‘Elvis’s Army’: A great look at the U.S. Army of the late 1950s and early 1960s

‘Elvis’s Army’: A great look at the U.S. Army of the late 1950s and early 1960s

Over the summer I read and enjoyed an advance copy of Elvis’s Army, by leading military historian Brian Linn.

Linn uses Presley’s induction and military service as a clever framing device. But the book is full of other interesting views of the Army of the time. Maxwell Taylor comes off as pure poison for the Army, more concerned with image than with reality. And so the Army he shaped went into Vietnam more interested in looking good than being good. As I read this book, I wondered if Taylor was even worse than Douglas MacArthur. And that is saying something.

I also didn’t know how poorly educated the Army of the time was. Linn reports that in 1957, nearly one in four Army NCOs tested as “Category 4”— that is, mentally deficient. Nor did I know that NCO clubs were instituted to encourage sergeants to stay on post at night, and so be closer to the barracks, rather than in bars and brothels outside the gates.

Another aspect: Doctors and dentists who were drafted or inveigled into service to avoid the draft had nothing but contempt for their military peers. He quotes one doctor who averred that his superiors were so incompetent that, “In civilian life they’d starve.”

Linn also makes the interesting point that the Army has never had a designated prophet, a Douhet or Mahan. Why is this? I suspect because the Army dislikes theory and so its secular saints are doers such as Sherman, Patton and Abrams.

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