June 2018 Book Reviews
Unlikely Duo Dispenses Leadership Advice
Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership. Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman. Missionday. 192 pages. $26.95
By Maj. Crispin J. Burke
Gen. Martin Dempsey, then commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, was amazed at the insights of a young company commander during a visit to a remote outpost on the Afghan border in 2009. The captain used an interesting analogy to explain that killing or capturing Taliban leaders had little effect on the organization as a whole. U.S. forces tended to treat the Taliban as a spider—crush the center and the legs die. But the Taliban operated like a starfish—lose a leg, and the starfish grows a new leg.
The analogy, of course, was borrowed from New York Times bestselling author Ori Brafman’s book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, co-authored with Rod A. Beckstrom. After returning to the United States, Dempsey invited Brafman to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to discuss leadership. It was the beginning of what would become a decade-long friendship between two unlikely partners: Brafman, the 41-year-old vegan from Berkeley, Calif., and Dempsey, the 41-year veteran of the U.S. Army. The guru and the general, as they call one another, have teamed up for a book about leadership, Radical Inclusion: What the Post 9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership.
The two make an unlikely literary pair, with Dempsey’s pragmatic advice juxtaposed with Brafman’s thoughts on organizational cultures. Both are interesting in their own right, but it’s often difficult to tell which direction the book is going, as the authors take turns providing the book’s narrative. The retired general’s anecdotes gathered from four decades of military service are memorable, but Brafman doesn’t always put these stories in their proper context. For example, an early scene portrays Dempsey in the White House shortly after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, during which President Barack Obama turns to him and asks, “What do you think?” The scene abruptly cuts to Brafman’s talk of “digital echoes.” The scene provides some much-needed color and excitement early in the book, but it does little to advance the arguments of the authors.
Brafman made a name for himself with a memorable analogy. And though Radical Inclusion certainly contains valuable advice for leaders, it just doesn’t have the sticking power of Brafman’s previous works. Unlike Brafman’s metaphor of the starfish and the spider, terms like “digital echo” and “radical inclusion” just won’t pop into your head when you’re at a remote outpost. Indeed, the real lesson of Radical Inclusion—of valuing the contributions of everyone in an organization—is told more through Dempsey’s actions than Brafman’s words. One heartwarming story involves a troubled young private from then-Lt. Dempsey’s first platoon in the 1970s who straightens his life out and becomes a master sergeant. Images like these resonate with the reader more than Brafman’s prose, which can be difficult to penetrate.
In the end, inclusion is more than just a buzzword; it’s solid leadership advice. Soldiers volunteered for the Army to be part of something bigger than themselves—to be included. It’s our responsibility as leaders to harness the power of each and every soldier within our formations.
Maj. Crispin J. Burke is an Army aviation officer who has served with the 82nd Airborne Division. He can be followed on Twitter at @CrispinBurke.
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Green Berets Find Adventure in Vietnam
We Few: U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam. Nick Brokhausen. Casemate. 360 pages. $32.95
By Lt. Col. Charles A. Krohn, U.S. Army retired
We Few is a tale of boys having a hard time growing up. They seem to be aspiring Peter Pans feeling their way through life in search of fame and adventure. In short, no risk, no glory. Where could life be better than in a closely knit reconnaissance company near the Demilitarized Zone with occasional cross-border raids? Officers are witless and get in the way, because only out-of-step sergeants have a feel for the close fight. Hearty appetites are part of the deal and celebrations are endless, so long as you can make them last.
In this memoir by Nick Brokhausen of his second tour of duty as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War, I found the details amusing, but they often come across as possibly fabricated. The book captures a lot of profanity and bluster by Special Forces, recording their foibles and drinking habits and occasional raids looking for bad guys and rescuing downed pilots. There’s a measure of grossness (throwing a Baby Ruth candy bar into the swimming pool to shock the uninitiated bathers, then eating it) and some misogynist passages that would make the Marquis de Sade blush. But overall it’s an amusing book aimed at younger readers. Does the book apply to today? Maybe, but I doubt conditions in Vietnam in 1970 have much application where our troops are currently deployed. (Good grief, I hope not!)
Embellishment can be an art form, and We Few can be favorably compared to Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Huckleberry Finn and other folk collections of tall tales.
In the author’s defense, other passages about lost friends display tender emotions rarely found in military literature, and Brokhausen’s overall handling of the English language is anything but casual.
The book is apparently a Special Forces cult classic, with copies of the first edition, published in 2005, unavailable.
Like Brokhausen, many of my memories still haunt me from years ago, especially from the Tet Offensive in 1968 when my battalion was surrounded outside Hue by a North Vietnamese Army regiment. Not only were there no women or booze, there wasn’t any food or ammunition either. With his contempt for “leg infantry,” I suspect Brokhausen wouldn’t be overly sympathetic.
“I am dreaming again,” begins the prologue, alluding to his youth in Minnesota. “I know I am dreaming because I can see the forested slopes and hills that ring the lake. I can see the sunlight dancing on the waves. ... But I know it is an illusion. Reality is a gray fog tugging at some part of my subconscious like a voice on the wind. I resist it because I do not want to go.” Don’t most of us old soldiers have similar recollections, comparing the peace of our youth with the violence of war?
Donut Dollies date officers, so Brokhausen detests the girls trying to amuse young soldiers with a taste of home. “They would always come around to boost the morale of the troops, prancing themselves around like they were raving beauty queens, when the stuck-up little snots wouldn’t give a lowly enlisted man the time of day.”
After considerable venting, We Few begins in earnest in Chapter 9 with straightforward accounts of combat. It’s good stuff.
It’s hard to talk about the Army in Vietnam in 1970 without touching on race relations. Brokhausen handles it well, prompting one to note how changed things are today when racial harmony is rarely mentioned, being a nonissue.
“Spearchucker is one of the very few blacks in Recon, and is as twisted as the rest of us bleached models. There are no color barriers in Recon, because you have to be rejected by your own kind as horribly stunted socially just to qualify for the brotherhood. So Spearchucker is one of us, heart, soul, and twisted little mind.”
Fortunately, Brokhausen’s description, as accurate as it may be about life with Special Forces, doesn’t capture the story of every organization the Army fielded in Vietnam. Still, as the war wore on, discipline did collapse more often than one wants to acknowledge. I saw this firsthand during my second tour, 1970–1971, as a district senior adviser in Tay Ninh Province. Fragging was not uncommon.
There’s humor too in We Few. During training near Da Nang at Monkey Mountain, a firefight of sorts erupted between recon and a family of gibbons. Weapons were fired, but the monkeys won, or at least tied.
An overall assessment of the war and its outcome is out of place here. Despite all our efforts and sacrifices, the war didn’t end well for us, but that’s not what this book is about.
There’s a measure of irony that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson docked in March at the port of Da Nang. Frankly, I don’t know how I should react. I can’t keep from thinking about the approximately 2 million Vietnamese who disappeared after the North Vietnamese occupied Saigon in 1975.
Lt. Col. Charles A. Krohn, USA Ret., served two tours in Vietnam. He served in the Green Zone in Baghdad as an Army civilian from 2003–2004. He lives in Panama City Beach, Fla., and writes about military matters. He is the author of an AUSA Title, The Lost Battalion of Tet: Breakout of the 2/12th Cavalry of Hue.
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Generals’ Foibles Revealed
The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West. Robert M. Utley. University of Oklahoma Press. 256 pages. $29.95
By Capt. Garrison Haning
I have a confession: I love Gunsmoke. The radio play and the TV show. Same goes for The Rifleman. And The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. These facts played no small role in my choosing the 1st Cavalry Division as my first Army unit to commission into. Better yet, I branched field artillery and had the good fortune to attend the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill, Okla. And after all that, I loved the West so much I chose to stay in Tulsa, Okla., when I moved into the Army Reserve.
So, when I picked up a copy of The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West, published by the University of Oklahoma Press and written by Robert M. Utley, America’s pre-eminent scholar of 19th-century western military history, I was as excited as I was predisposed to enjoy the subject matter.
The excitement was justified. The Commanders will prove to be a highly informing manuscript for even the most well-read scholar of western military history.
I’ll start with this book’s strengths, of which there are many. The Commanders begins with a portrait of a surprisingly ragtag, postwar, frontier army, whereafter the author uses the rest of his chapters to examine the lives and commands of Gens. Christopher Augur, George Crook, Oliver Howard, Nelson Miles, Edward O.C. Ord, John Pope and Alfred Terry.
Utley proves his prowess, yet again, as a highly adept researcher. His depth and breadth of knowledge regarding America’s western expansion post-Civil War is characteristically impressive. The index and notes section of the 256-page book is 30 pages, representing nearly 12 percent of the text. I’ve seen Pulitzer Prize winners with significantly less research than this.
Moreover, a cursory glance of Utley’s notes section reveals sources such as “Telegram, Sherman to Sheridan, July 24, 1879”; “Miles’ Papers, Box 3, Folder 9” from 1866, located in Carlisle, Pa.; and House and Senate testimonies and annual reports from the 1870s. The attention to detail and scholarship Utley brings to his examination of the post-Civil War era of western expansion is, at least in my experience, unparalleled.
Another laudable element of The Commanders is Utley’s decision to spend a chapter at the conclusion of the book unflinchingly evaluating the generals. And his assessments are uncomfortably stark. He pulls no punches as he examines these men, explaining how one general “sinks below mediocrity” due to restlessness, ignoring routine department duties and spending most of his time “traveling, revisiting old controversies, and lobbying for his own preferment.”
In the same chapter, he notes another general’s departmental headquarters as being noteworthy for only one thing: “his extreme Christian faith.” Utley’s evaluation of his subjects shows no hero worship or flattery. He simply reviews each general’s strengths and weaknesses, and ranks each in relation to his peers. And this clear-eyed, detail-oriented assessment reminds us all that, for better or for worse, to some degree, history will hold us all accountable.
One thing to keep in mind with Utley’s work is that this is high scholarship, which may not be the right fit for the casual reader of military history. It is written for an audience seeking a master’s course on the Army of the West. Utley goes well beyond the typical people, places and events that comprise a rudimentary understanding of 19th-century western warfare. Consequently, the subjects of the book do not rank among the first and most consequential tier of 19th-century generals. And on this point, the author doesn’t mince words, noting one was “slightly above mediocre,” two were “mediocre or worse” and another was “mediocre though extremely well-liked.”
With Utley’s command of detail, there were a few moments in his writing where I wish he’d spent more time. As one example, during Utley’s examination of Pope, he writes about a battle between one of the general’s scouting battalions and 1,000 Indian warriors. He covers the battle in four sentences, concluding, “The troops drove the attackers into a deep ravine and held them under a heavy fire until nightfall allowed them to escape. About three hundred warriors died in the ravine.” For me, as a reader, blazing through an event such as this was a bit jarring. Other examples, such as Utley’s treatment of Miles’ experience serving as the jailer to Jefferson Davis post-Civil War, were similarly spare, and would have been fascinating to know more about.
Characteristic of Utley’s previous books, The Commanders is sure to be an informative read to even the most erudite military historian. The book’s primary shortcoming is that there simply isn’t enough time to adequately cover all the details that Utley’s research propounds and that his mind commands. Still, for any reader hoping to gain a deep understanding of being an officer in the western Army of the 19th century, The Commanders will not disappoint.
Capt. Garrison Haning, USAR, deployed to Iraq in 2011 as a platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division and served as a battery commander at Fort Sill, Okla. He is a 2009 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.
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Biography Finally Brings Bradley to the Fore
Omar Nelson Bradley: America’s GI General, 1893–1981. Steven L. Ossad. University of Missouri Press. 492 pages. $36.95
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired
Of the great World War II Army commanders, only Gen. Omar N. Bradley lacks a complete biography. Bradley is frequently marginalized by the more illustrious Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and the more flamboyant Gen. George S. Patton. In Omar Nelson Bradley: America’s GI General, Steven L. Ossad corrects this imbalance. Given that 2018 is the 125th anniversary of the general’s birth, this excellent biography cannot have come at a more opportune time.
The co-author of the book Major General Maurice Rose: World War II’s Greatest Forgotten Commander and a frequent contributor to popular and academic military history journals, Ossad is a recipient of the Army War College’s General and Mrs. Matthew Ridgway Military History Award and the 2003 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for his ARMY magazine article on command failures at World War II’s Battle of Kasserine Pass.
Ossad begins his narrative with a prologue that centers on the 1913 Army-Navy baseball game in which Bradley was picked off first base by the opposing pitcher. Bradley vehemently objected to the umpire’s call, but the decision was final. What does this story reveal about Bradley’s life and character? Ossad opines that the episode illustrates his subject’s “deep inability to admit and rationally analyze a mistake, especially in his technical areas of expertise.”
Ossad then makes a rather tenuous leap to July 1944 when Bradley’s miscalculation about how far to pull back the infantry before a massive preparatory carpet-bombing during Operation Cobra—Bradley’s undisputed triumph in World War II upon which his claim to greatness as an Army commander rests—resulted in massive friendly casualties. Bradley blamed weather conditions and Eighth Air Force staff planners, rather than accept responsibility for his stubborn miscalculation of a safe withdrawal distance.
On balance, the Bradley who emerges from these pages is a “complex, controversial, and in some ways much less appealing and much less bland individual than the popularly interpreted GI’s general persona suggests.” Ossad assigns Bradley higher marks for rehabilitating II Corps in North Africa than he gives Patton. In Sicily, Bradley’s performance was solid, placing him “just below the highest tier” of American commanders of the war such as J. Lawton Collins or Lucian Truscott. With respect to the liberation of Europe, Bradley was indispensable to Eisenhower as Supreme Commander and Eisenhower had no reservations in calling Bradley “the master tactician of our forces.”
One of the most intriguing features of Ossad’s biography remains Bradley’s relationship with Eisenhower. Though the two future generals were West Point classmates, Ossad posits that the two commanders “were friendly, but they were never close.” Throughout their careers, Bradley and Eisenhower shared little personal contact or warmth. Even after Bradley succeeded Eisenhower as Army chief of staff in 1947, “they never recovered their wartime intimacy.”
Excellent maps enhance the reader’s understanding of the complex military maneuvers in the European Theater. A few factual errors detract from the text, such as misspelling the name of the Army chief of staff in World War I: Peyton C. March, not Marsh; and of Fort Donelson, not Donaldson, in the Civil War. These observations aside, Ossad presents the most comprehensive biography of Bradley to date. Though readers may disagree with Ossad’s assertion that Bradley remains first among equals of the Western Allies as an army group commander, there is no denying that he must be considered one of the principal architects of Allied victory in World War II.
Readers are in Ossad’s debt for bringing the last of the five-star generals to life as we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
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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A New Look at Patton’s Warfighting Philosophy
Patton’s Way: A Radical Theory of War. James Kelly Morningstar. Naval Institute Press. 374 pages. $35
By Capt. John Nelson Rickard, Canadian Army
James Kelly Morningstar’s new study of Gen. George S. Patton’s warfighting philosophy, Patton’s Way: A Radical Theory of War, demonstrates the historical value of looking at well-worn subjects from new perspectives.
Morningstar, a career soldier, has effectively practiced historical archaeology by removing the dirt to better reveal Patton’s “way.” When Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower cut Patton’s logistical support at the end of August 1944, Morningstar asserts, it “effectively obscured the historical import of Patton’s way of war,” and the “babble” written by Eisenhower and Gen. Omar N. Bradley after World War II created a skewed image of Patton’s methods.
Morningstar says Patton adhered to four core warfighting principles: targeting the enemy’s morale through shock; utilizing combined-arms mechanized columns; employing mission tactics and flexible command and control; and employing multilayered, synthesized intelligence to identify enemy capabilities and vulnerabilities.
Patton rejected the traditional U.S. Army’s focus on destroying the enemy army and developed a new calculus that included fire to enable maneuver; maneuver to create shock; shock to frustrate enemy decision-making; frustrate decision-making to destroy enemy morale; and destroy morale to collapse the will. Morningstar demonstrates the existence of Patton’s calculus in planning for the Normandy breakout, the continuous drive into Lorraine, France, and his desire to strike behind the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge.
Morningstar’s other key idea is that Patton’s methods disappeared following the war amid the battle of the memoirs and the Army’s focus on nuclear warfare. No trace of Patton’s warfighting philosophy could be found in the Active Defense doctrine, but Morningstar argues that Gen. Donn Starry “channeled Patton” when AirLand Battle was introduced in 1982. Four years later, Field Manual (FM) 100-5: Operations contained five references to Patton, and Morningstar highlights the reference to audacity: “To the overly cautious around him, [Patton] warned, ‘Never take counsel of your fears. The enemy is more worried than you are. Numerical superiority, while useful, is not vital to successful offensive action.’ ”
Morningstar argues that “the Patton flame was reignited by [Gen. Creighton] Abrams, fanned by [Gen. William E.] DePuy, and set roaring by Starry” and finally broke lose in the First Gulf War, with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. playing the role of Patton and Gen. Fred Franks playing the role of the pedestrian Bradley.
Morningstar also tackles the currently fashionable topic of the applicability of “Patton’s way” to counterinsurgency. Much of what Gen. David Petraeus wrote in FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency “suited Patton’s way of war,” Morningstar offers, but Patton would have balked at the strategically defensive nature of counterinsurgency. To former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly’s suggestion that Patton would say, “Give me the Third, I’ll go into Syria and I’ll wipe them all out,” Morningstar implies that O’Reilly did not really understand Patton’s methods. “Patton’s way of war was tailored to the particular circumstances of conventional land warfare, not counterinsurgency,” he writes.
Scholars will not agree with all of Morningstar’s views, especially his contention that other historians have not already identified many of the points he raises. In fact, they have, but his approach is refreshing and this makes Patton’s Way the kind of book that soldiers should read as part of their Professional Military Education. It is easy to read and offers a fascinating, focused examination of Patton’s warfighting philosophy, how it was misaligned with many aspects of contemporary U.S. Army doctrine, and how it has survived into the present.
Capt. John Nelson Rickard is a staff officer in Army War Studies at the Canadian Army Command and Staff College, Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of five books including the AUSA Title Advance and Destroy: Patton as Commander in the Bulge, which won the 2011 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award. His latest book is Forward with Patton: The World War II Diary of Colonel Robert S. Allen, also an AUSA Title. He has a doctorate from the University of New Brunswick.