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.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.