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Excellent survey of U.S. military history
on May 4, 2005
I wish more people, especially members of the media, would read this non political survey of U.S. military history from the early 1600s beginnings of English settlement to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Desert Storm, with extensive bibliographies. This is an excellent map for the beginning student of our military history, charting the territory. It can help us avoid taking too short-term a perspective on current events.
Without this grounding it's easy to believe our current challenges are new. They're not. The U.S. has faced constantly changing threats throughout its history, even as the country itself has continuously changed. U.S. military strength has always fluctuated, expanding in times of threat & contracting in peace. We have gone to war ill-prepared, then triumphed after spectacular military build-up.
We have been in a near constant state of preparing for war, fighting war or recovering from war. Public opinion has usually been divided, including going into the world wars. War has always had collateral damage. It has actually become considerably LESS unpleasant as technology & strategy have advanced. The Civil War, World War I & some battles of World War II were barbaric compared with anything we've seen recently.
Our military has made vital contributions to our economy, technological advance, education and civil rights. Minorities, especially blacks & Native Americans, have played vital roles in our military throughout our history.
The perspective given by Allan R. Millett & Peter Maslowski raises questions such as how could guerrilla warfare be described as a "new" challenge? Guerrilla warfare has been an issue since the Revolution. We ought have a good grasp on it by now.
The book's weaknesses are mostly attributable to it being an ambitious survey. They include gaps in coverage (how did we get from post Vietnam demoralization to Cold War victory?) It's long on facts, short on explanation and analysis (WHY did the Soviets collapse? WHY did we succeed?) It's necessarily superficial & doesn't probe controversy deeply (there's scant attention to the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia or Israel).
On the other hand, the book is very good on the relationship between the U.S. & the U.K. It's surprising how late (going into World War I) Britain was still regarded with wariness.
The book is thought-provoking on the unattractiveness (similar to Russia) of the U.S. as an invasion prospect. It also puts into perspective the claim that the U.S. never invades other countries (we've been invading throughout our history).
The book is quite good on the relationship between civilian authorities & the military, on the evolution of military management (professionalization is not a new concept) & on the rise of air power. It also touches on nonfiring Soldiers, an important issue excellently addressed in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's "On Killing."
In the context provided by this book, it's abundantly clear talk of a "peace dividend" & even the "end of history" after the Soviet collapse was naive. More troubling, history suggests conscription probably isn't gone forever (though it'll take a bigger crisis than the one we face now to prompt a return). The book, though, is good at showing conscription isn't what it's made out to be & its role in nudging volunteerism.
National Guardsmen & Reservists will find here that tensions with the Regular Army have always existed, that the National Guard & Reserve playing a significant role in conflict is nothing new, that Citizen Soldiers have a proud tradition & that there's always been room to raise the standard of the Guard & Reserve.
As a Soldier, it's fun to see pieces of Army history we've already learned out of context fall into place & into perspective & to get a better grounding in, for example, who the people were whose names now live on in the names of Army posts.
Millett & Maslowski's excellent survey is on the U.S. Army Chief of Staff's Professional Reading List (Sublist 1).