It was great to come across this summary from DCNF’s Saagar Enjeti of Secretary Mattis’ reading short-list today, as a reminder that we always benefit from taking time to take the long view.
It was no surprise to see Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War prominent in Mattis’ list. The book about the Korean War has been a favorite of military readers – especially of the ground-pounders (Army and Marines) – for years. Its most famous passage is the one I quote here. These brief paragraphs capture well why the relationship between military commitment and the soul of our nation are so closely linked, and why it can never be a light decision to put our young men in the mud. – J.E.
“In July, 1950, one news commentator rather plaintively remarked that warfare had not changed so much, after all. For some reason, ground troops still seemed to be necessary, in spite of the atom bomb. And oddly and unfortunately, to this gentleman, man still seemed to be an important ingredient in battle. Troops were still getting killed, in pain and fury and dust and filth. What happened to the widely-heralded pushbutton warfare where skilled, immaculate technicians who never suffered the misery and ignominy of basic training blew each other to kingdom come like gentlemen?
“In this unconsciously plaintive cry lies the buried a great deal of the truth why the United States was almost defeated.
“Nothing had happened to pushbutton warfare; its emergence was at hand. Horrible weapons that could destroy every city on Earth were at hand—at too many hands. But, pushbutton warfare meant Armageddon, and Armageddon, hopefully, will never be an end of national policy.
“Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men in the mud.”
T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: The Classic Military History of the Korean War
Secretary of Defense James Mattis listed five items anyone wishing to understand how he views military matters should read, during the opening remarks of the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Mattis told the gathering that to understand how he believes modern war is trending to re-read remarks by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to the 2016 annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army. Milley’s speech told the gathering future war is “almost guaranteed.”
An AUSA summary of his remarks also reveals Milley’s sentiment that:
The Army must rapidly adapt; reform its acquisition process to speed new technologies to the field; build future leaders who can operate on nonlinear battlefields without reliable communications with higher command; and make wise and ethical decisions
Future adversaries could end the air superiority the U.S. Air Force has provided since the Korean War, Milley said, and anti-access, area-denial capabilities could prevent the Navy from getting to the fight.
So “land forces will have to enable sea forces,” and the Army “is definitely going to have to dominate the air above our battle space,” he said.
To get a reminder of war’s “primitive, atavistic, and unrelenting nature” the secretary told the crowd to re-read T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind Of War, a history of the Korean War. Mattis also quoted extensively from Fehrenbach throughout his speech. The book describes how “the United States was unprepared to fight a limited war halfway around the world and when it intervened it overreached before finally winning partial victory and painful wisdom,” Barry Strauss of the Hoover Institution noted in June 2016.
“If you want to see why I believe command and feedback must supplement our approach to command and control read Rules of the Game by Gordon, the secretary continued. Robert Killebrew, writing for Foreign Policy in 2015, described the book written by Andrew Gordan as a “thick, meticulously researched, often tedious, frustrating but ultimately fascinating book about the slow and unwitting transformation of the British Royal Navy from the glory days of Trafalgar in 1805 to the indecisive and controversial battle of Jutland in 1916, when the British fumbled the ball.”
Mattis followed up his recommendation of “The Rules of the Game” with “The Future of Strategy” by Colin Gray. Mattis called him “one of the most near faultless strategists” alive today. The book “argues that strategy will continue to provide a vital tool-kit for survival and security, but that the global threat posed by nuclear weapons remains an on-going challenge without obvious practical solutions. As Gray asserts, there is no promised land ahead, only hard and dangerous times that will require us to master the theory and practice of strategy to secure our own future,” its Amazon description notes.
Finally Mattis told the soldiers of the audience only to follow the Army creed they had all just recited minutes earlier which states:
I am an American Soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American Soldier.
This report, by Saagar Enjeti, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.