September 2015 Book Reviews
Policy Insider Offers View of War-Torn Iraq
The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq. Emma Sky. PublicAffairs Books. 382 pages. $28.99.
By Col. Kevin C.M. Benson, U.S. Army retired
British scholar Emma Sky has a unique story to tell of her five years of service in Iraq with our American military. This book is an inside look at how the Army struggled to do the right things in Iraq. In Sky’s view, the lack of clear policy and long-term vision likely squandered tactical and occasional operational-level success.
There are intertwined story lines in her book: her assimilation into U.S. Army culture; her role as a political adviser, or POLAD; and the vital importance of alternative perspectives in decisionmaking and situational understanding, and senior leaders’ willingness to accept such perspectives. The first story line is entertaining and a constant background, but the others are extremely important.
Sky is a Middle East expert who, though opposing the Iraq invasion, volunteered to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority. She arrived in Kirkuk in 2003, where she worked closely with then-Col. William C. “Bill” Mayville Jr. and the “Sky Soldiers” of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Sky was initially put off by the Army’s “hooah” spirit. Regarding the Geneva and Hague conventions, in the summer of 2003 she told Mayville, “If I find you in violation of any of the articles, I will take you to The Hague.”
Later on, Sky found herself in May-ville’s inner circle of advisers. In reference to the Army, she found that she “came to appreciate its organization. … Importantly, the soldiers generally wanted to do the right thing.”
She and Mayville worked hard to find a path toward solutions to the increasingly complex inter-ethnic situation in Kirkuk. She opened up lines of communication with a range of Iraqi leaders: Sunni, Shia and Kurdish. During her year with the 173rd and Mayville, she found herself drawn to the Iraq effort in spite of Army food, rough living and danger. She also met then-Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
Sky left Kirkuk the same time the 173rd Airborne did and went to Baghdad to work for then-Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. Again, her stories and insights into the complexity of seeking reconciliation among sects, infighting among Coalition Provisional Authority staff, and the influence of Washington on all actions fascinate and depress. Departing Baghdad with the end of the authority, she writes, “I had been a part of a modern-day Crusade of ideologues and idealists … people who believed they could bring liberal democracy to Iraq … that Iraqis would be eternally grateful for their freedom from tyranny; and … love America.”
On the plane home, she wept for all who had lost their lives. Back in England, she soon found the mundane of civilian life did not appeal; with the wars continuing, all else seemed irrelevant. After some rest, she admits she grew bored until Odierno sent her an email: “Dear Emma. I’m headed back to Baghdad. Will you be my POLAD?”
She wrote that she avoided giving him an answer for a few days. She ultimately said yes, not because she “was optimistic about things getting better in Iraq, but because a man I greatly respected, and liked immensely, had asked me to.” With that, she returned to the combat zone to advise him.
Odierno told Sky to “accompany him everywhere he went”; he told his staff she “brought a different perspective.” She would be loyal to Odierno: “This meant becoming his confidante and speaking ‘truth to power’—to be his ‘conscience.’” By the end of January 2007, she would write a proposal on a change of focus within Multi-National Corps–Iraq. Her suggestion was to focus on creating stability and protecting the population and importantly, look for ways to “broker agreements between the different groups.” Her role as political adviser, conscience and alter ego to Odierno grew as he assumed command in Iraq.
Sky skillfully weaves a range of vignettes into her overall story, ranging from dealing with a host of important figures within the Maliki government to meeting then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and interacting with American battalion and company commanders—including some rather angry exchanges with senior staff officers.
Her vignettes and analysis show both her evolving perception of coalition operations and their effect on Iraq as well as an insight into Odierno’s ever-growing appreciation of his situation. Among her many salient observations, one stands out: “I noticed that America’s civilian leaders continually praised the US military and wanted to be photographed with the troops. … But I never had the sense that they really knew what the military was capable of, nor of the cost of using it.”
War is an extension of policy. Sky’s ultimate purpose while working with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Multi-National Corps–Iraq and Multi-National Force–Iraq each discern different paths to attain policy ends and objectives as she and her partner commanders understood them. She was empowered to offer different, sometimes angry, perspectives on U.S. and coalition courses of action. She stood her ground and made her voice heard in councils of power. This speaks well of her and, importantly, well of Odierno. He more than tolerated her points and perspectives; he actively sought them and acted upon them.
This important book adds a level of detail to the story of our Iraq venture. I cannot say Sky offers an unbiased perspective, but she clearly believed in Odierno and was personally invested in success for the Iraq mission. Invested as she was in both the U.S. military and Iraq’s mutual success, her observations on the process and execution of the campaign are revealing.
Army—indeed, all military—leaders must possess the ability to understand the nuances of policy and policy development, how policy begets strategy, how to maintain broad policymaker support without appearing to accede to mission creep, and the vital importance of including alternative perspectives in the critical thinking required for decisionmaking.
Read this book. It is worth the time required to both understand her point of view—as Odierno put it, “another perspective”—and reflect on what happened.
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, and writes for a wide range of professional journals.
Not All Great Commanders Make It Into Books
General Jacob Devers: World War II’s Forgotten Four Star. John A. Adams. Indiana University Press. 456 pages. $45.
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired
In the campaign of Western Europe in World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was ably served by two Army group commanders, Gens. Omar N. Bradley and Jacob L. Devers. Bradley’s name is well-known, but Devers’ is not. In an effort to address this imbalance, John A. Adams has compiled the first major biography of this extraordinary officer whose achievements have been largely relegated to the dustbin of history.
In preparing Devers’ story, Adams relied heavily on interviews conducted by retired Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Griess, the former chairman of the history department at the U.S. Military Academy. Adams consulted the Devers Collection, housed at the York (Pa.) County Historical Trust, manuscript sources at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan., and diaries at the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa. The vast majority of his bibliography is published secondary sources.
As with all the senior American commanders who led the U.S. Army to victory in World War II, Devers owed his rise to then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall. Adams opines that Marshall’s team took shape in late 1941 when four generals—Devers, Eisenhower (operations division chief), Lesley J. McNair (commander of Army ground forces) and Brehon B. Somervell (chief of services of supply)—emerged as Marshall’s “four horsemen, the officers he depended on when the situation at hand was especially tight.”
Promotion to major general came in 1940, when Marshall assigned Devers to command the 9th Infantry Division. Subsequent assignments justified Marshall’s confidence in Devers’ ability. Over the course of the next five years, Devers created the Armored Force of 16 armored divisions and a host of separate battalions that spearheaded the American advance in the European campaign and led the invasion of southern France. The force commanded most of the French army as well as the
U.S. Seventh Army, which anchored the southern flank of Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force that crossed the Rhine in March 1945.
With such a stellar record, why is Devers less known than the triumvirate of Eisenhower, Bradley and West Point classmate Gen. George S. Patton Jr.? Adams posits that Devers’ “biggest problem was that he was not Dwight Eisenhower.” While Eisenhower wowed with his winning ways, Devers’ more mercurial style irritated the senior British military officers; it led them to portray Devers as “shooting from the hip.” Eisenhower, too, viewed him as an able administrator, but Devers had not evoked “that feeling of trust and confidence that is so necessary to continued success.”
Adams dedicated much of this biography to analyzing the relationship between Devers and Eisenhower. That the two were not close is a gross understatement; neither commander liked the other. After Devers replaced Eisenhower as commanding general of the European Theater of Operations as Ike prepared for the invasion of the Italian mainland in 1943, Eisenhower bristled when Devers denied his request to transfer four bomber groups to the Mediterranean. From July 1943 onward, “the ties among them were being drawn into ever more troublesome knots.”
As supreme commander, Eisenhower requested that Devers be transferred from the European Theater of Operations, in large part to remove him as a potential corps commander in Overlord. Marshall supported Eisenhower but elevated Devers to command Sixth Army Group following the invasion of southern France in August 1944. In that capacity, Devers came under Eisenhower’s command on Sept. 15.
Events in the autumn and winter of 1944–45 further eroded Devers’ already tenuous relationship with the supreme commander. Eisenhower faulted Devers for his management of the Alsace campaign in October and early November as well as his failure to eliminate the Colmar Pocket. Devers’ place in history was fixed when he openly challenged Eisenhower’s broad front approach during a visit to Devers’ headquarters at Vittel, France, in November 1944.
Despite Devers’ obvious talents, the Sixth Army Group commander’s major mistake was to spring his own plan to cross the Rhine as a surprise to Eisenhower when the supreme commander visited Vittel. Ike arrived “preconditioned to discipline a truculent subordinate, to ‘stick
to the script.’” In Devers’ opinion, the supreme commander should have authorized Sixth Army Group to cross the Rhine before the winter rains commenced.
Eisenhower viewed things differently, forbidding Devers to cross the Rhine until the Allied front had stabilized. Could the German Ardennes offensive have been prevented if Devers had crossed Germany’s western frontier in late November? The jury remains out. What is undeniable is that Eisenhower remained skeptical of Devers’ stewardship of the Sixth Army Group for the remainder of the war. By V-E Day, however, Devers had compiled an enviable record as an Army group commander.
On the debit side, the book contains a number of errors and misspellings. Bradley’s middle initial was N, not S; Bernard L. Montgomery’s rank was field marshal, not field marshall; and the commander of U.S. Sixth Army spelled his last name Eichelberger, not Eichelbergher. A more careful editor should have caught these as well as numerous grammatical errors.
In the final analysis, Adams has written an excellent biography. Devers may have been the war’s forgotten four-star general, but this biography will go a long way to correct the historical record.
Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., Ph.D., a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, is a writer and consultant.
New Soldier Tales Unveiled in Story of Battle of the Bulge
Those Who Hold Bastogne: The True Story of the Soldiers and Civilians Who Fought in the Biggest Battle of the Bulge. Peter Schrijvers. Yale University Press. 328 pages. $28.
By Col. Gregory Fontenot, U.S. Army retired
About 70 years after the fact, some may find it hard to believe there is much new to say about the Battle of the Bulge. Nevertheless, there have been several very good books published around the anniversary of the battle. Australian historian Peter Schrijvers’ Those Who Hold Bastogne: The True Story of the Soldiers and Civilians Who Fought in the Biggest Battle of the Bulge is one of them.
The defense of Bastogne is by far the best known of the many horrific fights of the bitter winter of 1944–45. Made famous in numerous books and movies, the general presumption is that the 101st Airborne Division won this fight more or less alone.
Schrijvers ably amplifies the stand of the 101st Airborne, but he rightly includes the stories of other units that defended the town as well as the stories of civilians trapped inside Bastogne and nearby villages.
Weaving these tales of troops and civilians together is Schrijvers’ major contribution to our understanding of what happened that dark December. His account of the fight should help put to rest the post-Cold War narrative that finding civilians on the battlefield is somehow news. Civilians have almost always been in the way, so to speak. Certainly, French and Belgian civilians learned that in the spring of 1940; thousands of Belgian civilians relearned the lesson in December 1944.
Schrijvers tells their story well. He enables readers to experience the dilemma Belgian civilians confronted in their own words. In danger themselves, Belgian farmers and townspeople sheltered American and German wounded alike. Some hosted their neighbors with as many as 90 people crowding into small basements and barns. One young woman, heavily pregnant, made her away across fields deep in snow to escape the German onslaught. Still others scrubbed away graffiti celebrating liberation before the Germans could read it.
Schrijvers focuses his account at the soldier and civilian level. Some of the most poignant stories are those about tending wounded soldiers and civilians in bitter cold and with few resources. Early in the fighting, the Germans overran the only American field hospital in the area, with the obvious result that battalion surgeons and medics had to make do.
On Christmas Eve 1944, two men volunteered to help—a pilot who believed he could get into Bastogne, and a surgeon who agreed to go in with him. Lt. Ancel Taflinger flew a two-seat aerial observation aircraft through flak to get Maj. Howard Serrel to the besieged town. Serrel arrived with what he could carry on the light aircraft, including surgical kits and penicillin. As soon as he landed, he went to work for 36 hours without respite, performing “15 operations in a row.” Meanwhile, Taflinger flew back to Luxembourg City through flak, without escort and in pitch darkness. Airmen sustained the fight and opened the way for the relieving forces. Their story is told here as well.
Schrijvers also lets German soldiers speak for themselves. He traveled widely to research the book and even attended a reunion of the 5th Fallschirmjäger Division. He did this through the good offices of a German paratrooper of that division who fought against the U.S. 4th Armored Division. The German side of the story is equally well-told without judgment but also without confusion about who the villains are.
Although the outlines of top-level decisionmaking are far better known than the plight of civilians, Schrijvers also retells that story quite well. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s choices that night reflect strategic acumen of high order. Eisenhower immediately committed his reserve. By Dec. 20, Gen. George S. Patton Jr., having anticipated Eisenhower’s order, had reoriented his headquarters, reconstituted his command, and moved three divisions into position to attack north and relieve Bastogne. Only the meanest critics will not credit the genius both showed.
This is a great story, and to a large extent it was made possible by gaining access to previously little-used archives. Schrijvers also used several books and studies written in the last two decades by old soldiers getting around to writing their memoirs as well as academics re-examining the data.
Schrijvers has plowed the ground thoroughly. What he does not make clear is why he took the time to tell the story—and indeed, written several other books on GIs at war in Europe. A clue may be found in his family name and in a brief passage in his acknowledgments in which he thanks his family in Belgium.
Col. Gregory Fontenot, USA Ret., commanded a tank battalion in Operation Desert Storm and an armor brigade in Bosnia. A former director of the School of Advanced Military Studies and the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, he is co-author of On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Making of the Pentagon’s Yoda
The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Strategy. Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts. Basic Books. 336 pages. $29.99.
By Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, U.S. Army retired
The most influential strategist of the modern era that most people never heard of—that is how Andrew Marshall, the longtime head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, is often described. The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Strategy is a fine introduction to this important but little-understood thinker.
Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts, both scholars at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a small think tank based in Washington, D.C., enjoyed a far more intimate relationship with their subject than the average biographer. They worked with him for many years, first in the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) and later as consultants. This is very much an insider’s story of how Marshall affected the outside world.
For over four decades, ONA provided high-level analysis on long-range strategic military challenges. Initially, Marshall’s work focused on competition with the Soviet Union. Then he shifted his attention primarily to an assessment of the rise of China and its revolution in military affairs. The results of the work were usually highly classified studies delivered directly to senior DoD leaders.
Marshall’s influence isn’t properly measured by administration war strategies or policies adopted by the Pentagon. The purpose of ONA was never to tell decisionmakers what to do. Rather, it was to offer insights into the long-term implications of the choices they made. In this respect, Marshall’s three great contributions to American defense planning are well-represented in this book.
First, Marshall is a critical figure for understanding how the U.S. thought about strategic military competition from the dawn of the Cold War to 9/11. In his time at the RAND Corp., another think tank, Marshall mingled with men and women like Bernard Brodie, Herman Kahn, Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, and Graham Allison, strategists who pioneered how to think about the security dilemmas of the 20th century. From his RAND experience, Marshall forged the intellectual constructs that proved fundamental to “net” assessment in ONA.
Strategic challenges, Marshall believed, had to be studied as dynamic problems, or competitions. Further, understanding the interplay among the actors, actions and counteractions required delving into all the significant factors that affected the competition. As Krepinevich and Watts note, “one cannot simply discount key aspects of analysis simply because they cannot be easily quantified or explained.” The answer was to find a fruitful way to get at hard questions.
Central to overcoming the bewildering challenge of complexity and inscrutable actors was mastering a plethora of methods of analysis. Parsing between and creatively combining quantitative and qualitative approaches became a hallmark of net assessment. The cornerstone of Marshall’s work was matching relevant questions with good data and the right method. No serious consideration of how to think about hard problems should ignore the intellectual history of Marshall and his generation.
Second, Marshall’s career at the Pentagon stands as an essential case study in affecting organizational behavior. From the 1970s to his retirement in January, he served defense secretaries of both political parties, leaders of disparate temperament and intelligence, in war and peace. How Marshall managed to remain influential and relevant is a story as important as the studies produced by ONA.
Marshall intentionally avoided attention, rarely penning a byline or speaking in public. He kept ONA small and asked for only modest budgets. This was all part of a deliberate strategy to avoid turf wars and struggles among the power centers of the Pentagon.
The Marshall method relied on getting the right ideas to the right decisionmakers at the right time, in the form and with content they would find compelling, and then let them make their own choices. The Last Warrior describes how Marshall influenced change management through the indirect approach.
Third, Marshall was a master of mentoring. Over the years, Marshall brought in to ONA—often referred to as St. Andrew’s Prep—promising thinkers, offering them challenges and opportunities to hone their skills. Today, the national security community is suffused with leaders and scholars influenced by Marshall, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.
Over time, Marshall’s contributions as a mentor could well outshine and outlast all other achievements. Hard-thinking, skillful and influential leadership, and caring mentoring are a legacy any warrior would be proud to wear. Marshall remains a model of a modern intellectual.
A Heritage Foundation vice president, Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, USA Ret., oversees the think tank’s research on national security and foreign policy issues.
The Ins and Outs of a Global Conflict
The Making of the First World War. Ian F.W. Beckett. Yale University Press. 288 pages. $28.50.
By Col. Steven A. Patarcity, U.S. Army retired
It was inevitable that interest in World War I, a defining conflict of the 20th century, would expand and generate a veritable plethora of studies and books. World War I was most clearly the real end of the 19th century. It laid the groundwork for World War II, the Cold War and the conflicts we are engaged in today by shaping the 20th century: destroying four empires (Austria-Hungary, Imperial Germany, Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia); fomenting the rise of Communism in Russia and fascism in Germany and Italy; setting the stage for continued unrest in the Middle East; and establishing the U.S. as an economic and eventual military superpower.
Ian F.W. Beckett’s masterful work The Making of the First World War gives some new insights on pivotal events of the war, some of which will be familiar and some of which will surprise readers.
Beckett is no stranger to the Great War, being a prodigious and respected author with quite a number of works to his credit, many on the 1914–18 conflict. The Making of the First World War is a differently focused book than his previous efforts; instead of concentrating solely on a single conflict (Ypres: The First Battle 1914), personalities (Haig’s Generals) or the entire war (The Great War, 1914–1918), Beckett applied his efforts to give the reader a greater understanding of the wider war, including the political factions and intrigues of the day, the power of the nascent movie/newsreel media, the impact of the Balfour Declaration, and Australia’s coming of age as a nation at Gallipoli.
Of particular interest is his first chapter, which is about the flooding of the Yser River in Belgium in 1914. This is an event that is little known or discussed today, but it essentially sealed the use of the trench warfare that was predominant in World War I. It is this talent to see that seemingly small and unconnected events can have great implications that Beckett applies so effectively.
The author does cover the effects of military advancement and emerging tactics and strategy, such as the German air raids on Britain and unrestricted submarine warfare.
Readers expecting a standard treatise on battle and campaign analysis, or technological applications and their impact in war, will either be greatly disappointed or fascinated by this book. The author’s ability to show how the key events he has selected deal with the reality of war and its impact on society is clearly evident. Beckett is an effective writer and consummate historian. His work flows well and is an easy and interesting read.
While World War I has remained of interest to scholars and military historians, its lessons and impact have largely faded from learned discussion, with many dismissing the conflict as not essential to understanding the world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Beckett clearly shows this is not the case; he clearly delineates events and the accompanying great human tragedies and mistakes that led to and occurred during the conflict and firmly establishes their importance and impact. This book deserves to be hailed as a superior study.
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.
Dramatic Boots-on-the-Ground View of Key Civil War Battles
Valley of the Shadow. Ralph Peters. Forge Books. 512 pages. $26.99.
By Col. John F. Antal, U.S. Army retired
Ralph Peters, a New York Times best-selling author and Fox News analyst, vividly depicts the struggle for our Union in his new historical novel, Valley of the Shadow. This story is about some of the last battles of the American Civil War, and it is a story you should read and tell to your children and grandchildren.
It is the story of our American nation. Peters dramatically puts you in the boots of the soldiers and leaders of the critical battles of 1864: Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s bold attempt to seize Washington, D.C., the bloody fight for the Shenandoah Valley and the decisive Union victory at Cedar Creek in Virginia. If you have never heard of these tumultuous battles, this is the best way I know to receive an education.
History is a story of people, and Peters’ historical novel brings both the private soldier and the key leaders to life. His masterful depictions of character and leadership provide lessons that shoot off the pages to offer us a blueprint to better ourselves. Don’t get me wrong—the purpose of this book is to entertain as much as it is to enlighten, and it is a very compelling read. But it is also a shining example of how literature can become an instrument to help anyone become a better leader.
The leadership of Maj. Gen. Lewis Wallace, in particular, resonated with me. Wallace displayed courage, determination and foresight under intense pressure, understanding what was necessary and disobeying orders to save Washington from Confederate capture. As the government in Washington panicked, “Lew” stood firm.
That Wallace went on after the war to write one of the best-selling novels of all time, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, is testimony to his genius. That genius was evident on July 9, 1864, at the Battle of Monocracy, where Wallace literally saved the U.S. Capitol and the cause by fighting a fierce delay against 20,000 Confederates to his mere 5,800 hastily organized green recruits and file clerks. Peters brings this account to life as no other author could.
Peters places the reader in the shock, confusion and smoke of battle with each heart-pounding turn of the page. He paints scenes of triumph and pain as Union Gen. Philip Sheridan’s army is locked in deadly combat with Early’s Confederates.
At the Battle of Cedar Creek, Early’s ferocious surprise attack sends Union forces reeling in disorganized retreat. Sheridan arrives at the point of decision to observe, decide and act. He will not let his troops be defeated. There is no better example of a leader turning the tide of battle than that of Sheridan at Cedar Creek. He rallied his dispirited soldiers and won the decisive battle of the Valley Campaign.
In this telling, Peters provides a timeless and worthy study of character and leadership—a superb case study for any modern leader, CEO, entrepreneur or military officer.
Transforming the shadows of the valley into clear personalities, Peters brilliantly represents the leaders who endured and overcame this time of fear. This book tells us how much we have to learn from the heroes of the past, and how their example should not be forgotten. If the foundation of liberty must be constantly reinforced by leadership—as I strongly believe— then reading Peters’ book is one way to strengthen that bedrock. It should be the next book you read and recommend to your friends. America is crying out for leadership, and this book points the way.
Liberty is fragile, and never more than a generation away from annihilation. Leadership ensures that liberty survives. This was as true in the summer of 1864 as it is today. Then, the outcome of the Civil War was in doubt. There was a chance the Confederacy might win, as the North was war-weary and the Union’s casualty lists were ever-increasing. If the Union negotiated peace with the Confederacy, thousands would have remained in bondage and our nation would be very different today.
It did not happen, thanks to the obstinate and valorous leadership of people who rose to the challenge and made the difference between liberty and tyranny.
Col. John F. Antal, USA Ret., is the author of 7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence. For more about him, go to his website, www.American-Leadership.com.