The Best Defense

The surprising rise of American seapower

To complete today's very un-landpower blog file, do youse remember how I was talking about implication of the key Centcom slots going to Navy types? Well, it looks like the fad is spreading. This announcement came across the wire on Friday:

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced today that the President has made the following nomination:

Navy Rear Adm. Kurt W. Tidd for appointment to the rank of vice admiral and for assignment as director for operations, J-3, Joint Staff, Pentagon, Washington, D.C.  Tidd is currently serving as commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/commander, U.S. Fourth Fleet, Mayport, Fla.

J-3 on the Joint Staff is, I think, one of the most important (and indicative) jobs in the U.S. military. My take: This is part of a larger trend in the U.S. military from landpower to seapower and airpower -- that is, standoff operations. ("I'm talking about containing you, Iran.")

You know how some military historians discern eras in which the offensive was predominant, and others in which the defensive was on top? I wonder if we could divide U.S. history in eras of landpower vs. seapower. (And, since about 1945, airpower as well.) Then, as a bonus, for the modern era, correlate that to the service affiliations of the chairman of the JCS and his J-3 and director of the joint staff. Smells like a good military history dissertation to me.


The Best Defense

'12 O'Clock High': A fine movie forgotten

One thing I really like about CNAS is that people there actually do things together, and learn from each other. You'd think other think tanks would do this, but in my experience, not really.

At CNAS we have a weekly meeting where we discuss, among other things, recent events. We also have some terrific staff rides. And last night, we tried something new for us: A movie night. A bunch of us watched Twelve O'Clock High, the 1949 film starring Gregory Peck. It offers an interesting take on leadership -- how do you balance taking care of your people with executing your mission? Which comes first? Can a human being really "spend the lives" of other people and remain sane?

I'm not going to quote from the discussion, because I haven't asked the permission of other participants. But my thought as I watched the movie, which I last watched about 40 years ago, is that it is a kind of creation myth for the Air Force -- "this is where we came from." The bomber-centric Air Force it portrays certainly is not today's service, but was the Air Force of the 1950s. Back then, the Air Force's budget was twice that of the Army's, the Air Force was expanding and building bases around the world, and the Strategic Air Command the star of the U.S. military establishment. So while the movie is obviously about World War II, it also is a kind of curtainraiser for the early Cold War, when bombers stood front and center. 

For you youngsters, I think the film had a kind of Mad Men vibe -- except that the people in this film really are going nuts for a good reason.