- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Over the Christmas break I read several books, but the one that will stay with me most, I think, is Emile Simpson’s War From the Ground Up. His core theme is an examination of “the use of armed force that directly seeks political, as opposed to specifically military, outcomes,” (p. 1). Kind of like Clausewitz’s most famous dictum turned upside down. In Afghanistan, he writes, “the ‘war’ is better understood as a direct extension of political activity.”
First point: This guy knows how to write. Although the book is a rather dense academic study (the section on the British in Borneo mainly bored me to tears), occasionally he just lets loose an observation or aphorism that is striking. It is not always enjoyable reading, but just when you are about to MEGO, he hits you with a great line.
Second point: I was amazed this was written by a former lieutenant. It is an effort to put the war in Afghanistan into a Clauswitzian context. He succeeds. “The possibility that one can ‘win militarily’ but lose a war is indeed perverse logic; it totally unhinges strategic theory, as it disconnects the use of force from political purpose,” (p. 138).
Third point: I suspect we’ll be hearing from this guy again. So you might as well get in on the ground floor and read it.
I plan in the coming days to delve deeper into the book in a series of posts. It is almost several books in one, so I will break out sections.
Oddly, this is the second book I have read recently with the title War From the Ground Up. The other one, last winter, was about the U.S. Army’s 90th Division in World War II.