From Parameters, Autumn 2000, pp. 153-72.
Go to Autumn issue Table of Contents.
Go to Book Review Index.
Migrations. By Sebastiao Salgado. New York: Aperture, 2000. 431 pages. $100.00.
Inferno. By James Nachtwey. New York: Phaidon, 1999. 480 pages. $125.00.
Reviewed by General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Ret., former US Army Chief of Staff (1991-1995) and currently President of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).
The first impulse one has when picking up either of these two new photo anthologies is to open it at random, pause (stunned, because these photographs will stun you even if by chance you have seen some of the tragedy captured on film), and then flip randomly to another page. There you'll pause again as your brain labors to pull together all that you see, and then you'll jump to another. There is no order to one's movement through these pictures--any page opens, haphazardly, to a horrifying scene. Jump, pause, look. Jump, pause, look. Anyone would recognize the rhythm--and the random nature of the scanning exercise. Today, many soldiers recognize the countries of origin and the suffering people--they have been there.
One has to spend time with these books--in my case several weeks--before it becomes possible to convey a clear sense of their impact. Perhaps it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but these images leave you with none.
These pictures of war, famine, brutality, fear, and flight show images of hopeless, dissipating lives facing another day in war zones of many kinds around the world. These are the images that confront soldiers from the United States and other countries. These are also the images that send soldiers to deal with the harsh realities that generate them. Humanitarian assistance, boundary patrols, famine relief, peacekeeping operations are the missions that now occupy many soldiers day to day. Many people say this role for our military is in keeping with its finest traditions. But other observers increasingly wonder whether it should be.
This debate in American defense and military circles will only intensify over the coming months as the presidential election heats up and as the Quadrennial Defense Review gets under way in earnest. Serious issues are involved. What role will the United States play in helping to solve the problems that seem at first glance to belong to others, yet which, upon reflection, cry out for help? What part will the US military take? Put differently, how much of this is America's responsibility? And how much of that responsibility will be resolved through the deployment of forces or the use of military force?
Lines in this debate are already sharply drawn; on one side are those who hold fiercely to the view that the United States bears no responsibility for these calamities and that the US military should not become involved in such kinds of operations. The Army Times implied this message in a recent story that ran under the headline, "You Call This Soldiering?" (by Matthew Cox, 27 March 2000, p.14). According to this view, the military's chief--perhaps only--purpose is to deter or, if necessary, fight and win the nation's wars. In this view, so-called Stability and Security Operations (SASO) are ill-conceived and open-ended; they are costly and degrade readiness. Others, however, believe that America does bear some measure of responsibility to do what it can to prevent, limit, and end these disasters, and that the US military is a ready and appropriate tool for the job that needs doing.
By and large, the human misery depicted on the pages of these two books--the famine, war, starvation, and violence--are man-made calamities. Relief from their scourge cannot depend on divine intervention, fortuitous birth, or chance. Indeed, it is a strange, even ironic, twist of history that while the state system emerged over 300 years ago in part because people accepted the protection of their sovereigns from marauding outsiders, today most of the people in peril need the protection of outsiders from their sovereigns.
Somewhere along the continuum of responsibility, the United States must take its place and, as it does, address the task at hand. The world needs our help. If our politics no longer provide a guide to action, perhaps our values still do--and in America we value, above all, the dignity of the individual human being and the opportunities and rights to which each human being is entitled. We value freedom and the ability to choose. And we value the kind of global environment that makes such choice possible.
The American military exists to protect and promote American interests. For centuries, the American soldier has answered the nation's call to build bridges, render aid, open roads, bring food, protect the defenseless, and crush aggression. We have done it for Americans and we have done it for others. To be sure, we cannot save every life, prevent every war, or alleviate all suffering. But that does not mean that we cannot or should not do what we can.
Look at the photos in these books. They show the business of soldiers. Can we prevent a war's outbreak? Perhaps. Can we limit its reach? Often. Can we end its wrath? Usually.
Make room on your shelf for Migrations and Inferno. They are expensive, but every senior leader should own at least one of them. Put them alongside the classics you already own. For if Killer Angels and Combat From the Ground Up help us understand how soldiers do what they do, these books tell us why.
In the final analysis, what we do is help prevent violent conflict, aid the suffering, support our government, and, if necessary, fight and win wars. These two powerful photo anthologies should give pause to all who have served, are serving, or will serve in our armed forces. Soldiers do not get to choose where they serve or where they fight. Their task is to succeed so that others can live in peace and with dignity. As we see, the need is great; as we know, the response must be greater.
A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam. By Lewis Sorley. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999. 507 pages. $28.00. Reviewed by Colonel Stuart A. Herrington, USA Ret., author of Stalking the Vietcong: Inside Operation Phoenix, and Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher's World.
Twenty-five years after the tragic loss of the Vietnam War, distinguished historian and former soldier Lewis Sorley has added his voice to the growing chorus of revisionist historians who are telling it like it really was. In A Better War, Sorley hammers home a thesis not unfamiliar to many of us who served in Vietnam during the post-Tet years: that America's first lost war need not have ended in the ignominious departure of our Ambassador from the roof of his Embassy.
The bulk of Sorley's contribution is a riveting, well-sourced, and highly readable account of General Creighton Abrams' tenure as Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV). This is the drama of how General Abrams, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, John Paul Vann, and William Colby pursued a whole new, "catch-up ball" approach to the war in the wake of General William Westmoreland's discredited strategy of attrition, while in Washington, Pentacrats and congressmen alike were intent on extracting America from Vietnam rather than embracing a strategy or solution that would justify American and South Vietnamese sacrifices.
Sorley's work is in many ways a companion volume to the late William Colby's Lost Victory. Sorley supports Colby's contention that by 1969 the United States had finally "broken the code" to cope with Vietcong penetration of Vietnam's villages and hamlets. He also reminds us that Abrams' and Bunker's emphasis on pacification and its campaign to root out the Vietcong infrastructure was successful (so much so that Hanoi twice resorted to conventional warfare waged by its regular divisions in its relentless campaign to topple the South Vietnamese government).
Citing both South Vietnamese and Vietnamese communist sources, Sorley paints a picture quite familiar to those of us who served as advisors to the Vietnamese in the later years of the war. Instead of districts, villages, and hamlets--where, until 1969, bridges were out, roads were mined nightly, and the threat of ambush was ever-present--many of us served in bustling, prosperous rural areas where one could ride alone in a jeep on almost all roads (as I did in 1971-72 in Hau Nghia province). This was a countryside where farmers could grow multiple crops of miracle rice, often relieved of the burdensome taxation of the revolution. Vietcong shadow government cadre, deprived of support from Cambodian sanctuaries raided in 1970, rallied to the government in record numbers, while those who refused to give up were stalked by the territorial forces and the Phoenix program, often reduced to hiding in remote bunkers and swamps. This was the "better war," the way it should have been fought from the beginning.
Sorley's depiction of how General Abrams dedicated himself to this task is compelling. This meticulously researched work benefits greatly from his personal energy in transcribing thousands of hours of audio tapes made during General Abrams' four-year tour as COMUSMACV from 1968 to 1972, and working the system to declassify them.
Extensive verbatim quotes of the crusty general's remarks to his staff during regular intelligence update briefings lend authenticity to the account. They give the reader the sense of being present in the MACV Command Center as Abrams vents his frustrations while waging a two-front war--against the communists in Vietnam and against the coalition of defeatist Pentacrats and lawmakers in Washington (arguably the more dangerous of the two foes).
But the real story in A Better War is how Abrams waged a classic "do more with less" struggle. Sorley reminds us that Abrams assumed command in 1968 when 500,000 American military were in Vietnam, yet the Vietnamese countryside remained dangerous--a testament to the bankruptcy of the strategy of attrition. Four years later, when Abrams departed MACV to become Army Chief of Staff, only 50,000 Americans remained in country, but well over 90 percent of the countryside was secure. Pacification had worked, and although South Vietnam's imperfect democracy and military forces had vulnerabilities, Hanoi's go-for-broke 1972 Easter Offensive had failed, North Vietnam's army was in disarray, and it was our war to lose from that point forward.
Sorley's narration of opportunity lost cannot help but evoke sadness and frustration among readers who served in Vietnam or anyone who has wondered over the years how the superpower that could send men to the moon failed to prevail over an adversary that Lyndon Johnson called a "two-bit, penny-ante country." That we actually came closer to victory than most thought is Sorley's message, delivered with a powerful broadside aimed at the anti-war movement's love affair with their romanticized image of the Vietnamese communists, and punctuated by a well-aimed volley directed at the anti-war movement's allies in the US Congress.
But while Sorley's persuasive thesis holds together and comports with what this reviewer experienced on the ground in Vietnam, it also reminds us of an important lesson-learned (or, more accurately, not so well-learned). Namely, that from 1964 to 1968, because of America's ignorance of Vietnamese geography, history, culture, and language, the US military consistently underestimated its adversary, underestimated (and later overestimated) its ally, and, in so doing, squandered the support for the war that had existed in the media, in the Congress, and among the American people. As a result, when Creighton Abrams took the helm and teamed up with Ambassador Bunker and the South Vietnamese to wage an integrated political, military, economic, and psychological campaign, it was too late.
This is a book best read in conjunction with other important works, among which this reviewer numbers William Colby's excellent Lost Victory and Robert McNamara's In Retrospect (however odious its admissions). Sorley's scholarship confirms what should have been self-evident for years: most of the 2.6 million American men and women who served in Vietnam can hold their heads high, while those senior managers (not leaders) in Washington who mandated a losing strategy and then gave up on the war at a time when victory was within reach richly deserve the increasing share of the blame that historians and scholars like Lewis Sorley are laying at their feet.
The Secret War Against Hanoi: Kennedy and Johnson's Use of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam. By Richard H. Shultz, Jr. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 268 pages. $27.50. Reviewed by Colonel Richard S. Friedman, USA Ret., who served in a variety of intelligence assignments in the Army and subsequently with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Richard H. Shultz, Jr., is director of the International Security Studies Program and associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. In The Secret War Against Hanoi, he reveals how in 1963 President Kennedy became displeased with lack of progress in CIA guerrilla operations against North Vietnam, transferred operational control of the covert war to the Department of Defense, and demanded results. Notwithstanding the President's strong directive, however, results were slow in coming. Policymakers and senior military leaders had little interest in or understanding of special operations and resisted expansion of the secret war.
Between 1964 and 1972, the United States nonetheless executed a secret campaign of covert operations against North Vietnam controlled by the Pentagon's Special Operations Group under the cover name "Studies and Observation Group" (SOG). This was the United States' largest and most complex covert operation since World War II. When SOG finally did get started in January 1964, after the inauguration of President Lyndon Johnson, it was consistently hampered by micromanagement from the National Security Council, State Department, and Pentagon leadership.
Despite these restraints, SOG conducted its intense secret war for eight years, throughout the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and managed to execute a range of operations, including the dispatch of numerous spies to North Vietnam and creation of a sophisticated triple-cross deception program, psychological warfare through a notional guerrilla movement, manipulating North Vietnamese POWs, kidnapping citizens, and other dirty tricks. SOG conducted commando raids against Hanoi's coast and navy, as well as operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to kill enemy soldiers and destroy supplies. Eventually the Pentagon's spies, saboteurs, and secret warriors produced results that were frequently spectacular and occasionally disastrous. Because SOG operations were highly classified and politically sensitive, the story remained largely untold after the war ended.
The Secret War Against Hanoi is based on interviews with 60 officers who ran SOG's covert programs and the senior officials who directed this secret war, including Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, Richard Helms, William Colby, William Westmoreland, and Victor Krulak. The author also had access to thousands of pages of recently declassified top-secret SOG documents. This volume is the first definitive and comprehensive account of the covert paramilitary and espionage campaign and contains many revealing disclosures.
Additional insights into the war also have been gained as a result of Washington and Hanoi's efforts to normalize relations since the early 1990s. Many Americans with incompatible views on the war have traveled to Vietnam in the past decade. Veterans of the war returned to revisit old battlefields, remember those who were killed, and meet some of those whom they had fought. Businessmen regarded Vietnam as the next Asian economic miracle and wished to gain commercial preference; for them the war was now ancient history. Finally, there were the peace activists. Although they had opposed US involvement in Vietnam, few had ever been afforded the opportunity to meet directly with North Vietnamese leaders. This began to change in the 1990s as conferences were arranged in Hanoi and elsewhere.
Dr. Shultz describes one session in 1995 involving an exchange between a human rights activist from Minnesota and a distinguished North Vietnamese army (NVA) colonel who had fought many battles against the Americans:
Colonel Bui Tin was not an ordinary NVA commander. On 30 April 1975, Hanoi accorded him the unique honor to accept the unconditional surrender of the South Vietnamese regime. Earlier, in December 1963 he was involved in the North Vietnamese Politburo decision to expand use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In conversation with American peace activists, he was asked a number of questions about the war. At the end of the meeting, he was queried, "Colonel, was there anything the US could have done to prevent your victory?" In the dogma of the antiwar movement, the answer was always an unequivocal "No." The peace movement always believed North Vietnam had the "mandate of heaven" on its side and there was nothing the US and its military could do--Hanoi's victory was preordained.
The colonel's response was a devastating refutation of protest movement orthodoxy. Bui Tin observed that to prevent North Vietnam's victory the United States would have to have "cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail inside Laos." When the activist protested, Colonel Tin repeated, "Yes, cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail inside Laos. If Johnson had granted General Westmoreland's request to enter Laos and block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hanoi could not have won the war." He went on to explain the strategic importance of the trail for Hanoi's escalation and conduct of the war--it was the only way "to bring sufficient military power to bear on the fighting in the South."There are important and tangible lessons to be learned from Washington's conduct of the war against Hanoi, and from its conduct of the secret war. Presidents who consider covert special operations to meet 21st-century threats to vital US interests may wish to reflect that successful and unsuccessful operations of the secret war in Vietnam made little difference in the end--Washington seems never to have developed an effective overall strategy.
The Philippine War, 1899-1902. By Brian McAllister Linn. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. 427 pages. $39.95. Reviewed by Dr. Stanley L. FaIk (Colonel, AUS Ret.), former Chief Historian of the Air Force and author of Bataan: The March of Death and other works.
Under the terms of the December 1898 treaty ending the Spanish-American War, the United States gained possession of the Philippine Islands, a distant archipelago whose inhabitants had for years been struggling to gain independence from Spain and who were now equally determined to prevent American rule of the islands. The United States thus inherited an ongoing insurgency which it would be hard-pressed to suppress. To do so, indeed, would take two and one-half years, 7,000 American casualties, and a considerable expenditure of money and resources.
The Philippine War, as Brian Linn calls this difficult mixture of combat and civic action, repression and conciliation, is one of those controversial episodes in American history that generates more heat and less understanding than proper analysis requires. Much of the literature on the war is highly critical of its conduct, focusing on its brutality and atrocities and ignoring the constructive pacification and humane social and political reform that more generally characterized the American effort. Linn takes a far more balanced view. Professor of History at Texas A&M University and Visiting Professor of Military History at the US Army War College during the 1999-2000 academic year, he has written widely on this and related subjects and brings to the controversy an impressive scholarly background and depth of knowledge. His meticulously researched, clearly written, and soundly documented account is the definitive study of this often misunderstood war.
Linn's book is a detailed operational history of military action to pacify and restore order to the islands. As he points out, there was no common pattern of events throughout the archipelago. "The war varied greatly from island to island, town to town, even village to village." Fighting in central Luzon most resembled conventional warfare, but most areas saw a mixture of hit-and-run raids, guerrilla and counterguerrilla operations, or long periods of quiet interrupted by sporadic outbursts of combat. Half the Philippines saw no fighting at all; elsewhere there was intense action, atrocities on both sides, and much destruction. The insurgents' efforts were poorly led, uncoordinated, driven by local ambitions, and without universal popular support or ready sources of funds or supplies. US Army operations were sometimes hampered by limitations on resources, inadequate intelligence, poor communications, vague directives from Washington, and stateside political considerations.
Linn clears up much confusion about the nature of the war and refutes old mythology. He is particularly convincing in analyzing the charges that American pacification efforts were savage campaigns against defenseless Filipinos, marked by atrocities and devastation. There were indeed atrocities committed, by Filipinos as well as by Americans, particularly in the last stages of the war. But these instances were not typical. The real situation was a complex and often misunderstood combination of varied actions and situations, seen too often by critics "through an ideological perspective developed during the 1960s." The idea that "an expeditionary force averaging some 25,000 combat troops terrorized over seven million people into subjugation" conforms with neither facts nor common sense.
How did such a small force manage to pacify such a large archipelago in what Linn calls "the most successful counterinsurgency campaign in history"? A key element was the broad humane program of civic action which restored order, formed local governments, organized public health programs, and built schools, roads, bridges, and sewer systems. It was not difficult for the local population to differentiate between these constructive efforts and the often brutal, terroristic actions of insurgent forces.
The US Navy also played an important role. Its blockade denied Filipino revolutionaries foreign arms shipments and prevented inter-island or coastal movement of men and supplies. At the same time, the Navy gave Army forces a significant amphibious capability and a ready means of shifting troops and equipment throughout the archipelago.
But the most important factor in American victory was the effectiveness of the limited numbers of men the Army could commit to the campaign. Good leadership, proper training, high morale, the adaptability of the ordinary soldier to local conditions, and the open-order tactics developed by the Army a decade earlier all contributed to success in the field. Linn also gives high marks to the Model 1898 Krag-Jorgensen rifle, a .30-caliber, five-shot magazine weapon, the first US army rifle to use smokeless powder. "Rugged, reliable, accurate, and powerful," it was in fact inferior to the 7mm Mauser that many of the insurgents carried, having obtained them by one means or another from the Spaniards. Furthermore, only US regulars had the Krag; American volunteer units were still firing the single-shot, black powder 1873 Springfield. But the Americans, unlike the Filipinos, had an unlimited supply of rifles, parts, and reliable ammunition and were well supported by field artillery and heavily armed gunboats.
All of these factors gave American troops a decisive edge over their opponents. Indeed, notes Linn, "Far from being the bloody-handed butcher of fable, the average soldier in the Philippines was probably as good as or better than any in this nation's history." The Philippine War is a worthy testimony to this point, and well worth close study by anyone interested in a systematic examination of the American pacification effort in that troubled archipelago.
This War Really Matters: Inside the Fight for Defense Dollars. By George C. Wilson. Washington: CQ Press, A Division of Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Reviewed by Lieutenant General Richard G. Trefry, USA Ret., Inspector General of the Army, 1978-83, and Military Assistant to the President, 1989-92.
George Wilson is an experienced writer with great expertise in things military. Considering how few people really are aware of (much less understand) the processes of providing monetary resources for the services, he has written a book that is a little jewel.
In the Preamble to our Constitution we find the words, "We the people . . . provide for the common defense." The number of people, military or civilian, who have any cognizance of how this is actually accomplished is pitifully small.
For the average Army officer or civilian who comes on assignment to the Pentagon, whether on the Army Staff, the Joint Staff, or any of the Secretariats, the experience is unnerving. First of all, little about the systems and processes described in this book is taught in any of the service schools beyond a few hours of wiring diagrams coupled with acronyms seldom translated. And those classes are probably taught on a hot afternoon in August when the air conditioning is broken. The day of destiny and intellectual disaster arrives when our neophyte action officers report for duty and find an entirely new language called the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS), which in the Army is called the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting Execution System (PPBES). Dealing with a new language composed entirely of acronyms, not only our action officers but also our generals find themselves in a state of utter bewilderment. But even before they understand the definitions of PPBS or PPBES, they understand fully that it means money and the staff of life for the military services.
George Wilson has attempted to "make the defense budget process understandable, [for] there is no denying that it is a complex process with many players and parts. . . . The tour I have arranged moves from one event to another in the order they happened. I did this in hopes of holding your interest as we move along without skipping any of the important fights in the political war for defense dollars."
Admirably, I believe that he has accomplished his intention, but I would qualify that statement by saying that if you read the book you will have a good idea of how the process works at the highest levels, where the players range from the President no deeper than the chairmen of the principal committees in the Congress and the highest levels of the Department of Defense. The process is so complex that it takes 239 pages to describe the game involving just the principals. This is not a book that one can read rapidly, and it does require concentration. The rewards, however, are multiple. In fact, there is a danger in that the reader may believe when he completes his effort he has a thorough understanding of how the process works. The warning I would provide is that Mr. Wilson fortunately does not describe in detail any of the scrimmages and food fights within and among the services that lead from the basic ideas required to resource the Department of Defense. If he did, the book would probably weigh 25 pounds. I am reminded of a slide used in classroom presentations describing the PPBES. It read like this:
The PPBES Problem . . .
When faced with a 20-year threat,
The government responds with a 15-year plan,
In a 6-year defense program,
Managed by 3-year personnel,
Attempting to develop a 2-year budget,
Which in reality is funded by a 1-year appropriation,
Which is typically 4-6 months late,
Actually formulated over a 3-day weekend,
And approved in a 1-hour decision briefing!
This system was brought to the Pentagon in 1962 by Mr. McNamara and Mr. Hitch. It has always been a source of wonderment to me that no one has appeared on the scene since then to improve the system. Recently, I have come to believe that one of the reasons it has not been improved is that the system is so difficult and complex in its totality that no one would know where to start. If they thought they did, they would immediately refrain from action because whatever action would be taken, however innocent or well intentioned, the result would be comparable to pulling the plug on the Hoover Dam while standing on the spillway.
This book will not give you the depth of Lake Meade but it will give you the length that the Colorado River is backed up--which, if we think about it, is almost back to its source. Mr. Wilson is owed a debt of gratitude for his efforts at clarification so that we might at least discern the problem.
There is much to be learned from reading this book. I would recommend it as a basic primer on PPBS at Carlisle, Leavenworth, and the other service colleges and schools.
Race for the Reichstag: The 1945 Battle for Berlin. By Tony LeTissier. Portland, Ore.: Frank Cass Publishers, 1999. 265 pages. $57.50. Reviewed by Dr. Earl F. Ziemke, University of Georgia.
In 1988, Tony LeTissier published The Battle of Berlin (St. Martin's Press), an account of German and Soviet operations in and around Berlin from 16 April to 2 May 1945. In it, Marshal Ivan Konev, whose sector lay south of Berlin, figured as a jealous rival, ever eager to steal credit for the victory from Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who had command in the Berlin sector; and Josef Stalin maliciously promoted the ensuing dissension. The present edition shifts the focus dramatically: Stalin now sees "an opportunity . . . to exploit the bitter rivalry that existed between the two rivals to ensure his own continuing supremacy in the Soviet Union as the unchallenged leader and bringer of victory." His means is a kind of steeplechase with tanks in which the goal is the Reichstag, a burned-out ruin in the center of Berlin which Soviet wartime propaganda had made a symbol of infamy on the order of Pearl Harbor, the Maine, and the Alamo.
Presumably to reinforce the "race" metaphor, the first six chapters in the 1988 edition have now been reduced to three. The original Chapters 7 to 13 (now 6 to 10) are, on the other hand, reprinted almost verbatim; consequently, the course of events is depicted as it was before the enlargement of Stalin's role, and the race does not figure as prominently as the title might lead the reader to expect.
The race begins on 19 April, when, following Stalin's order to encircle Berlin, Zhukov and Konev launch thrusts around the city. Their objective is not the Reichstag but Potsdam, on the western outskirts of Berlin. Konev gives a bravura performance, taking Potsdam on 22 April and going another ten miles northwest to a junction with Zhukov's force on the Havel River on the 25th.
However, Konev had by then served his purpose as a player in "Stalin's plot to eventually humiliate Zhukov by throwing his plans off balance and introducing Konev in the race for Reichstag. . . . Stalin, having made his point to Zhukov with the introduction of Konev's troops to the scene, now saw to it that Konev's ambitions would in turn be thwarted, but neither was to know of this yet." But Konev did not have long to wait. On the morning of the 28th, his troops, about to begin their drive on the Reichstag, discovered that "virtually the whole eastern half of their proposed line of advance was already occupied by Chuikov's [Colonel General V. I. Chuikov, one of Zhukov's army commanders] forces." Konev thereupon withdrew from the race, "defeated by factors arising out of the rivalry between himself and Zhukov which had been skillfully exploited by Stalin without regard for the military implications."
No doubt Stalin played Zhukov and Konev against each other, as he had been doing for several years, but did he really give that game precedence over military considerations? In his first edition, the author takes notice of a conference on 1 April in which Stalin informed Zhukov and Konev that he had reason to believe "the Anglo-American armies were proposing to take Berlin ahead of the Soviet forces." The second edition makes no reference to such an intention, and neither edition thereafter depicts the race for the Reichstag as anything but an intramural contest.
The first two weeks of April, however, appeared to confirm Stalin's suspicion that the Americans were positioning themselves to snatch Berlin from under his nose. By the 12th, the US Ninth Army had advanced 35 miles into the assigned Soviet occupation zone, taken a foothold across the Elbe River at Magdeburg, and closed to the Elbe at Tangermünde, 53 miles due west of Berlin. Zhukov was 32 miles from Berlin but still had the Oder River to cross. The Germans were dug in on the Oder but hardly in evidence along the Elbe. Stalin, by his lights, was clearly not having to contrive a race.
On the 16th, Zhukov mounted an effort at a swift breakthrough to Berlin that within hours degenerated into a seriocomic fiasco. He recovered on the 19th, but by then, Stalin, whose confidence in his generals was always easily shaken, had decided to hedge his bet by forestalling the Americans.
Since the presumed other contestant never entered it, the race for Berlin can be said to have terminated on 25 April with the encirclement completed. In the meantime, however, another race had emerged. Having cleared central Germany, the American armies had, on 22 April, begun a fast sweep to the south. By the 28th, they had taken a full third of the Soviet zone, including Leipzig, the fourth largest German city, and the US First Army was on the undefended western border of Czechoslovakia, 80 miles west of Prague. Stalin therewith acquired compelling military and political reasons for getting Konev out of Berlin, where his tank armies were tied down 260 miles away from Prague. Even without American interference, Konev would not accomplish a proper "liberation" of Prague until 12 April, four days (three by Soviet count) after the German surrender.
Against the Gods--The Remarkable Story of Risk. By Peter L. Bernstein. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996. 400 pages. $29.95. Reviewed by Colonel David A. Fastabend, Executive Officer to the Vice Chief of Staff, US Army.
A military reader will be doubly surprised by Peter L. Bernstein's Against the Gods. Bernstein brilliantly presents the history of mankind's encounter with uncertainty and risk, phenomena that pervade every aspect of the military experience. The first surprise? Bernstein's book is completely silent on the military dimension of risk. The second surprise? For this very reason, no military thinker can overlook this text.
Any victim of a high school statistics class might find it "improbable" that a discourse on risk could be both enthralling and entertaining. But Bernstein, an economic consultant by trade, beats the odds. Bernstein asserts that risk--including our efforts to understand it, measure it, and weigh its consequences--has been one of the prime catalysts of Western society, and in fact is the principle distinction between modern times and the past. His rapidly moving narrative portrays the relationship of culture to risk, employing both philosophy and art to explore the failure of many societies--otherwise thoroughly sophisticated--to explore quantitative approaches to probability. From the ancient Greeks, concerned with the present, to the early Christians and Muslims, with their focus on the future, to the Protestant Reformers, who associated their future fate inextricably with their own decisions, Bernstein demonstrates how the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings for probability theory gradually emerged.
If probability is the grammar of risk, then numbers are the vocabulary. Bernstein addresses the history of numbers with fascinating insight. DaVinci, we learn, had the mathematical mastery of today's typical third-grade student. A well-educated European scholar of the 11th century would not recognize the number zero. The mathematical symbols "+," "-," and "=" were not known until the 16th century. By 1545, however, the Renaissance unleashed the freedom of thought, passion for experimentation, and desire to control the future that put us on the path to the science of risk management. Bernstein walks that path--the laws of probability, decision theory, forecasting, sampling, and utility theory--and makes the entire exercise as pleasant as a stroll in the woods.
That stroll ends in Bernstein's neighborhood: the world of the stock market, forecasting, derivatives--and chaos. Herein, paradoxically, lies the relevance for the military reader. Today's information warrior might well envy the environment of the modern financial markets. They are driven by information, and "information dominance" has long been achieved on a scale that the military experience will never duplicate. The markets work off a fixed infrastructure that is perfectly hard-wired. Information moves globally at the speed of light. All decisions and their consequences are reflected in one common dimension: dollars. Analysis abounds, and it is freed of the destructive distraction of artillery shards ripping through the command center and the associated horrors. Yet this world of perfect information has not brought perfect predictability. The financial markets have been exercising "information dominance" for several years, and their report is this: information brings more volatility, not predictability. Bernstein observes that even as the science of risk management advances at breakneck speed, "discontinuities, irregularities, and volatilities seem to be proliferating rather than diminishing."
Bernstein's final chapters include a comprehensive survey of the leading thinkers of risk management, a field that is so young that most of these individuals are still alive. In their analysis of financial decisionmaking, they are discovering what every platoon leader learned the hard way: human beings are not really rational. The military reader must mine his own insights from the gems that Bernstein uncovers, but the implications for an Army committed to information dominance are obvious.
Observers of the information-rich markets tell us that most people overestimate the amount of information that is available to them. In their mental accounting, humans demonstrate a pronounced tendency to examine problems in pieces rather than in the aggregate. Moreover, if there is too much information, the myopia effect kicks in: relevant information is ignored without hesitation. Investors revise their beliefs not according to strict rules of rationality, but by overweighing new information and devaluating older, longer-term information. We pay excessive attention to low-probability events accompanied by high drama, and overlook the routine. A phenomenon known as ambiguity aversion is our preference--to take risk on the basis of known rather than unknown probabilities, even though the odds are identical or even unfavorable. The most powerful motivator in the market? Fear of decision regret: human beings, it seems, are decidedly more loss-averse than return-aggressive. Prospect theory and market experience demonstrate that people facing losses will gamble rashly rather than accepting a sure loss.
Paradoxically, our faith in risk management encourages us to take risks we would not otherwise take. "As civilization has pushed forward, nature's vagaries have mattered less and the decisions of people have mattered more," concludes Bernstein. The market has been a battle lab for the study of human decisionmaking in a world of apparent information dominance. Do phenomena such as decision regret, information myopia, and ambiguity aversion extend to military decisionmaking? Can we afford to ignore such questions? For the theory of uncertainty and chance in a narrow military context, revisit Clausewitz. For innovative insights into the brave new world of information dominance, begin with Bernstein. Ignore Against the Gods at your own risk.
Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861-1862. By Joseph L. Harsh. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998. 278 pages. $35.00.
Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862. By Joseph L. Harsh. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1999. 649 pages. $45.00.
Reviewed by Colonel Len Fullenkamp, USA Ret., Professor of Military History, US Army War College.
In William Shakespeare's epic play Julius Caesar, Brutus calls to arms his followers with these words:
Our legions are brimful, our cause is ripe:And so it was for the Confederacy in late summer 1862.
The enemy increaseth every day;
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries;
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.
On the evening of his victory at 2d Manassas, General Robert E. Lee wrote confidently to Jefferson Davis, "The present seems to be the most propitious time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland." If Davis did not concur at least he did not object, and shortly thereafter Lee undertook operations in Maryland, which ultimately led to the single bloodiest day of the war. Indeed, to some, Antietam was the turning point in the war, marking the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. But to focus an examination of the Antietam Campaign on 17 September, the day of the battle, is in Joseph Harsh's judgment to enter the movie in mid-reel. To understand Lee's campaign objectives, his operational plans and tactical orders, one must properly begin at the beginning.
Confederate Tide Rising serves as an introduction to Harsh's comprehensive campaign study. In six chapters tied to major events or pivotal decisions, Harsh traces the evolution of Confederate strategy from the spring of 1861 to late summer 1862, or in his words from "Sumter to 2d Manassas." As the chapters unfold, the reader is introduced to the principal strategic architects of Southern strategy, including Davis, Lee, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Joseph Johnston, to name only a few. In summary fashion, but no less thorough for being so--thanks to extensive endnotes, several excellent appendixes, and sharply reasoned analysis--the author critiques Davis's performance as commander-in-chief and his formulation and implementation of Confederate national military strategy, the much maligned "offensive-defensive." Although criticism of Davis as both strategist and commander-in-chief has become a staple of Civil War literature, what sets apart this critique is the evenhandedness with which Harsh treats his subject. Yet as good as the analysis of Davis is, clearly the central figure in this study is Robert E. Lee, and the primary focus of the work is Lee's generalship.
About Lee's generalship much has been written. For decades after the war he enjoyed almost uniform praise for his leadership in what became known as "the Lost Cause." Later historians such as Thomas Connelly (The Marble Man) and Alan T. Noland (Lee Considered) have rendered more critical judgments. Most often Lee has been criticized for his obsession with protecting Virginia while states in the western Confederacy fell to Union forces. Others found fault with his combative nature, his willingness to engage Union forces in battle, too often trading precious Southern lives for strategic gains too meager to justify the human cost. Harsh disagrees with this analysis and summarizes his thesis as follows:
Critics have sometimes depicted him [Lee] as a general without an overall strategy, a brilliant practitioner who lacked farsightedness. This has not been my conclusion. It is possible that Lee's perception of the war was wrong and that his prescription for victory was mistaken. But it has not seemed possible to me that Lee acted without serious and constant regard to pursuing the cause he believed best suited to bring success to the Confederacy.Studiously avoiding hagiography, Harsh seeks to portray Lee's generalship as consistent with the situation at hand. "Lee," he writes,
. . . took command in the field as a pragmatist. During the first year of the war he had the time and the opportunity to form a comprehensive view of the struggle. He came to recognize that the Confederacy had at best a long-shot chance to gain independence. He knew that the imbalance of resources that existed between the North and the South, coupled with the laws of mathematics, worked inexorably against his country. He recognized that as long as the North remained determined to subdue the South, the Confederacy could not win the war. Confederate victory could come only from a Union abandonment of the conflict.Armed with that knowledge and with a perspective gained at great price over the first 16 months of the war, Lee found himself in September 1862 confronted with what Harsh believes was the pivotal strategic decision of the war. The tide had started to rise with the victories in the Seven Days Battles, which, while not decisive, succeeded in pushing the Federal Army away from Richmond. It crested with Lee's victory on the banks of Bull Run and the repulse of Major General John Pope's Federal Army. Confederate Tide Rising ends with Lee's decision to carry operations into Maryland, a decision arrived at in context and with the full knowledge of all that had transpired in the war thus far.
Like Stephen Sears' Landscape Turned Red and James V. Murfin's The Gleam of Bayonets--excellent studies of the battle--in Taken at the Flood Harsh examines the Antietam Campaign but with emphasis at primarily the strategic and operational levels of war. Tactical vignettes where used serve to justify or explain operational or strategic decisions. For example, Lee's placement of his line of battle on the eastern bank of the Potomac River is a tactical disposition adopted for operational and strategic considerations. By putting himself in a position from which he could threaten Major General George McClellan's flank or rear should the Federal forces move to attack Stonewall Jackson's troops at Harpers Ferry, Lee was grasping the operational initiative and in so doing protecting his strategic objective.
Harsh's campaign study is divided into ten chapters, each devoted to a brief period of time (two or three days) or a crucial event, thus giving Harsh ample space to explore Lee's evolving campaign strategy in meticulous detail. For example, the infamous lost order, Special Order 191, which fell into Union hands and transformed the nature of the campaign, is analyzed in great detail. Likewise, thoroughly examined are Lee's decisions to defend the passes in South Mountain, to stand at Sharpsburg, to give battle rather than withdraw to Virginia, and finally his seemingly defiant and perhaps foolhardy decision to stand in place, battered though his army was, and accept battle on 18 September.
Although this study emphasizes the strategic and operational levels of war, Harsh demonstrates from time to time his grasp of tactical details and his exceptional ability to write about them. Two examples come immediately to mind. His narration of the account of Daniel Harvey Hill's defense of South Mountain is lucid and gripping. Even more so, his rendition of the arrival of Cobb's brigade, McLaws' division, on the Antietam field at a crucial moment is graphic and conveys the powerful emotions that must have burned within Lee as he fought the battle.
Throughout the narrative Harsh sustains an objective yet often critical assessment of Lee's generalship at all three levels of war--tactical, operational, and strategic. When, in his judgment, Lee has made a mistake or misread the situation, Harsh says so directly, and with closely reasoned arguments. As a consequence, the reader is given a much needed and long overdue reevaluation of Lee as both a general and a strategist.
While these books primarily focus on Lee's generalship, Harsh nonetheless provides a remarkably balanced critique of George McClellan's generalship. This, one hopes, is a promise of things to come, for Harsh has much yet to say about the Antietam Campaign. Among the later volumes planned for this series is a similarly detailed study of McClellan's generalship from the spring of 1861 through August 1862; the generalship of McClellan in the Maryland Campaign; and a grand-tactical and tactical study of Federal and Confederate generalship at the Battle of Antietam. Also in the works is a book-length appendix of facts, data, and points of discussion on the Maryland Campaign.
When completed, Joseph Harsh's multivolume work promises to be the most detailed study of one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War. Not only those who enjoy reading about the American Civil War but serious students of the profession of arms will want to own all of these books.
Morality and Contemporary Warfare. By James Turner Johnson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. 259 pages. $25.00. Reviewed by Colonel Anthony E. Hartle, author of Moral Issues in Military Decision Making and Professor of Philosophy, US Military Academy.
When we discuss the justification for the use of military force, the influence of the just war tradition permeates our commentary--whether we are consciously aware of that influence or not. The terms of the just war dialogue constitute part of our cultural heritage. James T. Johnson's book sharpens our awareness of that heritage and argues that the concept of just war is fully relevant to the 21st century. Johnson presents a strong case.
Along with Paul Ramsey and Michael Walzer, Johnson deserves credit for bringing the just war tradition back into the mainstream of American discussion of warfare and international politics. When the war in Vietnam raised the justification of war to painful prominence, these authors led the way, both in the United States and in Europe, in showing how just war theory provides answers to critical questions about the use of national military power.
Michael Ignatieff and others have noted that in the age of "virtual war," rhetoric and perceptions shape reality to an unprecedented degree. Concepts of just war provide important tools both for decisionmaking and for "spin control." From citizens to Presidents, we need to know the difference between the two applications. This book can help.
In Johnson's view, three distinct periods since the Second World War emerge with respect to the analysis of moral issues in war. The first period, during the 1950s and 1960s, focused on nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The discussion centered on ensuring national survival and avoiding annihilation. Issues related to the war in Vietnam dominated the second period, notably intervention, counterinsurgency, and the rise of anti-war views. In the 1980s discussion returned to the nuclear warfare arena, but the concern was global nuclear holocaust, a wider discussion that featured post-Vietnam arguments against war of any kind, most particularly war involving nuclear weapons. That period also examined how to treat conflict at the low-intensity end of the spectrum of conflict without precipitating a nuclear confrontation in the bipolar world. With the end of the Cold War, however, we have clearly moved into a new era, one marked by localized "wars of difference."
In the brutal wars of the 1990s, ethnic, religious, and cultural differences have generated profound challenges. We now focus on "controlling war." This new phase of moral consciousness, Johnson argues, highlights civil war, ethnic conflict, humanitarian intervention, and questions about the responsibilities of the global community concerning the ugly genocidal wars of ethnic and religious conflict of the last decade. The suffering of noncombatants figures prominently in all these concerns.
Thus the central themes Johnson treats in his discussion are "the question of when and under what conditions military intervention in [localized] conflicts may be justified; whether it is possible in such warfare to fight according to the established international laws of armed conflict; and how to define international responsibility for protection of victims of such conflict." Johnson's analysis shows us how to use the just war tradition to help answer such questions.
Recent events indicate that we can expect more opportunities for intervention, even though "success" has been illusory. Many in uniform will agree with Johnson, however, when he says that "perhaps the most difficult problem posed by contemporary warfare, all in all, is the difficulty of achieving a stable, secure ending to it." Bosnia, Kosovo, and central Africa certainly support that observation. Without a secure, stable ending, those who intervene face high costs and no basis for claiming success.
On another front, Johnson stakes out a more controversial claim. He observes that international war crimes trials appear to be moving into customary international law, and here he argues for war crimes trials in most cases and against "no-fault" resolution. Morally meritorious as that stance may seem, ongoing events in Sierra Leone raise troubling questions about insisting on justice and war crimes trials after a conflict is brought to a close, since post-conflict guarantees of immunity and shared power are often necessary elements in resolving murderous confrontations. I understand his priority on the nature of the peace sought (peace with justice), but to those threatened with violence and death at any moment, the termination of the killing may well be the ultimate priority because of its implacable immediacy. Johnson also does not explore the tension between national sovereignty and international jurisdiction, an issue that will make the International Criminal Court a major political concern.
Some passages (and long sentences) will leave readers with questions. In his closing discussion, for example, Johnson presents his "solution" for ameliorating conflict between cultures, recommending "institutional efforts to build mutual understanding and respect across cultural boundaries and to create cooperative forms of living in which each party to the conflict helps to support the other and comes to depend on the other's support in a society defined by mutual and reciprocal cooperation." Most of us will agree with the sentiment embedded here, but the advice does not seem particularly helpful to the Kosovar Albanians and Serbs in Mitrovica, or to the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. In Johnson's defense, I must note that truly helpful advice is hard to find.
Morality and Contemporary Warfare is an academic book, to be sure, and does not have the compelling power of an Ignatieff discourse, but Johnson's discussion is orderly, usually persuasive, and frequently illuminating as he makes the case for the relevance and value of an updated just war theory. He shows us how to reason through the process of deciding when we are justified in intervening in other people's wars. Few decisions by our national leaders will be more important.
Eisenhower. By Geoffrey Perret. New York: Random House, 1999. 672 pages. $35.00. Reviewed by Dr. Martin L. Cook, Professor of Ethics, US Army War College.
This is the first complete biography of Eisenhower in many years. Consequently, it benefits greatly from materials not available to previous scholars, including Eisenhower's diaries, letters and (of course) the abundant scholarship on Eisenhower in the intervening time. The result is a workmanlike and highly readable volume.
All biographers strike a balance between narrating events sequentially and interpreting the motivations and thoughts of the subject. Geoffrey Perret's is stronger on the narrative, weaker on the interpretation. Partly, as he stresses repeatedly, that is because of the inherent inscrutability of Eisenhower's thoughts and feelings, apparently even to Eisenhower himself. Eisenhower's inability to express his real thoughts and feelings is documented thoroughly in his correspondence with his wife and son.
Unfortunately, Perret attempts at numerous crucial points to pierce Eisenhower's emotional opacity by means of pure speculation about what must have been the case, rather than with any supporting evidence as to Eisenhower's inner life. One can identify with the biographer's frustration at having so little to work with in this area and still wish for less pure speculation to fill the void.
Perret goes a long way to counter some common assumptions about Eisenhower. He documents Eisenhower's remarkable writing abilities, for example. Similarly, his intellectual acumen shines through, as well as the unique combination of skills needed for strategic leadership at the head of the most complex coalition in human history and again as a two-term President of the United States.
The newly available evidence of Eisenhower's papers allows Perret to shine fresh light on major issues such as his relationship with Field Marshal Montgomery, his real thoughts and feelings about MacArthur and Nixon, among others, and whether he did or did not have a wartime affair with Kay Summersby.
The author is clear and unflinching in his assessment of Eisenhower's weaknesses. The details of his appointment to the presidency of Columbia University, and his colossal failure in the position, are carefully explained and assessed. Similarly, the political processes by which he ended up with Richard Nixon as his vice-presidential running-mate and his handling of the McCarthy hearings reveal the limitations of even great military leaders in dealing with the somewhat unfamiliar terrain of the political world.
Eisenhower emerges from close study as a figure of remarkably rich and balanced abilities. Amid the portraits of the major figures of World War II, Perret's portrayal makes it abundantly clear that Ike, and Ike alone, possessed the wide range of personal and professional competencies to exercise leadership in such a complex environment.
Geoffrey Perret's biography is a thorough and eminently readable overview of the whole of a life. One wishes it provided more of a sense of the inner complexity of the man. But one also suspects that lack is not in the biographer's abilities, but in Eisenhower's own self-awareness. Might the very lack of deep self-awareness and introspection have contributed to the Ike's range of abilities? One puts down the biography left wondering about the connection between introspection, inner motivation, and successful strategic leadership.
Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950. By Martin Russ. New York: Fromm International, 1999. 452 pages. $27.50. Reviewed by Dr. Henry G. Gole (Colonel, USA Ret.), a combat veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The Last Parallel, A Marine's War Journal, by Martin Russ, appeared in 1957. That account, by a 22-year-old who experienced the last seven months of the Korean War as a corporal in a rifle platoon, was one of the few fine books by a participant published in the immediate aftermath of "the forgotten war." Forty-two years later, in Breakout Russ describes the Marine Corps' finest moment, the fight from the Chosin Reservoir to Hungnam in October-December 1950. His latest book benefits from some 30 sources listed by the author, but the strength and authority of the book come from the author's extensive interviews and correspondence with survivors. Firsthand accounts are enhanced by the author's crisp prose, tight organization, and obvious love affair with the Marine Corps. Russ blends the raw material of interviews with insights from his own combat experience and his later reflection on what it all means a half century after the events described.
The Corps' specialties are assault and a willingness to sacrifice. It attracts tough kids, filters out the indeterminate and irrelevant, and turns life in its bosom into the accomplishment of specified tasks determined by easily recognized authority. It knows what it wants. It says, we will demand much of you and you will be a better man for the experience. Young tigers accepted the challenge long before a President admonished Americans to ask what we can do for our country. Marine recruits know that committing to the Corps means playing by the rules of the Corps: life is hard, simple, and--for those who measure up--gratifying.
The challenge to the First Marine Division as 1950 wound down--cut off from friendly forces to the south, engulfed by numerically superior Chinese forces, and subjected to sub-zero temperatures--was elemental. The breakout demanded a simple plan, gritty determination, discipline, and the effective use of the firepower of individual Marines, crew-served weapons, indirect fires, and tactical air. Perhaps most vital to this finest moment was the willingness of Marines to die for one another. Everything about Marine Corps training and tradition points to success in extremis, precisely what the near-hopeless situation demanded.
The simple plan, as isolated Marine elements fought to link up with one another, was to secure the lines of communication--a road--so that the wounded and heavy equipment could be moved south. The infantry had to get to the high ground in conditions that found the numerous enemy and bitter cold conspiring to defeat the Marines. Tenacious dedication to the simple but demanding task, plus tactical air support, allowed the division to survive. This is a glorious story of fighting men who took the kinds of losses that often resulted in defeat and surrender. The First Marine Division destroyed whatever the Chinese army put near the division and overcame Mother Nature's best shot.
Russ is unrelenting in his criticism of the US Army, from top to bottom. General Douglas MacArthur was overconfident, separating the Eighth Army from X Corps with the rugged Taebek Range, thus denying the two wings direct communication. Major General Charles Willoughby refused to believe that the Chinese would join the war, even after Chinese soldiers were captured in North Korea. Russ calls X Corps Commander Major General Edward Almond "the sybaritic general," issuing impossible orders to the Marines and out of touch with the tactical situation. "Marine senior officers regarded him as militarily unintelligent." Contempt for the "doggies" was "reawakened" in the Pusan Perimeter in August. It was heightened at Inchon in September when Almond was given command of the landing force ("insult enough, since amphibious operations were the Marines' specialty," an observation that fails to note that the assault on the European Continent on 6 June 1944, the granddaddy of amphibious operations, was an Army show). And it was confirmed in October-December 1950 as odds and ends of Army survivors failed to do the hard jobs, like getting up on the high ground to secure the march of the main body to the south.
As an admirer of elite units and a believer in team bonding as the cement of unit cohesion, your reviewer has real respect for the United States Marine Corps, and I commend this book to the current reader. However, intellectual honesty demands that a reviewer point out errors in fact and lack of balance in judgment. The further Russ departs from his deserved paean to the Marines, the thinner the ice he treads.
First, T. R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War and S. L. A. Marshall's The River and the Gauntlet balance severe criticism of the Army with stories of individual valor; Russ found no brave soldiers. None. Second, Russ names Army cowards while knowingly concealing the identity of cowardly enlisted and commissioned Marines, the political commissar's and propagandist's method. Third, aware that unit cohesion is essential to military success--indeed that's the major point of his book--Russ nevertheless compares the performance of organic Marine units to gaggles of soldiers slapped together in extreme circumstances. Fourth, Walton Walker was a Lieutenant General, not a Major General, in the period addressed by Russ. The point is that gratuitous slams of the Army detract from the story of the Chosin Few, a performance that belongs at the top of a long list of Marine Corps achievements.
Expect a deluge of Korean War books in the coming three years. June 2000 marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of that war, and various events from 1950 to 1953 will be commemorated.
The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. By Walter Laquer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 312 pages. $30.00. Reviewed by Major Glenn Schweitzer, USAR, a counterterrorism analyst for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
Walter Laquer asks unsettling questions:
What if weapons of mass destruction had been at the disposal of the Unabomber, a person with considerable scientific knowledge? Would he have hesitated to use them? Is it not likely that sooner or later another person or small group of persons with similar but perhaps more radical views or fewer scruples will acquire such weapons?Someday the United States will have to deal with an effective terrorist attack using a chemical or biological weapon on US soil; the question is when. As the population increases, the number of psychopaths increases, and given the increasing ability for individuals to access scientific and technological information, it is only a matter of time before some wacko with an obscure agenda decides he is going to transform society by killing people in large numbers.
The New Terrorism is the best single book currently available on the history and psychology of terrorists ranging from animal rights activists and UFO cultists to religious extremists. Author Walter Laquer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of America's most distinguished political theorists and has published key works over the past few decades not only on terrorism but on other political subjects as well. Like his previous books on the subject--Terrorism (1977, reprinted as The Age of Terrorism in 1985) and the Terrorism Reader (1978 and 1987)--Laquer's study of the subject is both broad in scope and keenly informed. Laquer is an excellent writer and he does a superb job of not falling into the traps of tedious academic jargon or breathless newspaper journalism. These characteristics will give The New Terrorism a shelf-life that will far exceed most of the books being published on the subject.
Despite the "new" in the title, Laquer does a better job looking backward at the history of terrorism than addressing how it will evolve in the future. Laquer does not deal with policy issues such as what the United States should do to defend against terrorism with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), nor does he grapple with practical subjects such as what types of weapons are in vogue among terrorists this year. The book is devoid of charts, graphs, and statistics that would provide readers a perspective on current terrorist trends. Despite its title, Laquer does not deal extensively with the issues of WMD terrorism or cyberterrorism. One particular strength of The New Terrorism is that unlike many books on the subject, it does have sections devoted to obscure causes such as animal rights terrorists and the US militia movements. A consistent frustration in reading the book is that Laquer lets his opinions about the worthiness of the various causes intrude into the text. This style of writing may be suitable for newspaper opinion columns, but it is a bit jarring in a book-length study.
One of the greater strengths of the book lies in the unusual manner in which the history of violent extremism is linked with psychology, literature, and popular culture in Laquer's quest to understand the personality of terrorists and what makes them tick. Laquer's discussion flows easily from books read by American right-wing extremists, such as the Turner Diaries (which apparently helped shape Timothy McVeigh's views when he planned the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma), to fictional depictions of violent psychopaths such as the protagonist in the classic Stanley Kubrick film The Clockwork Orange. If nothing else, the book certainly convinces the reader that there are numerous reasons for people to commit acts of extreme violence and that it is difficult to stereotype terrorists beyond the obvious statements that they are dissatisfied with society, usually have little regard for human life, and are committed to their cause.
Despite the book's strengths, it has some significant weaknesses as well. Laquer's discussion of the phenomena of Islamist terrorism is somewhat superficial. Military officers seeking to understand the complex nature of the global threat posed by groups such as the Usama Bin Ladin network will be left wanting. Likewise, readers seeking details about specific terrorist weapons and tactics--including WMD--will find that the The New Terrorism does not fully address those subjects.
Military school libraries should definitely purchase The New Terrorism as an essential part of their collections. As for military officers in the field who are likely to read only one book on terrorism, Bruce Hoffman's Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press, 1998) is probably more pertinent (in fact, the cover blurb for that book is by Walter Laquer, who states that it is "the best work at present available"). Hoffman's Inside Terrorism is a much more tightly focused book than Laquer's The New Terrorism, and it does a better job of discussing the current environment in which terrorism is taking place.
That is not to diminish the values of Laquer's book, however. Of particular note, his bibliographic essay is outstanding. It is probably one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date listings of published works on terrorism available. For those seeking to do further research on terrorism, this bibliographic essay is an excellent place to begin. Laquer's recommendations of what books to look at for more information on any given terrorism topic are superb.
Go to Autumn issue Table of Contents.
Go to Book Review Index.
Go to Parameters home page.
Reviewed 16 August 2000. Please send comments or corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org