Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Walter Kretchik’s history of Army doctrine

You’ve got to be pretty wonky to look forward to an evening of reading a history of U.S. Army doctrine, so I am coming out with my hands up to confess: When my copy of Walter Kretchik’s book arrived in the mail, I couldn’t wait to dig in. (For those scratching their heads, my pocket ...

631995_120119_ricks1.jpg
631995_120119_ricks1.jpg

You've got to be pretty wonky to look forward to an evening of reading a history of U.S. Army doctrine, so I am coming out with my hands up to confess: When my copy of Walter Kretchik's book arrived in the mail, I couldn't wait to dig in. (For those scratching their heads, my pocket definition of military doctrine is: How a military thinks about what it does.)

When I put it down, I was not so happy. Kretchik's argument is that "the American Army has been far more adaptive and innovative than scholars have acknowledged." I wasn't persuaded.  

This book is not a narrative history of how each version of the manual came to be. It doesn't explore the clashes over doctrine, nor even much the personalities involved. I found it more a once-over-lightly trot through what the changes to each edition of 100-5, as the Army's capstone manual was known for years. I think I learned more from Robert Doughty's history of the evolution of Army tactical doctrine from the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War.

You’ve got to be pretty wonky to look forward to an evening of reading a history of U.S. Army doctrine, so I am coming out with my hands up to confess: When my copy of Walter Kretchik’s book arrived in the mail, I couldn’t wait to dig in. (For those scratching their heads, my pocket definition of military doctrine is: How a military thinks about what it does.)

When I put it down, I was not so happy. Kretchik’s argument is that “the American Army has been far more adaptive and innovative than scholars have acknowledged.” I wasn’t persuaded.  

This book is not a narrative history of how each version of the manual came to be. It doesn’t explore the clashes over doctrine, nor even much the personalities involved. I found it more a once-over-lightly trot through what the changes to each edition of 100-5, as the Army’s capstone manual was known for years. I think I learned more from Robert Doughty’s history of the evolution of Army tactical doctrine from the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War.

Even so, the book is useful as an overview for people trying to track how Army doctrine has changed over the centuries, and especially since the Vietnam War. It usefully summarizes the contents of each edition of the Army’s operations manual, highlighting differences and changes. 

Bottom line: This one is only for the hard-core fan of American ground forces doctrine. The rest of youse who are only occasional doctrinal dippers would be better off sticking to the selected papers of General DePuy

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. Twitter: @tomricks1

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