Best Defense

The Best Defense bookshelf: Is our culture at odds with our current wars?

I’ve just finished reading the quirky, tendentious, and enjoyable book The American Culture of War: The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom, by Adrian Lewis. It is just the type of book readers of this blog would enjoy, and would especially warm the pistons of Rubber Ducky’s diesel-fueled ...

history.navy.mil
history.navy.mil

I’ve just finished reading the quirky, tendentious, and enjoyable book The American Culture of War: The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom, by Adrian Lewis. It is just the type of book readers of this blog would enjoy, and would especially warm the pistons of Rubber Ducky’s diesel-fueled heart. What’s more, Lewis is a former enlisted man, and a big fan of light infantry. Here are some of his greatest hits:

On what Americans don’t get about war: "Culturally, a professional or large standing Army is considered un-American. Culturally, all American men are capable of fighting a war. These cultural tenets are false, and based on a misreading of history. Thus, culturally, Americans have undervalued the country’s combat soldiers, and failed to understand their significance in war." (25)

On Americans and modern weaponry: "Americans designed and purchased weapons systems to fight the war they wanted to fight, not the war they were most likely to fight." (186)

Tom: Read that one again. I really like it. It sounds simple, but it is worth asking of every single expensive weapons program we fund.

On Korea, Vietnam and Iraq: "Limited war is only limited at the operational and strategic levels of war." (xviii)

Tom: Again, sounds simple, but a lesson worth keeping in mind. And very relevant if you are operating at the tactical level.

On how we got in this pickle: "Modern limited war was an artificial creation caused by the development of nuclear weapons." (203)

Tom: Again, sounds obvious, once it is said — but I haven’t seen anyone put it quite so succinctly.

On how we organized to fight the Vietnam War: "The chain of command for the Vietnam War was nothing less than asinine." (200)

Tom: Megadittoes. Same goes for Iraq, btw, with its bifurcated in-country setup.

On the falsity of current military titles: "As of the defense legislation of 1958, "Chief of Naval Operations was, in fact, no longer the chief of naval operations." (198)

Tom: See what I mean about being simple but carrying a lot of interesting implications?

A rare pop at the elder President Bush, charging that he screwed up the world for his son, and for us: "At this juncture [after the 1991 Persian Gulf War] President Bush had a rare opportunity, one that comes along maybe once in a century, to articulate a new vision for the world to replace the cold war world order… Bush, however, was not a man of vision, nor was he able to adopt the ideas of others. The opportunity passed… This lapse was one of the biggest political failures of the twentieth century. It was equivalent to the British Policy of Appeasement that was, at least in part, responsible for the rise of Nazi Germany." (375)

On how we fought the Iraq War: "The military cluster would bear the full burden of the nation’s war. Equality of sacrifice was no longer a consideration in the nation’s procurement of manpower… The nation has an all-volunteer force. The removal of the American people from the war equation had a number of benefits for the administration." (381)

And a valentine to Mr. Ducky: "Ultimately, a national, citizen-soldier army is the only guarantee of the security of the nation from external threats, and the only means to ensure that the nation fights just wars." (457)

Tom: FWIW, this is the final sentence in this fascinating book.

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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