Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Actually, Tom, some military historical trivia matters a lot–and here’s why

Having recently disparaged “brass buttons” trivia by some military historians, I was interested in the distinction drawn by the well-known West Point historian Eugenia Kiesling in the conclusion of her essay on doctrine in the interwar period in the Cambridge History of War, Vol. IV: War and the Modern World:  — “The color of collar ...

Wikipedia
Wikipedia
Wikipedia

Having recently disparaged "brass buttons" trivia by some military historians, I was interested in the distinction drawn by the well-known West Point historian Eugenia Kiesling in the conclusion of her essay on doctrine in the interwar period in the Cambridge History of War, Vol. IV: War and the Modern World

--

"The color of collar tabs on parade uniforms does not matter. Other seemingly trivial questions do. How much autonomy accompanied the red trouser stripes of the German general staff officer? How often did infantry units train with antiaircraft guns? Did generals join admirals for lunch? Arguably more than analyses that parse military theory, questions like these explain nations' wartime performance." 

Having recently disparaged “brass buttons” trivia by some military historians, I was interested in the distinction drawn by the well-known West Point historian Eugenia Kiesling in the conclusion of her essay on doctrine in the interwar period in the Cambridge History of War, Vol. IV: War and the Modern World

“The color of collar tabs on parade uniforms does not matter. Other seemingly trivial questions do. How much autonomy accompanied the red trouser stripes of the German general staff officer? How often did infantry units train with antiaircraft guns? Did generals join admirals for lunch? Arguably more than analyses that parse military theory, questions like these explain nations’ wartime performance.” 

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

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.