August 22, 2004


The general in his library (Ian Garrick Mason, August 22, 2004, Boston Globe)

TODAY, ALL BRANCHES of America's armed forces have lists of books they recommend to their personnel. On July 23, the chief of staff of the Army, General Peter Schoomaker, issued a significant update to the Army's list.

The Army's original list was issued in June 2000 by General Eric Shinseki. [...]

The Army's reading list is actually a collection of four sublists, each designed for personnel at different stages in their career. Sublist 1, which includes books like John Keegan's "The Face of Battle" and Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers," is meant for officer cadets, soldiers, and junior noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Sublist 2 contains books meant for "company-grade" officers (lieutenants and captains) and mid-level NCOs, while Sublist 3 is designed for "field-grade" officers (majors and colonels) and senior NCOs. Perhaps most interesting is Sublist 4, targeted at "senior leaders above brigade level." These are the books that the chief of staff thinks his colonels and generals should be reading. [...]

Schoomaker's sublist is different in several ways. Summers's book on Vietnam is gone, but Vietnam isn't: See H.R. McMaster's "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam," described on the list as "a cautionary tale about how the military and its civilian leadership failed at the highest levels." Clausewitz's "On War" has been moved to Sublist 3 to stand beside Sun Tzu's classic "The Art of War," while Donald Kagan's more accessible history of the Peloponnesian War has replaced Thucydides'. And a new emphasis on military transformation is obvious -- on this sublist alone there are four books on the topic. [...]

No list can be comprehensive, but Phillip Carter, a former Army officer who now writes on military affairs, sees several missed opportunities -- such as the lack of any books on Islam and Middle Eastern culture. And given the Army's recent missions, he adds, "There should be books on peacekeeping, or books like Samantha Power's `A Problem from Hell.' And Elizabeth Neuffer's `The Key to My Neighbor's House,' which really helps you understand the civilian side of the equation in a place like Bosnia or Rwanda -- or Iraq, for that matter."

Pretty revealing that even as late as 2000 General Shinseki didn't recognize that a massive transformation of the military was coming and they should be prepared.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2004 9:45 AM

Pretty revealing that the list includes exactly one -- and that apparently a tendentious one -- book about military failures.

Since commanders keep making the same mistakes over and over, a study of screwups would make a lot of sense.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 22, 2004 3:15 PM