30-year old Afghan male head of household, corruption (let's simplify it to "bribery") is a functional tool. One pays a bribe for one of two reasons:
A bribe is only useful to our putative Afghan father if he is transacting with an official who has something to offer (public services, for example) or with an official who seeks to do something damaging to him that can be averted with the bribe.
For most of Afghan history over the last five centuries the state was not sufficiently powerful to make institutional bribery a very useful, instrumental tool for an ordinary Afghan man. The state offered almost no services (so he couldn't buy much of value from an official) and the state was not actively taking too much (it was not a notable collector of taxes and it was not raising and maintaining a large standing army by conscription). Afghanistan was on the periphery of two great imperial systems that did, in fact, offer a range of public services and possess serious capability to take away goods, land and chattels from their citizens. The Mogul Empire, to the east, was a massive taxation machine raising enormous revenues to support an expensive imperial establishment and a massive standing army. The Persian state, just to the west, was a similarly expansive tax machine with a costly central government. Elaborate and extensive systems of corruption permeated life in the Mogul empire and in Persia. Even minor citizens at the bottom paid bribes to mitigate having to pay more onerous taxes or having to supply sons to the army. They paid bribes to gain favors and services from an elaborate system of local and provincial governors who could offer or withhold things of considerable value to citizens.
peretzp via Flickr
By Patrick McKinney
Best Defense department of Maghreb affairs
In late October 1956, British and French forces aided Israel's seizure of the Suez Canal from Egypt. In March 2011, an allied force including British and French forces intervened in Libya to establish a no-fly zone and protect rebels from the ruling Gaddafi regime. Half a century apart, these actions in North African defined trans-Atlantic defense. The Suez Crisis heralded an era of American leadership and action, while Libya has shown that, though powerful, America intends to rely on its allies to carry larger burdens, and take responsibility for their own regions. America once drove and financed western security, but due to fiscal shortfalls and a decade of conflict, it no longer intends to guarantee European security.
In 1956, the once-powerful European states were still weakened from the world war and faced forceful colonial independence movements. The French lost Indochina in 1954 and the situation in Algeria continued to deteriorate, while the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was England's last foothold in the Middle East. After tense negotiations, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to nationalize the canal as sovereign Egyptian territory, and in response, Israel, England, and France coordinated an invasion with the pretext of securing the canal for world commerce. They failed to inform the United States of their intent and expected American support or indifference. To their surprise, they received neither.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower forcefully protested the Suez invasion and demanded that foreign forces withdraw from Egypt. Though he had little compassion for Nasser and his regime, Eisenhower intended to support international order and avoid unnecessary international conflicts. He condemned the invasion, saying, "We believe these actions to have been taken in error. For we do not accept the use of force as a wise and proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes." Israel, England, and France were surprised by the American response and false expectations of support. Their forces began withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone, and returned control to Egypt.
After the conflict, American authority and consent became pre-eminent in the Trans-Atlantic partnership. Through NATO, America assured European defense from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and American priorities were NATO's priorities. England lost its Middle Eastern influence and decided to influence western and world security through cooperation in its "special relationship" with the United States. Embarrassed and affronted by the perceived betrayal, France took the alternate path and sought to set its own defense priorities. France demanded a restructure of NATO leadership in 1958, and began the withdrawal of its forces from the command in the 1960s. France remained outside of NATO for more than forty years until operations in Afghanistan and officially returned its forces in 2009.
I was surprised to see Ronald Wilson Reagan and Woodrow Wilson almost tie as the worst presidents of the 20th century. Reagan led most of the week, but Wilson pulled by him yesterday afternoon -- only to be edged out in the final tally when I shut down voting at 9 A.M. eastern time this morning.
I understand Wilson's showing -- both the pacifist left and the non-interventionist right loathe him, as well as many people who simply see him as a racist. But I suspect Reagan's high score says a lot about the readers of this blog. Based on comments posted on this blog and notes to my blog e-mailbox, you guys really think Reagan was a bad president. I suspect his surprise near-"win" is due in part to a growing distaste with tax-cutting ideologues who seem blithely unaware of the damage they do. Sample comment from Boone, N.C.: "with his half-baked political philosophy, Reagan set this country on its present course to ruin."
The surprise to me is how even the voting was. After Reagan and Wilson, it basically is close to a scatter-shot tie between the rest -- Harding, Lyndon Johnson and Nixon clumped together, followed by Carter and Hoover, who also tied. And old Coolidge brought up the rear with one vote.
I was impressed that one Marine intelligence analyst in Afghanistan took the time to send in an anti-Harding vote. Another military e-mail voted against Richard Nixon, not for the usual reasons of corruption and such, but because, he wrote, "He's helped the Chinese more than he's helped Americans. We're still paying for his foreign policy coup since most of our manufacturing is now over there."
And you all certainly don't agree with me about JFK. In fact, there was not a single whole vote for him as worst president of the century, although one person gave him a half vote, and several offered him 2nd place, maybe just to be nice to me. Reading over the discussion and notes, I've been persuaded that he was not the worst president of the 20th century, but probably the most over-rated. (Though of course many of you would give that title to Reagan.)
I'm also surprised that Lyndon Johnson didn't get more votes. And apparently people have forgiven Bill Clinton his inability keep all his body parts inside his clothing -- not a single person named him, despite the apparent bias against Southern Democrats (Wilson, Carter, Johnson) in the polling. And yes, Wilson was a Southern Democrat. He received one of the most succinct votes: "On any consequentialist reading, whether you are realist or liberal in international relations, the worst American president in the international realm of all time. On civil rights, more retrograde than any American politician since Andrew Johnson."
Here is the final tally:
1. Ronald Reagan
2. Woodrow Wilson 17
3. Warren Harding 9
4. Richard Nixon 9
5. Lyndon Johnson 8
6. Herbert Hoover 7
7. Jimmy Carter 7
8. Calvin Coolidge 1
9. JFK .5
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.