From Parameters, Winter 1998, pp. 145-70.
Alan Cate, "Tales of Three Generations: American Soldiers in the Best and Worst of Times," pp. 145-51.
Jonathan Shay, "Enduring Themes of Soldiers in War," pp. 151-57.
Jeffrey Record, "The Vietnam War (Continued)," pp. 157-61.
Bonnie Jezior, "Managing Change: Selected Readings," pp. 161-70.
Two commonly held tenets of military social history are that soldiers reflect, albeit sometimes imperfectly, the societies that produce them, and that war transforms, often profoundly, those who experience it. These themes undergird much of the scholarly work on the subject of men in battle and even more of the imaginative literature. They frequently are at least implicit in journalistic and firsthand accounts. This certainly is the case with the volumes under review here.
There are two other, perhaps somewhat more debatable, propositions related to those above. The first is that there exist unique national identities or "national characters." This would, of course, include a distinctive American character, most famously described by the historian Frederick Jackson Turner as encompassing:
coarseness and strength, combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness; that practical inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil; and withal, that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom.
Regardless of what some "multiculturalist" academics might think, the American people as a whole and the US Army as an institution uncritically accept something like this idea of an American character. For the Army's part, it officially enshrines an "American View of War," based "on a unique set of values and aspirations" in its capstone warfighting manual, FM 100-5, Operations. Less officially, but more pervasively, it rightly celebrates the American soldier's initiative, practicality, courage, and determination, even while sometimes privately fretting over his or her individualism and impatience with seemingly meaningless rules and formalities.
The second proposition holds that the transforming experience of combat is somehow universal across time, space, and sometimes even culture. It's principally for this reason that our professional reading lists enjoin officers to find room on their five-foot shelves for The Iliad, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Forgotten Soldier, and dozens of other titles. Tied specifically to the notion of a distinctive American character, this view informs the belief that the essential values and reactions of, say, GI riflemen in the Huertgen Forest in 1944 were fundamentally consistent with those of Vietnam era "grunts," the cav troopers who slugged it out with the Republican Guard in Desert Storm, and, by extension, those Americans who may be called to fight for their country today or tomorrow.
The books at hand permit us to gain some purchase on all of these ideas by illuminating the combat experiences of three generations of American fighting men over the past half century, from World War II, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Even allowing for the many significant differences among eras and conflicts, in the soldiers' voices we discover striking continuities. In the pages of these books young Americans, products of an individualistic, democratic, materialistic culture, repeatedly reveal similar responses to military life and battle. Ordinary Americans thrust into extraordinary circumstances, their testimony fills the reader with, variously, admiration, horror, pity, and--occasionally--disdain and disgust. We see them at their very best and absolute worst. The predominant sense likely to remain, however, is one of profound respect for their fortitude, endurance, and courage.
The first of these books, and by far the most ambitious, is Gerald Linderman's The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II. Here Linderman attempts to do for the World War II infantryman and Marine rifleman what he did so masterfully for Civil War soldiers in his classic Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War--capture the shock of combat on fighting men and depict how they reacted to and were ultimately transformed by their experiences. Nevertheless, although cast in the same vein as the Civil War book, this latest effort is different in one key regard. Where Embattled Courage required an imaginative reconstruction of Johnny Reb's and Billy Yank's world views--due largely to 19th-century veterans' relatively greater reticence to lay bare their feelings than their 20th-century counterparts--The World Within War is much more a work of synthesis. Linderman draws upon an extensive scholarly literature and many graphic memoirs to construct his argument. The World Within War is a worthy successor to the earlier work and deserves a wide readership.
Linderman's analysis unfolds in a series of topical chapters that treat such diverse but related phenomena as the differences between soldiers' expectations of combat and the reality they each discovered; coping mechanisms; the GIs' stubborn individualism and resistance to imposed discipline; the appeals of battle; and the inevitable schisms between front lines, rear echelons, and the home front. All of this is well done.
The author predictably finds that battle did not conform to soldiers' naive preconceptions. The epigraph to Embattled Courage, supplied by the Roman historian Livy--"Nowhere do events correspond less to men's expectations than in war"--finds an analogue in the bitter words of one veteran quoted in The World Within War: "You know nothing when you enter combat." Following in the footsteps of military sociologist Samuel Stouffer and historian Lee Kennett, Linderman catalogues a coping process entailing some or all of the following: regarding combat as a dirty but necessary "job"; applying combat lessons learned; developing a reliance on combat "intuition"; and seeking refuge in divine intercession, numbness and coarsening, or, ultimately, fatalism ("If a bullet has your name on it . . ."). He illustrates how GIs chafed under what they perceived as "chickenshit" discipline, thus validating the memorable riff on that subject supplied by the disillusioned author-veteran Paul Fussell in Wartime.
Expanding on the work of the philosopher J. Glenn Gray, Linderman advances the notion that war also possesses secret attractions, the most powerful being comradeship. Ultimately, though, he records the combat infantryman's bitter isolation. In one of the book's most powerful passages, he quotes a rifle company commander about to be deserted by his supporting arms. The captain briefly considered ordering these elements to remain.
Then I changed my mind. These men had tasted too much warm food and slept in too many dry spots to be of any real use to us. To hell with them.
"You're goddammed right we're infantry," I said . . . . "Take your men and your fancy equipment and get the hell back to the rear where you belong . . . . We'll get along without you."
In addition to treating these myriad themes, the book also contains a fascinating subtext--the tremendous difficulty faced by those who have known combat firsthand in attempting "to express the inexpressible." Whether limited by conventional idiom, overwhelmed by shock and horror, or simply restrained by a sense of delicacy and decency, many veterans' accounts fail to transmit fully the depths of their experience. Doubtless this is why Linderman relies so heavily upon the observations of writer-veterans such as Fussell, James Jones, William Manchester, John Ciardi, Bill Mauldin, and Robert Leckie, or correspondents Eric Severeid, John Hersey, and--preeminently--Ernie Pyle.
As James Tobin makes clear in his brilliant biography, Ernie Pyle's War, it is no exaggeration to say that America's image of World War II and of the GI was--and to a considerable extent remains--largely the one created by Pyle. Ernie Pyle, a moderately successful syndicated columnist before reaching his apotheosis during the war, carefully crafted what Tobin calls the "GI myth," a creation that both built upon and has itself become a part of the national folk culture. Pyle's homely heroes--tired, dirty, modest, and determined, frightened but singularly effective--reached at least as far back as Abe Lincoln and the common man celebrated by Walt Whitman, and were as up-to-date as the Depression-era humble heroes portrayed in John Steinbeck's novels and Frank Capra's films.
This resonance with the national self image, along with Pyle's own understated but poignant battlefield descriptions, accounted for his beloved status with newspaper readers back home. The key to Pyle's popularity with the GIs, particularly those "up front," was that he captured experiences and feelings that the less articulate among them longed to express. Although refraining from stark realism that, in any case, would never have passed official censorship or accorded with contemporary journalistic conventions and his own innate decency, Pyle conveyed the grimness of battle while imbuing the foot soldier with a simple dignity far removed from any romantic views of heroism.
Yet Tobin relates how the private Pyle sometimes despaired of being able to put it all down. One associate wrote that Pyle "told as much of what he saw as people could read without vomiting. It was the part that would make them vomit that bothered him. . . . He tried to tell me that you couldn't really tell it in words. Not war, you couldn't." Pyle himself wrote to General Eisenhower:
I've found that no matter how much we talk, or write, or show pictures, people who have not actually been in war are incapable of having any real conception of it. . . . [T]he world of the infantryman is a world so far removed from anything normal, that it can be no more than academic to the average person. . . . I think I have helped make America conscious of, and sympathetic toward him, but haven't made them feel what he goes through. I believe it's impossible.
In his Epilogue, and with the same sensitivity and insight that run throughout this eloquent book, Tobin observes that describing the totality of war "may lie beyond anyone's grasp. War, the extreme human experience, tests the limits of human communication."
Ernie Pyle never wrote about decapitated corpses or the smell of burnt meat issuing from smoldering tanks. In his columns, GIs never whored, got drunk or stoned, abused and looted civilians, mistreated and murdered enemy prisoners, or contemplated killing their own officers. Certainly he must have witnessed or heard of these sorts of things in his war--Linderman's book, for one, catalogues instances of them; for that matter so does The Iliad--because we know that war is waged by fallible human beings, often operating beyond what we consider to be civilized restraints. We also understand how this could have occurred because, a generation later, young American soldiers fought another war. Close combat for them in Vietnam was just as brutal and dirty as it had been for their fathers in Europe and the Pacific; however, Pyle's reporting style, neither romantic nor raw, was simply another casualty of our longest war. As a result, we have a number of explicit Vietnam accounts that, among other things, have caused us to reexamine both how we view the "Good War" and, indeed, the behavior of soldiers in battle.
A Hundred Miles of Bad Road is one Vietnam veteran's story that conforms to the modern style of combat narrative. Dwight Birdwell, whose tour of duty spanned 1967-68, participated in some intense fighting, most of it as a 20-year-old tank crewman with Charlie Troop, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry of the 25th Infantry Division. He suffered multiple wounds and earned a Silver Star for his heroism. With the assistance of coauthor Keith Nolan, who has written more than a half dozen Vietnam books, Birdwell relates a gripping, often harrowing, occasionally heartbreaking tale that holds the reader's attention from start to finish.
By no means is Birdwell's story completely edifying. It has almost become a cliché to see in every Vietnam memoir a microcosm of the national or the Army's experience in that tragic war, but in fact this book makes a good fit. According to Birdwell, his initial, gung-ho attitude mirrored the unit he joined in 1967--well-trained, disciplined, confident in itself and its purpose. Yet by the summer of 1968, "We were really just a big . . . mob out there . . . . Morale had bottomed out, and there was a lot of heavy drinking and heavy pot-smoking when we laagered in at night." It's all here, the staples now of a generation of Vietnam depictions on film and in books--innocent civilians killed by indiscriminate firepower, tortured and murdered Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army prisoners, fraggings. Birdwell himself admits to being less than an exemplary soldier by this time. It's probably no coincidence that the by-the-book, no-nonsense, outstanding Regular Army NCOs he admired at the beginning of his tour are replaced by "chicken-shit lifers" by its conclusion.
Of course, this is not the whole story, any more than was Ernie Pyle's. In fact, for a useful corrective to the view that the pathologies commonly associated with Vietnam were somehow unique to that conflict, one should read closely Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers. This effusive tribute to the men of a World War II rifle company--"a company of heroes"--makes an instructive comparison. The record of this 101st Airborne Division outfit reveals incredible nobility, courage, and sacrifice. The stress of their shared combat experience forged enduring bonds among the survivors. At the same time, one reads--almost between the lines, since it elicits little elaboration on the author's part--of these heroic paratroopers routinely looting from civilians, enemy prisoners, and in one instance, even their own dead. Many officers come off as stupid at best, and sadistic or cowardly at worst. We encounter rear area drunkenness of truly epic proportions, along with theft, assault, and other mayhem. The cold-blooded murder of captured Germans is not infrequent. This band of brothers is so ill-disciplined that they regularly maim, and occasionally kill, each other in needless accidents with weapons and vehicles. Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment--at its best and its worst--wasn't really so different from Birdwell's Charlie Troop.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that much of what Birdwell recounts echoes Linderman's findings about the combat reactions of World War II soldiers. Birdwell traces his own personal hardening process, which resulted in eventual numbness and the accompanying realization "that it might not always be the other fellow who got killed; it could very well be me who ended up in a body bag . . . . Each of us wondered when our number was coming up. It was just a matter of time." He clearly expresses the front line soldier's emotional, as well as physical, distance from those who didn't share the hardship and danger--rear echelon, Vietnamese civilians, even the folks back home. With this sense of isolation, Birdwell vividly depicts the primary group cohesion--crew, squad, platoon--that grew in his outfit when properly nourished by good leaders. Nothing exemplifies this kind of bonding better than Birdwell's repeated episodes of going AWOL from hospital or base camp to rejoin his buddies. Finally, the book captures the awful thrill of battle in a quotation from a platoon leader describing a one-sided fight: "We had complete fire superiority . . . . It was a slaughter . . . . It was exciting. It's a pathetic thing, but when the guys are winning, they enjoy it."
If you believe John Sack, the journalist author of Company C: The Real War in Iraq, the GIs "at the sharp end" a generation later in the Gulf War were really no different from those who preceded them. And Sack may be especially well-suited to judge, since he had covered American soldiers in combat during the Korean and Vietnam wars before accompanying a tank company--C Company, Second Battalion, 34th Armor--into battle in Iraq. Sack's collective portrait depicts a virtual rainbow coalition--white, black, brown, red, yellow--of teenagers and 20-somethings, with a smattering of slightly older NCOs. In their backgrounds, they really weren't much different from the Depression-battered "Willie and Joe" or wrong-side-of-the-tracks kids like Birdwell and his buddies, who couldn't get student deferments from the draft and never thought about going to Canada. As Company C's battalion commander told them shortly before they rolled out of their tactical assembly area:
This isn't the Izod-polo-shirt Weejuns-loafers crowd. There's not a whole lot of kids here whose dads were anesthesiologists or justices of the Supreme Court. We're the poor white middle class, and the poor black kids from the block, and the Hispanics from the barrio. And we're just as good as the rest.
Of course they were. And just like their predecessors, they didn't know what to expect; were often in the dark about larger purposes; were scared; subjected each other to a cruel, even brutal humor; were callous and crude; were moved to tears and remarkable acts of tenderness; had little use for those in the rear echelon ("REMFs" in the combat soldiers' vernacular) or outsiders; got lost and confused; took solace in God or were incredibly profane; sometimes hated their officers and even fantasized about killing them, all the while following them bravely into battle; risked their lives for their buddies without hesitation because that's what soldiers do for each other; ground up enemy infantry under their treads and said, "It was awesome"; and gave away their own rations to a beaten enemy they pitied.
Undoubtedly, Ernie Pyle would have recognized and felt at home with Company C. But Pyle never wrote like this; many readers will find Sack's refutation of the "Pentagon thesis" about the Gulf War--that it was a videogame, push-button war--to be an attack on a strawman. Others will find Sack's gonzo style--stream of consciousness; a steady accompaniment of rock 'n' roll lyrics; vivid portrayals of various off-duty sexual conquests; onomatopoetic descriptions of battle; in short, Hunter S. Thompson meets Ernie Pyle--to be off-putting. Readers who get past this will be rewarded with an authentic-feeling account of American soldiers at war.
Finally, a recent and highly acclaimed Hollywood movie also treats the behavior of young Americans in battle. Film critics and veterans alike have heaped praise on Saving Private Ryan for its intense, gory depiction of combat, particularly its opening sequence, which recreates a rifle company's D-Day assault on Omaha Beach. And as with all modern, big-budget productions, lots of care has been lavished on period details such as uniforms and weapons. Therefore it would be ungenerous, perhaps even churlish, to quibble that in certain aspects the film lacks realism--all movies require us to suspend disbelief while we watch--or that, for all its supposed pathbreaking, it is in many ways as cliche-filled as 1940s-vintage flag-wavers such as Wake Island or Sands of Iwo Jima. But since many more people--including those in uniform--will see this film than read all the books discussed above combined, one comment is in order. Much has been made of the film's brutal frankness in chilling scenes where GIs, whether in the heat of battle or coldbloodedly, shoot down surrendering Germans who moments earlier were shooting them to pieces. One particular scene near the film's end contains the execution of an enemy soldier. The director no doubt intended this to be emotionally satisfying to audiences and, by many accounts, numerous packed houses have erupted in cheers when the bad guy gets it, Dirty Harry-style. If, as seems inevitable, the film becomes a staple of high school history classes or military "professional development" sessions, those conducting them have an obligation to ensure that their young charges understand that in war, while murder happens and is even understandable, it's never excusable.
Viewing Private Ryan or sampling any of the volumes discussed here should provide ample opportunity for reflection, not only on soldiers and war, but on America and Americans. Regarding the Civil War, Walt Whitman once famously observed, "The real war will never get into the books." That may well be so for all wars. As Linderman observes in his Introduction to The World Within War, those who write about men at war should do so "in the spirit of those always aware that they continue to circle a mystery." Yet regardless of any mysteries involved, it should be evident that with all their virtues and faults, the young men and women America sends off to fight its wars are the best it has to offer.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
Birdwell, Dwight W., and Keith William Nolan. A Hundred Miles of Bad Road: An Armored Cavalryman in Vietnam 1967-68. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1997.
Fussell, Paul. Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989.
Gray, J. Glenn. The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.
Kennett, Lee. GI: The American Soldier in WWII. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987.
Linderman, Gerald. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1987.
________. The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II. New York: The Free Press, 1997.
Sack, John. Company C: The Real War in Iraq. New York: William Morrow, 1995.
Spielberg, Steven. Saving Private Ryan. Mark Gordon Productions, Dream Works SKG, Paramount Pictures Corp., and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. 1998.
Stouffer, Samuel A., et al. The American Soldier. 4 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1949.
Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to World War II. New York: The Free Press, 1997.
The Reviewer: Lieutenant Colonel Alan Cate is a 1979 graduate of the US Military Academy. He holds an M.A. in history from Stanford University and is also a graduate of France's Ecole Superieure de Guerre. He has served with the 2d Infantry Division, 10th Special Forces Group, and 82d Airborne Division, and he currently commands the 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, at Fort Jackson, S.C.
The redoubtable Professor Gerald Linderman has done it again with his latest book, The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II. The even more formidable Homer has being doing it for 28 centuries, as we are reminded by Professor Stanley Lombardo's new translation of the Iliad. Linderman gave us a fine book on Americans in combat in an earlier era, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, and now has taken on Americans' combat experience in World War II, mainly in their own words. Homer's Iliad is an epic poem covering less than two months in the tenth year of a Greek amphibious operation against Troy. While such a war may or may not have actually happened, the poem was composed about four centuries after the supposed events, without the benefit of written history. But Homer's song has survived the crash of the civilization that produced it and of several since then that preserved its written form before it came to us. The Iliad is a classic, not because professors say it is, but because it is so good at showing what really matters to soldiers in war. Professor Lombardo, a serious and respected classicist at the University of Kansas, has done this new translation in the blunt voice of soldiers, foregoing the elevated style of most Homer translations. Homer has much to say about both leadership and comradeship, but I'll focus on leadership issues in discussing the Iliad and shall emphasize comradeship in discussing Linderman's book. All Iliad quotes below are from the Lombardo translation.
Disrespect up and down the chain of command and its catastrophic consequences drive the story of the Iliad like a burning fuse until Book 15, where it touches off an explosion of pain in the death of Patroclus, Achilles' second in command, and the latter's berserk revenge.
Agamemnon, the commander in chief, shows himself woefully deficient. He lacks that irreplaceable understanding of the values held by his troops and subordinate commanders. Power holders in military organizations have considerable chance over time to shape those values, but at any given moment leadership and authority depend greatly on seeing values clearly and knowing how to reach out to soldiers through their values. When Agamemnon arrogantly spurns ransom for a captive woman from her father, a priest of Apollo--the troops murmur, "Respect the priest, and take the ransom" (1:31)--he flaunts their piety. He publicly sends her father the priest packing with these hideous words:
Don't let me ever catch you, old man, by these ships again. . . .
The god's staff and ribbons won't save you the next time.
The girl is mine, and she'll be an old woman . . .
Before I let her go, working the loom in my house
And coming to my bed . . . .
Now clear out of here before you make me angry! (1:33ff)
He doesn't get it. He cannot fathom his troops' concept of what's right.
Apollo, god of plagues and healing, in punishment sends plague among the Greeks and they die in droves, "until the death-fires crowded the beach." Achilles, who commands the Greeks' maneuver force and is hands-down the most effective fighter and leader in the army, then stages a public embarrassment of Agamemnon over the plague he has caused by refusing to ransom the Apollo-priest's daughter. Grudgingly, to stop the plague, Agamemnon agrees to send her back:
I don't want to see the army destroyed like this.
But I want another prize ready for me right away.
I'm not going to be the only Greek without a prize . . . .
If the army . . . voted me
Some suitable prize . . .
But if it doesn't, I'll just go take something myself,
Your [Achilles'] prize perhaps, or Ajax's, or Odysseus',
And whoever she belongs to, it'll stick in his throat. (1:125ff)
This is a top officer who respects neither the core values of his troops nor the dignity of his subordinate commanders. Agamemnon then seizes Achilles' geras (also a captive woman), the prize of honor voted to him by the troops. He has no more right to do that than a modern general would have to take the Medal of Honor ribbon from the chest of one of his sergeants because the general didn't have one himself. This is not an ancient case of "rank hath its privileges." Homer's text makes clear that Agamemnon did not have that privilege in the norms of the day.
This Agamemnon was a terrible leader, with some very warped ideas of accomplishing a mission. In the Odyssey we hear of a "savage war of words" between Achilles and Odysseus, "while Agamemnon, lord of armies, rejoiced at heart that [Greece's] bravest men were battling so" (8:91-92). When he dishonored Achilles by seizing his geras, he fatally weakened his own alliance. Achilles was the independent leader of his own national contingent; he was free to withdraw, and no one could arrest him for desertion. (Coalition warfighting was not invented in the 20th century.) Achilles' withdrawal is familiar to all who have read the Iliad. But the events I have described caused a second, massive desertion that has received little attention.
The next day Agamemnon does one of the nuttiest things in the annals of military leadership, real or fictional. Apparently he had done this enough times before that it had come to seem "normal," and nobody says to him, "That's a really crazy idea!" He had established as normal that leaders lie to their troops, and that troops must prove their loyalty to mission to their leader, rather than the leader setting the example of such loyalty in his own actions.
We'd better move if we're going to get the men in armor.
But I'm going to test them first with a little speech,
The usual drill--order them to beat a retreat in their ships.
It's up to each one of you [officers] to persuade them to stay. (2:77ff)
Then with the whole army mustered he stands before them and says that even though they came ashore with a better than ten to one advantage over the Trojans, Zeus has decreed their failure after nine full years of struggle and sacrifice.
Now this is what I say, and I want us all to obey:
Let's clear out with our ships and head for home.
There's no more hope we will take Troy's tall town. (2:150ff)
There's a stampede for the ships, a mad rush that takes everyone by surprise. Apparently in the past when Agamemnon had pulled this stunt, the troops had stood fast and said, "Hey, we're here for the duration." The Greek officers are surprised--even the gods are surprised--when they bolt for the ships. But should we be surprised? We should not be, because the predictable result of leadership betrayal of "what's right" is that motivation, loyalty, and perseverance disappear like air rushing from a balloon.
Here is Odysseus' voice to other officers to turn the stampede around:
What's gotten into you? I don't mean to frighten you
As if you were a coward, but sit down here yourself
And make your men sit down. You don't really know
Agamemnon's mind. He's just testing us now,
But before long he's going to come down on us hard . . . .
If he gets angry the whole army had better watch out.
Kings are bred by Zeus and have tempers to match. (2:208ff)
These samples of the direct style of Lombardo's translation are intended to reawaken the professional military reader's interest in the Iliad from the point of view of leadership. As Lombardo says in his Preface, "Living poetry means living speech . . . . The Iliad is war poetry, and war poetry at the end of this century must be dead-on if it is to be done at all." I particularly recommend the Lombardo Iliad to military readers because it puts the least distraction in the way of seeing that the poem really is about soldiers in war. If you prefer to take in the epic by ear, as Homer's original audience did, rather than in print, I strongly recommend Derek Jacobi's recording on Penguin Audiobooks of the translation by Robert Fagles. I have listened to this six-cassette recording three times through and never tired of it.
Linderman's account of how American soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen experienced combat in World War II has many virtues and a few failings, with the former greatly outweighing the latter. The focus of his interest is the infantryman, with the experience of airmen receiving substantial but lesser attention, and that of sailors almost none.
Linderman has produced a valuable book that is a marvel of clear and energetic writing. He has assembled the richest and most nearly complete account of the role of cohesion and comradeship I have seen. The social, emotional, and ethical bonds that develop among troops who train together and go into battle together and come out together is the point where preventive psychiatry, ethics, leadership, and doctrine should converge, but so often do not.
To serve with comrades one knows and trusts in the deadly circumstance of battle is fundamental to courage. I am convinced that in mortal danger the body codes social recognition and support as physical safety, and social isolation and disrespect as its opposite. Linderman's chapter on comradeship is must reading for military officers. It is in officers' hands to keep soldiers with their units or shuffle and reshuffle them like cards in a deck. The dread that strikes a sick or wounded soldier, released from a hospital and told he is to be sent as a replacement to a new unit, is justified; his life may really be forfeit in this casual decision. Some of Linderman's World War II examples of why "the infantryman can't live without friends" are truly chilling.
From the point of view of the unit that has lost him, a new and unknown replacement from inventory with the same military specialty is not equivalent to the hospitalized comrade. Cohesion keeps people alive and "keeps them sane," according to one quoted paratroop veteran. In the filth and fear and fatigue and horror and grief, "the only thing that kept you going was your faith in your buddies," said a Marine veteran. This is especially so if units are kept together after the battle and given a chance to review together what they have been through. Linderman notes how disintegrative was the practice of keeping units in the line and feeding-in individual replacements, and rarely allowing real unit recuperation through rotation to safety and rest. We ought to be shocked to read of the following contrast with American practice: "Even the Wehrmacht, with enemy armies pressing on the homeland from east and west, managed practically to the war's end to withdraw combat formations for days and weeks of refitting and relaxation or at least respite." Linderman is right to draw our attention to the American practice that through familiarity and repetition has come to seem ordained in nature: "an Army that held its divisions at the front rather than withdrawing them periodically for rest, refitting, and replenishment." Because the German army practiced unit replacement and unit rotation, its units remained--to our sorrow--dangerously effective. By rights they should have collapsed into a fleeing, surrendering mass of dispirited individuals. The German army maintained these practices under extreme pressure out of an understanding that unit cohesion is a combat strength multiplier. And the single most important preventive psychiatry recommendation is to keep troops together in training, into battle, and home again. Have we learned this lesson, or have we doomed ourselves to repeat the course the hard way?
Many other points of the book should be celebrated: Linderman's account of the cultural idea and ideal of "the job" shows that the "occupational" orientation to military service is nothing new to the US armed forces, as some allege. The exhilarating, vivid sensory and moral clarity that has received such loving attention from correspondents and almost-at-the-front troops such as intelligence officer J. Glenn Gray receives a healthy corrective in Linderman's hands. Numbness and "not giving a damn anymore" rapidly replaced drama, spectacle, purity, and awe for infantrymen who came to know that they were there until killed or wounded. No other future was conceivable. The enduring problem of "utter, complete aloneness" on the modern battlefield, where everyone is dispersed ("don't bunch up!") and invisibly dug in receives repeated attention.
Linderman is interested in the theme of restraint or its absence in war. This continues the line of thought he began in Embattled Courage, where he addressed warfare aimed at the civilian population of the Confederacy and restraint exercised by combatants toward each other. The extent to which restraint is an organizing principle for Linderman's narrative can be seen from the chapter titles "Fighting the Germans: The War of Rules" and "Fighting the Japanese: War Unrestrained." Because of the historically unusual cultural pattern of self-immolation when faced with defeat that was practiced both by Japanese combatants and by the relatively few Japanese civilians our troops encountered, Americans did not learn the lesson acquired at such great price in Vietnam: that every atrocity strengthens the enemy. And I must add as a clinician, every atrocity injures the soldier who commits it. We seem to have understood this in Europe, but gotten it thoroughly muddled with racial issues coming out of the Second World War. The importance of command in preventing or promoting military atrocities is not sufficiently emphasized in either Linderman's Civil War or World War II accounts. Readers will profit by consulting Ohio State military historian Mark Grimsley's USMA lecture "Union Soldiers and the Persistence of Restraint in War," available on the Internet.
There are some other quibbles with this book. A seasoned author with the scholarly experience and credentials of Gerald Linderman should take responsibility for the way he seizes and guides the reader's attention in the brief Introduction:
Why do so many soldiers, having discovered the realities of warfare, still persevere in battle? Why, of those whose experience of training and battle appears virtually identical, do some but not others succumb to neuropsychiatric collapse? Or, following the war, suffer post-traumatic stress disorder? . . .
In the pages that follow I do not hesitate to draw conclusions supported by a coalescence of soldier testimony, but such judgments are offered in the spirit of those always aware that they continue to circle a mystery.
Roy R. Grinker and John P. Spiegel's Men Under Stress gave a good account of these mysteries. Colonel Albert Glass (Army Medical Corps) edited the monumental Neuropsychiatry in World War II after his own service as a psychiatrist in that war, the two volumes of which appeared in 1966 and 1973 respectively from the Army Surgeon General. Had Professor Linderman been aware of Colonel Glass's "Lessons Learned" chapters in these volumes, he might have been able to examine in some detail that which he calls "a mystery."
The real mystery is why the lessons learned in the First World War were forgotten and had to be rediscovered the hard way. Knowledge of the causes, prevention, and treatment of traumatic amputation of limbs, for example, acts like science is supposed to act: it is progressive and cumulative. Knowledge of what wrecks the mind and the spirit in war, how if possible to prevent it, and how to treat it seems to be cyclical. Oblivion and nightmare-like intrusion in our collective awareness replace each other with disheartening repetition. I heartily recommend to all Colonel Franklin Jones's forthright "Psychiatric Lessons of War" in the 1995 War Psychiatry volume of the Army Surgeon General's update of the Textbook of Military Medicine. His summary table of 11 wars of the 20th century has these telling column headings: "Lessons Learned/Relearned" and "Lessons Available But Not Learned." We didn't have to relearn what we had already learned about traumatic amputations.
One last criticism: I regret that the culture, experience, and perception of leadership are so little represented in The World Within War. Many of the leadership pathologies that had to be reformed by the devoted officers who restored the American armed forces in the years after Vietnam originated in World War II. It would have been good to hear more about this from the men who were there.
In his conclusion, Linderman obliquely acknowledges that sometimes we learn more about the past from the present, rather than vice versa. This book on the experience of combat in World War II appears more than a half century after the war's end. I believe that only with the digested experience of the Vietnam War in mind and the voices of Vietnam veterans in his ear could Linderman have written this book on World War II as he has written it, and heard in the voices of World War II combat veterans what he has heard there.
Anderson, Robert S., editor in chief; Albert J. Glass, Robert J. Bernucci, editors for neuropsychiatry. Neuropsychiatry in World War II. Washington: US Army, Office of the Surgeon General, 1966-73.
Gray, J. Glenn. The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.
Grimsley, Mark. "Union Soldiers and the Persistence of Restraint in War." On the Internet at http://www.cohums.ohio-state.edu/history/people/grimsley.1/usma/rest2.htm. Accessed 1 October 1998.
Grinker, Roy R., and John P. Spiegel. Men Under Stress. Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1945.
Homer. Iliad, trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997.
________. The Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles. Audio cassette. Derek Jacobi, reader. New York: Penguin Audiobooks, 1992.
________. The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 1996.
Jones, Franklin D. "Psychiatric Lessons of War." In War Psychiatry, Vol. 4 of Textbook of Military Medicine. Part 1, Warfare, Weaponry, and the Casualty, ed. Franklin D. Jones et al. Falls Church, Va.: US Army, Office of the Surgeon General, 1995.
Linderman, Gerald F. The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II. New York: The Free Press, 1997.
Linderman, Gerald F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1987.
The Reviewer: Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston whose only patients are combat veterans, and is the author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994). His book is part of the Marine Corps professional reading program under the heading "Character, Values, and Ethics." In addition to clinical work, he speaks frequently with active duty military audiences on prevention of psychological and moral injury in military service.
Almost a quarter of a century has elapsed since North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the American embassy in Saigon. Yet the Vietnam War continues to be fought and refought in the burgeoning literature on America's greatest foreign policy disaster. The passage of time has produced no consensus on the motives that propelled the United States to fight in Indochina or on what subsequently happened to America there and why. While there seems to be broad retrospective agreement that intervention was at best unwise, there is unabated contention over whether America's defeat in Vietnam was self-inflicted, enemy-imposed, or some combination of both.
I, for one, remain befuddled by the argument that an American military victory was there for the taking but was snatched away by a meddlesome White House, a hostile press, and a treasonous anti-war movement. These dogs won't hunt. Moreover, the proposition that victory was self-denied implies that the Vietnamese communists, who sacrificed 1.4 million dead and missing-in-action to force the United States out of Indochina, had nothing to do with the Vietnam War's outcome. (Surely, the thousands of Sioux at the Little Big Horn had something to do with Custer's defeat, notwithstanding that general's arrogance and stupidity.)
Even stale Marxist interpretations of the war continue to be lobbed into the debate. One such is Geoff Simons' Vietnam Syndrome: Impact on US Foreign Policy, which is little more than a spite-laden diatribe against American society ("a racist, gun-happy nation born through the mass murder of indigenous peoples and still obsessed with `frontier values'") and US intervention in Vietnam ("this genocidal enterprise . . . the protracted rape of a nation . . . an extreme of criminality").
Simons is never one to let facts get in his way; he insists for example that the Korean War began in 1949 and that the United States used poison gas in Vietnam. He further contends, in what will certainly be news to Wall Street, that US "preparedness to intervene militarily around the world to protect its foreign investments . . . made [US] involvement in and the escalation of the Vietnam War inevitable." He then goes on to reach the stunning conclusion that the Vietnam War's principal lesson "was that the human and material costs of the Vietnam War should be avoided in the future." Yet for Simons this is bad news: though the Vietnam Syndrome has dampened US propensity for "naked military aggression," it has engendered a compensatory shift toward the alternatives of "encouragement of low-intensity warfare," "funding and training of terrorists," "exploitation of the United Nations," "use of economic sanctions," "manipulation of international law," and "use of financial weapons (for example, the IMF and World Bank)."
Enough said? I think so, except to suggest that Simons, a prolific freelance author, should stick to subjects he apparently knows better, like computers (17 books) and sex (seven books, including Pornography Without Prejudice: A Reply to Objectors).
After enduring Simons' tract it was a pleasure to read Michael A. Hennessy's Strategy in Vietnam: The Marines and Revolutionary Warfare in I Corps, 1965-72. Hennessy, an assistant professor of history at Canada's Royal Military College, tackles the knotty issue of whether early MACV adoption of a pacification and population protection strategy in place of Westmoreland's attrition strategy would have made a difference in the course and ultimate outcome of the Vietnam War. Clearly, pacification was a much better fit than attrition to the war's character in 1965, which is one of the reasons why the Marines in I Corps early on implemented their Combined Action Program. In 1965 the war was still predominately a logistically self-sustaining insurgency waged almost exclusively by southern-born Viet Cong, and based on legitimate social and political grievances. This fact prompted Andrew Krepinevich in his 1986 book, The Army and Vietnam, correctly to condemn Westmoreland's conventional big-battalion strategy. Yet in the years following the Tet Offensive's decimation of the Viet Cong, the war evolved into a more or less straight conventional fight between US and North Vietnamese Army regulars. This fact led Harry Summers, Jr., erroneously to conclude in his 1982 book, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, that what ended up as a conventional fight must have been one from the beginning, and even more mistakenly, that MACV actually pursued a counterinsurgent strategy.
It is to this debate that Strategy in Vietnam brings an informed and rigorous analysis that in turn produces a convincing and Vietnam War literature-enhancing conclusion: if Westmoreland's attrition strategy was almost certainly doomed from the start, so too would have been the alternative of counterinsurgency. Why? Because as Hennessy's analysis of Marine Corps operations in I Corps shows, a population protection strategy à la the British in Malaya had two major strikes against it. First, it was alien to the US Army, though not so to the Marines with their extensive small-war and pacification experience. Second, it offered no defense against NVA conventional operations. Indeed, it was precisely the sharp post-Tet contraction of the communist political base in South Vietnam (a function primarily of horrendous Tet losses on the battlefield and US firepower-induced depopulation of the countryside) and the erosion of American political will that prompted Hanoi to switch primarily, though by no means completely, from guerrilla to conventional military operations. The result in I Corps: the "Marines never found an adequate means of separating the guerrilla and conventional threats, isolating and neutralizing each in turn."
Hennessy notes that the Marines labored under additional difficulties that probably would have condemned a counterinsurgent strategy from the start: a Westmoreland enduringly hostile to employment of US combat forces in the so-called "other war"; failure of the US government to get its counterinsurgency act together (via the establishment of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support, or CORDS, program) until very late in the game; the subordination of CORDS to Westmoreland's MACV; and finally, and fatally, a South Vietnamese government that "remained weak, autocratic, poorly formed, and often quite unpopular with its constituents."
Strategy in Vietnam is a must read for scholars of the Vietnam War as well as practitioners of the military art in a post-Soviet world of wars within states and of military operations other than war.
The Vietnamese communists' switch from revolutionary war to conventional military operations bothers Timothy J. Lomperis to no end. In his latest book on Vietnam, From People's War to People's Rule: Insurgency, Intervention, and the Lessons of Vietnam, Lomperis contends, as he did in his 1984 book, The War Everyone Lost--and Won: America's Intervention in Viet Nam's Twin Struggles, that the switch deprived the communists of a politically legitimate victory in 1975 because the communists abandoned "their lofty ideals and strategy of people's war."
So what? Should Hanoi have sacrificed what after 1973 loomed as a sure victory via a "simple military seizure of power" for the sake of continued allegiance to the romance of a revolutionary war doctrine whose prospects for success were fatally crippled by Tet and massive demographic change? Was Lincoln's resort to a military solution to the 1861 secession of the southern states of the Union illegitimate?
Luckily, this issue is peripheral to the main thrust of From People's War to People's Rule, which is an impressive examination of insurgencies as manifestations of crises in political legitimacy stemming from the societal stresses caused by modernization. A Vietnam veteran and accomplished social scientist who has taught at West Point (and now teaches at St. Louis University), Lomperis takes a highly insightful look at the Vietnam War in comparison to seven other cases of Western direct and indirect intervention against Cold War communist insurgencies: China, Indochina, Greece, the Philippines, Malaya, Cambodia, and Laos.
Among his major conclusions are that in pre-industrial societies confronting insurgency the target government's two most powerful means of attracting and cementing political legitimacy are implementation of land reform and development of electoral democracy. Land reform and participatory politics were indeed key to US success in Greece and the Philippines and British success in Malaya, and contributed significantly to the post-Tet shrinkage of the communist political base in South Vietnam. A second conclusion is that because the Vietnam War "was a frustrating antimony in that it was simultaneously a conventional war and a guerrilla insurgency," it is, "compared to other insurgencies of the postwar era, . . . more unique than it is general in its application." Indeed, postwar history records no tougher, tenacious, better disciplined, and more operationally flexible insurgent movement than that of Vietnamese communism. In his brilliant 1994 book, Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger commented on the decision to intervene in Vietnam: "If America had searched the world over, it could not have found a more intractable adversary."
A third conclusion is that direct Western military intervention on behalf of an insurgency-beleaguered state can be, as it was in Vietnam, self-defeating precisely because it threatens the political legitimacy of the recipient regime. The decision in 1965 to Americanize the Vietnam War thwarted an almost certain communist victory, but Americanization stripped the Saigon regime of the scant political legitimacy it commanded following the US-encouraged coup against Ngo Dinh Diem, and in so doing helped pave the way for the communist victory of 1975.
Absent American combat forces, Saigon never had a chance against Hanoi. In part this was so because the communists, from the beginning of their war against the French in 1946, managed to appropriate the powerful card of xenophobic Vietnamese nationalism and played it with consummate skill against the French and later the Americans and their fictitiously sovereign South Vietnamese ally. (It should be noted in passing that South Vietnam was not the last case of a Third World regime politically delegitimized by too manifest an association with the United States. The Shah of Iran was overthrown in large measure because of his eager and flagrant service as a flunky for American strategic interests in the Persian Gulf. The subsequent substitution of Saudi Arabia for Iran as America's principal strategic pet in the Gulf poses a potentially fatal, albeit so far skillfully managed, threat to the Saudi monarchy's legitimacy.)
US obedience to the fiction of the Republic of Vietnam's sovereignty is a major issue examined in George J. Veith's Code-Name Bright Light: The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War. That obedience subjected captured Americans to reprisals in kind when South Vietnamese authorities repeatedly executed captured Viet Cong cadre; the US embassy in Saigon could not bring itself to protest. But this problem was hardly the only or even the most formidable obstacle to recovering live Americans in communist hands. Veith, a former Army captain who has delved through much recently declassified information and interviewed many former POWs and those who tried to rescue them, has produced a ground-breaking examination of the US military's Herculean efforts during the Vietnam War to rescue captive Americans in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
But they were efforts that all came to naught. Though more than 125 rescue operations were launched, recovering almost 500 Vietnamese prisoners and 110 American bodies, no living Americans were freed. Veith declares that even "a one-percent success rate would have been something," and then properly asks, "How then to explain the failure?"
The answer Code-Name Bright Light provides is as depressing as the captivity of the Americans. To start with, there was the "inhospitable terrain. The inability to generate definitive intelligence, cultural differences, numbing political restrictions and tremendous amounts of disinformation and fraud . . . and bad luck, and lots of it." But then the United States "added to these burdens . . . [the] fractured and polarizing interservice rivalries and . . . military/civilian conflicts that delayed the implementation of the rescue outfit [the Joint Personnel Recovery Center], the micromanaging by upper echelons of the government, and the creation of a unit without dedicated reaction forces." As if this were not enough, there was the "apparent willingness by the US ambassadors in Laos and South Vietnam to sacrifice American prisoners because of the need to support national policies"--i.e., allegiance to the fictions of Laotian neutrality and South Vietnamese sovereignty.
It would seem, in sum, that the United States pursued the mission of POW recovery the same way it prosecuted the Vietnam War itself. Code-Name Bright Light is first-rate history and first-rate analysis of lessons learned.
Hennessy, Michael A. Strategy in Vietnam: The Marines and Revolutionary Warfare in I Corps, 1965-1972. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997.
Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Krepinevich, Andrew F. The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986.
Lomperis, Timothy J. From People's War to People's Rule: Insurgency, Intervention, and the Lessons of Vietnam. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1996.
________. The War Everyone Lost--and Won: America's Intervention in Viet Nam's Twin Struggles. Washington: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1984.
Simons, Geoff. Vietnam Syndrome: Impact on US Foreign Policy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Summers, Harry G., Jr. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1982.
Veith, George J. Code-Name Bright Light: The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War. New York: Free Press, 1998
The Reviewer: Jeffrey Record is visiting professor at the US Air Force's Air War College and author of The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam (US Naval Institute Press, 1998). Formerly legislative assistant to Senator Sam Nunn and later member of the Senate Armed Services Committee professional staff, he has written extensively on national security issues during the past 25 years. He served in Mekong Delta in 1968-69 on a provincial advisory team under the auspices of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program.
This annotated reading list, culled from topics examined by US Army War College students who explore concepts for an "Army After Next," is subdivided by theme: strategy, approaches to planning, trends, and the faces of future warfare. It is by no means definitive. Rather, the list is intended to guide those who want to discover for themselves the myriad issues and ideas that will determine how the Army and the other services understand and manage change, continuity, and growth.
The authors in this group provide a context for considering future military forms and functions. Colin Gray stresses that military leaders must understand the big strategic picture if they want to avoid past errors. Michael Howard describes the challenges of the military between major conflicts, and ponders how best to prepare for the next one. Anthony Cordesman finds the enemy to be us, while Paul Bracken wrestles with the potential revolution in military affairs. The articles that consider China as a future peer competitor are included to ensure that the notion of a peer competitor--or lack of one--is ingrained in the greater strategic context. Articles on other possible peer competitors could just as easily have been used.
Michael Howard. "Military Science in an Age of Peace." RUSI, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 119 (March 1974), 3-9.
This essay is as relevant now as it was a quarter century ago, when Howard reviewed Great Britain's interwar experiences with a view to illuminating events in the Cold War. He advocates "flexibility both in the minds of the armed forces and in their organization" to ensure that the armed forces retain the capacity to get doctrine "right quickly when the moment arrives." Some might suggest that he foreshadowed nonlinearity and complexity theories.
Paul Bracken. "The Military After Next." The Washington Quarterly, 16 (Autumn 1993), 157-74.
Bracken ponders how planners should redesign the US military for a new operational environment, taking into account revolutionary changes in military technology and the possible appearance of new kinds of competitors. He says there's not enough fresh thinking about redesign of the sort that starts with a clean sheet of paper and examines the revolutionary effects of technology on US strategy and force structure.
Anthony H. Cordesman. Foreign Strategic Challenges and the American Threat to the United States. Address to the US Army War College, 14 November 1996.
Cordesman starts with a broad, lucid view of the world threat situation, one that covers the "usual suspects"--East Asia, Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union, the Gulf, and the Middle East--along with the challenges posed by proliferation, terrorism, and technology transfer. Attention then turns to America's internal problems as they affect strategy: the gap between military resources and strategy, a planning style that denies the gravity of US problems, foolhardy denial of the world's complexity, and the inclination to deal with the world as a "morality play."
Colin S. Gray. Explorations in Strategy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Gray provides an overarching view of strategic concepts and ideas, both how they work and their associated challenges. He illustrates his premises in case studies of air power and special operations, but also addresses sea power, nuclear deterrence, and information warfare. He maintains that political and military leaders have difficulty grasping strategy holistically. If they had a deeper understanding of what strategy is all about, he opines, perhaps the United States could avoid repeating past strategic mistakes. The book has an extensive bibliography.
Colin S. Gray. "A Debate on Geopolitics: The Continued Primacy of Geography." Orbis, 40 (Spring 1996), 247-59.
While a number of political scientists predict that natural borders may mean little in the future, this article makes the case that geography will always have a role in international power relationships. Technology, communications, and joint warfare doctrine will not reduce the influence of geographical factors such as distance, terrain, and climate, which are so subliminal as to be unvoiced. To describe their importance, he notes, would be analogous to saying "we talk in prose and see in color." Gray makes the case for renewed interest in learning about how people think about their own land and that of their neighbors.
Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro. "The Coming Conflict with America." Foreign Affairs, 76 (March-April 1997), 18-32.
The payoff question for the military planner is who, if anyone, the next peer competitor will be. China is mentioned in some circles as a possible heir apparent to the Soviet Union, a view supported by Bernstein and Munro. The authors contend that China will not become more democratic and moderate as it integrates into the world economy. On the contrary, they believe, its growing strength will allow it to retain its authoritarian traditions, especially if its defense expenditures continue to far exceed Beijing's official figures, and the army remains its single most powerful institution. It is also, according to the authors, developing a Taiwan invasion force and the capacity to destroy American aircraft carriers should they interfere in the planned attack on Taiwan.
Robert S. Ross. "Beijing as a Conservative Power." Foreign Affairs, 76 (March-April 1997), 34-44.
The author points out that China might not be a peer competitor in 2025; much will depend on how the United States treats it. Chinese intentions haven't fully emerged, he notes; China would be amenable to good US engagement policies, whereas treating it like an enemy could very well make it one. At present, it is backward technologically and militarily, but restless, and certainly capable of destabilizing the region. Engagement will not be simple, nor will it necessarily succeed. Given that the United States and its allies presently enjoy strategic superiority, it would at least be wise, he concludes, to take a "wait-and-see" attitude before assuming an aggressive posture.
Approaching the Future Intelligently: A Forecaster's Role and Methods
Authors identified here show there is help for the planner tasked with projecting 30 years into the future. These works include useful approaches to forecasting and rigorous tools and methodologies available for that work.
By becoming well informed, open-minded, flexible, and learning some of the tools of the "futurology" trade, a planner can reach conclusions that narrow the scope of possibilities he or she has to prepare for. The future, these authors believe, does not necessarily have to arrive unannounced; it may be the role of strategic leadership to try to shape it. If a reader had to choose just one work from this section, it should be Peter Schwartz's The Art of the Long View.
Wendell Bell. "The Purposes of Future Studies." The Futurist, 31 (November-December 1997), 42-45.
It is possible to design the future--and even for the better, says Bell. The futurists' distinctive contribution, "prospective thinking," looks at the possible, the probable, and the preferable in the context of human goals and values. The alternative futures that futurists construct and evaluate, he concludes, can contribute to informed decisions on political, social, or economic policy.
Brita Schwarz, Uno Scedin, and Bjorn Wittrock. Methods and Futures Studies: Problems and Applications. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1982.
This book's publication date should not be reason to overlook it. Chapter three is especially relevant to the planner as an academic overview of forecasting methods. It examines the Delphi technique, trend extrapolation, scenario writing, and mathematical models, describing some of the pitfalls as well as the utility of each method. Subsequent chapters argue that the various techniques should not be treated as mutually exclusive excursions into the unknown.
Peter Schwartz. The Art of the Long View. New York: Doubleday/Currency, 1991.
Schwartz is a master of scenario methodology, as he demonstrated by his singular anticipation of the 1973 oil price boom and the 1986 stock market decline. He shares his philosophy in the book, providing detailed instructions for creating scenarios. And while many consider scenario creation somewhat analogous to brainstorming, nothing could be further from the truth; scenario creation, in Schwartz's view, is a rigorous procedure. He also alleges that the government is not good at the futures business because it is incapable of thinking unconventionally, and he documents his allegation. The long view, he concludes, demands expertise in many different disciplines, an open mind, and an ability to think "outside the box."
Edward Cornish. "Forecasts 30 Years Later." The Futurist, 31 (January-February 1997), 45-48.
This report card on forecasts made 30 years ago in diverse areas such as medicine, economics, cities, and technologies shows a 68-percent accuracy rate overall. The discussion of where the forecasters went wrong is interesting, and the causes vary. One observation was that forecasters had "failed to reckon with shifts in the factors underlying the trends," a risk alluded to in the books by Peter Schwartz and by Schwarz, Scedin, and Wittrock.
Charles W. Taylor. The Relationship of Forecasting to Long-Range Planning. Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1982.
This brief study defines the important distinction between forecasting and planning. The author observes, "Army long-range planners are more likely to achieve goals if they give special attention to what futurists are forecasting, and build into the planning process a flexibility to accommodate options." The piece also describes a notional future force which is interesting to look at in retrospect.
James A. Dewar, Carl H. Builder, William M. Hix, and Morlie H. Levin. Assumption-Based Planning: A Planning Tool for Very Uncertain Times. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1993.
The authors refer to their text as "a report, not a users' manual," but structure and content tend to refute that assertion. The document describes a process for thinking about managing assumptions--explicit, implicit, unconnected, and unaddressed--that proliferate in any planning process. The challenge for planners, they insist, is to "identify the critical assumptions underlying an organization's thinking and operations and then to understand which of those assumptions may become vulnerable and how." A companion report, "Assumption-Based Planning and Force XXI," is very useful as both a product and a demonstration of the process.
No one can afford to be in the forecasting or long-range planning business without keeping abreast of emerging trends throughout the world. The trend spectrum, which includes demographics, economics, geopolitics, technology, and cultures, challenges every thoughtful person's definition of a complete education. Authors in this section believe variously that the state as we know it is dying; that the state is as powerful as ever; that the sources of world conflict will be cultural or civilizational, not ideological; and that the world could undergo a universal economic boom, or it could see pervasive collapse of economies and the attendant hardships and conflicts. Among the technological trends described by these authors, biotechnology is especially provocative, for while it could have extensive civilian and military applications, it can also open a Pandora's box of ethical dilemmas.
Samuel P. Huntington. "The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs, 72 (Summer 1993), 22-49.
The new world order has precipitated a shift in sources of conflict,
Huntington suggests, and ideological differences no longer will be the
primary cause of war. Huntington envisions seven or eight cultural entities:
Western, Islamic, Chinese, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Japanese,
Hindu, and perhaps African, and concludes that they will be configured
on past civilizations and will revisit old causes of conflict. This article
prompted a burst of commentary and continues to weigh heavily in many discussions
of national security strategy and national military strategy. Key respondents
to Huntington are listed below; all appeared in Foreign Affairs,
72 (September 1993).
Fouad Ajami. "The Summoning." 2-9.
Kishore Mahbubani. "The Dangers of Decadence: What the Rest Can Teach the West." 10-14.
Robert L. Bartley. "The Case for Optimism: The West Should Believe in Itself." 15-18.
Liu Binyan. "Civilization Grafting: No Culture Is an Island." 19-21.
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick et al. "The Modernizing Imperative: Tradition and Change." 22-26.
Huntington replied to his critics in: "If Not Civilizations, What? Paradigms of the Post-Cold War World," Foreign Affairs, 72 (November 1993), 186-94.
Martin Van Creveld. "The Fate of the State." Parameters, 26 (Spring 1996), 4-18.
The nation-state, an organizing principle since 1648, is dying, according to Van Creveld, and the full significance of this evolution has yet to be felt. Governments are losing power to organizations such as the European Market and the United Nations. Other types of nongovernmental organizations, such as multinational corporations, media, humanitarian and relief groups, and terrorists, are emerging to preempt or finesse state control. The outcome of the trend cannot be predicted, he concludes; it will reduce to a matter of things being different, not necessarily better or worse, in the aftermath of the changes he foresees.
"The Myth of the Powerless State." The Economist, 7 October 1995, pp. 15-16.
While it is true the world has been evolving toward a global economic system, that does not mean states have lost power in the process. The Economist asserts that governments have as many economic powers as they ever had, and could reverse the global integration trend if they chose to do so. Trade and financial barriers that have been lowered in recent years have served well the purposes of the countries involved. Any barriers that have been lowered can also be raised again, so if politicians have the will, they still hold the trump card: power.
Benjamin Barber. Jihad vs. McWorld. New York: Times Books, 1995.
This relatively pessimistic world view conjectures a division into two camps: a rapidly growing, international, Americanized consumer culture and an ethnic-religious-conservative body that can splinter nations. Both camps are enemies of democracy according to Barber, and paradoxically enjoy a symbiotic relationship.
David L. Osborne, ed. Demographic Trends to the Year 2015: Forecasts for the United States. A study prepared for the Army 21 Project. Washington: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1991.
This report is a boon to the military planner for its extensive analysis of US demography, economy, resources, education, society, technology, military science, geopolitics, and threats. The US Bureau of the Census provided figures from which the various trends were developed, and the report's analysts have constructed scenarios depicting the potential variations and rates of growth of the trends. Of particular interest is the discussion of manpower potential, which concludes that recruiting policies will change to match the national demographics. As a consequence, the Army will have much higher percentages of Hispanic and Asian populations, and white and black populations as a percent of the force will decline. There are also chapters devoted to US military science in 2015, and to military and civilian economies in the next 15 years.
Joseph A. Engelbrecht, Jr., et al. Alternate Futures for 2025: Security Planning to Avoid Surprise. Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Air Univ. Press, September 1996.
A model of exquisitely crafted scenarios, this report offers six alternative world views (five for 2025 and one for 2015), identified as Gulliver's Travails, Zaibatsu, Digital Cacophony, King Khan, Halfs and Half-Naughts, and 2015 Crossroads. It covers a host of emerging technologies, and provides matrices which align each world view with its needed military technologies. There is also an extensive bibliography, but some of the documents listed were drafts or proved otherwise hard to retrieve.
Military Health Services System 2020. Envisioning Tomorrow to Focus Today's Resources. Available on the Internet at http://keydet.sra.com/hs2020/homepage/upload/ thebook.htm; accessed 7 October 1998.
This 200+ page document contains work begun in 1996 by the strategic planning group of the Military Health Services System (MHSS) to explore the future of military health care. It assessed world trends and described four 2020 alternative world views with their respective health requirements: The Third Wave, The Dark Side, Global Mind Change, and The Transformation. The book also has chapters on the preferred future, strategies for military medicine, and a number of recommendations, including ones for leader development and for a benchmark health system. The MHSS group sees biotechnology, and technology in general, exploited to leverage capabilities such as the "electronic medical record, and significant advances in warzone medicine." The report goes so far as to predict that in 2020 military health care "will routinely employ genetic engineering in identification, prevention, and intervention to maintain healthy service members."
Military Health Services System 2020. Focused Study on Biotechnology and Nanotechnology. Arlington, Va.: SRA International, 29 July 1997. Available on the Internet at http://keydet.sra.com/hs2020/homepage/hs2020.htm; accessed 7 October 1998.
The Military Health Services System explores the prospects of biotechnology and nanotechnology for the future of military health services, and finds unprecedented applications that go far beyond health issues. Dolly the sheep has pried the lid off the biotechnology box, and nanotechnology has had at least one breakthrough as well. Australian researchers have reported a new technique that in a few years can lead to a hand-held biosensor that detects bacteria, viruses, and other environmental contaminants. Biotechnology's future includes unresolved ethical dilemmas that might bar researchers from pursuing certain ideas.
Science Applications International Corporation. Biotechnology Workshop 2020: Analytic Report. Prepared for US Army Research Laboratory. Document No. 96-6968. McLean, Va.: SAIC, September 1996.
According to this report, there could be a brave new world waiting out there for the military in biogenetics, biomaterials, biocomputing, biosensors, and biotech human factors. Biotechnology could be applied to force projection, sensing, human performance intervention, information processing, fusion and computation, sustainment, and dynamic applications of biological organisms. The report also discusses implications of the anticipated changes for the Army's doctrine, training, leader development, organizations, materiel, and soldiers.
US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century. 14 vols. Washington: USAF, 1995-96.
This report looks 10 to 30 years into the future and contains information of potential interest to all the services. An ancillary volume contains the Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium of the USAF Scientific Advisory Board as well as a chapter of forecasts and one of interviews with distinguished personages on their views of the future. The separate summary report is not a recapitulation of the other volumes; it takes a broad conceptual approach to possible directions for additional Air Force research.
Robert K. Ackerman. "Technologies Improve Radar Ground, Foliage Penetration." Signal, 52 (December 1997), 25-28.
Radar capabilities haven't changed much since the 1970s, but devices developed in Russia are challenging that circumstance. Combinations of new algorithms and Russian hybrid semiconductors have meant progress in mine-hunting and locating hidden vehicles and equipment. Research in foliage and ground radar penetration, much of it funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is under way.
Malcomb Davis. "How to Win Wars Without Actually Killing." Asia Pacific Defence Reporter, 20 (April-May 1994), 36-37.
This Australian author's descriptions of nonlethal technologies emphasizes electromagnetic-pulse weapons. At the time the article was published, Australia was looking to the United States to keep abreast of weapon development, although Russia, Britain, and France have also been developing these systems.
Fuel Efficient AAN [Army After Next] Task Group. "Fuel-Efficient Army After Next." A White Paper prepared for the Commanding General, US Army Materiel Command. Alexandria, Va.: US Army Materiel Command, 10 March 1997.
The "Fuel-Efficient AAN Task Group" produced one of the most unequivocal statements about future technological improvements a planner could find, including a program that would reduce a deployed force's fuel needs by 75 percent. This reduction is predicated on improving today's technologies. Occasionally, and seemingly perfunctorily, the group also cites the need for developing alternative energy sources and fuels.
Japan Economic Planning Agency. Japanese Technology Forecast for the Year 2010. Available on the Internet at http://www.mcc.com/projects/ilo/wais/atip/2010.epa.html; accessed 20 May 1998. (Editor's note: We could not retrieve the material at the listed URL just before publication. The citation remains for information.)
Today far more research is conducted outside the United States than within. This summary of a survey produced by the Japan Economic Planning Agency and posted on Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation's (MCC) web site, is worth scanning for two reasons: first, for its shock value, and second, to prevent the planner from becoming too US-centric when thinking in terms of technological prowess. The esoteric technologies the Japanese are working on, along with their market timetables, would bring a gleam to many an adversary's eye. MCC mentions a few shortcomings and doubts in regard to Japanese ambitions, but those issues notwithstanding, the list should make an impression on most readers. When accessed in May 1998, the full text of the survey related to computing and microelectronics (microelectronics, opto-electronics, bioelectronics, information system equipment and software) was available at the web site listed above.
The Character of Future Warfare
The faces of war are no less controversial than the nature of the new world order. The basic arguments in the following documents center on the role and efficacy of technology per se, and whether warfare will still be bloody, muddy-boots shootouts or bloodless, distant strikes by advanced technology munitions. An underlying, unstated question is the nature of jointness in either scenario.
George and Meredith Friedman. The Future of War: Power, Technology, and American World Dominance in the 21st Century. New York: Crown Publishers, 1996.
In the 21st century, these authors say, America's dominance will be associated with a revolution in weaponry and warfare. Total war will give way to limited war, and the tank, bomber, and aircraft carrier will be obsolescent. In their place will be a super infantryman, modeled on special operations soldiers, armed with a computer and sustained by an exoskeleton. Every level of command will be able to view the battlefield. Precision guided munitions will dominate, and space will take preeminence as the center of military operations; whoever controls it will control the oceans. One conclusion is that the United States needs to create an interservice space command.
US Department of Defense, Defense Science Board 1996 Summer Study Task Force on Tactics and Technologies for 21st Century Military Superiority. 3 vols. Washington: Defense Science Board, 1996.
Volume 1, the final report of this study, should be required reading for any land force planner. It describes concepts for a "light, agile, potent, rapidly deployable force." The force is distributed, has situational awareness, and will be supported by a logistical system providing the "right stuff at the right time." Volume 2 contains a classified section which addresses threat and special operations forces technology requirements for the 21st century, and Volume 3 is a compilation of technical white papers. Topics covered in Volume 3 include distributed information infrastructure, reconnaissance and surveillance, precision weapons, force enhancement, local area surveillance and weapons, urban operations, and individual systems.
Bruce D. Berkowitz. "Warfare in the Information Age." Issues in Science and Technology, 12 (Fall 1995), 59-66.
While military planners are becoming fully engaged in information warfare, the author asserts they have not taken the time to answer some basic questions related to the threat, how information warfare assets should be integrated into defense planning, and the military-civilian relationship in the process. Berkowitz concludes that the real challenges to information warfare preparedness will be political, economic, and cultural. The United States needs new concepts and a new approach to dealing with this phenomenon. (Editor's note: See more recently, Frederick W. Kagan. "Star Wars in Real Life: Political Limitations on Space Warfare." Parameters, 28 [Autumn 1998], 112-20.)
Gary Stix. "Fighting Future Wars." Scientific American, 273 (December 1995), 92-96.
The author concludes that the much talked about Revolution in Military Affairs appears to mean fighting a peer competitor from a distance in a "disengaged" conflict. Missiles fired from afar will reduce carriers, tanks, fighters, and bombers to supporting roles, soldiers will not set foot on the battleground, and reconnaissance and targeting will be done primarily by unoccupied aerial vehicles. The most important change may not be about technology but about reorganizing and the speed of decisions. The high-tech arguments culminate in speculation over whether information warfare could make conventional hardware obsolete, if invasion of the United States is possible, and whether the new technologies can be counted on to perform as claimed. The author notes that we might face missile trench warfare while subjected to a flood of information that hinders rather than helps the soldier.
Alvin H. Bernstein, Martin Libicki, and Frederick W. Kagan. "High-Tech: The Future Face of War? (A Debate)." Commentary, 105 (January 1998), 28-34.
These short articles survey many of the technologies that could be part of the military world, exploring whether they will allow the luxury of fighting from a distance or whether forces will still have to engage the enemy in situ. Bernstein and Libicki argue that the addition and integration of sensors, unoccupied aerial vehicles, precision guided missiles, and the Global Positioning System technology with systems such as stealth aircraft and JSTARS will force new military structures and enable "distance warfare," the preferred form of conflict. Kagan takes the position that the "millennium" view is not only wrong, it's perilous; the enemy's systems are not necessarily going to fail while ours work, and the enemy only has to defeat parts of our systems to be effective. Some adversaries will be psychologically impervious to long-range strikes, and combined arms forces will be needed to bend their will. Technology, Kagan concludes, will not save the United States from the toil and blood of war.
Robert J. Bunker. Five-Dimensional (Cyber) Warfighting: Can the Army After Next be Defeated Through Complex Concepts and Technologies? Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1998.
The Army After Next is currently predicated on fighting conventionally and symmetrically; with its assumed superior weaponry and technologies, it would be virtually invulnerable. However, this linear-Newtonian-Clausewitzian approach to the future will be ineffective against the complex concepts and technologies that can be brought to bear in a five-dimensional battlespace, defined as the traditional three-dimensional battlespace fused to time and cyberspace. Given its outdated approach, this author suggests, the Army is running the risk of facing new types of adversaries for which it will not be prepared. Since it is unwilling, or unable, to question its basic assumptions of warfighting, the US Army will eschew five-dimensional warfighting until it is defeated by adversaries who understand and take advantage of these new forms.
Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. "21st-Century Land Warfare: Four Dangerous Myths." Parameters, 27 (Autumn 1997), 27-37.
The Revolution in Military Affairs that will probably occur as a result of information and computer capabilities should not lead one to believe that only developed nations will benefit from it, or that the United States will be virtually unbeatable because of its (presumed) technological prowess. The author concludes that the United States runs the risk of repeating the blunders of Vietnam and Somalia if it operates under current assumptions: that the enemy will play by the rules; that a small force will be adequate to carry out national security policy and national military strategy if it is well-trained and has high-tech weapons; that the force will have information dominance; and that war will be relatively bloodless.
Anthony H. Cordesman. "Compensating for Smaller Forces: Adjusting Ways and Means Through Technology." In Strategy and Technology, by Anthony Cordesman and James Blackwell. Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1992. 1-28.
While the whole essay is worth reading, the section containing Cordesman's analysis of the contingency spectrum and how it translates into required military and technological capabilities is particularly useful for planners. The author provides a basis for thinking about and designing force structure that supports a holistic approach to change. The advantage of this approach is that while details about the environment will change, the author's methods will remain useful.
The Reviewer: Bonnie Jezior was assigned to the Army War College in 1996-98 and was engaged in Army After Next studies, first as a student and then as a faculty member. She is currently on the headquarters staff at the US Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, where she continues her involvement in AAN. Past assignments have included the office of the Secretary of the Army for Research, Development, and Acquisition, and the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at Headquarters, Department of the Army. She has an M.S. in psychology from Fitchburg State College, Massachusetts.
Reviewed 6 November 1998. Please send comments or corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org