A Radical Theory of War
James Kelly Morningstar
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2017, 404 pages
Book Review published on: August 25, 2017
We all know there are few certainties in life, and most that do exist are not very pleasant to think about. One thing that has almost entered the realm of certainty (and may or may not be pleasant to think about) is that another book focused on George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, or Dwight Eisenhower will inevitably be written in the near future. Like most of you, I wonder if there is anything left to be addressed on these men. However, I believe author James Kelly Morningstar may have found a niche on Patton that has not been significantly pursued in his excellent book, Patton’s Way: A Radical Theory of War.
Morningstar has not attempted to place an additional standard Patton biography on the market. This in itself is important, since the world clearly does not need another Patton biography. Instead, he has narrowed his focus on Patton to two specific aspects. First, Morningstar keys on the warfighting philosophy of Patton and how he executed this philosophy during World War II. Second, the author takes that philosophy and examines its impact on the U.S. Army since the end of the war to present.
Morningstar articulates his focus with readers in his opening paragraph. He writes,
Much has been said about George S. Patton Jr. regarding his leadership, life, and accomplishments. Still, as a practitioner of war, Patton has been misunderstood. His success was a result not of bravado but of a well-thought-out and highly developed way of war, one of variance with accepted doctrine and often practiced in the face of interference by more conventional commanders. This book is an attempt to correct the record—to illuminate the principles at work in his methods and to demonstrate their real contribution to both the effort in World War II and the development of postwar U.S. Army doctrine.
In dissecting Patton’s warfighting philosophy, the author focuses on four principles that he contends were the core of Patton’s mindset. These were targeting the enemy’s morale through shock, utilizing highly practiced combined-arms mechanized columns, relying on mission tactics and flexible command and control, and employing multilayered and synthesized intelligence systems to identify enemy capabilities and weak spots. Morningstar dedicates a complete chapter to addressing each principle, and he provides numerous examples from World War II in which these principles were exhibited. Readers will find Morningstar has superbly researched and articulated these principles, and he utilizes several graphs and maps in support.
To tie in these principles, and Patton’s entire warfighting mindset, he employs the breakout from Normandy as a case study. Within this analysis, he organizes his study into two sections. In the first, he explores the thought process and planning Patton went through once he became Third Army commander and received his mission. In the second, he addresses the operations of Third Army after it entered the fight in Europe along with Patton’s decision making and planning on the battlefield. In combination, this is highly effective in reinforcing Morningstar’s thesis.
Although the above portions of the volume are outstanding, it is the beginning and concluding chapters that are the real strengths. The opening chapter, “Legends and Lies,” takes aim at numerous perceptions and opinions of Patton by World War II senior leaders and military historians. Morningstar tackles an eclectic group of topics that include personality traits; use of doctrine; employment of infantry, mechanized infantry, and tanks; planning methods; and aggressiveness on the battlefield. Although readers will surely sense that the author clearly resides in the pro-Patton camp in these discussions, he strives for a balanced approach in his analysis. Obviously, it is extremely challenging to write about such a polarizing figure.
In the book’s final two chapters, “Death and Resurrection” and “The Limits of Legacy,” Morningstar analyzes the influence of Patton on Army doctrine and warfighting since the end of World War II. He discusses conflicts, wars, and time periods where Patton’s ideas had a huge impact. In particular, he singles out the development of AirLand Battle doctrine in the 1980s and its subsequent employment during the first Gulf War. He opines that in the Vietnam War and the recent wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, Patton’s influence was negligible. As he states, “But Patton is not alive today. Neither is an understanding of his methods.”
In summary, Morningstar has crafted a volume that is clearly a fresh and intriguing look at Patton. This is not one of numerous Patton biographies on the market that simply highlight incidents in his life and take a positive or negative stance on Patton; instead, it is an extremely focused volume that is true scholarship on the man. Patton’s Way is unquestionably a welcome addition to the ever-increasing collection of books written on Patton.
Book Review written by: Frederick A. Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas