Military Review Book Reviews
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FLAWED DIPLOMACY: The United Nations & the War on Terrorism
Victor D. Comras, Potomac Books, Inc., Sterling VA, 2010, 256 pages, $29.95.
Victor D. Comras, a leading expert on international sanctions and the global effort to combat terrorism and money laundering, writes a fascinating book about the history of the United Nations’ (UN) involvement in combating terrorism to the present day. Epitomized by a legacy of agonizing bureaucratic inertia, the UN lacks a coherent policy, capacity, and general will to effectively address global terrorism, which is undermining international peace and security. In support of his thesis, Comras details the UN’s experience in addressing terrorism—everything from the lack of a generally accepted definition of what actually constitutes terrorism and its consequences on policy development, to poorly crafted and unexecutable UN resolutions. Comras notes that no UN secretary general has willingly made countering terrorism his top priority. Secretary Kurt Waldheim had the issue thrust upon him by the Munich Olympics attack in 1972, as did Secretary Kofi Annan as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Combating terrorism is also a distracter to eliminating global poverty and improving the general health and quality of life of the world’s disadvantaged.
One of numerous striking bits of research in Comras’s book is that regardless of UN objectives in combating terrorism, state objectives and competing interests (e.g., political and economic) always rule the day (i.e., one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter). Thus, it becomes next to impossible to gain consensus—particularly among security council members—that leads to enough fruitful traction to make a meaningful difference in countering terrorism. Comras details numerous cases to support this assertion, from Libya and Afghanistan to Sudan and Lebanon. The cases alone make the book valuable for the right audience.
Flawed Diplomacy is an informative, well articulated, and thoroughly researched summary of the major events and lost opportunities that led to the current quagmire the UN faces in dealing with terrorism. It thoroughly drives home the UN’s ineptness in this endeavor. Although Comras makes substantive recommendations on how the UN can “right the ship” (e.g., through building capacity, providing clarity of effort, promoting cooperation and information sharing, and independently monitoring UN resolutions), he leaves little hope for the organization’s success going forward.
The book is not for general readership. It is best read by military and interagency professionals, international relations and political science students/academics, and others interested in a detailed understanding of the challenges facing the international community in collectively countering terrorism.
David A. Anderson, Ph.D., LtCol, USMC, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
MORAL DILEMMAS OF MODERN WAR: Torture, Assassination, and Blackmail in an Age of Asymmetric Conflict
Michael L. Gross, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010, 321 pages, $27.99.
This important, thought-provoking book examines how modern warfare, especially asymmetric conflict, continues to challenge the way we practice and think about war. Michael L. Gross goes well beyond what the book’s subtitle suggests by addressing several different types of asymmetric conflict with an emphasis on legal and ethical issues and the slow evolution of “support” for previously banned practices in warfare.
Gross is an accomplished author who specializes in military ethics and military medical ethics. He combines his skills as a historian and political scientist to communicate the relevance of this subject for today’s political and military leaders as they balance military necessity against standards of humanity during armed conflict.
Gross reviews and defines the established standards, norms, and prohibitions of warfare outlined in numerous legal documents, international treaties, and conventions. With this historical context, he transitions from the strategic level to the tactical level without losing clarity when he compares aspects of conventional and asymmetric warfare and how the role and status of both combatants and noncombatants has changed over time. Gross discusses moral dilemmas and paradoxes that asymmetric conflict presents to leaders, but particularly relevant are his discussions of targeting, the combatant/noncombatant blur, and torture. International law prohibits and condemns assassination, so why is targeted killing an acceptable practice in asymmetric conflict? The humane treatment of prisoners of war and civilians is a core tenet of international law, so why are interrogational torture and the deliberate targeting of civilians condoned in asymmetric warfare? Gross answers these questions and reveals how asymmetric conflict impugns the acceptable norms and conventions of international humanitarian law and the Laws of Armed conflict. In the last third of the book, perhaps the most valuable, Gross provides a model for leaders to evaluate proposed tactics, weapons, or practices. His dual-filter model focuses on military necessity and humanitarianism.
Moral Dilemmas of Modern War maneuvers through international law, delves into the “gray areas” of asymmetric conflict, and discusses ways to reconcile new modes of warfare with international law and the challenges these changes present. The book is important because it provides military and civilian leaders alike with an easy-to-understand examination of the many issues we face in the current operational environment. Whether or not you agree with Gross’ conclusions and recommendations, the book spurs debate about the moral parameters of asymmetric warfare and potential changes to the law of armed conflict. Moral Dilemmas of Modern War makes an excellent companion to Martin van Creveld’s The Transformation of War.
LTC Edward D. Jennings, USA, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
WELCOME TO THE SUCK: Narrating the American Soldier’s Experience in Iraq
Stacy Peebles, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2011, 174 pages, $29.95.
“War alters the shape of our families, communities and nation . . . It matters, and soldiers’ stories tell us why and how. Then and now, we have to listen.”
Welcome to the Suck is a must read for the American public and anyone interested in the emerging war narrative of our country’s experience in Iraq. For most members of the military, the “suck” of Iraq is obvious, but not so for the American public. Welcome to the Suck provides a great window through which to view the Iraq experience from the most important perspective— through the eyes of those who served there. The pictures these soldiers’ stories paint “matter” and are finding their way into our culture’s literary consciousness. The varied sources Peebles surveys appeal to all interests, spanning from novels to poetry to films and video interviews with veterans. The book does more than merely list various authors and summarize their writing; it compares and contrasts the works with writings and films from other conflicts. By doing this, Peebles aids the reader in understanding how the Iraq experience has shaped these writers and potentially our nation’s view of the conflict. Welcome to the Suck shows veterans and citizens alike where the Iraq conflict is establishing itself in our literary history.
Peebles discusses the foundation of these war stories from Iraq, arguing that many of the authors obtained their view of war from stories that emerged from previous conflicts. She says the most powerful infl uences were from Desert Storm and Vietnam narratives. However, the tales from Iraq have taken on a unique fl avor that is a departure from the style of previous narratives.
One of the most interesting departures Peebles discusses is from a literary trope used in numerous Vietnam stories where a key character either asks to be killed or someone asks to be killed by them. This trope is interpreted as a device used by those authors to address the “moral ambiguities of that conflict.” The Iraq version also deals with moral ambiguity, but this device usually surrounds the death of a child often as part of a spur of the moment interpretation of the rules of engagement. Peebles discusses this moral ambiguity in numerous sources, one such being Nathaniel Fick’s One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer. Fick observes, “I was learning that choices in war are rarely between good and bad, but rather between bad and worse.” For many who have grappled with the myriad wicked problems in Iraq, this observation will especially resonate.
Welcome to the Suck is for anyone interested in gaining an understanding of the emerging literary narrative of the Iraq conflict. For military and civilian alike, the book guides the reader through the unique perspectives of the stories’ authors. These American military storytellers have an important story to tell and, as Peebles quotes Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, “attention must be paid.”
LTC Richard A. McConnell, USA, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
THE FRUGAL SUPERPOWER: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era
Michael Mandelbaum, Public Affairs, New York, 2010, 224 pages, $23.95.
Few Americans can imagine a world not dominated by American power and infl uence. For the past six-and-a-half decades, America’s leadership—economic, military, cultural—has been so comprehensive that American exceptionalism is now the operating assumption of almost all living Americans.
In his latest book, Michael Mandelbaum lays out the reasons for America’s future decline: chronic deficit spending, the expense of aging baby boomers, our extravagant import-driven consumerism, our addiction to foreign oil, and, alas, the rise of China. But having made the case, Mandelbaum then disappoints the reader by failing to vividly describe the world—domestically or internationally—that will be created by America’s imminent decline. Will the world become leaderless and anarchic, as happened when Rome fell? Or will a new hegemon, namely China, fill the vacuum left by American implosion and reorder the world to suit its purposes? How does America craft policies with declining foreign policy and military resources to avoid these nightmarish alternative futures? Unfortunately, Mandelbaum offers very little in the way of prognosis or prescription.
Mandelbaum also irritates by becoming preoccupied with the Middle East. His main policy recommendation is that the United States weaken Israel’s enemies—Iran and the Gulf Arab states—by reducing our domestic demand for petroleum, thereby lowering global oil prices and harming the petro-dictators’ energy export-dependant economies. In his key point, Mandelbaum reveals how much he lives in the past, when growing American oil imports drove global energy prices. Today, China, India, and the other “developing” economies are the growth markets for Middle Eastern energy, largely insulating Gulf producers from American domestic energy policy.
We have coasted on our World War II victory as long as we can. There was a time in the late 1940s when American power was unlimited. With the only economy and global governance system that really worked, America could extend security guarantees to Europe, North Asia, the Middle East, and other places as well. Now, declining American prosperity and power will invite our international rivals to roll back our post-World War II expansion. Mandelbaum quite rightly notes the Russian threat to Europe and the Chinese designs in Asia. But he never considers that Americans might find themselves unable to continue to finance their costly and contradictory policies in the Middle East. As we move from a grand strategy of strategic offense to strategic defense, inevitably we will have to write off some of our former core interests as no longer affordable.
Global power requires money— lots of it—and China’s pockets are now far deeper than ours. Serving out our latest humiliation, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao fl ew to Pakistan in December 2010 and handed out a whopping $30 billion in aid and investment deals, dwarfing America’s far smaller attempts to encourage Pakistani friendship. As our global rival buys the favor of Pakistan, what becomes the future of our costly investment in Afghanistan? Perhaps America can maintain superpower status on a limited budget. Certain wastefulness could be eliminated, common sense could be restored to our fiscal and foreign policies, and unwise promises could be broken or renegotiated. But that would mean making hard foreign policy choices, something Americans haven’t done in decades.
Mandelbaum’s book can only be considered a rudimentary introduction to the severe problems undermining America’s global position. For many prospective readers, even recognizing America’s deteriorating status may be a step toward reality. But serious readers will want to move much further and explore a more cogent strategy to ensure continued American prosperity and global infl uence. These readers will likely find Mandelbaum’s work incomplete.
LTC Stephen L. Melton, USA, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
DEFIANT FAILED STATE: The North Korean Threat to International Security
Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr., Potomac Books, Washington, DC, 2010, 275 pages, $29.95.
In Defiant Failed State, Bruce Bechtol argues that North Korea, despite its current economic problems, international isolation, and image as a failed state, still poses a serious threat to America’s national security interests, not only on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia but also internationally, and the threat is more than just nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Bechtol addresses four areas where North Korea threatens America’s national interests: North Korea’s conventional military, the proliferation of weapons and weapons technology, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and issues regarding the succession plan for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il. Analysts and specialists who deal in North Korea, regional affairs, and national security are the book’s primary audience.
North Korea’s conventional military, although overshadowed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, is still a major threat, and it has been able to maintain that threat in spite of its economic problems. North Korea threatens America’s interests in key areas of the world, such as the Middle East, by its proliferation of weapons and weapons technology. Iran and groups such as Hezbollah have benefitted from their association with North Korea. Bechtol focuses his discussion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program on the U.S. attempt through six-party talks to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapon program. The book takes a critical view of the Bush administration’s conduct during these talks and blames it as much as the North Koreans for the talks’ failure. The last area Bechtol discusses is Kim Jong-il’s succession plan and why, due to Kim Jong-il being the center of all power, it is key to maintaining stability in North Korea and preventing the possible collapse of the country.
Bechtol’s conclusion on how to best deal with the North Korean threat is that “the ROK-U.S. alliance will be the key in defending the South Korean landmass” and in “protecting Seoul’s and Washington’s interests in the region.” The book concludes using instruments of national power (diplomatic, information, military, and economic) to analyze how North Korea uses its own instruments of national power to be a threat to the United States.
Defiant Failed State presents many good points. The discussion on the ROK-U.S. alliance brings up many issues that need to be discussed regarding the path forward, especially the need for South Korea to upgrade its own military forces. One question that arises from the book, though the author never asks it, is what does the United States gain from North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program if North Korea stays involved in nuclear weapons programs with nations such as Iran?
One shortcoming is the book’s poor-quality graphics. However, the biggest is that Defiant Failed State appears to be an update of Bechtol’s 2007 book, Red Rouge.
Overall, Defiant Failed State is worth reading by those interested in North Korea, the ROK-U.S. alliance, Northeast Asia, or national security issues, and those who have not read Red Rouge.
MAJ Brent A. Stedry, USA, Pyeongtaek, Korea
STALEMATE: An Anatomy of conflicts Between Democracies, Islamists, and Muslim Autocrats
Erik A. Claessen, Praeger Security International, Santa Barbara, CA, 2010, 186 pages, $34.95.
Lieutenant Colonel Erik A. Claessen’s Statemate: An Anatomy of conflicts Between Democracies, Islamists, and Muslim Autocrats is an outstanding treatise on the workings of modern Muslim societies from socio-political and military standpoints. He delineates the relationships of Muslim countries’ (primarily Middle Eastern) governments to the West and each other. He describes why they act the way they do: seemingly irrational to Westerners yet logical within the parameters of their beliefs. Claessen uses current and historical examples to illustrate his case.
Stalemate is a good text for use in captains career courses and higher and should be a definite read for all Army staff college students as part of their initial introduction to the operating environment. Claessen describes what he calls the “three systems”—Muslim autocrats, Islamists, and democracies. He summarizes the main points in each chapter to avoid doubt as to his explanations. One suggestion might be for readers to start at the glossary, where he defines the key terms.
Claessen begins his book by defining the operational environment and the historical relationships between the three systems. Recurring themes in the book are that Islamists cannot prevail over Muslim autocrats; Muslim autocrats lose against Western democracies; Islamists grow and thrive under Western rule; in conflicts between them, democracies, Muslim autocrats, and Islamists can win against one of the two, but not against both; and each party can attain limited objectives, only to find that ideal objectives are unobtainable. Claessen’s supports these theses through analyses and examples from the last 40 years, with particular attention to the last 10.
Claessen ends his book with a chapter for which the book is named. Its theme is directed at breaking the “stalemate” that comes from the West’s inability to grasp the realities of Muslim perceptions and behaviors based on their politico-religious worldviews. The last chapter might be best summarized: “Democracies need to realize that in stability operations involving Islamists and Muslim autocrats all activities are antagonistic, even collaboration and humanitarian assistance.” He provides recommendations that complement our stability and counterinsurgency doctrine; to wit: not all solutions are military and war exists on many different levels such as in the economic realm. Using a non-Muslim example, he shows how counterinsurgency in El Salvador parallels the Muslim countries that the United States is involved with. He gives advice that is painfully applicable to our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stalemate provides a baseline understanding of Muslim politics and societies in an operational environment that many Westerners still do not understand. Claessen does this in a concise and logical manner. His descriptions of the historical and contextual backgrounds of Muslims through his personal experiences and studies makes the book a valuable resource for all military officers.
LTC Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr., USA, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
DEATH BY MODERATION: The U.S. Military’s Quest for Useable Weapons
David A. Koplow, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010, 263 pages, $28.99.
Conflicts of the world cannot usually be solved with large-scale military intervention. The use of military force must be precise and calculated, including the elimination of threats with limits on collateral damage. During the U.S. military’s quest for usable weapons, “we must strive to make the best possible weapon tailored for the fight on today’s battlefields.” Both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have stressed the need to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, while still accomplishing the mission.
David A. Koplow’s Death by Moderation underlines the importance of paying attention to how the United States modernizes its weapon systems. Koplow’s topics include antipersonnel land mines, nuclear weapons, and emerging technologies labeled as nonlethal weapons. He also discusses law of armed conflict and military affairs, outlining how the United States fights today’s wars and how operations will be conducted and new weapons will be used by future forces. The author’s coverage of these topics is indicative of his substantial knowledge of these problems. The topics are relevant to the defense community.
Koplow believes in the more precise use of force and reduced collateral damage caused by the weapons of our future. However, the deterrence associated with large explosive-power weapons is lost when weapons are made for use against pinpoint targets. The use of such weapons by countries around the world may replace the need for more powerful weapons, thereby decreasing the self-deterrence or reluctance to use weapons in retaliation. The frequency of wars around the world may increase and the military advantage held by some countries may be lost. A balanced approach in developing new technologies and maintaining certain traditional military advantages should always be practiced.
CPT Steven C. Loos, USA, RC-North, Afghanistan
AMERICA’S COVERT WARRIORS: Inside the World of Private Military Contractors
Shawn Engbrecht, Potomac Books, Dulles, Virginia, 2010, 256 pages, $29.95.
Shawn Engbrecht’s America’s Covert Warriors is a comprehensive look at private military contracting with first-person narratives from various contributors, with statistical data and personal opinions that make for an interesting read. As a former U.S. Army soldier, experienced private contractor, and the founder of the Center for Advanced Security Studies, Engbrecht uses his experiences to reinforce many crucial arguments. The author discusses the successful employment of private military contracting firms in such roles or activities as conducting personal security detachments, exchanging fire with a fledgling insurgency in Iraq, training law enforcement and military units in Afghanistan, or fighting back rebel forces in Africa. Unfortunately, as in most cases dealing with combat, successes are counterbalanced with failures that have impacted negatively on the contemporary operating environment. Such was the case with the 2007 Blackwater team’s shooting of civilians in Baghdad. Groups meant to fill gaps in military capabilities (whether providing logistical support to units in the field, training a host nation force, or providing security for reconstruction projects) have grown in number and expanded their roles, taking in billions of taxpayer dollars.
Engbrecht incorporates anecdotal narratives with logical opinions to form arguments for private military contractor reform. Engbrecht takes readers through the creation, utilization, and ultimate expansion of the private military contractor industry over the last three decades. He divides the industry into three categories: logistical, advisory, and operational, all of which need more stringent oversight and regulation. The question becomes: How do you regulate an industry that has seen record growth, record profit, and bases everything on the bottom dollar?
The author presents two options for creating reform and bringing the private military contractors under control. Both options would revolutionize the industry of private contracting. The first proposal is for the industry to self-regulate, which would prevent external interference. It would include standardizing hiring requirements, training, equipment, legal restrictions and company policies, the use of foreign persons, and interaction with the military, and would provide a strict framework from which private military contractors would have to operate. A second and more invasive technique, but less popular with contractors and stockholders, would be to create a “contractor army” within the Department of Defense. Each contractor would operate similar to a guardsman, that is, operating when called up. Engbrecht estimates that possibly 90 percent of the industry problems would vanish and the total cost of operations could be reduced by nearly 50 percent. Regardless of the reform method, the author argues that private contractors need a complete shake-up in order to bring integrity, professionalism, and respectability back to the industry.
This informative book paints a thorough picture of “big business” in combat. What’s evident is that the Department of Defense has positioned itself to always need contracted support and that that support needs oversight. Without reform, contractors will continue to care more about making profit and less about accountability and professionalism.
CPT Scott Bailey, USA, Afghanistan
THE TWILIGHT OF THE BOMBS: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World without Nuclear Weapons
Richard Rhodes, Knopf, New York, 2010, 480 pages, $27.95.
The Twilight of the Bombs is historian Richard Rhodes’ conclusion to his tetralogy that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Twilight has the usual strong attributes that characterize Rhodes’s scholarship— solid research, intriguing detail, and an engagingly well-written story. Twilight’s emphasis is on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine, the ongoing nuclear crisis with North Korea, and the search for weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Rhodes argues that the possibility of rogue organizations obtaining some form of nuclear explosive device has greatly increased. No one is better than Rhodes at making understandable the complex technical aspects of nuclear weapons production.
Rhodes disregards the argument that the bomb has acted as a deterrent because of the possibility of accidental or inadvertent use, but recognizes that nuclear weapons dictated policies of caution. These horrific weapons were factors in bringing about limited war in Korea and Vietnam. Rhodes also does not adequately weigh the risks of maintaining a nuclear arsenal against the possibility that a nuclear-free world would increase the possibility of horrendous conventional warfare, wars like the long brutish Iran-Iraq war. The bomb may have deterred great power war, but it has shifted killing to the developing world— mass murder by machete.
Are nukes trump? Iran and Syria likely pursue an atomic bomb for a number of reasons including prestige and regional dominance, but more importantly, they want the bomb because without it they feel vulnerable to the overwhelming superiority of U.S. conventional forces. The take down of Iraq in a matter of days was not lost on those who would challenge the United States. But, the question of how and if “the bomb” has worked as a deterrent has always been a difficult and highly controversial case to make. Simply dismissing opposing arguments as “nuclearist sophistry” won’t do.
For all the book’s apparent strengths, the underlying plot is a tale of pulp fiction, a series of missed opportunities to achieve nuclear disarmament. The spoilers are H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and the two evil-policy twins Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who over their long careers repeatedly derailed chances to move toward even greater reductions of nuclear weapons. The collapse of the Soviet Union, Rhodes argues, was a missed window of genuine opportunity. H.W. Bush did well with the ex-Soviet republics, but then floundered. Further, Rhodes maintains that the Bushes oversold weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, using the same techniques Truman used to sell the Greek-Turkish Aid Bill and the Marshall Plan.
The war scare of 1983 provoked by the military exercise Abel Archer and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis could have brought Armageddon. However, it is important to stress that while it could have happened, it did not. Sixty-five years of nuclear weapon nonuse is not insignificant, although there is no guarantee that in the future they will not be used. Nuclear armament is a big story, an important story, but only a portion of the even bigger story of the last century. The number of Japanese victims of the bomb pale in comparison to victims of conventional warfare. The tragedy of the 20th century is not just nuclear weapons. It’s the 100-million plus deaths over ideology fought with conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, a long war fought over the way humanity would be politically organized.
Rhodes passionately weighs in on the future of nuclear weapons. From his point of view these weapons will be done away with and humans will look back on the “insanity” of those dark years when mankind lived under the threat of annihilation. He believes nuclear weapons will come to be considered a crime against humanity.
Maybe, but presently that wish appears quite doubtful.
Hal Elliott Wert, Kansas City, Missouri
DANGEROUS GAMES: Faces, Incidents, and Casualties of the Cold War
James E. Wise, Jr., and Scott Baron, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2010, 264 pages, $34.50.
Given the current international security environment—especially with the recent political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa—few have taken the time to refl ect on the meaning or events of the Cold War. When they do, it is often with feelings of nostalgia for the “good old days” of the dangerous, yet supposedly simpler and more predictable decades spanning 1945 to 1991.
James E. Wise, Jr., and Scott Baron’s Dangerous Games: Faces, Incidents, and Casualties of the Cold War is not a mere nostalgia trip but a series of vignettes that put a human face on key (and not so key) events of the Cold War. It provides the antithesis for the “good old days” retrospective and reminds us of the constant tensions that existed in the global environment. Given the six-decade span of the Cold War, it is remarkable that the superpowers could exercise such restraint.
The tale of Yuri Gagarin, Russian cosmonaut and first man in space, is particularly intriguing, as the authors do well to remove the veneer of “hero of the Soviet Union” and show that Gagarin was indeed mortal, with human weaknesses, and served at the utter whim of the political leadership at the time. Other events are seen through the lens of victims or participants. Examples given are Commander Lloyd Bucher and the USS Pueblo incident, and the Cuban Missile crisis, which focuses on the story of U.S. Air Force U-2 pilot Major Rudolf Anderson, shot down over Cuba while taking high-altitude intelligence imagery of Cuban long-range missile emplacements. The stories are told with sensitivity and compassion and not as a mere recap of facts.
Equally compelling is the story of North Korean defector No Kumsok (now known as “Kenneth Rowe”), who received $100,000 for perilously delivering a Soviet MiG-15 fighter into U.S. hands in South Korea in 1953. Events like these demonstrate the depth and breadth of the Cold War.
Dangerous Games is not without its flaws. The first name of U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson is curiously misspelled “Rudolph.” Several vignettes contain overly long quotations, and the book could benefit from an overarching conclusion, which would tie the vignettes together or explain why they were included.
Still, Dangerous Games provides nuance and human context to a period that is seen as stable, predictable, and monolithic. The book is a reminder that the Cold War was fraught with tension and peril and remains worthy of continued study and refl ection. It is a quick read and highly recommended as a companion piece to the standard literature for students of the Cold War.
Mark Montesclaros, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
MARSHALL: Lessons in Leadership
H. Paul Jeffers with Alan Axelrod, Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2010, 204 pages, $22.00.
Marshall: Lessons in Leadership is the last book by historian H. Paul Jeffers (who died in December 2009), and is part of a Palgrave series on great generals.
Marshall joins numerous other biographies of General George C. Marshall, who is universally recognized as one of the greatest generals the United States ever produced. For example, Amazon.com lists over 300 books with George Marshall in their titles.
So, what does Jeffers’ book have to say that has not been said in other books on Marshall, including the four-volume biography by the official U.S. Army World War II historian, Forrest Pogue?
Probably little new historical information about Marshall’s life has been unearthed in this new biography. Nevertheless, it is an engaging, colorful, and eminently readable story about Marshall’s life, his military career, and his triumphs. Organized chronologically, beginning with his 1880 birth in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the book provides enough information about his childhood and youth to give a sense of him prior to his military career, but not so much as to detract from the part of the story the reader wants to get to—his Army career. Jeffers gets there quickly, recounting Marshall’s early experience as a junior officer in “an army that had no enemy.”
Like most military officers prior to the outbreak of World War I, Marshall progressed slowly, but made the most of his early assignments. One of his toughest assignments, according to Marshall, was an order to assist in mapping 2,000 square miles in southwest Texas, near Fort Clark in 1905. In this assignment, he met Malin Craig, who “thirty-four years later would recommend him to be his successor as army chief of staff.”
Marshall’s story reaches its climax as Marshall serves as Army Chief of Staff during World War II. Jeffers puts the reader in the room with Marshall and other colorful characters from the war—men such as President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Generals Eisenhower and Patton.
Throughout the book, the author concentrates on Marshall’s temperament— always controlled, never egotistical, mission focused—and his leadership style—quickly identifying officers with talent and high potential and getting them into assignments where they could develop and demonstrate that potential. It is perhaps this “character study” aspect of the book that is the author’s greatest contribution to the understanding of George C. Marshall as a man, a military officer, and a leader. Recommended for all readers.
Clark Capshaw, Ph.D., Alexandria, Virginia,
PACIFIC AIR: How Fearless Flyboys, Peerless Aircraft, and Fast Flattops Conquered the Skies in the War with Japan
David Sears, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011, $27.50.
David Sears’ Pacific Air is a work with fl aws that undermine the inherent interest and excitement that a book about aerial combat in World War II’s Pacific Theater should generate. The book intertwines the development of the Grumman fighter and attack aircraft beginning in the early 1930s with the experiences of the prewar pilots who tested the planes and the wartime naval aviators who flew them into combat. Pacific Air is light on new knowledge about the Pacific campaign, but it offers a compelling, readable account of aerial combat based largely on memoirs and oral histories. Of interest is the development of tactical training among naval aviators, which allowed them to match and eventually surpass their Japanese foes.
Unfortunately, the book’s strengths cannot fully offset its structure and content problems. Throughout, Sears over-relies on the gimmicky usage of in medias res to drum up excitement among readers. Instead of restricting the use of this device to the beginning of his chapters, he incorporates chronological jumps at multiple points within the same chapter. This constant shifting distracts from Sears’ exciting narrative.
The bigger issue with Pacific Air is Sears’ uneven coverage of the Pacific campaign. For example, he weaves famed Japanese ace Saburo Sakai’s experiences into the narrative even though the bulk of Sakai’s service came against land-based planes and pilots and not against American naval aviators. These passages only briefly describe a Japanese pilot training system that was capable of turning out a small cadre of elite pilots but incapable of matching the growing numbers of well-trained American aviators, such as Alex Vraciu, who were streaming out of stateside aviation schools. Sears suggests the appearance of the advanced Grumman aircraft and new waves of American pilots turned the tide in the Pacific, but he ignores numerous other game-changers, including vastly improved antiaircraft gunnery, better radars, and more experienced flight directors. Curiously, Sears ends the narrative with the Battle of the Philippine Sea, even though more than a year of combat and the vexing problem of kamikaze raids against American carriers remained. His 2008 At War With the Wind covers this later period, but not solely from the perspective of American pilots.
Those looking for a concise, readable account of organizational learning and adaptation could do worse than Pacific Air. Those desiring a new perspective on carrier battles of the Pacific theater should look elsewhere.
Ryan Wadle, Ph.D., Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
RACING THE SUNRISE: Reinforcing America’s Pacific Outposts, 1941-1942
Glen M. Williford, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2010, 345 pages, $37.95.
Thank heaven for author and benefactor Edward S. Miller and the Naval Institute Press. Here they have underwritten an extremely worthwhile effort by independent scholar Glen M. Williford who has written in the past about harbor and coastal defenses of the United States in the Pacific. Williford’s book grew out of his studies on the extremely contentious issue of the USS Pensacola convoy. The transit of this convoy on 7 December 1941, “Just as the bombs and torpedoes were launched by Japanese warplanes at Pearl Harbor,” is one of the little known stories of World War II in the Pacific. The convoy was completely missed by the Japanese since it had left port several days prior to the attack, but it represented an ongoing full-court press by the Roosevelt administration to beef up our defenses in the Far East, especially in the Philippines. Later, the convoy, which included over 4,500 troops and tons of equipment, became a source of friction between the beleaguered General Douglas MacArthur and the War Department when it was rerouted to Australia to avoid the dangers posed by Japan’s unexpected and rapid successes in the Philippines and elsewhere. The Pensacola convoy served as the occasion for Williford to examine the broader question of U.S. efforts to improve its readiness in the increasingly dark days of late 1941 and early 1942. The book successfully argues that reinforcements like those with the Pensacola served as the “nucleus of the first successful offensives against Japan.” In other words, at dawn we were not sleeping, rather, we were desperately trying to prepare for a war that could occur at any moment.
This is a complicated story. In making the primary argument above, Williford conclusively demolishes the idea that the Pensacola reinforcements could have prevented the fall of the Philippines and that the rerouting of the convoy by decision makers in Washington and Hawaii was ultimately the wrong decision. However, the book is so much more than just this one story. It is a logistical history of how the equipment, prior to and for a year after the war, was pushed through dangerous waters and skies to everywhere from China, to the Philippines, to Australia, and a host of islands whose names even the serious naval historian may not recall (e.g. Johnston, Palmyra, and Christmas). It also includes some wonderful little stories that are rarely read, such as the heroic performance of U.S. airmen and artillerymen in the hopeless defense of the Dutch East Indies.
Despite these rare treats, it is not a book for general audiences. For researchers this book is a gold mine of tables for equipment, shipping schedules, and aircraft ferry routes so that one can understand the enormity of the challenge faced by the United States in 1940 when it realized how unprepared it was for war in the Far East. This book really gives the reader the story of how and why these often dry and “uninteresting” operations were absolutely critical to the later success of the United States and its Allies in the Pacific. It gives the complete history of the establishment of the logistical basis for a war with only the South Pacific Islands and Australia as forward bases from which to project naval, air, and ground power.
There are some problems with the book. The prose is sometimes extremely dry, and the unending cataloging of the ships’ departures, arrivals, equipment, and routes can be exhausting to a reader looking for a gripping narrative. In other words, one of the book’s main strengths is also one of its weaknesses. This problem is exacerbated by the abrupt ending of the book. It closes with a valuable, detailed, discussion of the early 1942 shipping movements and includes a discussion of the critical Combined Chiefs of Staff ARCADIA conference in Washington from December 1941 to January 1942. However, as it finishes detailing all the various shipping movements, it simply ends. There is no summation of the book’s major themes. This is unfortunate, since the central thesis and various subtheses (such as the Pensacola rerouting decision) deserve restatement and emphasis. It seems the publisher perhaps ran out of space or that the author ran out of steam. This criticism aside, the book is a valuable resource that fills an existing gap in the literature on the outbreak of war in the Pacific and is highly recommended for all historians of World War II.
John T. Kuehn, Ph.D., Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
HITLER’S FIRST WAR: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War
Thomas Weber, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010, 427 pages, $19.95.
In a popular and academic world where books on, about, and concerning Hitler have become a cottage industry, it would be logical to conclude that—absent a cache of hidden, genuine documents—everything that could be written about Hitler has already been written. Treatments on him range from the purely factual to the purely hypothetical, and in quality from superb to puerile: Hitler as the architect of the Holocaust, Hitler the war leader, Hitler as explained by Freudian analysis, Hitler as a social phenomenon, and so many more. The idea that anyone could again cover this familiar ground and make new discoveries is beyond expectation. Yet that is precisely what Thomas Weber does in Hitler’s First War. He has made an authentic and important contribution.
As Weber points out, the period of Hitler’s service as a soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment (RIR 16) is the crucible. He developed here a sentimental attachment to Germany and political ideas. More significantly, he soon manipulated the facts of his service to establish the image of the Frontkampfer—the common soldier at the front, and the necessary nationalistic and fraternal associations that went along with it. Hitler’s departure from the truth was substantive and subtle, with an understanding of what postwar people needed to remember—whether strictly true or not—and the growing pressure on surviving comrades to verify his slanted version of events as National Socialism gained prominence. Weber observes that though Hitler made frequent public use of his fellow soldier’s testimonials, he remained deliberately aloof from their postwar fellowship, mirroring his solitary personality traits during the war itself.
“It was here—in solving the question of how such a war could be won and in identifying supposedly poisonous infl uences on the nation— that Hitler turned to his First World War experience for inspiration.” That first global war was Hitler’s primary filter. When harried German forces on the Eastern front wanted to retreat, former Private Hitler recalled how he’d once seen artillery blast defensive positions in frozen earth; when it came to Jews, he employed the “stab in the back” myth from after World War I. In his mind, the “simple soldier” viewpoint always trumped that of the overeducated drawing board officers of the general staff.
In his chronological examination of the RIR 16, Weber has exhaustively mined the sources in every available language, and weighed them accordingly. His picture is more narrowly focused than that in either Richard Evans’ or Ian Kershaw’s treatment and is in some ways more vivid. In perhaps the most chilling part of the book, the author examines the “what happened after” to the Jewish officers and men of Hitler’s regiment. Though most were more directly exposed to enemy fire than Hitler himself (another crucial piece of Hitler’s wartime legend), their fraternal soldierly ties with the Führer did not save them; in almost every case they were exterminated along with millions of others.
It is telling that in an army noted for encouraging and promoting initiative, Hitler never advanced beyond the rank of private despite four years of service and winning the Iron Cross First Class (due as much to his proximity to headquarters as to any other factor). His superiors saw or sensed something in him that prevented it. Their instincts were right. Weber’s treatment of these issues in Hitler’s First War is the definitive account of those years that perhaps mattered most.
Mark Hull, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
LINCOLN AND MCCLELLAN: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General
John C. Waugh, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010, 272 pages, $27.00.
Within a few months of the Battle of Fort Sumter, George B. McClellan’s small army had driven Confederate forces out of western Virginia in the first campaign of the Civil War. After the Northern collapse at First Manassas (Bull Run), Abraham Lincoln needed a successful general to take command of the routed Federal forces, and the Union victories in the mountains of Virginia were enough to put McClellan in command.
McClellan was able to build the Army of the Potomac into an effective fighting force, but Lincoln’s faith in McClellan was at this point the highest it would ever be. McClellan showed himself inept at commanding a large field army and the two men quickly proved that they had little in common besides their loyalty to the Union. John C. Waugh’s Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General traces the relationship between the two men back to its roots and explores the problems that plagued the Union high command.
Waugh points out that McClellan’s elite upbringing gave him a superiority complex. There was rarely a time when McClellan did not believe his opinion was the right one. He thought highly of people who agreed with him but considered those who differed with him as inferior, including Lincoln. McClellan had held this opinion since their encounters involving the Illinois Central Railroad before the war.
Lincoln was constantly frustrated with McClellan’s overcautious tendencies. McClellan was constantly overestimating Confederate troop numbers and persistently wiring Lincoln and the War Department for reinforcements. He believed Lincoln was withholding troops. Whenever Lincoln pressed McClellan to move or criticized his strategy, McClellan believed it was an attempt to ruin him and the war effort in order to bring about the abolition of slavery. As a result, he retained a hostile relationship with the president and refused to cooperate.
Lincoln realized that McClellan could keep the army in shape and that the troops held a deep affection for their general. Lincoln was reluctant to remove him after the Battle of Antietam. However, the president was unable to convince the West Pointer to target the Army of Northern Virginia instead of Richmond, and he could not allow McClellan to continually squander opportunities. The two men faced off again in the election of 1864, but it was largely an absentee affair for both. However, it magnified the political differences that Waugh explains divided them since meeting in 1857. McClellan’s refusal to accept abolition and his association with antiwar Democrats condemned him within army ranks.
Lincoln and McClellan is an excellent addition to Civil War scholarship. It is clear, concise, and easy to read. Waugh extensively uses letters and correspondence to put the thoughts and feelings of the two men in perspective. He achieves his goal with this book. Students of the Civil War will thoroughly understand why McClellan was incompatible with Lincoln and unfit for high command. The unique nature of the Civil War makes this book an interesting and useful study of how politics, personalities, and military affairs can interact.
Ryland Breeding, Richmond, Virginia
CUSTER: Lessons in Leadership
CUSTER: Lessons in Leadership, Duane Schultz, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2010, 206 pages, $14.00.
On 25 June 1876, the fate of the 220 troopers of the 7th Cavalry was sealed as General George Armstrong Custer took his command down into the area surrounding Little Bighorn Creek. At the time of the battle, he was regarded as one of the most successful post-Civil War generals of the age.
Although many readers only associate Custer with the massacre at Little Bighorn, his military record up to that point was one of the most popular in our nation’s history. His superiors at the time were also convinced that Custer had the luck, aggressiveness, and supreme self-confidence that could sway any contest. However, on the evening prior to this last battle, his troopers began to share another opinion.
Although successful in many aspects, Custer’s judgement was clouded in this instance by his search for glory and fame. He did not adapt his tactics to those of his enemy. His men realized this just prior to this operation during his absence for a court martial. Although Custer seemed to recognize the danger of his decision when he desperately requested immediate support, his fate was already sealed. This biography encourages us to analyze the leadership elements that led to this massacre in search for lessons learned for future generations.
Charismatic and boyishly charming, Custer was one of the most controversial and audacious military commanders of the 19th century. No matter what side the reader may take, what cannot be ignored is the effect he has on the tenets of what is truly effective generalship. The Civil War was the proving ground of leaders like Custer, and if the analysis stopped there, he would be considered one of the most successful generals of our time. His bravery and dash not only polarized the enemy, but provided evidence that Union commanders could conform to conditions on the battlefield on par with their Confederate counterparts.
During the campaigns against the Indians, however, his reckless disregard for the lives of his men began to detract from his successes. Although he continued to have the support of his superiors, his popularity began to wane. He began to exhibit a general disregard for orders and regulations and a focus on self-promotion and personal interests. Part of the rationale could rest in this new style of warfare. The ferocity of fighting and atrocities committed were of a nature far removed from any of our experience up to that time. Custer, a leader who participated in two separate and distinct conflicts, is trapped in the reputation of his own performance as well as the intricacies of this new style of warfare. Regardless, whether the reader of this biography is a fan of Custer or a critic, the greater lessons he provides are the distinguishing elements of leadership required when faced with changing battlefield conditions and the nature of our own hubris as a result of past success.
LTC Thomas S. Bundt, Ph.D., USA, Fort Sam Houston, Texas
ALEXANDER THE GREAT: Lessons from History’s Undefeated General
Bill Yenne, Palgrave McMillan, Suffolk, England, 2010, 200 pages, $22.00.
Reading a history of Alexander the Great might not seem to offer appropriate lessons for modern battlefield leaders. What could someone who dominated his age more than 2,300 years ago teach us? In this modern age of warfare, characterized by technology, raw-base leadership might seem archaic. Bill Yenne’s concise study of Alexander the Great provides today’s leaders with examples of leadership that transcend the centuries. The book should be read by every young officer and studied by all those whose interest in military history stems from their desire to improve their leadership skills.
General Wesley K. Clark’s preface compares Alexander to a quarterback. I would go even farther and call Alexander the Brett Favre of his age. In battles when the initial plan seemed to unravel, Alexander was at his best: improvising, scrambling, and delivering victories based on his instinct and experience. His “on the field” presence inspired all who served with him, and he was always at the critical point of the battlefield. Willing to share the hardships of his men, he drove himself as hard as he drove his soldiers.
A master of maneuver, Alexander not only won the “tactical” battle, but he knew how to relentlessly pursue a defeated enemy until he achieved final victory. Alexander was equally adept at organization, communications, and logistics. Unlike Napoleon in Russia, he reorganized and refitted his army as necessary to ensure his army was adequately equipped and fed. Throughout more than a decade of conflict, he succeeded on the battlefield and as a governor and diplomat.
Alexander was without equal on the battlefield. He dressed conspicuously in his regal armor and hundreds of enemy soldiers would attempt to claim him as their victim. He lost many horses killed beneath him, his breastplate was pierced by a lance, and he shattered numerous spears himself. Alexander’s helmet was once pierced, and he survived only because one of his most trusted lieutenants, Cleitus, saved him, running a spear through the enemy who was attempting to finish off Alexander. Yenne brings the extraordinary clash, the smell, and the sweat of the battlefield to the reader, making this account of ancient combat extremely readable to modern day warriors.
Bill Yenne does another thing not entirely shared by other accounts of Alexander the Great. He offers fair and objective criticisms of Alexander. Most noteworthy is his account of the killing of his trusted lieutenant, Cleitus—some might say his best friend—in a drunken rage. Likewise, Alexander seemed impervious to the fact that many of his original Macedonians had been campaigning for more than 10 years, suffering hardships and battle injuries. They naturally wanted to know when they would return home to their friends and families in Macedonia. Alexander reluctantly went to his tent for hours (other accounts say it was for days) and pouted, finally relenting.
Although Alexander dies at the young age of 32, his legacy as the first of the world’s greatest commanders lives on today. His exploits remain an example for all leaders where tactical and strategic knowledge, physical prowess, and leadership are practiced. He performed these feats in the same crucible as today’s warriors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bill Yenne’s book on Alexander the Great is worthy of modern leaders study.
Thomas E. Christianson, Moffett Field, California
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN: Five Months that Changed History, May-October 1940
James Holland, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2010, 592 pages, $40.00.
Does the world really need another Battle of Britain book? After reading James Holland’s The Battle of Britain, I can affirm that the world is indeed richer for its publication. The Battle of Britain is a well-written book about combat. Its David-and-Goliath appeal continues to have a mesmerizing resonance.
Holland’s book is noteworthy because he understands that the weapons with which wars are fought typically result from decisions made earlier. In our own time, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” In that sense, Holland ably lays out the groundwork to understand the Battle of Britain in a greater strategic overview, tracing how the disaster that befell the Allies in May 1940 in France affected just how much of the Royal Air Force was going to be employed in this cauldron. It is a shocking revelation that even before the Battle of Britain, the British had already lost over 1,000 planes, and more importantly, over 300 pilots. Holland implicitly and subtly argues that the Battle of Britain begins with the air coverage for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.
Holland’s analysis of the primary weapon systems—the Me-109, Me-110, Spitfire, and Hurricane—is eye-opening. He demonstrates that the Me-109 was easily the superior plane as a weapon platform in terms of firepower and ammo carrying capability. Its 20-mm cannons were much more lethal than the British plane’s .30 caliber machine guns. Holland also seems to be less than enamored with the Hurricane, which in terms of numbers largely fought the battle.
Holland makes the book more indispensible by tying the Battle of Britain into its larger context. Holland lays out other critical areas such as the U-boat war, America and its strange ambassador Joseph Kennedy, as well as Ireland’s neutrality. Most readers are familiar with the story of RADAR’s development, but I was surprised at the indirect impact Bomber Command had on the battle. Bomber Command expended considerable effort on attacks on the invasion fl eet with little success. However, its attacks on Berlin had a political payoff in that they so enraged Hitler that he switched the focus of the bombing campaign to attacking London, giving the British Fighter Command a critical breather in terms of their airfield infrastructure in southeastern England.
Surprising for me were new photographs and a profusion of excellent and readable maps and figures. My one complaint is the omission of Derek Robinson’s Invasion, 1940, whose thesis is that the German invasion, Operation Sea Lion, was destined to be a failure.
The bottom line is this—if you don’t own a single work on the Battle of Britain, rush out and buy this one. If you have others, the scope of this book makes it easy to find a place for it on your shelves.
LTC Robert G. Smith, USA, Tampa, Florida
THE ROYAL AMERICAN REGIMENT: An Atlantic Microcosm, 1755-1772
Alexander V. Campbell, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2010, 356 pages, $34.95.
Alexander V. Campbell has taken his Ph.D. dissertation on the British 60th, or Royal American, Regiment of Foot, and converted it into a readable and intriguing account of this polyglot unit, which contributed in a number of ways to the French and Indian War and the development of a true Atlantic community in the pre- American Revolution period.
Unlike the classical regimental history, which recounts only campaigns and battles, The Royal American Regiment: An Atlantic Microcosm, 1755-1772, demonstrates how the Royal American Regiment, its officers and men, impacted the wider economic, social, and political fabric of the British North American Empire from 1755 to 1772. Campbell researched private papers and family archives of many of the Regiment’s officers and interweaves these sources into a stylistically readable tale.
Although not explicitly noted in the book, the actions and activities of the Royal American Regiment show the remarkable infl uence of Swiss foreign officers employed by the British Crown on the development of North American history. While James Prevost, Frederick Haldimand, and Henry Bouquet are the most known, a host of Swiss subalterns also rises out of the pages. These examples, and others, put human faces on late 18th century colonial warfare. The only constructive comment to offer is that Campbell could have given some context to the other British military units that were present in the North American operational area at this time. This void leaves the impression that the Royal Americans were the main thrust for all British efforts in this theater. A wider explanation would have allowed him to compare and contrast the Royal Americans with others and further highlight the Regiment’s unique elements.
The book has relevance for historians, military officers, and scholars interested in colonial and 18th century warfare. There are also lessons to consider in thinking about modern campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan— the use of foreign troops to supplement manpower, the influence of American units on Middle Eastern societies, and the importance of good leadership in difficult terrain. I would highly recommend this book for any personal library.
Major Kevin D. Stringer, Ph.D., USAR, Zurich, Switzerland
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