July 2017 Book Reviews
‘Impossible Task’ Makes for Exciting Read
Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918–1920. Col. John M. House, USA Ret. The University of Alabama Press. 264 pages. $49.95
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed
U.S. Army retired
Though expeditionary forces characterize current operations by America’s armed forces, few military operations are more misunderstood than President Woodrow Wilson’s choice to deploy American soldiers to Siberia in the aftermath of World War I. In an exciting new book on this largely forgotten episode of American history, retired Army Col. John M. House has written the definitive history of the campaign that offers valuable insights into the military-political arena in which the U.S. finds itself in the 21st century.
House served in command and staff positions in the U.S., Germany, South Korea and Southwest Asia (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). After retiring from the Army in 2001, he worked as a consultant and Army civilian employee and is now the president of a consulting firm. He also is a part-time faculty member at Walden University, Minn.; Columbus State University, Ga.; and Northcentral University, Ariz.; and is the author of Why War? Why an Army?
The American forces that deployed to Siberia originated when Maj. Gen. William Sidney Graves, commander of the Army’s Eighth Division at Camp Fremont, Calif., received an “aide memoire” from then-Secretary of War Newton Baker in the summer of 1918. Graves was well-known to the secretary and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peyton C. March, as Graves served as March’s secretary of the general staff before assuming division command in July 1918. The aide memoire served as the guiding document for “one of the United States’ first efforts in the twentieth century to use military power overseas to protect its interests without a formal declaration of war.” Providing muscle for the U.S. were the soldiers of the 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” and the 31st Infantry Regiment “Polar Bears.” These 7,000 American soldiers comprised a significant portion of the combined American-Japanese landing force that was deployed to open Vladivostok and the Trans-Siberian Railway west to Irkutsk.
Graves’ instructions were to cooperate with America’s allies, most notably the Czechoslovakians and Japanese, in order to guard the “military stores which may subsequently be needed by Russian forces to render such aid as may be acceptable to the Russians in the organization of their own self-defense.” The memoire also directed that under no circumstances would any interference or impairment of Russian sovereignty be tolerated.
Additional tasks included assisting Czech forces operating near Vladivostok as “recent developments had made it evident that [military intervention] was in the interest of what the Russian people themselves” desired. Not surprisingly, military intervention in an internal conflict between the “White” Russian forces and the “Red” Bolshevik government proved fraught with danger, a lesson frequently forgotten by modern military and political leaders.
Though American forces remained in Siberia until early 1920, the last Czech envoy did not depart Vladivostok until June 2, 1920. By January 1923 virtually all of Siberia was under Bolshevik control. Though the deployment was well-intentioned, the strategic goals were not met. Essentially, the U.S. deployed American troops to Siberia “to accomplish a mission that was poorly defined.” House concludes that the American soldiers “performed exceptionally well even though faced with an impossible task.”
House cites multiple lessons today’s policymakers should learn. Coalition operations require a single allied commander and a coordinated allied plan. Relations among the American Expeditionary Force, allies and several U.S. governmental agencies were inconsistent. National interests among the allies were not always identical, nor were American governmental priorities among agencies. Perhaps the most glaring lesson the Siberian intervention reveals is that coalition operations require “a clear mission that is supported by all elements of the U.S. government and our allies participating in the operations.”
In the final analysis, House has produced the most authoritative study of the Siberian expedition. His analysis of the impediments encountered by an expeditionary force deployed on the Asian mainland is not only informative, but it serves as a timely reminder for future leaders who act haphazardly without defining the parameters of victory.
Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, is a writer and consultant. He has a doctorate from Ohio State University..
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Segregated Unit Finds Place in History
Honor Before Glory: The Epic World War II Story of the Japanese American GIs Who Rescued the Lost Battalion. Scott McGaugh. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. $25.99
By Col. Leif G. Johnson
U.S. Army retired
Honor Before Glory demands our attention as it recounts the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd is a revered unit in the Army’s annals, but at its birth in World War II it was a segregated unit with rank and file composed solely of second-
generation Americans of Japanese descent known as Nisei.
Constituted at Camp Shelby, Miss., in the spring of 1943, members of the 442nd were recruited or drafted less than a year after most were subject to Executive Order 9066—the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This dark chapter in U.S. history reflects the pervasive public bigotry and racism that swept the nation at the time. It is also central to the history and legacy of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Honor Before Glory is New York Times bestselling author Scott McGaugh’s seventh book. It is, on the surface, a well-told tale of small-unit tactics under harsh conditions across forbidding terrain. The 442nd’s mission was to rescue 211 members of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, who were surrounded and cut off behind enemy lines in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France in October 1944. What makes it a compelling narrative is the underlying question posed by the author in his preface: Was the 442nd “expendable,” so much “cannon fodder” to its chain of command, to be used in only the most desperate of situations because of its members’ color and ethnicity? Was the Nisei experience throughout the war a test of loyalty, or a way to prove their loyalty to America? These are hard questions McGaugh leaves to the reader to ponder.
In October 1944, the Army was enjoying significant success in pushing the German army back toward its borders. In western France, Paris had been liberated in August, but Bastogne was yet to earn its notoriety. In eastern France, Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch’s Seventh Army had battled its way north from its landings on the Cote d’Azur to the foothills of the Vosges Mountains during Operation Dragoon. It is here, in late October, that McGaugh picks up the story.
The 36th Infantry Division, which was part of Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott Jr.’s VI Corps, was commanded by Maj. Gen. John Dahlquist. They were tasked with dislodging German defenders that stood between them and the Rhine River, 45 miles to the east. Facing the division were elements of German Army Group G. They were a depleted but capable force, ably led by combat veterans. And the Germans chose their terrain wisely. The Vosges Mountains featured thick forest (think Ardennes) with steep and rough ridges and hilltops throughout. The road network was mostly narrow logging trails. It is, in a nutshell, Infantry Country.
Three companies of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, the vanguard of the division effort, became separated from their battalion headquarters and flank units and were marooned behind the entrenched, resolute enemy. When the 141st failed to breach the German positions and rescue their comrades, the 442nd was brought in to try. Following five days of intense fighting and with significant losses,
the Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team prevailed, rescuing the lost battalion. And in doing so, they added a significant chapter of combat prowess and mettle to their history.
By the end of the war, the 442nd was the most highly decorated unit of its size in the Army. Yet this recognition at home had little effect on assuaging the racism and bigotry that greeted many members of the 442nd upon their return. It took many years for the U.S. government to fully reconcile its culpability in the shameful treatment of Japanese-Americans, and even more years for the Department of the Army to rectify its prejudicial processing of medals and decorations awarded to the Nisei of the 442nd.
The Army has, through its history, often been an incubator for social change. Honor Before Glory provides wide-eyed perspective on that notion, but it delivers primarily in recounting the heroic actions of soldiers in war. Kudos to McGaugh for his treatment of combat, racism, history, valor and the human condition. His is a well-written book worthy of attention.
Col. Leif G. Johnson, USA Ret., served more than 26 years in the Medical Service Corps, commanding at every level from medical company to medical group.
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Ultimate Ranger Is Inspirational Role Model
Ranger: A Soldier’s Life. Col. Ralph Puckett, USA Ret., with D.K.R. Crosswell. University Press of Kentucky (An AUSA Title). 306 pages. $39.95
By Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer
U.S. Army retired
Ranger: A Soldier’s Life recounts the extraordinary experiences of a true American hero, retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett. With the help of co-author D.K.R. Crosswell, he shares his life as an Army officer, on and off the battlefield. And his life after Army retirement is filled with success in the corporate world and inspired by his desire to help others.
Puckett’s is the inspirational life story of a remarkable soldier. It’s about physical and moral courage, and doing the right thing regardless of the consequences. It is filled with important lessons learned about life in and out of the military.
Puckett grew up in a small town in central Georgia and was blessed with parents who instilled values and set the right example for him and his siblings. His mother exerted great influence on young Ralph—she “did her best to make a gentleman out of me”—but his father was his hero. Puckett “wanted to be like him in every way.”
Inspired by the stories of heroic exploits of World War I aviators, young Puckett started his military career in the U.S. Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve. He admits that it was a decision that “grew more from boyish enthusiasms than careful consideration.” As his pre-aviation cadet training progressed, World War II was winding down and the Air Force disbanded the program. Because Puckett was a volunteer, he was discharged.
The U.S. Military Academy was next. Immersion in the military value system began the minute Puckett stepped through the portal of West Point. The value system first instilled by his parents was reinforced at the school. “Duty, honor, country” was more than a motto—it was a commandment. He would need that strength to see him through the challenges that lay ahead.
In late November 1950, Puckett commanded the U.S. Eighth Army Ranger Company located on the strategically important Hill 205 overlooking the Chongchon River during one of the toughest battles of the Korean War. His 51-man company and nine Korean augmentees were attacked by hundreds of Chinese. Puckett was wounded three times before being evacuated. For his actions, he received our country’s second-highest award for courage on the battlefield—the Distinguished Service Cross.
The years between the wars were filled with opportunities to improve Army training and leader development. After he returned from Korea and a yearlong recovery from his wounds, Puckett joined the newly established Ranger Department at Fort Benning, Ga. There he served as an instructor, tactical officer and company commander at Fort Benning and the Mountain Ranger Camp in North Georgia. In 1955, he was sent to Colombia, where he served as a Ranger adviser to the Colombian army and helped organize the Escuela de Lanceros Leadership Course, the Colombian army’s equivalent of Ranger School.
His professional education continued with his selection to attend the Armed Forces Staff College and U.S. Army War College. The time between the schools was spent at the Pentagon assigned to the Office of Personnel Operations, Infantry Branch.
The Vietnam War brought new responsibilities and challenges: two battalion command assignments, the Tet Offensive and wounds from a grenade that shattered his eardrums and almost cost him his life. Puckett received his second Distinguished Service Cross for valor and was established as an extraordinary leader.
Army retirement brought with it new opportunities to serve others, this time in the private sector, and recognition for his selfless service to the nation. Induction into the Ranger Hall of Fame inaugural class and the prestigious infantry Doughboy Award are among the many honors Puckett has received. He was selected and served as the honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment for 12 years. The honorary colonel acts as “a link with the rich history, customs and traditions of the Rangers.”
All told, Puckett is an inspirational role model for future generations of Army Rangers. They would do well to read his life story.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, USA Ret., held a variety of assignments with infantry, Special Forces and Ranger units during his 32 years of active military service. He is the former director of the Association of the U.S. Army’s NCO and Soldier Programs and is now an AUSA Senior Fellow.
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Tackle Problems With More Competitive Thinking
The Polythink Syndrome: U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions on 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and ISIS. Alex Mintz and Carly Wayne. Stanford University Press. 200 pages. $70
By Lt. Col. Todd A. Schmidt
Why might elite decision-makers make suboptimal decisions? This is the primary research question driving the investigation and theory proposed in The Polythink Syndrome by Alex Mintz and Carly Wayne. Providing case-study analysis of U.S. national security and foreign policy decision-making involving major foreign policy issues from 9/11 to the present, the authors demonstrate symptoms and implications of their theory for elite, small-group decision-making in foreign policy arenas, as well as prescriptions and strategies for avoiding negative aspects of polythink while taking advantage of its applicable qualities.
The authors are qualified to speak on the topic: Mintz serves as chairman of the Israeli Political Science Association and director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. Wayne is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. The authors’ research and scholarship is deeply grounded in international relations and foreign policy analysis and decision-making.
The book is an important contribution to international relations literature for four primary reasons. First, it offers timely contrasting theory to groupthink. Second, with its 21st-century focus, it is a contemporary complement to Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Additionally, it provides theory for international relations scholars and high-ranking civilian and military practitioners who seek to understand why elite decision-makers engage in flawed policy processes and produce flawed policy outcomes. Finally, for students of civil-military relations, the case studies provide important applications and lessons for highly competitive organizations. They demonstrate how intradepartmental or interagency decision-making can be influenced and potentially flawed through “expert-novice” divides, as well as manipulating leader-follower relationships.
Polythink offers an opposing theory to groupthink, a leading theory in foreign policy decision-making explored by Yale Research psychologist Irving Janis. Understanding polythink requires understanding groupthink for context, comparison and contrast. Groupthink theory describes natural psychological tendency and pressure within small groups to maximize unanimity and uniformity; minimize dissent and conflict; fail to consider, analyze and evaluate all feasible options; ignore limitations of their decisions; and overestimate the odds of success. Conformity of thought results in stifled creativity and little independent thought. It is “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
In contrast, polythink is a theory of small-group, elite decision-making that is fraught with intragroup conflict and disunity, disagreement and plurality of opinions, divergent and disjointed recommendations, paralysis and inaction. Challenges arise because of differing worldviews, political and institutional considerations and affiliations, personality and leadership traits, competing expert-novice perspectives, and unaligned leader-follower interests, goals and objectives. Symptoms include conflict, turf battles, leaks, confusion, disjointed communications, limited options, little or no appraisal of critical information, compromised position-taking, and paralysis.
The authors explore foreign policy decision-making in five major case studies: the 9/11 attacks; Afghanistan War decisions; Iraq War decisions; the Iranian nuclear dispute; and foreign policy challenges surrounding Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Islamic State group. Each case study is analyzed using a rubric that demonstrates the symptoms of polythink, as well as normative, value-driven differences, expert-novice divides, and leader-follower relationships within elite, small-group decision-making bodies.
The authors’ theory assumes the decision-making process is a human process and state decisions are human decisions. To understand human decision-making, we must understand the human process. Understanding microfoundations in international relations and foreign policy analysis is critical to identifying elite, small-group decision-making dynamics. Is the small-group competitive, collegial, formal or informal? Identifying and understanding these group dynamics can help identify potential flaws to which the small group may be susceptible. Groups of colleagues are more susceptible to groupthink symptoms, while competitive groups are more susceptible to polythink symptoms.
There are positive qualities inherent in polythink that can be exploited. Strong leadership, clear vision, unambiguous goals and objectives, open discussion, diverse membership and a balanced process can exploit polythink’s inherent advantages. Advantages include increased effectiveness and efficiency at which diverse groups learn, adapt and remain agile in the ability to confront and negotiate a complex and chaotic international environment.
This book is highly recommended for foreign policy analysis scholars, as well as for students of civil-military relations and senior-executive elites in civilian and military leadership positions.
Lt. Col. Todd A. Schmidt is a former battalion commander attending the University of Kansas for Senior Service College in pursuit of a doctorate in political science through the Army Strategic Policy and Planning Program.