The Collapse of Generalship in the 1960s – Thomas E. Ricks

Synopsis:

The American institutional paradigm of strategic mediocrity at the highest levels of command became most recognized during the Vietnam War. Journalist Thomas E. Ricks believes the strategic incapacity is rooted in careerism, bureaucratization, byzantine promotion practices, institutional arrogance, and negligence at finding fault within the high command. According to Ricks, post-Vietnam American generalship has fared no better, because the military – particularly the Army – has focused on perfecting operational rather than strategic command.

Excerpts:

“A popular myth, persisting even in today’s military, is that senior civilians were too involved in the handling of the war. In fact, the problem was not that civilians participated too much in decision making but that the senior military leaders participated too little. President Johnson, Maxwell Taylor, and Robert McNamara treated the Joint Chiefs of Staff not as military advisers but as a political impediment, a hurdle to be overcome, through deception if necessary. They wanted to keep the Chiefs on board with policy without keeping them involved in making it or even necessarily informed about it.

“Unlike FDR, Johnson never really explained his war to the nation. ‘At no time that I was aware,’ wrote Joseph Alsop, who became almost the last ‘hawk’ among prominent journalists, ‘did President Johnson or his advisers seek to prepare the American people for the grim consequences of a protracted military battle, nor did they adequately explain to the public the reasons for the fight.’ Neither the president nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff did their duty during the Vietnam War.

“Pentagon analyst Thomas Thayer recalled being told by the French defense attaché in Saigon – a veteran of fighting in Vietnam who was chosen for the diplomatic post because of his excellent English – that during the first eighteen months of his assignment, only one American had visited him to inquire about the lessons the French might have to share. Even more strikingly, when Army Special Forces troops under a CIA program began training villagers to defend themselves, the program worked, with armed locals posting ‘a record of almost unbroken success’ against the Viet Cong… Maxwell Taylor, by then the American ambassador, directed the CIA to turn the program over to the U.S. military, resulting in a major drop in the effectiveness of the mission.

“Firing senior officers would have been seen as a confession of failure. Furthermore, in a hazy war with a muddled strategy, what constituted success was less clear, so rewarding it and punishing failure became even more difficult. The result was that by the arrival of the Vietnam War, firing a general officer amounted to an act of dissent, a public questioning of the way the Army worked, because it involved someone who had risen through a demanding process over two decades. To say that he was not fit for a position was tantamount to a rejection of the process that had produced him. So where relief was once a sign that the system was working as expected – rewarding success and punishing failure – it had become seen inside the Army as a hostile critique of the system.

“The relatively new technology of the helicopter might have enabled generals to try to escape their roles. Instead of trying to improve strategy, generals and colonels climbed into aircraft and became what one general called ‘squad leaders in the sky.’ They found themselves in a situation where the fundamental task of a general – to understand the nature of the fight and adjust his force to it – may have been all but undoable. When strategy becomes inexplicable, the natural tendency is to retreat into tactics.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, Penguin Group LLC.

The Vietnam Syndrome – Richard Nixon

Synopsis:

The Real War presents Richard Nixon’s strategic philosophy for the Cold War. His chapter ‘The Vietnam Syndrome’ keenly describes the cerebral influence the Vietnam War had on America, and its allies. The chapter also offers Nixon’s perspective on how the Vietnam War was directed before he became president, as well as presenting his own objectives for the war while he was president.

Excerpts:

“If South Vietnam had only had to contend with invasion and infiltration from the North across the forty-mile-long DMZ, it could have done so without the assistance of American forces… But Hanoi was able to use sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia as staging grounds for its assault on South Vietnam. In addition to making hit-and-run tactics possible, these lengthened the border the South had to defend from 40 to 640 miles, not counting indentations.

“Diem’s fall was followed by political instability and chaos in South Vietnam, and the event had repercussions all over Asia as well. President Ayub Khan of Pakistan told me a few months later, ‘Diem’s murder meant three things to many Asian leaders: that it is dangerous to be a friend of the United States; that it pays to be neutral; and that sometimes it helps to be an enemy.

“We tried to wage a conventional war against an enemy who was fighting an unconventional war. We tried to mold the South Vietnamese Army into a large-scale conventional force while the principal threat was still from guerrilla forces, which called for the sort of smaller-unit, local-force response that had proved so successful in Malaya. American military policy-makers tended to downplay the subtler political and psychological aspects of guerrilla war, trying instead to win by throwing massive quantities of men and arms at the objective. And then, the impact even of this was diluted by increasing American pressure gradually rather than suddenly, thus giving the enemy time to adapt.

“At the heart of the Nixon Doctrine is the premise that countries threatened by communist aggression must take the primary responsibility for their own defense. This does not mean that U.S. forces have no military role; what it does mean is that threatened countries have to be willing to bear the primary burden of supplying the manpower.

“After their decisive defeat on the ground by South Vietnamese forces in the spring offensive and the destruction of their war-making capabilities by the December bombing, the North Vietnamese knew that militarily they were up against almost impossible odds. As the South Vietnamese economy continued to prosper far more than that of the North, Hanoi’s communist ideology had less and less appeal. Thieu’s Land to the Tiller program, for example, had reduced tenancy from 60 to 7 percent by 1973, a truly revolutionary development that undercut the communists’ argument that the government allied itself with the rich and oppressed the people. Also, the North Vietnamese knew that both the Soviets and the Chinese had a stake in their new relationship with us and might not be willing to endanger that relationship by providing military supplies in excess of those allowed by the Paris peace agreement of January 1973.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Real War, Warner Books Inc.

Counterintelligence – Allen Dulles

Synopsis:

Allen Dulles served as the first director of the CIA, and in that role he spawned many of the heterodox espionage conventions of the Cold War era. In his book The Craft of Intelligence Dulles dedicates a chapter to the business of counterintelligence, and offers many keen insights into the nascent operational strategies of the agency.

Excerpts:

“…counterespionage on our side is directly concerned with uncovering secret aggression, subversion and sabotage. Although such information is not, like positive intelligence, of primary use to the government in the formation of policy, it often alerts our government to the nature of the thrusts of its opponents and the area in which political action on our part may be required.

“The classical aims of counterespionage are ‘to locate, identify and neutralize’ the opposition. ‘Neutralizing can take many forms. Within the United States an apprehended spy can be prosecuted under the law; so can a foreign intelligence officer who is caught red-handed if he does not have diplomatic immunity. If he has immunity, he is generally expelled. But there are other ways of neutralizing the hostile agent, and one of the best is exposure or the threat of exposure. A spy is not of much further use once his name, face and story are in the papers.

“Although the purpose of counterespionage is defensive, its methods are essentially offensive. Its ideal goal is to discover hostile intelligence plans in their earliest stages rather than after they have begun to do their damage. To do this, it tries to penetrate the inner circle of hostile services at the highest possible level where the plans are made and the agents selected and trained, and, if the job can be managed, to bring over to its side ‘insiders’ from the other camp.

“While much of the daily work of counterintelligence is laborious and humdrum, its complex and subtle operations are very much like a gigantic chess game that uses the whole world for its board.

“In the end, however, his ability to get a foot in the door depends on the apparent quality of the information he is offering. Every intelligence service has the problem of distinguishing, when such unsolicited offers come along, between a bona fide volunteer and a penetration agent who has been sent in by the other side. This is no easy matter. If counterespionage succeeds in ‘planting’ its penetration agent with the opposing service, it is hoped that the agent, once he is hired by the opposition, will be given increasingly sensitive assignments. All of them are reported duly by the agent to the intelligence service running the ‘penetration.’

*All excerpts have been taken from The Craft of Intelligence, Rowman & Littlefield.

The Strategic Services Command Proposal – Keith Nightingale

Synopsis:

The proposal for a Strategic Services Command (STRATSERCOM) was the brainchild of E.C. Meyer in the 1980s following the Desert One debacle in Iran. The proposal sought to create an independent Special Operations Forces (SOF) full four-star unified command with a re-development of the Tier system. At the time the proposal was informally rejected, but later many of the recommendations would be adopted as law by the United States Congress in the 1990s – thereby granting exceptional autonomy to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

Excerpts:

“The budget for special operations grew dramatically. In 1981, the Army special operations budget was $32 million. By 1983 it had risen to $440 million and by 1988, the total SOF budget was approximately $2.5 billion (though it represented only 1 percent of the total Department of Defense budget).

“The original concept was that each of the two Ranger battalions would rotate as a Tier One unit under the Army Component Commander as it assumed the six-week alert posture for Commanding General JSOC. The remaining battalion would be retained in Tier Two status.

“What General Meyer proposed was a unique concept with dramatic implications for DOD organizations. The rejection of the proposition by those required to change was completely consistent with DOD’s history, particularly its reaction towards special operations issues… STRATSERCOM was a child of his own vision of the world, a world that would require a form of support that the DOD was not capable of providing without a STRATSERCOM type of headquarters. He translated his vision into a deceptively simple graph that became the heart of the STRATSERCOM rationale.

“…objections that were raised were very general in nature. The consistent thread was concern that the force would be employed in a CINCs theater without prior coordination and would not work through the existing CINC structure. All agreed that the problems of low intensity combat in general and counter-terrorism specifically had to be addressed. USEUCOM endorsed the concept provided that deployed forces would report to him when in theater. No other CINC formally responded.

“Service staffs had expressed great concern over the force assignment issue. The Service Chiefs viewed the ‘assignment’ of forces to STRATSERCOM as a dangerous precedent, the Navy in particular. Service staffs informally recommended non-concurrence based on the possibility that future CINCs could demand the same command arrangements with concomitant loss of service control of component forces.

*All excerpts have been taken from Phoenix Rising: From the Ashes of Desert One to the Rebirth of U.S. Special Operations, Casemate Publishers.

The Campaigns of Heraclius in the East – George Finlay

Synopsis:

When the Roman Emperor Heraclius elevated himself to the throne in Constantinople, the empire was in a bleak state. It had been defeated, its armies destroyed, and most of its major cities conquered. The Persian monarch Chosroes II had succeeded in destroying Roman power in a string of successful campaigns initiated after the murder of his benefactor the Roman Emperor Mauricius by the usurper Phocas.

Nearly twenty years later the empire had been restored on all fronts, and the Persian enemy completely defeated with great slaughter. Heraclius was able to achieve this spectacular result after a series of brilliant counter-offensive campaigns into the heart of Persia, which included extinguishing the eternal flame of the fire god Ahura Mazda – the national deity of Persia – and the destruction of its ancient shrine.

In his seminal History of Greece, George Finlay details these campaigns and imparts his own sagacious commentary on the events.

Excerpts:

“Heraclius had repeatedly declared that he did not desire to make any conquest of Persian territory. His conduct when success had crowned his exertions, and when his enemy was ready to purchase his retreat at any price, proves the sincerity and justice of his policy. His empire required not only a lasting peace to recover from the miseries of the late war, but also many reforms in the civil and religious administration, which could only be completed during such a peace, in order to restore the vigor of the government.

“The fame of Heraclius would have rivaled that of Alexander, Hannibal, or Caesar, had he expired at Jerusalem, after the successful termination of the Persian war. He had established peace throughout the empire, restored the strength of the Roman government, revived the power of Christianity in the East, and replanted the holy cross on Mount Calvary. His glory admitted of no addition. Unfortunately, the succeeding years of his reign have, in the general opinion, tarnished his fame.

“Though the military glory of Heraclius was obscured by the brilliant victories of the Saracens, still his civil administration ought to receive its meed of praise, when we compare the resistance made by the empire which he reorganized with the facility which the followers of Mahomet found in extending their conquests over every other land from India to Spain.

“The moment the Mohammedan armies were compelled to rely solely on their military skill and religious enthusiasm, and ceased to derive any aid from the hostile feeling of the inhabitants to the imperial government, their career of conquest was checked; and almost a century before Charles Martel stopped their progress in the west of Europe, the Greeks had arrested their conquests in the East, by the steady resistance which they offered in Asia Minor.

“His effort to strengthen his power, by establishing a principle of unity, aggravated all the evils which he intended to cure; for while the Monophysites and the Greeks were as little disposed to unite as ever, the authority of the Eastern Church, as a body, was weakened by the creation of a new schism, and the incipient divisions between the Greeks and the Latins, assuming a national character, began to prepare the way for the separation of the two churches.

*All excerpts have been taken from Greece Under The Romans, B.C. 146 – A.D. 716, Palala Press.

The Case for General Theory – Colin S. Gray

Synopsis:

Published near the end of his life Theory of Strategy presents Colin Gray’s general theory of strategy. The theory is split into four components involving ideas relevant to politics, order, complexity, and cohesion, as well as two sub-categories which survey the significance of history and what may be described as strategic intuition.

Excerpts:

“As a general rule, the armed forces need to be able and willing to do it – whatever ‘it’ is – tactically, if operational art, strategy, and high policy are to be feasible.

“Unfortunately, there has been only one long-term pattern in human affairs, and that is a perpetual readiness to resort to conflict. Regardless of the character of the political, religious, and pseudo-religious ideas that have inspired the human historical narrative, this has been its single, and therefore master, theme….A theory of strategy claiming to be general, as here, needs to be housed firmly and plausibly in a resilient basis of causal explanation.

“The search for security must lead inexorably to a quest for strategy. It is solely through strategy that military power can be translated into political influence. This influence is the currency in which security is valued.

“Strategy is in the currency-conversion business, turning military power into political influence. The general theory of strategy is entirely indifferent as to the means employed to achieve this conversion. In practice, of course, the ways in which chosen means are used are often critical to the success or otherwise of the whole conversion enterprise. It can be important to emphasize to an army that, although vitally necessary, it is only a means to an end that is political by definition.

“The theory of war needs to be nested richly within a context of broad understanding of the likely consequences of conflict.

*All excerpts have been taken from Theory of Strategy, Colin S. Gray, Oxford University Press.

Strategies of Deterrence and of Action: The Strategy Intellectuals – Russell F. Weigley

Synopsis:

The immediate post World War Two strategic landscape in the United States was dominated by the development of nuclear weapons, and their application. In his book on American strategic thought Russell Weigley includes a chapter on the ascendancy of the civilian national security establishment amid the primacy of the early nuclear age. As the Cold War progressed these civilian ‘strategy intellectuals’ would become influential on American strategic doctrine.

Excerpts:

“Choosing among weapons systems, however, necessarily required judgments among various possible strategies. Making choices among future weapons systems and strategies would necessarily also involve choices among forms of military organization. And choices involving strategy and organization would carry the analysis far into the realms of policy. The expanded form of operations analysis which began with the effort to analyze the uses of future as well as existing weapons came to be called ‘systems analysis.’

“As Kissinger saw it, the strategy of deterrence when expressed as the doctrine of massive retaliation was the strategy that really forswore the diplomatic and strategic initiative. It amounted to a renunciation of the use of force except to counter the most unambiguous forms of aggression, because the weapons to be employed were too horrendous to be fired in any less circumstances.

“The search for a new strategic doctrine must not be confused with the search for a better weapons technology and with technical answers to technical questions. To seek refuge in technology from hard problems of strategy and policy was already another dangerous American tendency, fostered by the pragmatic qualities of the American character and by the complexity of nuclear-age technology.

“More than Ridgway, Taylor renewed the argument that without adequate capacities for limited war, America not only would face defensive disadvantages but would be unable to seize initiatives, unable to secure positive advantages that must be won in the battle for a better world. Massive retaliation, General Taylor reiterated, ‘could offer our leaders only two choices, the initiation of general nuclear war or compromise and retreat.’ A strategy of flexible response, in contrast, ‘would recognize that it is just as necessary to deter or win quickly a limited war as to deter general war.

“Therefore Morgenstern recommended a new application of sea power: to use sea power to ensure an invulnerable capacity for nuclear retaliation against the enemy’s homeland. He recommended the acceleration and enlargement of the Polaris program, so that nuclear submarines in constant movement could serve to launch the American missile force…The endurance capacity of nuclear engines would minimize the dependence of both submarines and seaplanes on fixed bases; except for occasional refueling, their supplies could be replenished from ships themselves moving in random patterns.

*All excerpts have been taken from The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy, Russell Weigley, Indiana University Press.

The Political Problems of Guerrilla Warfare – Mao Tse-tung

Synopsis:

On Guerrilla Warfare presents the ideological underpinnings of Mao Tse-tung’s theory of insurgency warfare. In true Clausewitzian style he devotes a chapter to the dynamic political dilemmas engendered by revolutionary guerrilla warfare.

Excerpts:

“Military action is a method used to attain a political goal. While military affairs and political affairs are not identical, it is impossible to isolate one from the other.

“A revolutionary army must have discipline that is established on a limited democratic basis.

“Officers should live under the same conditions as their men, for that is the only way in which they can gain from their men the admiration and confidence so vital in war. It is incorrect to hold to a theory of equality in all things, but there must be equality of existence in accepting the hardships and dangers of war.

“It is only undisciplined troops who make the people their enemies and who, like the fish out of its native element, cannot live.

“We further our mission of destroying the enemy by propagandizing his troops, by treating his captured soldiers with consideration, and by caring for those of his wounded who fall into our hands. If we fail in these respects, we strengthen the solidarity of our enemy.

*All excerpts have been taken from On Guerrilla Warfare, Mao Tse-tung, University of Illinois Press.

The Prerequisites for a Successful Insurgency – David Galula

Synopsis:

David Galula has long been considered the godfather of counterinsurgency warfare theory, and in his landmark book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice he highlights the requisite components for success in both insurgency as well as counterinsurgency operations. The second chapter of the book examines the prerequisites critical for a robust insurgency to take hold within a state.

Excerpts:

“It follows that any country where the power is invested in an oligarchy, whether indigenous or foreign, is potential ground for a revolutionary war.

“The problem becomes particularly dangerous when the society does not integrate those who, by the level of their education or by their achievements, have proved to belong to the true elite. For it is among this rejected elite that the insurgents can find the indispensable leaders.

“The insurgent is not restricted to the choice of a single cause. Unless he has found an over-all cause, like anticolonialism, which is sufficient in itself because it combines all the political, social, economic, racial, religious, and cultural causes described above, he has much to gain by selecting an assortment of causes especially tailored for the various groups in the society that he is seeking to attract.

The police. The eye and the arm of the government in all matters pertaining to internal order, the police are obviously a key factor in the early stages of an insurgency; they are the first counterinsurgent organization that has to be infiltrated and neutralized. Their efficiency depends on their numerical strength, the competency of their members, their loyalty toward the government, and, last but not least, on the backing they get from the other branches of the government – particularly the judicial system.

“The border areas are a permanent source of weakness for the counterinsurgent whatever his administrative structures, and this advantage is usually exploited by the insurgent, especially in the initial violent stages of the insurgency. By moving from one side of the border to the other, the insurgent is often able to escape pressure or, at least, to complicate operations for his opponent.

*All excerpts have been taken from Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula, Praeger Security International.

Civilization and Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud

Synopsis:

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud advances his own assumptions for the essential social frictions which exist in contemporary Western civilization. Freud faults the evolved mores of Christian civilization for the frictions, but recognizes the utility of some prohibitions for the conservation of social order. Regrettably, Freud carried with him – even late in life – a very shallow understanding of Christian morality, which undermines many of his assumptions.

Excerpts:

“Satisfaction is derived from illusions, which one recognizes as such without letting their deviation from reality interfere with one’s enjoyment. The sphere in which these illusions originate is the life of the imagination, which at one time, when the sense of reality developed, was expressly exempted from the requirements of the reality test and remained destined to fulfill desires that were hard to realize.

“In some way each of us behaves rather like a paranoiac, employing wishful thinking to correct some unendurable aspect of the world and introducing this delusion into reality. Of special importance is the case in which substantial numbers of people, acting in concert, try to assure themselves of happiness and protection against suffering through a delusional reshaping of reality.

“Happiness in life is sought mainly in the enjoyment of beauty, wherever it presents itself to our senses and our judgement – the beauty of human forms and gestures, of natural objects and landscapes, of artistic and even scientific creations. This aesthetic approach to the purpose of life affords little protection against the sufferings that threaten us, but it can make up for much. The enjoyment of beauty has a special quality of feeling that is mildly intoxicating. Beauty has no obvious use, nor is it easy to see why it is necessary to civilization; yet civilization would be unthinkable without it.

“No feature, however, seems to us to characterize civilization better than the appreciation and cultivation of the higher mental activities, of intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements, and the leading role accorded to ideas in human life. Foremost among these ideas are the systems of religion, on whose complex structure I have tried to throw some light elsewhere; next come philosophical speculations, and finally what may be called human ideals, the notions, formed by human beings, of the possible perfection of the individual person, the nation and humanity as a whole, together with the demands they set up on the basis of such notions.

“Much of mankind’s struggle is taken up with the task of finding a suitable, that is to say a happy accommodation, between the claims of the individual and the mass claims of civilization. One of the problems affecting the fate of mankind is whether such an accommodation can be achieved through a particular molding of civilization or whether the conflict is irreconcilable.

*All excerpts have been taken from Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, Penguin Modern Classics.