- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other day, one of my guest columnists was citing Eitan Shamir‘s Transforming Command: The pursuit of mission command in the U.S., British and Israeli armies. Checking on line, I saw that the title of Shamir’s chapter 4 is, “Inspired by corporate practices: American army command traditions.” That intrigued me, because it relates to some themes of the book I’m currently writing. I also was impressed that he got Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a smart guy, to write a foreword.
So I was pretty disappointed when I read the chapter to find that its title wasn’t supported by much evidence. Or any, really. Shamir writes that, “Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall patterned army organization on the ideas of American business.” (p. 61). That surprised me because I have read thousands of pages of interviews and documents Marshall produced and corporate practice almost never comes up.
The second warning sign: Shamir footnotes that sentence about Marshall to Gabriel and Savage’s Crisis in Command, which is not a very good book, and is about Vietnam, not about World War II or George Marshall. So I went down to the Vietnam section of my basement library and found on page 18 of Gabriel and Savage’s book one paragraph of unsupported assertions about Marshall relying on business practice in World War II. No evidence, no footnotes, no nothing.
That is a mighty thin reed on which to build a chapter. And, like the clock striking 13, it makes me wonder what else Shamir has gotten wrong. So later in the book when I read his statement that, “The British Army has probably been most successful in implementing mission command,” (P. 197) I was skeptical. I wondered what his evidence was, or whether this was simply more unsupported assertion.
Based on what I have read so far, I was surprised to see Stanford University Press published the book. I mean, Stanford is supposed to be pretty good, no? Best university west of UC Berkeley?