Book Reviews

From Parameters, Autumn 2002, pp. 140-61.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)War Over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age. Edited by Andrew J. Bacevich and Eliot A. Cohen. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. 223 pages. $22.50. Reviewed by Jeffrey Record, Professor of Strategy and International Security at the Air War College and author of Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses of Force from Korea to Kosovo; The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam; and Hollow Victory: A Contrary View of the Gulf War.

War Over Kosovo is a collection of insightful essays on what that conflict tells us about the way the United States will wage war in the future. Although the book went to press before 11 September 2001, its central theme—that the war over Kosovo was an instructive milestone in the evolution of America’s approach to war in the post-Cold War era—seems vindicated by the novel war the United States subsequently waged to bring down the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Edited by Andrew Bacevich and Eliot Cohen, War Over Kosovo is a valuable addition to the literature on what the coeditors rightly call “this strange little war” as well on the broader topic of American use of force in the post-Soviet age.

The book begins with William Arkin’s factual narrative of Operation Allied Force itself. Characteristically, Arkin provides a combination of key data and penetrating analysis of an initially hesitant air campaign based on the strategic misassumption that Milosevic would fold after a couple of days of token bombing. Arkin recounts the now legendary squabble between Army General Wesley Clark and Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Short over which set of targets—fielded Yugoslav forces or regime-sensitive economic and political targets in the Belgrade area—should be assigned bombing priority. The dispute stemmed in part from the monstrous mismatch between Allied Force’s overriding political objective of halting Serbian ethnic cleansing on the ground and the selection of “safe”-altitude air power as the means to achieve that objective.

The second essay, Cohen’s “Kosovo and the New American Way of War,” is the best of the lot. Cohen convincingly argues that the circumstances of the post-Cold War era, including casualty phobia among American political and military elites and the emergence of failed states as the primary threat to international stability, have conspired to render obsolete the traditional American way of war based on extreme aggressiveness, the quest for decisive battle, and antipathy toward political ambiguity and interference. Force structures geared for conclusive victory in large interstate conventional wars fought over high stakes have limited utility as tools for policing lesser disorders within weak states in areas secondary and even tertiary to core US security interests. Kosovo, Cohen believes, showcased a new way of war: a coalition effort waged in a failed state, for limited political objectives, and with new casualty-avoidance aerial and other technologies that guard against the potential threat of domestic political backlash.

James Kurth’s “First War of the Global Era: Kosovo and U.S. Grand Strategy” argues that Allied Force was a consequence of a “liberal globalism” that hitched American military power to the promotion of values as well as interests. Kurth has little use for “humanitarian war” war in general and for Allied Force in particular.

Anatol Lieven’s “Hubris and Nemesis: Kosovo and the Pattern of Western Ascendency and Defeat” warns against seeing Kosovo as the paradigm for war in the


next half-century. He believes that the very success of Allied Force will persuade future adversaries to confront the West indirectly in ways that will cancel out the West’s technological advantage. (If so, the Taliban did not get the message.) For Lieven, who covered the Russian wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan, “victory through technology” is an illusion; astute enemies will fight asymmetrically, demanding of US forces “stamina, casualties, ruthlessness, and adaptability.”

Alberto Coll’s “Kosovo and the Moral Burdens of Power” makes the controversial argument that Allied Force was both morally and legally justified. Unlike Kurth, he believes in humanitarian war. He also acknowledges the moral contradiction of placing the safety of NATO troops above that of the Kosovar Albanians they were fighting to protect.

Bacevich’s “Neglected Trinity: Kosovo and the Crisis in US Civil-Military Relations” postulates a Clinton Administration “grand strategy of hegemony through globalization requir[ing] coercion but . . . [not] real war.” It was this grand strategy, he says, that prompted Allied Force. This, unfortunately, gives Clinton and his fellow foreign policy amateurs too much credit. Having a globalization vision is not the same thing as having an operational globalization grand strategy, and Clinton was exceptionally skittish about using force. Indeed, he ended up using it over Kosovo only because of a feckless Balkan policy that by 1999 had stripped American threats of any credibility. And how, exactly, did the liberation of a thoroughly wrecked Kosovo advance America hegemony through globalization?

Bacevich bemoans post-Cold War circumstances that, as in Kosovo, have permitted the White House to undertake politically constrained military interventions overseas without strong popular support and in defiance of professional military advice— without, in short, “the necessity of fighting messy old fashioned wars.” Yet, as Cohen points out, these very circumstances are part of the post-Cold War domestic political, international political, and technological landscape. Moreover, the uniformed military’s influence on the formulation of national security policy has never been greater, especially since passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 and the State Department’s subsequent budgetary enfeeblement.

Finally, Michael Vickers’ “Revolution Deferred: Kosovo and the Transformation of War” contends that Allied Force did little to accelerate Pentagon investment in the technologies of the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs. He believes the services remain wedded to Cold War legacy systems and institutional arrangements even though circumstances demand genuine transformation.

War Over Kosovo provides not only valuable insights on the use of American force in the 1990s but also important perspectives from which to weigh US military responses to the events of 11 September 2001.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Soldiers and Civilians: The Civil-Military Gap and American National Security. Edited by Peter D. Feaver and Richard H. Kohn. Cambridge, Mass.: BCSIA-Harvard University, 2002. 545 pages. $55.00 ($28.95 paper). Reviewed by Dr. Don M. Snider, Professor of Political Science, US Military Academy, and coeditor of The Future of the Army Profession, and Captain Elizabeth L. Tolle, Instructor, US Military Academy.

The initial reaction of many may be to dismiss this book on civil-military relations as dated. After all, 11 September 2001 supposedly changed everything—what lessons can a book offer that is based on a 1998-1999 survey?


We offer that this book is well worth your time. Few attempts have been made to quantify and qualify the nature and expression of conflict between the three parties to American civil-military relations since Samuel P. Huntington and Morris Janowitz established the discipline in 1957 and 1960. Since the end of the Cold War, scholarship has focused on anecdotal evidence of differences and conflicts—an outspoken Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, decreasing enlistments, fleeing captains, and a President held to lower standards of conduct than his troops. Thus, the authors identified a need to collect systematic data on “the actual opinions, values, perspectives, and attitudes of the military compared with the civilian elite and the general public.”

While some may argue that the varying perspectives and values of these three groupings has suddenly fused into a harmonious whole within the last year, common sense and the recent battle over the future of the Army in the context of the Crusader system indicate differently. Gaps exist—our nation’s civil-military tensions are ideologically and structurally built in—and they deserve recurring study as one element of America’s national security.

In short, this work exhaustively documents a difference between the three parties—significant philosophical and cultural gaps. The instrument of measurement was a massive and complex survey, and Feaver and Kohn wisely enlisted the help of the leading scholars across America to interpret and contextualize the resulting data. This book represents only one, but clearly the most important, volume to be produced from the data. Additionally, the editors published preliminary findings in The National Interest (Fall 2000), followed by a special edition of Armed Forces & Society (Winter 2001) detailing the influences of the media and education on the gap, and a second book is in progress by Professors Feaver and Christopher Gelpi at Duke University.

Traditionally, the analysis of civil-military relations makes professional soldiers uncomfortable. After all, as good troops they believe their actions are properly and selflessly motivated toward the national welfare. The very discipline seems designed to cast the military’s loyalty and motivations in an unflattering light.

However, Soldiers and Civilians unblinkingly provides insight into the American military soul. Its analysis indicates that if these three groups were placed on a spectrum, on a broad range of issues the general public is most conservative, military officers are less conservative, and civilian elites are substantially more liberal. There are several interesting issues here, such as the much-vaunted discovery that Army colonels increasingly self-identify as Republicans. Even more fascinating is that there is now significant agreement between military leaders and civilian elites on a range of security policy issues that had been contentious during the Cold War—the importance of the United Nations; the value of arms control; guarding against nuclear proliferation; the importance of cohesive, effective American combat forces; and the relative importance of nonmilitary capabilities in combating current threats to American security.

Various other analyses (chapters) clearly show that deep divisions continue to exist between civilian and military policymakers, however, particularly on social issues as applied to the military—women in combat roles and acceptance of openly practicing homosexuals. Other analyses focus more on the causes of the gaps, such as the end of the historic veteran’s “bonus” (over-representation) within Congress, the differing educational systems and developmental experiences which produce the two elites, the role of the press as it mediates publicly among the three groups, and the increasingly non-neutral self-identification of military officers with the Republican Party. The editors


also conclude with their own policy prescriptions for ameliorating the gap and enhancing future security policymaking.

Yet, while slightly off topic, the widest difference is left unexplored—the difference between the general public and civilian elites. A more thorough effort would have probed this finding, because the moderate military itself seems to be serving as a battleground between the two extremes of a conservative public and a liberal elite. In fact, this conflict between the state and society is an area of civil-military relations, well identified by James Burk of Texas A&M University, that is little explored. In the near future, perhaps academe will initiate this study of elite-society relations.

In addition, some of the authors seem fixed in the Huntingtonian world where clear divisions exist between the work of civilians and the work of military officers. They express disappointment at discovering a politicized military, and they stress that this politicization is symptomatic of an insufficiently professional military. Samuel Huntington’s well-known thesis from The Soldier and the State is that an inverse relationship exists between politicization and professionalism. However, since Vietnam, the US military leadership has increasingly been both extremely professional and political. The challenge for military leaders is to determine the appropriate limits of political activity such that the trust of the nation, the client of their profession’s expertise, is maintained.

Bottom line: Is there a “crisis” in civil-military relations? No, the evidence is that the various civil-military gaps do not currently endanger the Republic. However, Feaver and Kohn’s book offers plenty of disquieting insights that the military’s strategic leaders should grasp and address. It is incumbent upon educators and mentors to develop future policymakers fully cognizant of the evolving nature and influences on US national security, and this book will help. While a brief review cannot do justice to either the scope or the potential long-term importance of this research project, we commend this work for its remarkable and rigorous documentation and analysis in this area of inquiry.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany. By Stephen E. Ambrose. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. 304 pages. $26.00. Reviewed by Brigadier General Harold Nelson, USA Ret., US Army War College Faculty, 1982-89, 1994-95, and Chief of Military History, 1989-1994.

Steve Ambrose is a great friend of the military and has been a major voice in military history since he published his study of General Henry Halleck 40 years ago. His range has been broad, and if we measure impact by number of books sold we would declare him to be the most influential military historian of his generation. Given this background, many of us were saddened when this book received wide public attention because it borrowed so heavily from Thomas Childers’ Wings of Morning. Ambrose confessed to shortcomings in his acknowledgment of intellectual debts to Childers. He was right to do so, but the shortcomings of the book do not end there.

This project began with an offer to do a book on George McGovern’s experience as a B-24 pilot in the Fifteenth Air Force in World War II. If that intent had remained the dominant theme, we might have had a solid, interesting book. Unfortunately, Ambrose’s instinct for collecting oral histories and finding the best anecdotes forced the McGovern story to share the stage with the broader story of the 455th Bombardment Group, the outfit that McGovern served with in Italy. In the hands of a master historian


and storyteller— which Ambrose has proven himself to be—the project still had great potential. Unfortunately, other hands are visible in the published results.

Commentators on the “plagiarism crisis” of 2001 have characterized Steve Ambrose as a “manufacturer” and have characterized his production capability as an “atelier.” This perspective may be valid since “Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.” owns the copyright for The Wild Blue. Steve Ambrose explicitly mentions help from his son, Hugh, in his Author’s Note, and many of the weaknesses in the book may originate with eager apprentices who were not guided and corrected by the master.

I support the use of oral history methods, but I wish this book had borrowed more heavily from Wings of Morning where method is concerned. That book grew out of the discovery of a cache of letters written by an airman, and the resulting study places those primary source documents into context by making good use of archival as well as secondary sources—including some oral histories. Perhaps no McGovern correspondence survived the war, so the model could not be copied in that sense, but the archives of the Fifteenth Air Force and the Army Air Force training efforts are extensive and would do much to correct the general contours of the book. Because it relies so heavily on interviews conducted many years after the events described, all missions were tough, all officers were sound, and every sacrifice was justified. These assertions are heart-felt but misleading.

Actually, The Wild Blue borrows more heavily from many of its sources than citations would indicate. The description of the first attack on Ploesti is largely taken from the Air Force official history, omitting much of the description of confusion and error in execution. Much more detail of flight operations than footnotes would indicate has been taken from Alfred Asch et al., The Story of the Four Hundred and Fifty-fifth Bombardment Group. Unfortunately, some of the footnoted passages introduce error. (The 200.25 tons of bombs dropped in January 1945, as reported by Asch, become 200,035 tons of bombs on p. 208 of The Wild Blue. The statistics on page 197 of The Wild Blue are the same as those on page 133 of Asch, but are unattributed.)

There are other signs that amateurs have been at work. On page 122 a quote from Albert Speer’s memoir is attributed to the Air Force official history. Old guys like Steve Ambrose and me remember that history being around since the 1950s and recall that Speer’s memoir came out about ten years later. I don’t know whether the author or the editor should be flogged for this sort of thing, but it seems to indicate the author isn’t really the famous historian who knows better. An amateur would let an aging veteran tell him that the seats on a B-24 were “encased in cast iron.” Students of military history would know that if you haul the weight it’s armor plate.

These signs of clumsy construction could fill the pages set aside for book reviews in this journal. They reduce the book’s appeal for serious readers, but from my perspective they aren’t the biggest problem. Maybe I am overreacting to “Greatest Generation” interpretations, but more responsible treatments of the contributions of the Fifteenth Air Force paint a picture with some important details that are obscured here. The oral history interviews give this authorial team the impression that flak was the big killer. They have deliberately reinforced that impression with their use of secondary sources. In the unattributed passage from Asch on p. 197, they write, “The losses were fifteen aircraft.” Their source says, “The losses were 15 aircraft with only four due to flak.” In a passage they do not quote, the same source says, “Losses to causes other than combat plagued the Group throughout the war. Many of these crews listed as killed were


from these accidents.” The book is not guilty of mindless cheerleading, but it does not give a full picture of the tragic fates faced by those who bombed and were bombed. Steve Ambrose is capable of far better work.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Wilson’s Ghost. By Robert S. McNamara and James G. Blight. New York: Public Affairs Press, 2001. 270 pages. $24.00. Reviewed by Dr. Anthony James Joes, Visiting Professor of Political Science, Department of National Security and Strategy, US Army War College.

This latest offering from the true architect of the US debacle in Vietnam opens with what the coauthors actually call “A 21st Century Manifesto.” They then present the purpose of the volume: “We hold up the Wilsonian tragedy as a mirror in order to illuminate our own security risks.” This self-inflation and conceptual confusion are emblematic of the entire work.

According to McNamara, 160 million people died in conflicts in the 20th century as a consequence of the rejection of Wilson’s vision. Projecting these figures into the 21st century, he predicts 300 million war deaths, 225 of them civilian; clearly, he expects the world to experience conflicts of the scope of World Wars I and II. In order to avoid such calamity, US foreign policy must henceforth base itself on a new “moral imperative” that “establishes the reduction of human carnage as a major goal across the globe.”

Such an imperative dictates at least five major policy components: (1) only multilateral interventions on the part of the United States; (2) “full reconciliation” with Russia and China; (3) restructuring the UN to make it more effective; (4) defining, deterring, and punishing war crimes; and (5) reducing the danger of nuclear holocaust by moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

To achieve these ends, the United States must take the lead in reviving Wilson’s vision of a true League of Nations. In McNamara’s understanding of 20th-century politics, “Wilson’s League of Nations failed to prevent the Second World War. Why? German expansionism, under the Nazis, was not meaningfully resisted at its outset because of the lack of binding mutual security guarantees between the members of the league.” This defect then led to “waffling and fudging with the Nazis in the 1930s.” Yet at the same time McNamara identifies the true cause of Nazism as the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles (a view not shared, of course, by Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill). US membership in the League would somehow have prevented all this. Historical scholarship over the past 20 years (at least) has demonstrated the inadequacy of such views about the origins of World War II. Apparently, moreover, McNamara has no idea that the League was intended to be profoundly conservative of the existing international order (a main reason the US Senate rejected it). Thus, in typical Wilsonian fashion, McNamara declares that “a strong presumption should be made in favor of existing state borders,” for the preservation of which American blood and American treasure presumably will be expended.

McNamara’s vision of a latter-day Wilsonian League envisions frequent foreign intervention and long-term occupation of misbehaving societies. The intervention forces must be prepared “to take casualties on the ground, to shoot to kill,” in order to “force-feed liberal values and attitudes.” Through such means McNamara expects to produce “a peaceful and harmonious society.”

McNamara refers to all 20th-century conflicts as “war,” thus submerging his analysis and proposals in debilitating ambiguities. He informs us in an all-knowing


manner that “international relations are no longer as simple as they were for the ancient Greeks,” and that “nuclear weapons are different from conventional weapons.” Further, he postulates that “140,000 people died instantly at Hiroshima,” that 59,000 Americans were killed in action in Vietnam, that Sherman “gave the order to burn [Atlanta] to the ground,” that Machiavelli had “even fewer scruples” than President Truman, and so on.

Another major characteristic of this work is its focus on essentially Cold War issues while ignoring terrorism and terrorist-nurturing states. In the index one finds not one reference to terrorism, nor to biological weapons, the Taliban, bin Laden, Palestine, Islamism, or even Islam. There is brief mention—but no effort at explanation—of the disappearance, total and peaceful, of the Soviet Empire. And of course, the “lessons” of Vietnam keep coming up; McNamara chastely describes his role in that experience as one of “participation.”

Even if one accepts McNamara’s figures (not recommended), one finds that less than one-tenth of one percent of those who died in wars in the 20th century were the victims of nuclear weapons. Thus if the main goal of US foreign policy is to reduce the number of civilian deaths in war during the new century, McNamara’s emphasis on the centrality of the nuclear weapons threat seems disproportionate. Nevertheless, if the United States accepts the elimination of nuclear weapons as a major foreign policy goal, how is it to guard against nuclear cheating and production breakouts? Here is the answer: “We believe that problems along these lines can be solved if the states involved really want to solve them.”

Finally, to those dour souls who might be skeptical of part or all of McNamara’s analysis and prescriptions, this is his advice: “Listen carefully, and with an open mind, to Wilson’s ghost.”

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare. By Mark McNeilly. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 299 pages. $27.50. Reviewed by Dr. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., Professor of Military History, US Army War College.

This book lacks sophistication in terms of both strategic and historical analysis. The author, a former Army captain and marketing strategist for IBM, is following up his book applying Sun Tzu’s principles to business management. He steps into the realm of warfare and strategy as an unabashed apostle of Sun Tzu; like many apostles, he is unwilling to acknowledge that the doctrine he espouses might be either contestable, fallible, or imperfect. The assumption is that Sun Tzu had it right thousands of years ago, and we simply need to understand him today. Mr. McNeilly’s stated intent is to help modern soldiers, statesmen, and historians better understand Sun Tzu by “crystallizing the concepts and ideas put forth in The Art of War into six strategic principles.” He says the principles are like the principles of physics in that a commander who uses them will be successful, while a commander who ignores or does not understand them “does so at his own peril.” Such prescience is an enormous claim for any book—unfortunately, the result does not come close to the promise. McNeilly has a personal theory of how war ought to be conducted. It reflects much of Sun Tzu’s writings, although the major emphasis on the indirect approach comes from B. H. Liddell Hart and the concept of friction from Clausewitz. Hart and Sun Tzu are harmonious; the small piece from Clausewitz contradicts Sun Tzu. Thus, this book really should be titled “Mark McNeilly


and the Science of Modern War”—using “science” in lieu of “art” because infallible principles characterize sciences, not arts.

Whether the subject is science or art, McNeilly demonstrates a lack of strategic sophistication. First, while he emphasizes that Sun Tzu presents a holistic concept of war and strategy, his examples and discussion are almost exclusively military. There is some reference to diplomacy and occasional mention of psychological or informational power, but no good discussion of any of them. McNeilly does not mention economics at all. The only diplomatic example is of Bismarck’s maneuvering before the Austro-Prussian War (used inappropriately to illustrate the value of attacking the enemy’s alliance).

Lack of strategic sophistication also characterizes McNeilly’s extensive discussions of attrition, protracted war, and the direct approach (concepts that he links and utterly deplores). McNeilly is convinced that something he calls the Western mind has been captured by a cultural preference for direct combat rising from ancient Greek phalanx warfare and exacerbated by a blind adherence to the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. McNeilly believes this tendency, abetted by Clausewitz’s teachings about the centrality of battle to warfare, has produced a Western strategic preference for the direct approach that leads inevitably to prolonged and bloody wars of attrition. The Eastern mind, of course, prefers a more elegant indirect approach that wins with minimal casualties. There is nothing wrong with the indirect approach as a concept or a doctrine, but it is not a panacea, and there are actually times when the direct approach is preferable. The idea that protracted war leads inevitably to an attrition strategy, while often correct, is not a truism (protracting a war is often a means for the weak to avoid attrition), and the assertion that both protracted war and attrition are somehow indefensible strategies is simply wrong. While few strategists advocate either a protracted war or an attrition strategy as their first choice, there are times when both are either necessary or appropriate. Thus, Mao advocated a protracted war and an attrition strategy against the Japanese because that was the only possibility he saw for Chinese victory. The best strategists have at their fingertips a wide assortment of doctrinal tools. They analyze the specific situation and choose the proper tool for the job. Simplistic strategies or blind adherence to specific doctrines often leads to disaster regardless of the doctrine advocated.

Lack of sophistication also leads Mr. McNeilly to make assertions that actually warrant qualification. For example he states, “In warfare a smaller, more mobile army can defeat a much larger one by rapid movement.” There are certainly examples of that. There are also examples (think of the Native Americans) when tremendous advantages in speed and agility could not prevail. McNeilly comes down squarely on the maneuver side in the firepower vs. maneuver debate. As with many maneuver advocates, he does not understand that maneuver alone is meaningless. The primary advantage of maneuver is to place oneself in advantageous or unexpected positions. The value of those positions is either the psychological effect they may have on the enemy or the ability they confer to employ firepower. The psychological effect is largely a reflection of the enemy’s analysis of the latter. Thus a smaller force may use maneuver to gain some advantage; however, if, because of some other reason (like the force is too small) it cannot exploit the benefits of maneuver by either destroying the enemy or convincing him that he is in an untenable position, then the maneuver has been useless regardless of how masterfully it may have been executed. The secret is the effective use of both firepower and maneuver; advocacy of one to the detriment or even exclusion of the other is simplistic nonsense.


Like many advocates, McNeilly reads a lot into Sun Tzu—the nature of the text and the passage of thousands of years make that inevitable. However, this reader is unconvinced that McNeilly is completely true to the ancient philosopher. Some points McNeilly wants to make, like the value of preemptive attack, are not in Sun Tzu—in fact, the philosopher generally advocates caution in the initiation of combat, and I suspect would condone preemption only in cases of overwhelming superiority. McNeilly includes preemptive attacks in his theory supported by an irrelevant quote and the assertion that Sun Tzu advocated striking weakness and one way to create weakness is by a preemptive attack. In other cases McNeilly takes a concept and pushes it well beyond what Sun Tzu would have accepted. For example, he uses Sun Tzu’s admonitions against the ruler interfering with the commander in the field to justify mission orders and devolving responsibility onto subordinates. While excellent concepts, neither of those is something Sun Tzu would have accepted. He did not want the king messing with the army; however, he also did not want subordinates in the army acting independently—they were supposed to obey orders.

Of course, no book is totally without merit. Mr. McNeilly’s ideas on the conduct of modern war are actually interesting if both unoriginal and too exclusively insisted upon. The chapter on leadership, perhaps reflecting the author’s work on Sun Tzu and business management, is the strongest in the book. An uncontestable strength is that the book includes a reprint of Samuel B. Griffith’s translation of The Art of War (published originally in 1963), which remains one of only two or three authoritative translations. None of those strengths, however, overcomes the lack of strategic or historical sophistication that mars the text.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)The Cat from Hué: A Vietnam War Story. By John Laurence. New York: Public Affairs, 2002. 850 pages. $30.00. Reviewed by Colonel Stuart A. Herrington, USA Ret., author of Stalking the Vietcong: Inside Operation Phoenix; Peace with Honor: An American Reports on Vietnam, 1973-1975; and Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World.

If you believe that events since the 1975 fall of Saigon proved that America’s Vietnam misadventure was indeed a noble cause (however tragic and poorly executed in the early years), you might be tempted to pass on John Laurence’s The Cat from Hué: A Vietnam War Story. After all, Laurence, now 61 and retired in England, was the CBS correspondent responsible for that network’s controversial 1970 film feature, “The World of Charlie Company,” which depicted what CBS gleefully embraced as a near rebellion of American soldiers when their commander ordered them to move down a trail near the Cambodian border. Then there is the gushing cover blurb by antiwar journalist and author Frances FitzGerald, whose 1972 Vietnam book Fire in the Lake is a fawning portrait of Hanoi’s National Liberation Front (NLF) and a harsh critique of her country’s attempt to stave off totalitarian communism in South Vietnam. FitzGerald’s book remains popular with diehard antiwar true believers who cling to “the movement’s” unending self-adulation, seemingly impervious to postwar revelations of Hanoi’s brutal reprisals in South Vietnam, the flight of more than a million North and South Vietnamese to escape the Vietnamese communists, or the embittered testimony of disaffected NLF cadre who joined the exodus—historical realities which long ago discredited much of Fire in the Lake’s analysis and conclusions. Hence, an endorsement from Frances FitzGerald might


persuade many knowledgeable readers to ignore Laurence’s 850-page tome. Understandable—but a mistake.

Between 1965 and 1970, Laurence’s producers and his personal courage took him to the most famous battlefields of the war: the 1st Cavalry Division in the Central Highlands; Special Forces troopers at Plei Me; the Marines in Hue, Con Thien, and Khe San; and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) in the rubber plantations of Cambodia. Laurence’s descriptions of the war at the level of the grunts in the line, though not novel, are where this book shines.

What is novel about The Cat from Hué are Laurence’s recollections of his personal lifestyle and beliefs, rambling treatises replete with tales extolling the sybaritic, drug- and alcohol-dependent lifestyle he and his correspondent sidekicks enjoyed in Saigon. The book is salted with introspective passages that document the author’s increasingly obsessive antiwar bias. Laurence also confides to the reader that for 11 years, including his time in Vietnam, he abused alcohol and drugs, and ingested 20 milligrams of valium daily. The alcohol and drugs, he reveals, “caused my mind to open up to new ideas, to think more creatively, to explore areas where it had not been before.”

This reviewer initially cursed the injudicious editor who permitted so much personal baggage to remain in Laurence’s manuscript. Soon, however, the realization hit home that Laurence’s book, like Robert McNamara’s, constitutes a significant contribution to the history of the war. McNamara’s controversial work, In Retrospect, however odious, is a valuable first-person confirmation that the civilian policymakers in Washington who dispatched America’s warriors to Vietnam and tried to manage the war from afar did not know what they were doing. Laurence’s testimonial is similarly useful for its confirmation that he and some of his fellow network journalists permitted their antiwar biases to influence how they covered the war—conduct which Laurence seems not to care was inconsistent with accepted journalistic standards of ethics.

Laurence dwells at length on his deepening antiwar sentiments. During a 1968-69 interlude from Vietnam duty, he attempted to report objectively on the antiwar movement, “though my private sympathies were usually with the demonstrators.” Laurence confesses that “trying to stop the war was a burning issue with me,” and laments that “no matter how much media coverage they got or how violent they were . . . the demonstrations had no impact on US government policy.”

By the spring of 1970, the Nixon Administration’s Vietnamization of the war was in full swing, and Laurence was troubled. The war was not receiving the coverage he felt it deserved. In his words, after “the election of Richard Nixon, the country appeared to be less concerned about Vietnam. . . . After being alarmed by it, then sickened and numbed by it, they [the American public] were driven beyond ordinary compassion into a collective form of combat fatigue.” Frustrated with the flagging antiwar movement, Laurence conceived a plan.

Laurence and his team would return to Vietnam, link up with a single American infantry unit, and “report the story of the war in an original way, to get more people to pay attention.” Their goal was to obtain electrifying coverage of the continuing struggle and expose its evil so that pressure would mount on the Nixon Administration to end the war. It was a controversial concept.

CBS correspondent Jed Duvall objected. “You can’t do it, Jack,” Duvall argued, “You can’t go over there and try to stop the war. It isn’t right. You can’t cover the war if you’re trying to subvert it.”


Laurence: “Why not?”

Duvall: “Because it’s wrong. Morally and professionally it’s just all wrong. It’s not our job to take sides. Besides, they won’t let you get away with it. The front office, I mean. You’re asking for trouble.”

Laurence: “You mean it’s okay to cover the war as long as you support it?”

Duvall: “It’s okay to cover the war as long as you’re objective. It’s not okay to go over with the intention of condemning it. That’s not reporting, it’s editorializing.”

Laurence: “How can you be objective about this war? Tell me. How can you? I mean, we’ve been killing people for five years for no reason other than to prop up a bunch of thieving Vietnamese generals who’ve made themselves rich on our money. That’s all we’ve really done. Communist menace, my ass. The whole system is rotten.”

At the end of the argument, Duvall was adamant. “It’s not our business to make judgments about things. Otherwise, we’d be going around telling people what to think all the time. What’s good and what’s bad. The next thing we’d be telling them is who to vote for. Then where would we be?”

The rest is history. CBS management (who would later give us “The Selling of the Pentagon” and “CBS versus Westmoreland”) underwrote Laurence’s idea. Laurence, harboring but not mentioning his antiwar agenda, requested cooperation from the 1st Cavalry Division, telling assistant division commander Brigadier General George Casey merely that the CBS goal was “to find one small infantry unit [and] show how they lived and fought . . . the true face of war . . . not the condensed, two- or three-minute version you see on the evening news.” The division supported Laurence by providing him extraordinary access to Charlie Company, 2/7 Cavalry.

Laurence’s plan quickly bore fruit. On a day when it became necessary to order Charlie Company to move rapidly down a trail to avoid an incoming B-52 strike, Laurence got what he wanted, dramatic footage of a brief refusal by some ambush-wary soldiers to walk down the trail—a “minor rebellion” that was an antiwar reporter’s dream. From New York, Laurence’s exuberant CBS superior cabled, “HAVE JUST SCREENED REBELLION. . . . WOW!” Needless to say, the report’s airing was not welcomed by the Pentagon, but Laurence’s professional bones had been made.

Laurence’s final Vietnam story depicts the charge of Colonel Donn Starry’s 11th ACR into Cambodia in May 1970. In a telling incident, Laurence recalls how he spotted a North Vietnamese soldier emerge from nearby cover and train his AK-47 on him and his escorts. Facing imminent death, Laurence shouted a warning. A quick-reacting American trooper cut down the North Vietnamese soldier.

Withdrawn from Vietnam, Laurence chafes at the lack of excitement in his life, noting, “Part of me wanted to go back to Vietnam and undo some of the terrible things I felt responsible for doing there (helping shoot the North Vietnamese soldier, for one) and erase the anguish in my conscience.” From his description of the incident, most would credit Laurence with saving the lives of at least two US soldiers, not to mention his own. Readers can be excused for wondering why anyone would lose sleep focusing on the battle death of an enemy soldier under such circumstances.

The Cat from Hué is a bit long, and Laurence’s sermonizing can become tedious. While the battle prose is excellent, the language describing noncombat scenes is sometimes tortured and overdrawn. The book’s odd title comes from a mean-spirited cat Laurence rescued from the ruins of Hue and ultimately adopted. Its feline misadventures are a recurring thread in the story that did not work for this reviewer. Laurence never


misses a chance to impugn the fighting abilities of the South Vietnamese (who, lest we forget, lost 275,000 men in combat), a ritual historical injustice commonly committed by unreconstructed antiwar folks or by those who fought with or covered American units before Vietnamization took hold. This said, the book is a good read, though disturbing at times for the educated reader when it descends into self-congratulatory reminisces of the antiwar movement and the author’s obsession with turning public opinion against the war—all of which will surely be gratifying reading for those who opposed the war.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. By Michael T. Klare. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001, 289 pages. $26.00. Reviewed by Dr. Kent Butts, Director, National Security Issues Branch, Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College.

Having written and taught on the issue of resources and national security for many years, I approached the task of reviewing Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict with substantial interest. I found that Michael Klare has written an uneven but topical text on strategic resources. It is valuable because it draws the attention of the national security community to the strategic importance of resource access in developing foreign policy, both as a requirement for economic growth and a potential source of conflict. It is seriously flawed because of the largely unsubstantiated assertions with which Professor Klare promotes the thesis that resources will be the dominant source of conflict in the 21st century.

Klare uses current resource conflicts to overstate the causal and predictive role of resources to future conflict. Readers familiar with the rigorous manner in which theories predicting state behavior are substantiated by security scholars will find his logic and conclusions debatable and may, as a result, fail to reconsider the role of resources in future conflict. Resources are important to security and have been so since events were first recorded. Nations migrated in search of water, arable land, food, and the resources necessary to sustain national vitality, often displacing or fighting with other peoples. As civilization evolved, resources figured prominently in political-military strategy: Cornwall, for example, was important to Rome as a source of tin; technological evolution created new resources, such as the components of gunpowder and the metal alloys necessary to produce superior weapons. The industrial revolution led to the mechanization of warfare, which substantially increased strategic resources. As Hans Morgenthau articulated in his influential work Politics Among Nations, “National power has become more and more dependent upon the control of raw materials in peace and war.”

Although not discussed in detail in the book, World War II served as a case study in the importance of resources to national security. Karl Haushofer’s concepts of lebensraum and autarky stressed the salience of resource access and self-sufficiency to state power. Access to petroleum was a primary interest of Japanese and German strategy. And, of course, the Belgian Congo became essential to the US war strategy when its uranium deposits provided the fuel for the US nuclear program.

The study of resource-related issues during World War II and the Cold War— and the academic debate over their relevance—has been a dominant theme of national security literature for decades and would seem to be important to any book titled Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Conflict. However, very little of the rich history of resource wars surfaces in Dr. Klare’s text. In fact, the author ignores the Cold War role that resources


played in the competition for economic growth and power when he writes, “With the end of the Cold War, resource issues reassumed their central role in US military planning.”

Interestingly, these assertions are not necessary to make the point that resources underpin the vitality of the United States and are essential to meet the demands placed on the political systems of most states. One need not assert that armies around the world are “redefining resource scarcity as their primary mission” to suggest that access to resources may well trigger conflict in regions where existing tensions, intra-state or international, already exist. Similarly, the author omits discussions of the powerful role resources played in influencing the African policies of the superpowers during the Cold War, while quoting the isolated Africa policy statements of the Clinton Administration to suggest that Africa is assuming a new, central position of strategic importance because of resource deposits. Further, ignoring the Breton Woods agreements, the critical role of economics to free world viability, the focus on industrial output as a measure of power in East-West competition, the rise of economics as a dominant variable in security studies in the 1980s and agreements such as NAFTA, the author writes that economics became central to US national security only with the Clinton Administration. Such astounding assertions raise red flags for readers of security studies who are used to carefully worded, well-substantiated arguments. These assertions detract markedly from an otherwise interesting book.

The first and last chapters of Resource Wars are designed to promote Dr. Klare’s central thesis: “Resource wars will become . . . the most distinctive feature of the global security environment.” The last chapter, surprisingly, was excerpted in Foreign Affairs. Of the remaining seven chapters, four discuss oil, two discuss water, and one chapter briefly addresses minerals and timber. There are good summaries of many of the well-known resource issues and hot spots, such as the Persian Gulf and the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates rivers. However, Professor Klare does not convince the reader that resources can predict conflict. The book would have been much more valuable if it included chapters on food and arable land, strategic industrial resources, population, and resource wars literature, and if it discussed at length the roles of technology, economics, and the environment in affecting the quantity of resources. The book is worthy of inclusion in college library collections because of the current dearth of books on resources and conflict. Unfortunately, it lacks the breadth of subject matter, rigor, and scholarly review of resource and security literature to recommend including it in the collection of a national security scholar or selection as a course text.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)The Great North Korean Famine. By Andrew S. Natsios. Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2001. 295 pages. $19.95. Reviewed by Dr. Andrew Scobell, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College.

This book examines what is probably the greatest humanitarian disaster of the late 20th century. According to Andrew Natsios, the North Korean famine resulted in an estimated three million deaths and untold human suffering. Natsios provides the most detailed analysis this reviewer has seen on this massive disaster. The author draws on his extensive firsthand experience working for both Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the US government, interviews with North Korean refugees in China, defector accounts, and NGO reports.


Natsios subscribes to Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen’s contention that famines are not natural disasters but man-made. Significantly, famines do not occur in democracies; rather, they occur under dictatorships. Countries ruled by communist dictatorships tend to experience particularly severe famines: those suffered by the people of the former Soviet Union in the early 1930s and the people of China in the late 1950s and early 1960s come readily to mind, as do the more recent examples of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and Ethiopia under the Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

While famines in other communist party-states also killed millions, the North Korea tragedy is unique in a number of respects. It did not occur early in the regime’s existence and was not a direct result of forced agricultural collectivization. Rather, the North Korean famine of the 1990s occurred when a regime had been in power for almost 50 years and had a well-organized agricultural system, with a predominantly urban population.

According to Natsios, famine emerged in 1990 but did not become acute until four years later. He concludes that “between 1994 and 1998 [the regime’s food distribution system] ceased to function as the primary food source” for North Korea’s “non-agricultural population.” Confronting such a food crisis, people adopted one or more of the following survival strategies: food hoarding, black marketeering, voluntary and involuntary starvation of the elderly, abandonment of children, sale of female family members, migration, suicide, and eating alternative foods or food substitutes.

Natsios places the blame for the suffering squarely on the shoulders of the Pyongyang regime, which permitted the famine to wreak such havoc. Indeed, he accuses the central authorities of exacerbating the famine by not altering their rigid, centralized economic and agricultural policies, controlling the access of Western aid organizations, and purposely restricting or cutting off the flow of food to certain sectors of the population and regions of the country. Natsios deliberately uses the word “triage” to draw a parallel with the medical practice used in times of crisis to determine the priority of patients for medical treatment by focusing on those considered to have the greatest chance of survival. But in the case of North Korea, the central authorities made decisions about who would and would not receive food based on whether they were key supporters of the regime or not. Thus party and military elites and most soldiers and their families received food rations, while others had food deliberately withheld.

Natsios also criticizes Western governments and NGOs for letting politics intrude on the business of feeding starving people. He insists that a government which makes providing food to Pyongyang conditional on its cooperation in other areas is both morally wrong and guilty of bad policymaking. The author quotes Ronald Reagan’s adage, “A hungry child knows no politics.” He argues that while in the short run providing famine assistance may prop up the North Korean party-state, in the medium to long run it seriously undermines the regime. Natsios believes that the famine and foreign assistance have made clear to many North Koreans that their own leaders have failed them and lied to them. The much-ballyhooed Juche ideology of self-reliance and self-sufficiency was exposed for the sham it is. Moreover, it is precisely Pyongyang’s purported worst enemies (the United States and South Korea) that have been the saviors of the starving masses. Indeed, the author predicts that the regime may become so unpopular that it may be overthrown.

An intriguing question of considerable interest to readers is what the scope of the impact of this famine has been on the Korean People’s Army. Natsios touches on this subject and concludes that there has been a significant deterioration in the army’s combat readiness. More dramatically, he suggests that the military’s political reliability has


been shaken and speculates that a military coup d’etat is possible. While the regime’s days seem numbered, this reviewer does not believe that collapse is imminent despite the massive scale of human tragedy. Pyongyang’s communist rulers could easily retain power for years.

The Great North Korean Famine is essential reading for anyone interested in the Korean peninsula. This volume focuses on a depressing subject but one that only confirms the appropriateness of including North Korea in the “Axis of Evil.” Whether you agree with Natsios’s policy recommendations or not, he has written an important and profoundly disturbing book.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Mao’s Generals Remember Korea. Translated and Edited by Xiaobing Li, Allan R. Millett, and Bin Yu. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001. 322 pages. $39.95. Reviewed by Dr. Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, author of Keystone: The American Occupation of Okinawa and US-Japanese Relations and Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University–Commerce, where he teaches a course on the Korean War.

Despite the recent 50th anniversary commemorations, the Korean War is not only a forgotten war, but an unfinished one as well. The basic cause of the conflict—which of the two regimes on the peninsula shall be the sole government of the Korean nation—remains unresolved. The unfinished nature of the war has fueled national amnesia. American historians were disputing basic issues, such as the enemy order of battle, decades after the conflict came to an end. Since there remains to this day the real possibility that their one-time foes could again do battle with them, the Chinese and North Korean governments have had legitimate national security interests in limiting historical inquiry by Western historians into their military experiences of the early 1950s.

As a result, this translated and edited compilation of excerpts from the memoirs of Chinese generals is a book of immense interest and value to both the scholar and the military officer. Xiaobing Li, Allan R. Millett, and Bin Yu have done an excellent job of selecting accounts from flag officers with responsibilities in a wide range of areas, including the commanding officers of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Force (CPVF)— Marshal Peng Dehuai and then later General Yang Dezhi—to generals handling matters such as logistics, political control, and the armistice negotiations.

What we see in these chronicles is an army developing into a professional military force under the strains of combat. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) respected their more technologically rich opponents and deserve the same from those nations that fought them. The Chinese were quite well aware that their equipment was inferior to that of the United States and the UN Command. Chinese officers developed tactics designed to maximize their strengths and minimize those of their opponents. The Chinese picked targets where geography limited the utility of US artillery and heavy firepower. The PLA initiated a unit rotation program designed to provide lots of combat experience and to allow units to recuperate from battle casualties. By 1953, two-thirds of the PLA had seen combat in Korea.

A pervasive theme throughout all the accounts is the importance of logistics. Even Lieutenant General Du Ping, a political officer, admits that supply and transportation was an area in which the United States had superior resources. Initially, the Chinese


thought they had a huge advantage over the United States since they were fighting in a country that bordered their own. It was only when the CPVF began to deploy that the PLA discovered they had severe handicaps. Food shortages prevented China from sending as large a force as they wanted. Food and clothing shortages contributed to many nonbattle casualties during the winter of 1950-51. During the ebb and flow period of the war, several officers admit that shell and ammunition shortages prevented the Chinese from reaching their operational objectives and at times forced them into tactical retreats. A year into the war, it took 20 percent of China’s railroad system and 60 percent of its boxcars to supply the CPVF. Most of the Chinese transportation system in Korea depended on trucks, but Korean roads were unable to stand the wear and tear of combat support operations. In many places, a road network was simply nonexistent. General Hong Xuezhi, a quartermaster officer, is blunt in his assessment of the Chinese supply situation: “The [Northeast Military Region] Logistics Department tried hard to manage the supplies for a million-man force, but obviously the job far exceeded its ability.”

Another area in which the Chinese failed, despite immediate postwar beliefs to the contrary, was psychological warfare. Ping attributes the language barrier as being the main obstacle. Few Chinese soldiers had bothered to learn English or Korean. As a result, it was difficult for the CPVF to conduct propaganda or convince UN Command soldiers to surrender.

There are, however, clear limitations to this book. The first comes from the inherent limitations of the memoir genre. These accounts are by men who had reputations to protect or enhance and who did not have a complete picture of ongoing events. In addition, the excerpts give the book an episodic feel. In response to these problems the editors have included a healthy number of notes, and Yu contributed an extremely useful chapter in providing context on Chinese military operations. Finally, the style and composition of the chapters leaves much to be desired. Reading this book is difficult. These problems stem, no doubt, form the quality of the Chinese-language original. There are clear differences in quality between the chapters.

These blemishes aside, this volume is an important work on the Korean War, and it belongs on the reading list and bookshelves of anyone with an interest in the military past or future of the peninsula.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace. By Gregory Rattray. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. 517 pages. $49.95. Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Michael H. Hoffman, USAR Ret., an attorney specializing in the law of war.

This book is essential reading for anyone (like the reviewer) who needs to follow developments in information warfare but lacks more than yeoman’s knowledge of information technology. Lieutenant Colonel Rattray’s lucid text offers a valuable walk-through guide to the national digital infrastructure and its vulnerabilities. Information technology professionals will look elsewhere for technical manuals. However, they may also benefit from a thoughtful reading of the author’s skeptical, systematic examination of current assumptions associated with information warfare.

Colonel Rattray sets out his focus early in the book. “Most of the attention surrounding strategic information attacks deals with possible threats from intrusion and disruption of computer systems and networks that underpin advanced information infra-


structures . . . .[T]his book focuses on digital attacks.” Rattray covers a lot of ground in five lengthy chapters treating key concepts in digital warfare: delineating strategic information warfare, understanding the conduct of information warfare, the requirements to establish technological capacity for such operations, the development of US strategic airpower as a case study in the development of new military technologies, and the newly emerging history of US information warfare through the 1990s. An interesting guide to suggested additional sources and extensive footnotes follow each chapter.

The author challenges the popular assumption that innumerable actors could easily launch devastating information attacks against this country from innumerable locations. He argues that advanced technological capacity and leading-edge, world-class technological teams would be essential to achieve that result. He also points out that assumptions about strategic information warfare are built on the belief that the target of such attacks would be passive and lack the ingenuity to adapt and counter these assaults. The author highlights another flaw identified in current plans and thinking—the tendency to classify digital attacks undertaken for criminal purposes, such as electronic theft, with those that might be carried out to achieve military objectives.

The book’s historical case study on the development of strategic US airpower between the world wars is a welcome antidote to the kind of excessive abstraction that might easily emerge in a newly developing field. Colonel Rattray observes that early 21st-century visions of strategic information warfare lack any grounding in historical experience. That point resonates with particular force.

The author asserts:

This case of air-based strategic warfare also presents significant similarities to the challenges facing the development of strategic information warfare capabilities in the twenty-first century. In both cases, the rapid advance of technology created a potential new means of waging strategic warfare. Analysis of the interwar period and that of the period around the dawn of the new millennium evidences untested visions guiding choices in doctrine, organization, and technology to conduct these new forms of warfare.

This chapter provides a useful reality check for untested assumptions about unfamiliar, emerging forms of digital warfare.

As actual application to date of digital warfare techniques (if indeed there has been any) remains classified, Chapter Five, “The United States and Strategic Information Warfare, 1991-1999: Confronting the Emergence of Another Form of Warfare,” is best described not as a study in military history, but as a study in institutional history and the obstacles that organizations must overcome to meet paradigm-shifting challenges. It provides a thought-provoking guide for anyone who anticipates involvement as the nation gets down to the business of preparing for digital warfare. At times the chronology of events shifts back and forth, but for someone trying to learn the basics of digital warfare, this is a welcome chance to cover semi-familiar ground more than once.

Though the author is skeptical about untested assumptions on digital warfare, this doesn’t mean that the threat is not addressed seriously. On the contrary, the author devotes considerable attention to points of technological vulnerability and the commercial, political, legal, and cultural factors affecting efforts to address them. In the process, he makes a number of recommendations for corrective action.

In comparison with the pioneer advocates of airpower, those who write on information warfare work from an even more limited base of experience. Interwar propo-


nents of airpower did have some history to draw on. Though no comparable base of experience exists for predictions about digital warfare, Lieutenant Colonel Rattray has ably developed and assembled, in user-friendly terms, key concepts that will help anyone who wants to look forward and plan the steps needed to keep ahead in this rapidly evolving environment.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Seapower as Strategy: Navies and National Interests. By Norman Friedman. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2001. 352 pages. $36.95. Reviewed by Captain David W. Willmann, USN, Senior Navy Representative, US Army War College.

Dr. Friedman is well known and respected in the international naval community. The author of many publications on naval strategy, naval weapons design and development, and the histories of various ship types—and of a monthly column on world naval developments in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine—he has hit a home run with this book.

With the end of the Cold War, are we entering an era in which seapower is more, rather than less, important to the United States? The author leaves little doubt that it is more important because our national strategy again closely matches the classical forms of maritime strategy and because of post-Cold War changes that have made seapower critical for those nations that have the ability to maintain it. Friedman examines the evolving world of the early 21st century by recalling the world before the two world wars, a world in which wars were generally limited, and a world in which seapower was dominant.

One of the author’s more memorable quotes is from Francis Bacon, who over four centuries ago wrote, “He that commandeth the sea is at great liberty and may take as much or as little of the war as he will.” Friedman also states that seapower, in its broadest sense, is a power centered on and projected from the sea. This distinction is important because so much of the world’s land mass and its populations centers are close to the sea. Additionally, most of the world’s resources are traded and flow by sea. So, if the purpose of military power is to influence other countries’ governments, then what can have greater influence than something that can touch their most valuable resources?

Seapower as Strategy begins with an excellent discussion on national strategy because “ultimately military forces are valued only to the extent they serve it.” Here the author introduces his first of many analogies of the situation faced by Britain in the post-Napoleonic wars and the post-Cold War situation currently faced by the United States. Throughout the remainder of the book, Dr. Friedman provides historical examples taken from the great maritime wars of the past, demonstrating that although technology has had a tremendous impact, many of the basic tenets of geopolitics and seapower have remained surprisingly constant. This reviewer found it interesting to discover “the rest of the story”—that is, how seapower has affected the outcome of many of the decisive military engagements that shaped world history.

The final two chapters of the book focus on the evolution of naval strategy since the end of the Cold War. They provide an insightful view of how the Navy has transformed from a “blue water navy strategy” to a “littoral navy strategy.” Without a peer naval competitor, the focus has been on power projection, with sea control being taken for granted. Friedman warns the reader that the great strategic challenge is to remember that these roles are transitory. History has proven this to be so, time and time


again. The final chapter does an excellent job of providing concluding thoughts on “Using Seapower.” The basic issue is always the same. Is the sea a barrier or a highway? If seapower makes the sea a barrier, then it is a tool to promote isolationism. Used as a highway, it can be used to engage potential threats as close as possible to the source.

For non-naval readers, or for those of us who could use a refresher, Dr. Friedman includes two appendices on “Naval Technology” and “The Shape of the Fleet.” These are handy references to enhance one’s knowledge of the capabilities of naval machines and how they are organized for naval operations.

This excellent book should be incorporated into the strategy curriculums of every war college. It provides a modern complement to the naval writings of Mahan and Corbett currently in use.

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle. By David G. Fitz-Enz. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2001. 271 pages. $28.95. Reviewed by Dr. Samuel Watson, Assistant Professor, US Military Academy.

This September 11th, as for more than a hundred years, the inhabitants of Plattsburgh, New York, will commemorate a battle Arthur Thayer Mahan labeled “one of the most decisive in American history.” David Fitz-Enz draws a compelling picture of the British invasion of upstate New York in September 1814, which culminated in their defeat that day. Fitz-Enz provides the first modern history of this campaign, a story not without lessons for today.

Nearly 200 years ago, today’s closest ally threatened to dismember the fledgling American union. Though historians have never been able to conclusively establish British intentions in 1814, it is certain that successful British operations against Plattsburgh (and thence toward Albany) and New Orleans, combined with their occupation of much of Maine and the extensive support for autonomy or disunion by New England Federalists, would have altered the peace terms from those—the status quo antebellum—ultimately embodied in the Peace of Ghent. This could have enabled the British to create the Indian confederacy they sought as a buffer north and west of the Ohio River, curtailing US expansion westward (one of the principal gains enabled by the war). The advance down Lake Champlain, rather than operations near Niagara or along the Atlantic seaboard, was intended as the primary offensive. (Why this was so is less clear, given the wilderness the British would have to advance through.)

The Final Invasion starts with a concise synopsis of the war through mid-1814, weaving together political, social, and economic context at the local, national, and international levels. Fitz-Enz demonstrates the limited national feeling among many Americans in the regions bordering Canada, which enabled the British to rely on American smugglers for the logistical margin necessary to their operations. Commanding an army of 15,000 Napoleonic veterans, the strongest field force concentrated at one point on the American continent since 1776, Sir George Prevost, the British combatant commander for Canada, knew that the public expected him to take the offensive before winter set in. Yet a limited road network and dense wilderness terrain ultimately forced the British to depend on naval transport to supply their advance, making the destruction of the American flotilla under Commodore Thomas Macdonough essential to their success. Prevost’s flotilla was powerfully armed but composed of barely finished ships with


poorly trained crews drawn largely from army units. The naval commander, chosen for his aggressiveness, was new to Lake Champlain, knew nothing of its winds, and failed to reconnoiter the American position. His plan fell apart when the winds calmed, making it impossible for him to maneuver to concentrate his firepower against individual American vessels. (His desire to do so seems to have led him into American gun range, despite having a significant advantage therein.) The Americans also had built their ships quickly and crewed them with a mix of soldiers, sailors, guardhouse prisoners, and bandsmen. Yet Macdonough had prepared for the battle by anchoring his vessels in such a way that when crippled along one broadside they could be pivoted about to employ the other one, something the British found impossible to do.

The battle quickly turned to “battering at close range” (one of the author’s many expressive section titles), with one-sixth of the main American vessel’s crew killed or wounded by the first British salvo. The British lost the wheel of their main vessel, their commander, and a quarter of their force slain. Nearly every man on both sides was wounded, and none of the eight primary vessels remained capable of unaided motion. Yet the Americans scored twice as many hits as they took, largely because their officers (particularly Macdonough) were able to resight their guns, while the British guns fired a little higher with each shot due to the accumulated effects of recoil. When Macdonough turned his undamaged broadside to face his crippled opponent, the British were unable to continue.

Prevost was a cautious commander, used to being on the defensive, whose instructions warned against “being cut off by too extended a line of advance,” as had occurred at Saratoga. Looking ahead to winter, feeling that a ground attack would be fruitless without the naval transport to sustain a further advance, and assuming that he could build another flotilla to resume the offensive in 1815, Prevost ordered his army to withdraw, despite a superiority of at least three to one, odds that would nearly guarantee an attacker’s victory in 1814. There was therefore no true land battle at Plattsburgh, though Fitz-Enz fully describes land operations and the skirmishing that did occur. Prevost was much criticized for his withdrawal, although Fitz-Enz quotes the Duke of Wellington’s praise for Prevost’s humanitarianism and understanding of logistical constraints. Indeed, the many scholars who criticize the American effort in this war would do well to pay more attention to problems of supply, for tactical capability was rarely wanting by 1814. Yet Fitz-Enz does not really address whether the powerful British army might have affected the equation by driving the Americans from Plattsburgh and trapping Macdonough between ship and shore batteries, thus forcing him onto the open lake, where the British could fire from stand-off positions. Pressing his naval commander to attack prematurely, Prevost hazarded the resource he felt most essential to his enterprise, and the one least prepared for combat.

The battle of Plattsburgh coincided with the attack on Fort McHenry and the siege of Fort Erie on the Niagara frontier. Outnumbered and outgunned, determined American forces prevailed every time. Wellington told his superiors that he could do little to remedy the situation, that “the war was practically ended by Prevost’s retreat. What remained was purely episodical in character.” This may be an exaggerated conclusion, for the British did try again at New Orleans, but the result was the same, again due in large part to the small Regular Army force that formed the core of American defenses in all these campaigns.

Smoothly written, well-researched, and comprehensive in approach and scope, The Final Invasion has much to commend and little to question. The author’s attention to


logistics and intelligence, weapon characteristics and effects, and the face of battle is outstanding. Appendixes provide the orders of battle, lists of significant participants and casualties, original documents, and the after-action reviews sent by Macdonough, Army commander Alexander Macomb, and the senior surviving officer of the Royal Navy. Better maps would be helpful, but the illustrations are varied and stirring. (Fitz-Enz also has produced a documentary film with the same title.) The Final Invasion is an intriguing tale of fog, friction, chance, and chaos—of courage, gallantry, leadership, and teamwork—reminding readers that, as Army commander Alexander Macomb declared to his troops, “The eyes of America are on us; fortune always follows the brave.”

gr_ball.gif (967 bytes)Judge Advocates in Combat: Army Lawyers in Military Operations from Vietnam to Haiti. By Frederic L. Borch, III. Washington: Office of the Judge Advocate General and Center of Military History, US Army, 2001. 413 pages. $44.00. Reviewed by Colonel Thomas McShane, Director of National Security Legal Studies, US Army War College.

Sun Tzu said, “Those who excel in war first cultivate their own humanity and justice and maintain their laws and institutions.” The Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps has maintained the Army’s laws since 1775 and participated in all the nation’s wars. It is fair to say, though, that the corps’ primary role for most of the past two centuries lay in maintaining military discipline through the military justice system. Judge advocates did other things, of course, but the corps’ identity and self-image centered primarily on military justice. Over the past quarter-century the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG Corps) has undergone a quiet revolution, and many within the Army, including younger judge advocates, are only vaguely aware of what has transpired. Judge Advocates in Combat describes this revolution.

In a well-written narrative chronicling the activities of Army lawyers in deployments from Vietnam through Haiti, Colonel Borch emphasizes several themes: First, the scope of legal practice has expanded greatly into new subject areas; second, Army lawyers can be found at all levels of operations from brigade through Army headquarters, to the Chairman’s legal office; third, the site of practice has dramatically changed from rear areas of linear battlefields to the center of activity in modern contingency operations; and last, Army lawyers have become key staff officers for commanders in all recent deployments.

The experiences of Army lawyers in Vietnam resembled in many respects those of their World War II colleagues, which is understandable given that a mere 14 years separated World War II from the assignment of the first Army lawyer to the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam in 1959. Confined largely to rear areas and major headquarters, judge advocates performed their customary duties in military justice, claims, and legal assistance, with a smattering of international law. Over the course of the war, Army lawyers gradually undertook the emerging missions of war crime investigations and the treatment of captured enemy soldiers, particularly Viet Cong guerrillas. Two developments near the end of the war would have a significant effect on the role of judge advocates in the years to come. The first was the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at the village of My Lai in 1968. The ensuing investigation and courts-martial led to the creation of the Department of Defense Law of War Program, DOD Directive 5100.77, in November 1974. It mandated judge advocate involvement in law of war


training and in developing and reviewing operational plans. The second development was the Military Justice Act of 1968, which created military judges and required judge advocates to try all courts-martial, eliminating the practice of line officers trying cases; even more importantly, it increased the size of the JAG Corps and for the first time established Army lawyers in tactical units down to the brigade level. These two developments laid the essential foundation for the coming operational law revolution.

Change did not occur overnight, as the JAG Corps, along with the rest of the Army, endured the post-Vietnam drawdown and transition to an all-volunteer force in the 1970s, while the slow process of rebuilding the Army began. Colonel Borch’s narrative picks up with operations in Grenada in 1982, when judge advocates of the 82d Airborne division deployed with their combat units onto the island and became intimately involved with operational issues from targeting to treatment of Grenadian and Cuban detainees. Other active duty and reserve component judge advocates assisted later in the operation, handling claims and assisting in the restoration of civil government. One of the incidents related in the book involved Captain Gary Walsh, the judge advocate assigned to the 82d Airborne Division’s 3d Brigade. Arriving in Grenada on the third day of the operation, Captain Walsh accompanied a patrol to see the island and soon came under small-arms fire from Cuban or People’s Revolutionary Army elements. Armed only with a .45 caliber pistol as were all Army lawyers, instead of an M-16, Captain Walsh returned fire as best he could. A short time later he was assigned to command another patrol escorting a team of investigators to a helicopter crash site, still armed with only his .45. For the JAG Corps, Grenada was a wake-up call, signaling that Army lawyers would have to be prepared to deploy on contingency missions and perform a largely undefined series of tasks. Army lawyers would have to be prepared for these missions—their nature does not afford the luxury of time once an alert is given.

The remainder of the book describes individual and collective experiences in the escalating series of large-scale deployments that began with Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, followed by Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91, Somalia in 1993, and Haiti in 1994. Colonel Borch devotes appropriate space to operations other than war undertaken in Africa, disaster assistance operations in Western Samoa and Bangladesh, and more. While adhering to his theme of increasing involvement of Army lawyers in nontraditional missions and military operations in general, Colonel Borch tells a series of stories about individual soldiers that humanize the narrative and help to capture the reader’s attention. As he says, it is not just a story about the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, but rather a story about judge advocates. Additionally, the Center of Military History did a first-class job printing the book. The paper is top-quality and the illustrations and photographs are easy to look at.

Colonel Borch’s book is recommended reading for all. While many of us lived through this era, many outside the JAG Corps are not aware how our roles have evolved. Younger judge advocates, who do things Colonel Borch and I would not have imagined doing when we entered the JAG Corps, take it for granted. Captains have responsibility undreamed-of 25 years ago. They are better lawyers and better soldiers as a result. Fred Borch is one of the JAG Corps’ more prolific writers. Presently assigned to the faculty at the Naval War College, he is the author of numerous articles and two earlier books, one on the Purple Heart and the other on the Soldier’s Medal. He is a gifted writer with a subtle sense of humor that occasionally slips out in this tale, which is certainly worth telling.

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Reviewed 19 August 2002. Please send comments or corrections to