May 2015 Reviews
Lessons From a Lifetime of Leadership
By Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, U.S. Army retired
Adapt or Die: Leadership Principles From an American General. Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, U.S. Army retired. Baker Books. 233 pages. $22.99.
After centuries of attempting to decipher leadership like decoding a strand of DNA, it’s time to admit all that time might just have been wasted. Reading retired Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch’s Adapt or Die makes a case for getting back to learning to lead the old-fashioned way: by studying people who lead.
In the Western world, from the time of Thucydides until the age of Voltaire, the essence of learning leadership was studying leaders, individuals of both virtue and substance. Today, that seems hopelessly antiquated. After three centuries of trying to deconstruct the secret sauce of successful leading, regarding the leaders themselves as subjects of study (rather than as archetypes or case studies) seems much less important than delivering a winning formula for coming out on top.
It all started with the Enlightenment. What we did and who did it counted less than how it got done. Process and structure mattered most. As time went on, however, teaching leadership moved further and further away from its pre-Enlightenment roots—the study of great leaders. The more modern neuroscience uncovers about unlocking the cognitive secrets of the brain, the more humble it suggests we should be in believing we understand how the brain works. The same science that inspired the Enlightenment suggests maybe all we’ve learned about leadership over the last couple centuries isn’t of much use.
Some complex systems are so complex that perhaps it’s best to deal with the totality of the system rather than try to manipulate or tame it. Perhaps, after three centuries of trial and error, that is the approach we ought to take on teaching how to get things done. We ought to go back to studying leaders, not leadership. That’s the insight I take away from this book. It is more a study of what made Lynch a great leader than it is a textbook for how to lead. As a result, it is probably a lot more valuable as a genuine guide to the art of leadership.
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Lynch commanded at every level from captain to three-star general. He spent 30 months fighting in Iraq, half of that during the height of the surge. He ran Fort Hood, Texas, the biggest active duty post in the country. Lynch capped his career overseeing all the installations in the U.S. Army. His book is an explanation of how all that happened.
The first half of the book is the most intensely autobiographical, with Lynch extracting the life lessons he absorbed at different phases of his career. A tour in Kosovo, for example, served as his Ph.D. in learning to lead in a complex environment with contrasting cultures, disparate languages and conflicting agendas. This training served him well in the cauldron of combat in Iraq, where he fought an enemy and fought for hearts and minds at the same time. Other chapters focus on valuable experiences like learning from a mentor and adapting to the realities of a digital battlefield.
In the second half of the book, Lynch tries to organize his approach to leadership into categories that are accessible to emergent leaders whether they are in uniform, corporate America or the nonprofit world. Solid, engaging and laced with a strong dose of common sense, it is a worthy leadership primer for any audience.
Lynch’s acknowledgment of the central role faith played in shaping his leadership style is particularly intriguing and gratifying and, frankly, not surprising. Science during the Enlightenment relegated religion to a secondary role in what makes great leaders great. Modern science has also been rethinking that. While the academic debate over whether prayer and belief can actually make things better during tough times is ultimately inconclusive, some researchers acknowledge that religion provides a framework for understanding and coping with physical difficulties as well as difficult moral decisions.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, founding co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University Medical Center, succinctly summed it up: “The benefits of devout religious practice, particularly involvement in a faith community and religious commitment, are that people cope better. In general, they cope with stress better, they experience greater well-being because they have more hope, they’re more optimistic.” These are all good attributes for great leaders.
The lesson of Adapt or Die is not to copy Lynch’s leadership style. It is to take the practice of leadership seriously. Assess your skills, knowledge and attributes when you are young. Build on your strengths. Compensate for your weaknesses. Become the leader you can be and, more importantly, the leader your soldiers need.
Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, USA Ret., Ph.D., served in Europe, Korea and the U.S. Before retiring, he was the executive editor of Joint Forces Quarterly, DoD’s professional military journal. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Carafano holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University as well as a master’s in strategy from the U.S. Army War College.
Born to Fight: The Making of
A World-Class Warrior
By Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, U.S. Army retired
American Warrior: The True Story of a Legendary Ranger. Gary O’Neal with David Fisher. Thomas Dunne Books. 304 pages. $26.99.
American Warrior is a story about a truly remarkable soldier: retired Chief Warrant Officer Gary O’Neal. Written with the help of David Fisher, O’Neal takes the reader on a fast-paced journey spanning 40-plus years filled with danger, exotic locations and ill-fated relationships. This is his journey: a true story about a 20th-century American warrior.
“Seemed like I was having problems in school and getting in to fights,” O’Neal said of his childhood. “A lot of the white kids didn’t like me ’cause I was Indian, and the Indians didn’t like me ’cause I was white.”
O’Neal spent his early years in the Pine Ridge area of South Dakota. His life at home with his father and stepmother was rocky. He never knew his birth mother. All he knew was her name and the fact that she was Native American. When he was 12, his father threw him out of the house. He stayed at a friend’s home for a while and was subsequently passed to relatives in adjoining states, never staying long enough in one place to make friends.
O’Neal, unlike most young men at that age, knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a soldier, a warrior. At a time when American men were being drafted into the military, he voluntarily joined the U.S. Army. He joined an Army at war knowing full well that he had just volunteered for duty in Vietnam—a combat tour.
As an underage high school dropout, the odds were against him from the start. He had little to offer the Army at the age of 15. It is a testament to his determination that he somehow convinced a recruiter to give him a chance. Once in, he took full advantage of the opportunity that he had been given. He made it through months of challenging, vigorous initial-entry training that transformed him from an unruly teenage adolescent into a proud member of a winning team: America’s Army. This training provided the foundation of his remarkable career both in and out of the military. He had found a home in the Army.
During his storied career, he completed some of the most physically and mentally demanding schools the Army has to offer. The courses were designed not only to impart warrior skills but also to grow combat leaders who are entrusted with accomplishing some of America’s most difficult and sensitive missions. Courageous, confident, competent and skilled warrior leadership is developed there. Only a chosen few are allowed to attend Ranger School or receive special forces training, and fewer still complete them.
This is not a history book. It is not about great battles won and lost or about military strategy. It is a rare and important insight into America’s esoteric warrior class, the quiet professionals. It’s about one of America’s most elite warriors, one of many who, as we sleep safely in our beds at night, stand ready at the gates. They stand between us and those who would do us harm. These intrepid warriors have always been there, and if we value our freedom and our way of life, they must forever remain at their posts.
O’Neal offered this laconic summation of his life’s work: “Fighting fills my soul. I’ve spent my life walking the path of the warrior. I’ve got nine bullet holes in me, and I’ve been left for dead twice. I’ve been cut and stabbed more times than I can count. I have served my country.”
Somehow a simple “thank you for your service” just does not seem sufficient.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, USA Ret., is the former director of AUSA’s Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs and is now an AUSA Senior Fellow. During his 32 years of active military service, he had a variety of assignments with infantry, special forces and Ranger units.
On the Weapons With Which We Go to War
By Col. Steven A. Patarcity, U.S. Army retired
American Arsenal: A Century of Waging War. Patrick Coffey. Oxford University Press. 336 pages. $29.95.
Patrick Coffey says in his introduction that writing American Arsenal stemmed from another work on the history of science that was intended to describe the intersection of science and technology with the art and science of war. This book is an engrossing intersection of science, technological development, politics, the art and science of war, the American military experience, history, and the sometimes self-serving individual personalities who were intimately involved across the whole spectrum of these subjects in the past century.
Using historical examples in weapons development, Coffey neatly ties in the inventor or promoter of the technology and its associated partners or players, as well as the political ramifications involved and their effects on the American way of war. He contends these weapons systems transformed America from an isolated nation into the world’s dominant power, cleanly documenting that progression from 1917 to the present. The progression was far from even. The reader will clearly see that, in many cases, the weapons system and accompanying (or nonexistent) strategy of employment were almost stumbled upon by the people involved.
The topics Coffey selected cover a wide range of subjects, including weapons designed to break the stalemate of World War I trench warfare (mustard gas), weapons developed by science when a strategy was nonexistent and had to be determined (the atomic and hydrogen bombs), weapons never fully developed for a proposed strategy (the Strategic Defense Initiative), the current phenomena of drone technology and robotics and the associated attempts to remove the soldier from the battlefield as an element in war. While there were a number of systems Coffey could have selected to enhance and expand his work with a more global theme, the book concentrates exclusively on American military developments to maintain its applicability to the evolution of American warfighting.
In all his case studies, Coffey shows how the human experience of war remains a constant factor, driving both intended and unintended consequences, and how motivations of duty, honor and selfless service are sometimes supplanted by more base motivations of greed, profit and individual glory. This factor of human self-interest as a primary motivation serves as the author’s theme, at times making Coffey appear, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, as the archetypal “angry young man” in his pointed and at times brutal assessment of those involved in almost a century of American warfare.
While it is very easy to pick up on Coffey’s central focus and he writes extremely well and effectively, his focus is not a vibrant theme. This book is more engrossing when the reader absorbs the work as a collection of short historical vignettes on weapons system development and their impact on warfare.
Despite these flaws, American Arsenal is an absorbing book by a gifted writer. Coffey clearly understands the nature of warfare and its constant morphing and changing nature, the presence of VUCA—short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity—in decisionmaking, and the accompanying second- and third-order effects of that decisionmaking. American Arsenal is a recommended addition for any personal library and is an excellent research reference. The book will certainly stimulate more discussion, for as Coffey states in his last chapter, “The next arms race has only just begun.”
Col. Steven A. Patarcity, USA Ret., is a strategic planner with the Strategic Plans and Policy Branch, Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate at the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve. He retired as a colonel in the Army Reserve in October 2010 after 33 years of service.
A More Comprehensive Study of Lee:
‘Perhaps the Greatest Rebel of All’
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired
Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee. Michael Korda. HarperCollins. 832 pages. $40.
Stephen Vincent Benét once described Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as “a Greek proportion—and a riddle unread.”
Historians writing in the first 100 years following Lee’s demise in 1870 accepted the mythical Lee, but recent scholars, such as Thomas L. Connolly and Alan T. Nolan, have called into question Lee’s martial abilities. In Clouds of Glory, Michael Korda re-examines the reputation of one of the most beloved and enigmatic generals in American history and presents the most balanced assessment of Lee that has appeared in two decades.
A former editor in chief of Simon & Schuster, Korda hopes to discover the man behind the myth. Korda is the author of 19 other books, including New York Times bestsellers Ike: An American Hero and Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. The Lee who emerges from Korda’s pages is an officer who, “despite his firm opinion that ‘obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character,’ would himself become, at last, a rebel—perhaps the greatest rebel of all.”
In compiling Clouds of Glory, Korda relies extensively on wartime memoirs, standard biographies and narratives of the Civil War. Inexplicably, he fails to consult The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, the sine qua non of historical research. Readers will also recognize the maps that appear in Douglas S. Freeman’s masterful four-volume R. E. Lee and his three-volume Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command. Korda’s use of Freeman is hardly surprising since, like Freeman, he paints an admiring portrait of Lee as a “rare general who combines two forms of military genius—he was a gifted and experienced engineer … and at the same time a master of maneuver.”
As is his custom, Korda challenges the conventions of history. Though most Lee biographers describe Lee as if he had little interest in politics, Korda posits that he “was actually a shrewd if discreet observer of political events.” With respect to Lee’s “fatalism,” Korda concludes that Lee was “neither passive nor resigned—in everything large or small he demanded of himself the maximum of effort and attention to detail.” While Lee’s admirers rationalize his conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg, Korda sees little difference between Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s costly frontal attacks at Cold Harbor in Virginia in 1864 and Lee’s determination to strike the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863.
Of particular interest is Lee’s relationship with his commanders. The bond between Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Korda opines, “came about in large part because Jackson never argued with Lee, and seemed able to divine what Lee wanted with only the barest and politest of suggestions on Lee’s part.” In contrast to Jackson was corps commander Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, “who was stubborn, argumentative, and determined to get his own way.”
Korda reserves his greatest criticism of Lee for his invasions of the North in 1862 and 1863. “Although Sharpsburg [Md.] looms large in Lee’s legend,”
Korda states uncategorically, “it is hard to find much to admire in the Maryland campaign of 1862.” There is a point beyond which even the bravest and most devoted of armies can no longer carry out their commander’s strategy. In Korda’s estimation, Longstreet was correct in his assessment that the Battle of Sharpsburg should never have been fought.
At Gettysburg one year later, “Lee’s natural politeness, his dislike of confrontation, and his preference for letting his corps commanders make their own decisions” combined to produce a disaster for the Confederacy. In ordering a grand assault against entrenched Federals on the third day of the battle, Lee failed to calculate the odds. Lee never blamed his defeat on his subordinates, stating, “It’s all my fault.” Such accountability, Korda attests, “remains the most truthful and convincing explanation for his defeat at Gettysburg.”
Though Korda takes Lee to task for some of his military failures, perhaps a more appropriate summary of this masterful biography comes from the newspaper editor who, in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” reminds Jimmy Stewart’s character: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., Ph.D., a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, is a writer and consultant.
How a World War II Giant Commanded in a Crisis
By Col. Kevin C.M. Benson, U.S. Army retired
Roosevelt’s Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II. Joseph E. Persico. Random House. 668 pages. $35.
In my view, there are two kinds of scholarly works of history. There are scholarly works replete with explanatory footnotes and annotated bibliographies, and they satisfy the requirements and expectations of academe. Works such as these are worthy contributions to the greater body of knowledge. The other kinds are the page-turning history books that tell a good story. In Roosevelt’s Centurions, Joseph E. Persico tells a good story.
Persico begins: “Wars are different now, but the human factors and forces at the highest levels change little.” He asks how President Franklin D. Roosevelt built his team of military leaders. He answers this question by exploring Roosevelt’s ability as a recruiter, strategist and home-front leader. The exploration of these traits includes observations of the personalities and foibles of the “Great Captains” Roosevelt assembled to lead the American armed forces.
The book features supporting stories linked to an exploration of Roosevelt’s abilities to select the leaders he needed to craft and execute the strategy required to win a two-front war. The book also explores his ability to select leaders who had the acumen to translate that strategy into globe-spanning campaigns and accept the fact that executing those campaigns required civilian oversight. War is an extension of policy; policy drove strategy, which is a lesson even Gen. George C. Marshall relearned. Roosevelt’s centurions all realized politics intertwined with policy. They might not have liked it, but they all realized it.
Persico puts his readers in a place in which the outcome of action is unknown. Roosevelt and his centurions took decisions based on what they knew at the time. Persico then follows the action and subsequent decisions. The personal stories of men such as Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, Adm. Ernest J. King, Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and Gen. Douglas MacArthur add to the drama of the moment and remind us these Olympian figures—as Persico calls them—were, in fact, men dealing with the strain of war.
Persico concludes, “The American people and all liberty-loving nations were blessed that when the world needed a giant, one emerged. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ranks with the immortals, with Washington and Lincoln, both as president and as commander in chief.” He supported this assertion by telling a great story. This book is a real contribution to the body of knowledge about the astounding event that was World War II.
Col. Kevin C.M. Benson, USA Ret., Ph.D., served in armor and cavalry assignments in Europe and the U.S. He commanded a tank company at Fort Polk, La., and a tank battalion at Fort Hood, Texas. He also served as the C/J-5 for Combined Forces Land Component Command during the initial invasion of Iraq and as director, School of Advanced Military Studies. He has a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas, writes for a wide range of professional journals and has contributed chapters to two books.