March 2020 Book Reviews

March 2020 Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

U.S. Owns Its Share of Postwar Debacles

The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace. Brendan Gallagher. Cornell University Press. 320 pages. $32.95

By Lt. Col. Nathan Finney

Few soldiers take the opportunity to enter academia, reflect on their time in conflict and answer questions about those experiences seared into their memories. Attending Columbia University in New York City as a Goodpaster Scholar, Lt. Col. Brendan Gallagher is one.

The result is his new book, The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace, which is part memoir, part professional military education monograph and part policy prescription. Through his analysis, Gallagher attempts to answer the question: Why does the most powerful nation in the world achieve triumphant military victories but fail once conventional combat has ended?

Gallagher draws on his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with interviews with dozens of senior government officials, to frame the issue as a failure to plan for the postwar period that follows a successful regime-change campaign.

Gallagher details three basic tasks that can test whether such a campaign included a sufficient postwar plan: there was a clearly identified, achievable political goal; obstacles were anticipated and mitigated; and sufficient resources were mobilized to align with the goal.

With these tasks as measures of performance, Gallagher provides operational case studies to analyze Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. After a brief background on each event, he assesses each conflict in a military-efficient, checklist manner, based on his three tasks. What results is a solid description of operations flavored with commentary from his interviews. However, the assessments of each campaign come across as somewhat overdetermined due to the formulaic format he employs in his analysis.

Gallagher then describes how his analysis fits into today’s security environment, providing policy prescriptions. First, the U.S. must be prepared for the window of opportunity between regime-change success and the political vacuum that follows. Second, planners must prepare for the worst. Third, lessons from history must be incorporated to prevent mistakes. Fourth, the National Security Council should be empowered in postwar planning. Fifth, the political goal should match U.S. political will to complete it. Sixth, planning must be more than a check-the-box process. And seventh, the U.S. must be highly selective in conducting regime change.

Finally, Gallagher includes discussions of “myths” and “pathologies” that drove postwar planning. These are oversimplified descriptions of what in fact are messy political and planning processes. The development of strategy and war plans is inherently political, balancing civilian elected leaders’ desires with the military sense of the achievable. By including these concepts in lieu of deeper analysis of the complexity inherent to the process, Gallagher reduces otherwise insightful analysis.

Overall, The Day After is a quick read with flashes of insight. Soldiers should consider reading the book as a part of their professional development. It provides a useful frame to think about America’s most recent conflicts and where the U.S. failed to create conditions for successful postwar operations.

Understanding the perspective of experienced leaders like Gallagher, who not only experienced these conflicts but also continue to think deeply about them, is always a valuable intellectual exercise.

Lt. Col. Nathan Finney is a Goodpaster Scholar and a doctoral student at Duke University, North Carolina. He is also a founder of The Strategy Bridge and the Military Writers Guild, a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations and a nonresident fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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Sound Advice for Soldiers Entering Civilian Workforce

Mission Transition: Navigating the Opportunities and Obstacles to Your Post-Military Career. Matthew Louis. HarperCollins Leadership. 304 pages. $27.99

By Lt. Col. Chad Storlie
U.S. Army retired

Retired Lt. Col. Matthew Louis has added valuable and needed work to the challenging field of effective military-to-civilian transitions with Mission Transition: Navigating the Opportunities and Obstacles to Your Post-Military Career. Military-to-civilian career and life transitions are difficult because they are executed by individuals. There are no clear and “sure thing” pathways to success, and each soldier leaving the Army has a range of goals from career to education to family.

The first benefit of Mission Transition is that it is exceptionally well organized and easy to understand. The book is filled with meaningful quotations from transitioning veterans that prove the universal challenges of transition for every rank. Chapters are clearly labeled and well designed.

Mission Transition focuses first on understanding careers and defining what the reader wants to do, then progresses through mentorship, resume creation, job applications, interviews and job offers. Each chapter provides resources, advice, business frameworks, and discussions on how to avoid pitfalls and ensure transition success.

The second benefit of Mission Transition is its emphasis on networking. Too many veterans believe that networking is schmoozing or “sucking up” to everyone, rather than a clearly defined and dedicated plan to contact, engage and follow up with people who are “career makers.”

Transitioning soldiers need to follow Louis’ advice of documenting their network, expanding their network through existing contacts, and reaching out to these key contacts for advice, career opportunities and getting in front of career decision-makers.

The third benefit of Mission Transition is the advice on how to prepare and  interview for new roles. Louis’ advice on interview planning and preparation is one of the best I have encountered. Many transitioning soldiers get a solid resume and practice interview responses but fail to research the company, competition and products for the company they wish to work. Mission Transition provides resources to find company annual report information and investor relations publications—some of the better sources for quickly understanding a company.

The fourth benefit of Mission Transition is that the book does not end with getting a new job but includes two chapters about assimilating into a new organization. A successful transition from a military to civilian setting is not only securing a new role but also finding success in the new organization. Understanding and adapting to a new organizational culture is a struggle for every veteran of any military rank.

The key to adapting is having a clear understanding of how to keep military concepts of ethics, teamwork and training well within the communication styles and norms of behavior of the new organization.

One of the most meaningful points from Mission Transition is that soldiers—whether they serve a three-year or 40-year tour of service—will leave and transition from the Army. Transition needs to be approached as a clearly identified mission with plans, resources and mentors to help guide the way. This book will help you start planning for your next mission today.

Lt. Col. Chad Storlie, U.S. Army retired, is an adjunct professor of marketing, a midlevel marketing executive, and the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career.

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Union Finally Prevailed Along the Mississippi

Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke the Confederacy. Donald Miller. Simon & Schuster. 688 pages. $35

By Col. Cole Kingseed
U.S. Army retired

In Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign That Broke the Confederacy, a fresh interpretation of the Vicksburg Campaign that sealed the fate of the Confederacy, author Donald Miller posits that Union Gen. Ulysses Grant’s destruction of the Confederate citadel on the Mississippi River not only opened the “Father of Waters” but also served as a dark forewarning of a more destructive war the following year, “a war of extermination” that only ended at Appomattox.

Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History Emeritus at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania. He has hosted the series A Biography of America on PBS and has appeared in numerous other PBS programs in the American Experience series. Miller is the author of several books, including the prize-winning City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, The Story of World War II and D-Days in the Pacific. His Master of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany is being made into a television series by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Using The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Grant’s personal papers and unpublished firsthand accounts, Miller has compiled the best single-volume treatment of the Vicksburg Campaign. His riveting narrative is well researched and highly informative. Ninety pages of notes and excellent maps facilitate the reader’s comprehension.

By 1863, Vicksburg, Mississippi, had become the most important strategic point in the South, the linchpin that connected the two halves of the Confederacy along the Mississippi River. Additionally, the Confederate bastion served as an important symbol of Confederate resolve. From late autumn 1862 through spring 1863, Vicksburg successfully resisted Grant’s attempts to subjugate the Mississippi stronghold. All the while, Grant’s reputation suffered in the Northern press. So did President Abraham Lincoln’s.

In chronicling this campaign, Miller concentrates primarily on Grant, whom he characterizes as a “river warrior.” A failure in civilian endeavors, Grant emerges from these pages as Miller’s undeniable hero. Against political and military opposition, Grant implemented a river-based strategy that resulted in the capitulation of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. In conjunction with Adm. David Dixon Porter’s Mississippi Squadron, Grant achieved a “rare thing in military history: a decisive battle, one with war-turning strategic consequences.”

Vicksburg, however, is more than superb military history. It is also an account of the war waged on slavery by Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Miller opines that one of the most underappreciated aspects of the campaign is Grant’s role as liberator, freeing over 100,000 slaves in the lower Mississippi Valley. Working with Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, the U.S. Army’s adjutant general, Grant’s Army enlisted nearly 21,000 “black men in Union blue by the end of 1863.”

What makes Vicksburg even more remarkable is Miller’s focus on the noncombatants, including the beleaguered garrison and the inhabitants of Vicksburg. Miller’s analysis of the relationship among Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and Porter is also compelling, and sheds new insights into why Union joint operations in the Mississippi River Valley became so successful in contrast to similar operations in the Virginia Theater.

In the final analysis, Miller has produced a tour de force in analyzing the Vicksburg Campaign. With Vicksburg’s capitulation, Mississippi and great portions of Louisiana and Tennessee were finished, no longer capable of waging war. Small wonder that British war theorist J.F.C. Fuller later proclaimed that “Vicksburg, and not Gettysburg, was the crisis of the Confederacy.”

Col. Cole Kingseed, U.S. Army retired, 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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M14 Replacement Was an Early Disaster

Misfire: The Tragic Failure of the M16 in Vietnam. Bob Orkand and Lyman Duryea. Stackpole Books. 268 pages. $29.95

By William Doyle

There are many reasons the U.S. lost the Vietnam War.

Take your pick of possible causes. You might feel that President John Kennedy’s supervision of multiple coup attempts against South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 set the stage for permanent instability in that nation. Or you may blame President Lyndon Johnson for not committing enough troops and firepower fast enough, or Gen. William Westmoreland for focusing on big-unit maneuver warfare, or President Richard Nixon for pulling out, or Congress for not funding the South Vietnamese military.

But as Vietnam veterans and researchers Bob Orkand and Lyman Duryea reveal in their fascinating, devastating book, Misfire: The Tragic Failure of the M16 in Vietnam, countless American infantrymen and Marines were doomed from the start in Vietnam for a shocking, underappreciated reason. While the enemy’s standard shoulder rifle, the AK-47, was an elegantly simple-to-operate killing machine, American fighting men were sent into combat carrying a new, high-tech assault rifle that at first was, in the words of one soldier, a “piece of crap.”

It is rare for compelling, essential military history to be told by veterans who were on the front lines of battle, then thoroughly explore the archival records of what happened and why. But Orkand and Duryea are the ideal men for the job. Between them, they had critical front line experience in 1964–71 in testing, shooting and analyzing the defective M16 platform.

When the U.S. military’s standard-issue M14 battle rifle was judged too heavy and too uncontrollable in fully automatic mode, and planners realized its wooden stock would warp and swell in the humid conditions of Vietnam, the XM16E1 assault rifle was rushed into mass production by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The space age rifle wasn’t properly tested for jungle warfare conditions and contained a number of engineering flaws, but thousands of M16s flowed into the hands of American fighting men in Vietnam beginning in 1965.

Thousands of troops were told the rifle was self-cleaning (it wasn’t), they were often not given proper training or operational instructions or cleaning tools, and many were given ammunition that proved incompatible with the rifle. The M16 then endangered Americans—in battle, on an alarming scale, as the ammo jammed inside the rifle and failed to extract.

Eventually, the M16 and its descendants were improved and refined to become the workhorse rifle platform for the American military, but it was too late for too many in Vietnam.

Misfire should be required reading for officers and enlisted personnel. The authors have done a heroic job of assembling a case history in everything that can go wrong in war, and a road map of how to do things right in the future.

William Doyle is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning documentary producer. His books include A Soldier’s Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq and American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms with Chris Kyle