Anatomy of Victory
Why the United States Triumphed in World War II, Fought to a Stalemate in Korea, Lost in Vietnam, and Failed In Iraq
John D. Caldwell
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2019, 550 pages
Book Review published on: February 22, 2019
Anatomy of Victory: Why the United States Triumphed in World War II, Fought to a Stalemate in Korea, Lost in Vietnam, and Failed in Iraq examines the United States’ modern wars using a systematic comparison to determine why it has not won a war since 1945. John Caldwell, a defense analyst, opens by describing the conceptual framework he utilizes in analyzing and explaining how and why the outcomes of four U.S. modern wars were so different. He asserts that success or failure of combatant strategic architectures in the four wars can be expressed as a straightforward thesis: strategic architectures are more likely to succeed when policy, strategy, and operations are in alignment. Proportional alignment— the rigorous integration of policy, strategy, and operations—is essential for an effective strategic architecture.
Caldwell asserts Allied victory in World War II reflected a strategic architecture that included a defined coherent end state that was properly aligned with its ways and means. The author provides insightful analysis of the German, Japanese, and Allied strategic architectures during World War II in chapter 11. He concludes the German strategic architecture failed in the rational definition of its war objectives. German war aims were impossible to achieve because of national Socialist policies of genocide and subjugation, which destroyed human capital and resources Germany could have used to its advantage. Furthermore, Caldwell argues that Hitler’s governance of the Third Reich amounted to a series of competing power centers that denied Germany a unity of effort in pursuing its political, economic, and military objectives.
Caldwell asserts Japanese strategic architecture was based on two false premises. First, Japanese leaders believed that the United States would yield to a peace accommodation and concede to Japanese dominance of the Pacific. Second, Japanese leaders believed they could fight and win a decisive battle against the U.S. Navy. Japanese military leaders’ lack of understanding and appreciation for U.S. history or culture resulted in the false belief that the United States would not react with implacable fury after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Allied strategic architecture during World War II was not a single process but one that evolved over time. According to Caldwell, the Allies viewed Nazi Germany and Japan as mortal threats to the international system that required total defeat; this was critical in defining a coherent end state. The desired Allied end state provided the Allies a clear understanding that they would have to win a long series of attrition battles; there would no decisive battles, but instead a long war requiring massive mobilization of resources and the creation of integrated organizations that could work together in defeating the Axis powers.
Caldwell’s assessment of the Korean War is thought provoking. The ascendancy of nuclear weapons in the Cold War environment made comprehensive warfare prohibitively dangerous and total defeat of an adversary or end state impossible. The emergence of limited warfare left U.S. policy makers and military leaders indecisive about whether the purpose of the war was to unify North and South Korea or to preserve the integrity of South Korea. The United States and its allies quickly found themselves fighting a “police action” with no clear policy definition or objectives. The reader will find themselves asking the “what if” questions, such as what if the United States and its allies would have simply stopped at the 38th Parallel instead of going north and provoking Chinese intervention in the war.
The Vietnam War provided the United States a new kind of warfare in which the U.S. Army could not at times find and engage the enemy, nor could it do so on favorable terrain. The United States found itself supporting a corrupt regime that had no support from its populace and a military that lacked the will or ability to defend itself. Caldwell quotes Harvard Professor James C. Thompson Jr.’s observations made during national security policy discussions on Vietnam, describing the existence of persistent confusion among policy makers as what the type of conflict the United States was engaged in, who the real aggressor was, and how the war should end. Exacerbating the policy makers’ challenge was a lack of Indochina expertise, the inability or unwillingness of the Diem regime to make meaningful reforms, and a failure of policy makers to define what the U.S. strategic interest was in Vietnam.
Caldwell asserts the growing frustration of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration with its failure to defeat the revolutionary movement on the ground escalated the war to include the Operation Rolling Thunder air campaign, which lasted between 2 March 1965 and 31 October 1968 and became the longest bombing campaign by the U.S. military at that time. Caldwell quotes Earl H. Tilford, Army War College historian, who stated that the flow of troops and supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam doubled each year during Operation Rolling Thunder, despite flying 3.4 million sorties and dropping eight million tons of munitions on targets in Southeast Asia.
Chapters 24 through 29 provide an analysis of the various military events between the United States and Iraq from the first Persian Gulf War to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in 2013. Caldwell provides an interesting analysis in each chapter that serves as a warning to those who believe in the use of U.S. power to transform foreign societies in our likeness.
The value of Anatomy of Victory goes beyond a strategic architecture analysis of four wars. There are numerous nuggets throughout its twenty-nine chapters. For example, Caldwell challenges the traditional criticism that the Allied bombing of Europe was not as effective as Allied planners thought with a comment from Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer, who said Germany’s war production might have been brought to a halt if the U.S. Army Air Force had continued bombing the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt. And likewise, an early defined U.S. objective and policy for the Korean War could have prevented Chinese intervention when the United Nations and Republic of Korea forces reached the 38th Parallel and ended the war sooner. Nation building, whether it’s World War II, South Vietnam, or Iraq, is expensive, resource intensive, and may have little to no effect in achieving a desired outcome.
Anatomy of Victory is exceptionally well written. It includes exceptional maps and other graphics that provide a conceptual framework in analyzing past conflict. Its detailed accounts of key events and decisive battles provide a clearer understanding of decisions made by policy makers and military leaders at the strategic and operational levels of war. It is a must read for policy makers and military planners in considering the strategic architecture in planning for future conflict.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas