'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pretty good book on guerrilla warfare...

So I finished the highly publicized volume by Max Boot on guerrilla warfare and insurgency...Invisible Armies.  Now I had the book on pre-order since before Christmas, so it was an eagerly anticipated part of my 2013 reading list.   I thought the book was pretty good overall, and certainly met its intended purpose as a survey of guerrilla warfare for a general audience that wouldn't know the Viet Cong from Wingate's Chindits.

Boot actually makes a couple of points that I found very interesting, and actually hadn't really thought of in my reading of history, strategy, and military operational thought. 

First, "guerrilla" warfare is a pretty amorphous term that can cover everything from tribal bandit warfare to urban terrorism, and even commando operations conducted by conventional militaries.  In fact, one of Boot's primary points is that raiding, ambushes, and insurgencies are not something NEW but have actually been the primary means of warfare since man started swinging clubs at each other.  This was an interesting point, and Boot does a pretty good job of laying out how ancient empires from the Romans to the Chinese had troubles with nomadic raiding tribes that were never really contained.

Boot basically proceeds chronologically, although he makes a logical set of divisions of irregular warfare based on the tactics, politics and societal construct of the time.  An interesting couple of chapters deal with the KKK in the south after the Civil War as an "insurgency" that turned back Reconstruction and maintained the white dominated political structure of the South (and the Democratic Party, I might add) through the use of Jim Crow laws and segregation.  The other chapter looked at the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century...sort of the great-grandfathers of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Weather Underground...rich college kids who wanted to change societal injustice with explosives...only these anarchists manged to assassinate a Czar, a few Prime Ministers and even a President of the United States (William McKinley, shot by Leon Czolgosz in 1901).

Second, Boot makes the point that many guerrilla movements are unsuccessful, either through the ineptness of the guerrillas or the willingness of the incumbent political power to crush the insurgency regardless of the societal cost...OR sometimes by the local government making needed political and societal change to take away the underlying causes of rebellion and insurgency.  Boot gives examples of each and shows that many governments should not have lost to a weak insurgency, but defeated themselves more with their corruption and incompetence than the brilliance of the guerrilla movement.

It's not a perfect book, as Boot tries to cover a lot of material, even with the book's 784 pages to play with...so inevitably he picks and chooses what he covers, and also inevitably leaves something out.  But that's the joys and pitfalls of writing essentially an anthology of guerrilla and insurgency warfare, and he still has more hits than misses.

HOWEVER, I have to say I was totally surprised at the review the book received in my favorite Journal of Military History.  The reviewer totally hammers the crap out of the book, which I think is a bit unjustified.  Although the reviewer is an "Emeritus Professor," I think his review was a bit one-sided.  Although he did have a good point that Boot could and maybe should have covered the Russian partisan effort in World War 2, I actually think Boot's choice to cover Tito and his boys in Yugoslavia was a better choice, as they actually did more or less liberate their country from the Nazis, the only partisan group to do so in Europe.

Overall, as a book for a general audience that probably knows nothing about the concepts of guerrilla warfare, insurgency, counter-insurgency and the myriad of groups that conducted irregular warfare, Boot does a pretty darn good job.  It's pretty sad when the younger generation of historically ignorant doofus  morons are running around wearing Mao and Che T-shirts and glorifying these mass murderers.  My assumption is that if someone wants to know more...Boot gives a pretty good bibliography to start digging.  Also, I think his conclusions are right on the money and should be valuable for the uninitiated to the study of strategy and warfare. 

As a primer for undergraduate students in ROTC or at the service academies, I think this would be an excellent book to build a semester course to introduce students to the history of irregular warfare.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More free books!!! This could be better than bacon....

Another glorious opportunity to review FREE books has arisen from one of those discussion groups on Linkedin...I normally just delete all those spammy things that come to my mailbox.  But one caught my eye that was asking for well qualified reviewers of military history for the New York Journal of Books. Well, I figured this was made for me!  And after reviewing my extensive qualifications (no ego check here) and noting my excellent review essays for the Journal of Military History on Iraq and Afghanistan...BLAMMO, I was in...

Check out my page!

I also explored their military history page and noticed they don't seem to have a lot of active reviewers...well, I'll try and fix that.  So I asked for and received my first book...and WOWZA, was I happy to get accepted to review it!

Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy has been one of my favorite reads since the first volume was published ten years ago.  He won a well deserved Pulitzer Prize for An Army at Dawn, which set the stage for the magnificence of this trilogy and its narration of the war in the European Theater of Operations from 1942-1945.  His final volume, The Guns at Last Light, does a magnificent job of telling the tale of the war in Northwest Europe from D-Day to VE-Day.  That's all I'm gonna say for now...my review will be posted on the sale date for the book...PRE-ORDER yours now...and order the entire trilogy if you haven't already done so...it's great....

The second book I selected for review, which I am still reading, is an attempt to fill one of my knowledge gaps about World War II (yes, amazingly, I still have a lot).  The early days of the Pacific War..from about December 1941 to June 1942, have been somewhat neglected by military historians, especially American historians.  Not surprising, since who wants to read about when the U.S. was losing badly to Japan.  But there are many heroic tales, especially the story of the U.S. stand in the Philippines from December 1941 until the final surrender of Corregidor in May 1942.  This book attempts to tell the tale through the interweaving of numerous oral histories and goes from the beginning of the war, through the surrender of Japan, showing the brutality the captured Americans survived and the wholesale bungling of the defense of the Philippines by senior American military officers...although to be fair, there was little likelihood the islands could hold out with the Pacific Fleet sitting on the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  We'll see how well Mr. Sloan does with this subject.

AND...just cuz I love it...I requested another book which I hope an advance copy will be arriving soon.  Max Hastings has been one of my favorite authors since I read his history of the Falklands War during my Academy days...yes that was a long time ago.  He is most notably a historian of World War II, but appears to be diving into World War I.  This is one of my more significant historical gaps, but with the 100th anniversary coming up, I expect LOTS of new scholarship which I am looking forward to in the next four years.

So free books and a chance to write some more...win, win...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Finished with the review essay

Well, happy to report the review essay is done!  Sorry to have been gone a while, but life often interferes with my blogging...argh...but I had a wonderful time writing it and enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the SMH again.

All of the books were good, although From Kabul to Baghdad and Back was the pick of the litter.  

I won't spoil all the fun, but here is the meat of my conclusions: 

The war in Afghanistan will no doubt be dissected and analyzed on a number of levels for years.  The conflict offers a myriad of lessons learned to both civilian and military leaders on the challenges and perils of nation-building, population-centric COIN doctrine, and the challenge of waging what the U.S. Army calls “Full Spectrum Operations,” an intentionally nebulous term covering everything from training friendly allies to intense combined arms combat.  As the leadership seminar outlined, the U.S. military did an exceptional job of adapting over time to the intricacies of COIN warfare, but this adaptation took a long time and came at a high cost.  Future military and political leaders will likely not have the luxury of time the U.S. military did in 2005-2006.  The more significant challenges for the U.S. national security community in the future will be how to allocate scarce resources and manage contentious and often less capable allies in wars of unclear goals and uncertain timelines.  Both the volumes by Maloney and Ballard, et. al., describe the shortcomings U.S. forces faced and provide valuable insight on how events in Afghanistan have played out.

America is ending two of the longest and most controversial conflicts in our history.  For the military historian, chronicling these wars will present both challenges and opportunities in providing conclusions and lessons learned for future military and civilian policy makers.  What national or international interests justify U.S. military actions?  What will be the proper application of force and how can the U.S. build and maintain an international coalition of militaries, NGOs, and especially host-nation governments to defeat Islamist or other insurgencies?  Most of all, how will success be defined and how will the conflict be successfully terminated?  Even if the U.S. remains reluctant to commit large ground forces to near future conflicts, threats and military challenges will remain, and the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan will no doubt influence American strategic thinking in how best to deal with the rapidly changing landscape of the Middle East.  Historians must do their part in contributing to this conversation and these volumes are a significant first contribution to this long-term dialogue. 
 Of course I had to behave myself and not get into the whole discussion, which all the books avoided, of how the Obama Administration bungled the Afghanistan "Surge" because he was never REALLY serious about trying to win,  but was trapped by his campaign speeches and had to do something to show he was a serious foreign policy and national security candidate (Obama got Osama, after all!!) and not the most dangerous and inept President since Jimmah Carter.

Needless to say, I am not convinced that Afghanistan is not going to turn into another Mali or Somalia...an ungoverned wild west where terrorists and warlords plot mischief while an ineffectual government tries to appear in charge.

Hopefully my essay will be published soon...I am VERY excited since the SMH will be publishing special issues on the Civil War at 150 years and the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.