Archive for the 'Books' Category
By Mark Tempest
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 19 April 2015 as we return live, after a two week hiatus, for Midrats Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
The next book from USNI’s 21st Century Foundations series is 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy for the Modern Era, edited by Capt. B.A. Friedman, USMC.
This book covers the work of Lt. Col. “Pete” Ellis, USMC who in 1921 predicted the coming war with Japan.
Included in this collection are some of his articles on counterinsurgency and conventional war based on his experiences in WWI and the Philippines.
Capt. Friedman will be with us for the full hour to discuss this and more.
Capt. B.A. Friedman is a field artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC. He is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies through the Naval War College.
Recently, I had the opportunity to read and review historian Charles N. Edel’s excellent new book about John Quincy Adams, titled, Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic.
The review will soon be published at the Center for International Maritime Security. Intrigued, however, I wanted to learn more. Last week, we had the opportunity to talk about his book, JQA’s life, the US Navy, and grand strategy in the 19th century. It turned out to be a wide-ranging and interesting discussion.
Why John Quincy Adams?
When I was working at the Council of Foreign Relations many years ago, my boss, Walter Russell Mead, talked incessantly about framing contemporary policy choices in terms of historical evolution. That is something that always resonated with me: that you need to understand the present in terms of the past. While I was working there, Walter handed me a short little book by John Lewis Gaddis called Surprise, Security, and the American Experience; it’s a terrific book, it’s a provocative book, and it makes the argument that at moments of profound insecurity Americans seek to come up with ways of exerting their influence and securing their environment. And in fact, moments of profound insecurity often lead to the conception of new grand strategies.
In this book Gaddis compares three such moments: The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, and the aftermath of the burning of Washington D.C. in 1814. The argument is that the grand strategy that follows these moments and the men who craft it (John Quincy Adams, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and G.W Bush) are in response to their environments. And the argument in this book is that John Quincy Adams conceptualizes the grand tragedy for America in the 19th century.
I was intrigued by this argument and, as Gaddis argues that Adams’s legacy influenced both Roosevelt and Bush, I wanted to find out if it was true. The more I started reading about Adams, the more it seemed that every historian of American history talked about John Quincy Adams as the central figure for American foreign policy in the 19th century. But they couldn’t agree why he was the central figure. What’s more his personality and character seem shrouded in a dense fog. His son and his grandson had no clue who he was – his son talked about him wearing an iron mask that was impenetrable. On the other hand, he left just about the largest written record of anyone in American history, as he kept a daily diary that spanned his entire life—and, indeed, almost all the critical events in antebellum America. So I thought: what an intriguing project. First, to understand if John Quincy Adams was a grand strategist, second, what was his grand strategy, and then third, how did it matter today?
Why does his father seem to overshadow him?
Nothing intrigues Americans quite so much as our founding. John Quincy is not critical to the founding moments in American history—he’s only a small boy at the time—whereas it would be hard to argue that anyone did as much for the cause of American independence as John Adams.
I also think John Adams mellowed in his old age to a certain degree: he resumes his correspondence with Jefferson; he has wonderful correspondence with his wife, Abigail Adams. John Quincy Adams doesn’t have a Jefferson, and the humanity is not there in the same extent it was with his father. The second thing is that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are very conscious that they are writing about their legacy, and for the future of the United States. While both Adams and Jefferson believe they are correct, they still acknowledge that each has something interesting to say. John Quincy goes in the opposite direction as he ages. He is not in a reconcilable mood. He becomes more partisan the older he gets. But he is also a different figure; not a warm and fuzzy figure as his father was, (though, to be fair, none of his contemporaries would ever accuse John Adams of being warm and fuzzy). John Quincy doesn’t mellow in age; he sharpens distinctly.
John Quincy himself discusses his own life as a failure. He doesn’t see the policies he set up as success, whereas John Adams is able to take some satisfaction from seeing some of his policies mature. Throughout his life, John Quincy Adams would feel that he did not accomplish as much as his father did.
Do you think he was satisfied with his life?
There seemed to be some moments of satisfaction. But at many points in his life he refers to himself as a Job like figure. In many ways, he sees his job as one of persistence and endurance. If he thinks about his policies, how his plans have gone awry, how others have distorted his policies, then he is rather less pleased with the result. But he’s not really someone who is satisfied – ever. Maybe that is the Puritan in him. At his state funeral they read a passage from the book of Job and a letter from his mother that was written when he was a young boy. And there was this wonderful quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Choose wisely and accordingly to his constitution, when, on leaving the presidency he went into Congress. He’s no literary old gentleman, but a bruiser and loves the melee. When they talk about his age and his venerableness and nearness to the grave, he knows better, he is like one of those old cardinals, who, as quick as he has chosen Pope, throws away his crutches and crookedness and is straight as a boy. He’s an old roué who cannot live on slops, but must have sulfuric acid in his tea.” Another great insight comes from a British foreign minister who said that, in diplomatic circles, Adams was like a bulldog among cocker spaniels. In other words, he was there to advocated tenaciously for the country’s national interests, not to express diplomatic niceties.
How does John Quincy Adams view the role of the US Navy during his Presidency?
He imbibes many of the ideas about the importance of a Navy from his father, who is credited with being the founder of the US Navy. John Quincy is taken as a young boy to Europe, where if they are captured on the high seas in the middle of the American Revolution, things aren’t going to end well for his father – and perhaps not well for him either. One could argue that such experiences imprint themselves on the young boy, causing Adams to understand from a very early age the importance of a Navy for the young Republic’s security.
The significance of a navy is further reinforced to John Quincy through his diplomatic career. He is dealing with a world, with an international system, dominated by an Anglo-French colonial and maritime rivalry. If America wanted to maintain its neutral commerce in the seas and be able to ignore both Britain and France’s objections, it would need the means to do so. Which, specifically, meant having a powerful Navy. John Quincy, of course, recognized that this was no easy task for the United States. He knew that his fellow citizens hated taxing themselves and would not, absenting a national emergency, do so at a level sufficient for defense of the nation. Adams asserted that America’s independence of action came not from its unique “representative democracy,” but rather from the “real power” of its “armed force.”
I should also add one other factor: he’s from New England. Fisheries, commerce, and maritime trade matter immensely. Now, he often doesn’t line up with where New England lines up – that is, he doesn’t defer always to the British when it conflicts with business interests of the New England states. But he thinks the United States not only needs to be a commercial state but also have the ability to defend its commercial interests. In his presidential address to Congress in 1825 he purposes the idea of a naval academy. While Annapolis was not founded until 1845, John Quincy Adams called for the establishment of a Naval Academy on par with West Point, the “formation of scientific and accomplished officers,” and a massive shipbuilding program two decades earlier.
As a historian what was one of the more interesting things you found out about the man?
It’s his diary. It is probably the greatest and most comprehensive diary in 19th century America. He starts it at the age of 12 and keeps it every day until he drops dead on the floor of congress in 1848. It’s in 51 manuscript volumes. He has a stroke in the last year of his life, and until that point his handwriting is immaculate. There are more than 14,000 pages that make up this diary. Every day he is recording who he met and what they talked about and what he thought about the meeting. It is a remarkable record of what Adams was thinking about and what he thought he was trying to accomplish. As a historian you always wonder if he was writing with me in mind – does he want me to discover this? And, of course, the answer is sometimes yes—as he seems to be writing as much for posterity as he is for himself. Which, of course, means one has to treat his words critically.
There are two passages I found most compelling. One I quote in the final pages of the book. In 1822 he is struggling with this question: Is morality the same for an individual as it is for a State? He has been raised to believe that it is. But he understands that these might not be the same things. What might be virtuous for a person might be too pure for the dealings of a state. He is neither the first nor the last American statesman to struggle with this question.
The second passage is the one I use to begin chapter five. The longest and most anguished entries in his entire diary all come between Jan-Nov 1820, when he is secretary of state, and everyone is talking about and debating slavery. And it is because the Missouri question has been brought up—a political question about whether or not the expansion of slavery into new territories can be regulated by the federal government. This is a remarkable debate; and, for most American politicians it is a terrifying debate: Jefferson himself in his old age thought this was an alarm bell that woke him up in the middle of the night and had him fearing for the future of his country. This question was brought up inside the cabinet. The President asks for feedback on the slavery question. Adams is opposed to slavery’s extension, but his is a minority position in the cabinet. He is the only person on the cabinet that is not a southerner. And while he is willing to advocate for his position in private, he does not take up this argument in public. He does, however, take some long walks around Washington with John Calhoun – and these are 5, 10, 15 page entries – in which Calhoun, a Southerner, tries to educate him about slavery. Adams captures all these discussions in his diary. These conversations blow his mind on how southerners think about this issue.
Did you relate to him when you were researching your book?
He is a model in so many ways. A deeply brilliant man. It’s hard not to be taken in by his words and also by his long term views and insights to the country. But, in his dealings with other people—his political enemies, but also his supporters, and often even his own family, he is not the most pleasant person to be around. Still, I think he is pretty great…not perfect, though, and I wouldn’t put him on a pedestal. But, yes, he is a magnificently interesting figure, and a compelling one.
You have a great quote in the book that refers to Adams inability to come up with practical results.
Was Adams a bad politician?
He’s not a bad politician. You can’t say that someone who ends up as President is a bad politician. He does tack, he does shift, and he is not a dummy about it. And yet on the other hand I think he suffers from what I call the “Adams syndrome.” If you are an Adams, you are the smartest person in the room, you have the longest term vision of anyone in the room, and you are so annoying about those two things that you alienate almost everyone, almost immediately, and lose control of your own policies. Adams’s ability to make compromises, particularly when he is President, is very low. He seems to be happier when he is in opposition.
One of the interesting anecdotes you have in the book, is Adams’s frustration with the piles of paperwork that he is drowning in during his time as Secretary of State. It sure seems that things never change. Could you elaborate on this?
I think it is an interesting anecdote. But what is more interesting is what he decides to do about it. He’s always pressed for time; there are always officer seekers, and the State Department seems to regularly lose important treaties—which often leaves him in rather awkward diplomatic predicaments. He begins to think about bureaucratic structures to reduce this chaos. He starts assigning different people different functions; setting out clear guidelines for how diplomatic correspondence is done; how instructions from Washington D.C. are set up. They really are the guidelines that are set out for the state department for the next 100 years.
Is this a man that needs to stay busy to keep his demons at bay?
Yes, absolutely. I think it is true and he himself said it was true. He said something to the effect of “regularity is what regulated him.” When you read Adams you realize this is someone who falls into the “blue devils” – as the 19th century term was used – more than one time in his life. He had a debilitating depression when he is just out of college and he is studying law. He has to withdraw from reading law and just go home and sit for a couple of months until he can function in a normal way again. And this depression returns when he is President. This is certainly not a good time to be depressed, as he himself recognizes. So I think that being active, super-hyper active, is something that helps him control his inner-self.
How do people misuse his famous line “America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”
Adams was not warning future administrations away from helping aspiring democrats, but rather giving his successors a lesson in the necessary trade-offs foreign policy demands. This statement, however, is often invoked to advocate a position that the United States ought not to intervene in a particular situation. At the extreme end, it is used as an argument that America should always take an isolationist, aloof position in international affairs. Where I think we need to be more circumspect is that Adams himself did not say that America should never go abroad. He made this statement at a particular time and place in response to a unique set of circumstances.
Adams was trying to ensure the United States focused its resources at home and not offer European powers a pretext for intervening in the western hemisphere. Adams himself would be the first to note that changing circumstances, changing contexts, must necessarily mean changing policies. In multiple instances, Adams talks about how precedent should not become a policy straight-jacket; the nation needs to keep in mind the changing nature of American power and the shifting international environment. What made sense when the nation was a small power on the edge of the world, might not make as much sense to the nation’s ambitions when it has grown in size and security. Adams would demand that we assess rationally the foreign policy aims we seek and that we carefully consider the best use of the precious resources of the republic.
Adams was never shy about promoting American values, nor using military power when doing so would advance American interests. But, he was keenly aware of the relationship between America’s capabilities and its ambitious aims. That is, Americans, in Adams’s estimate wanted to support democratic revolutions abroad before they had even finished establishing their own. Adams saw the danger of U.S. missionary zeal outstripping American capabilities and thought this would leave the nation highly vulnerable.
Adams wanted to build American power at home before trying to wield American influence abroad. Those who quote Adams as advocating isolation in foreign affairs often miss the domestic corollary of his pronouncement. As America grew to power, Adams advocated using the nation’s resources for the good of its own citizens—making the nation a positive model of what republican government can do for its own citizens. Abstention in distant conflicts was intimately linked to a progressive vision of state power in the domestic context. Adams advocated for improvements in infrastructure, investments in higher education, funding for scientific research, and innovations in manufacturing and agriculture. The best way that America could spread its values would be by working to perfect the American experiment at home.
What other books on John Quincy Adams would you recommend?
There are different ways to approach John Quincy Adams. You can read his life as biography. Paul Nagel’s book, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life, focuses on his internal-self and is quite good, though it has less to say on his public career. Then, there are really good books on the various stages of his career. Mary Hargreaves has a great book on his presidency, and Leonard Richards’ book on his congressional career is also quite good. A short book that is pretty remarkable is called Policy Maker for the Union by James Lewis. If you are interested in the period and Adams’s effect on US policies, then I recommend Gaddis’s Surprise, Security and the American Experience; a great, really short book. I also highly recommend Robert Kagan’s Dangerous Nation, which is a history of US international relations in the world from the founding until 1898. The other book that I find fascinating is Walter McDougal’s Promised Land, Crusader State, which looks at all US foreign policy in some 200 pages and poses John Quincy Adams as a central figure. Finally, Samuel Flagg Bemis is someone I have to mention. Bemis was the dean of American diplomatic historians, mid-century. He had a two volume history on John Quincy Adams, the first of which won the Pulitzer back in 1947. One more…Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. It’s a truly great book.
Thanks for your time.
Thank you, and thanks for the terrific questions. I enjoyed it.
Charles Edel serves an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where he focuses on U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy, American political history, and the connections between foreign policy and domestic politics. He holds a Ph.D. in History from Yale University, and received a B.A. in Classical Civilization from Yale College. He worked at Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies as a Henry A. Luce Scholar. Previously, he served in various roles in the U.S. government as a political and counterterrorism analyst, worked as a research associate at the Council of Foreign Relations, and taught high school history in New York. A native of New York, and an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves, he is the author of Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic. Currently, he is working on a project about the role of foreign revolutions in American history.
For the past few years, professor Timothy Demy and Major General John J. Salesses, USMC(ret.), have been teaching the elective the Pen and the Sword at the US Naval War College. It’s a class, Demy says, that uses the literature of war to explore the relationship between the fiction and reality, the written word and the lived experience.
Students study leadership, ethics, and the experience of war from the pens of those who have experienced it as well as those who have imagined it. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Demy and talk about books, poetry, and the state of reading in the military today.
I noticed that you teach the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd the Sailor. Why that book?
Billy Budd is a leadership issue and an ethics issue. Here the captain is a witness to an event [Budd strikes another crew member]. And he clearly sympathizes and empathizes with Billy Budd, but he still has to hold captain’s mast. It is one illustration that personalizes the challenges of command. The commander always brings his or her personality, morality, and ethics to the job. I think we read literature like that through a different lens once we have had some military experience. Of course, students, they’ve read the books and seen the movies — but once you’ve had some military experience it becomes more than entertainment. The purposes of literature are to entertain and instruct — those are the two great purposes of literature. So usually when people read they are reading for entertainment. But we are trying to get students to really learn. I think you’ll find that the challenges of leadership don’t change through the centuries. War literature shows that and how literature really is a conversation throughout history.
Why do you think so many people really don’t want to tackle someone like Melville?
For a lot of people, literature was something that was thrust on them. So it was more of something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Most products of American high-schools, at least for my generation, endured 10th grade English; we were just trying to get through Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” And military leaders are incredibly busy people; It’s hard to find time to do everything. Sometimes their lack of reading is lack of desire, sometimes it’s simply priorities, lack of time, or a lack of a sense of direction. Or what little time the leader may have is used carefully. Do I go to the golf course? Do I go to the gym? Many of them are out there trying to balance many things. You kind of have to cram it in when you can, but I’m sure there are those out there that would like to get more reading done.
Do you think poetry is relevant today?
It seems that 99% of the population cringe when you mention poetry. But once you understand what it does it can be very powerful. There is a poem called the Death of the Ball Turret Gunner. A very short poem; a WWII poem. I once had a student who signed up for the class, and he came up to me and asked me if he could read and discuss the poem in class. He told me that he had been in Fallujah, and that he read that poem everyday, and he prayed his experience would not be the same fate as the character in the poem. Poetry gives voice to that which is otherwise often unspeakable.
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
What poets today do you think are approachable for a military audience?
The First World War poets are worth reading. They are a watershed in the history of war poetry. Before that it was the Charge of the Light Brigade, and themes of God, King, and Country, that sort of stuff. The WWI poets on the other hand were very personal. It wasn’t for God and Glory; it was for me and my mates. It’s very intense. I recommend the Oxford Book of Poetry. It’s a good anthology through the centuries. We read a number of poems in there. The poems of Thomas Hardy; his poem Drummer Hodge or The Man He Killed are Boer War poems and are worth reading. Certainly Kipling’s poem Tommy is very well known. If you read Tommy, it brings out all the things you would discuss in a class about civil-military relations. Kipling’s words are based on an earlier short poem: In times of war and not before/God and the soldier we adore/In time of trouble and not before/The battle over and all things righted/God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.
There are two great themes in poetry — one is romance and the other is war. Once people read a few poems, they’ll realize how similar they are to their own experiences. We read a poem called The Lament of the Frontier Guard. It’s a seventh-century Chinese poem translated by Ezra Pound. Anyone who has stood a late night watch can relate to this, regardless of how old it is or what culture it is from. This is a similar experience that transcends centuries. Poetry can help you think: “That’s me, I can relate to that.”
What do you think fiction does for us? Many military readers read because they want information, so they turn to nonfiction.
There is a lack of appreciation that through reading fiction we gain insights into humanity, the human experience, and the challenges of life. We are able to be transported to other worlds — real and imaginary. And everybody loves a story… “Once upon a time”; “In a galaxy far, far away.” Story telling is part of the creative experience of people. And some cultures and people spend more time telling stories than others. C.S. Lewis said that “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality. In reading great literature I become one thousand men and yet remain myself, like the night sky in the Greek poem I see with a myriad eyes but it is still I who see.” He also said, “Instead of stripping a knight of his armor you can try to put his armor on yourself.”
What are some of your favorite books that you teach?
I really enjoy C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd and also his story Rifleman Dodd. I also enjoy Bridges of Toko Ri.
What are some of your favorite books — Fiction and Nonfiction?
Well, for nonfiction, a great book that is not really known is a book called To War with Whitaker. It is by the Countess of Ranfulry. She was Australian, married a Brit, during the Second World War. She follows her husband to the Middle-East in WWII. It’s her wartime diaries. Because of her competence she meets all the great leaders in WWII, and ends up working for some of them. Her husband gets captured. It’s just a fabulous memoir. When I got to the last third of the book I had to ration my reading. I’ll go on Amazon.com and buy a few used copies and give them away to friends as gifts — it’s just a great book. Gordon McDonald Frasier’s Quartered Safe Out Here, which is his war memoirs, are fabulous. He’s often known for his Flashman Series, which are also great. I enjoy C.S. Lewis; his letters are excellent. A great book that every student should read is Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War. And after that, people need to read his book Matterhorn. Len Deighton’s Bomber is also a powerful book. And a little bit different, but also a great book is Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
What do you read for entertainment?
I enjoy the detective stories of Philip Kerr. I’ll read all of the Flashman series. I tried to get into science-fiction, but it just didn’t click with me. I tend to like the things that are a little bit different. I enjoy the Patrick O’Brien series, so much that I’ve started it a second time. But it takes a while to get through it. The NY Times called it the best historical fiction novel; and it is. And just looking at my shelf, I notice my copy of World War Z, and it’s also a great book. I was surprised, really, on how good it was. My motto is never go anywhere without a book. I either have my Kindle with me, or a book. You never know when you’ll have some free time which to read a book. And I keep a mixture of novels and nonfiction. I will often have two or three books going at the same time.
How do you become a better reader?
First, you need to read more. But you want to identify for what purpose you are reading something — is it for entertainment or instruction? Write down words and phrases and sentences that mean something to you. Figure out what you are reading and why.
Sir — Thanks for your time.
Thank you. Great talking with you.
Professor Timothy J. Demy is Professor of Military Ethics at the Naval War College. A retired Navy chaplain and the former chaplain for the NWC, he holds doctorates in historical theology (Th.D.) and humanities and technology (Ph.D.) and several master’s degrees including the Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College from which he was the President’s Honor Graduate. He also received a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge in international relations with an emphasis on religion and international relations (honors thesis). He has published extensively in the areas of ethics, theology, history, and international relations. As a chaplain for 27 years, he served in a variety of assignments including Navy afloat and ashore assignments and tours with the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.
Please join us Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots”
In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward “Red Flag,”
Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and
fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be
Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).
A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.
Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
By Mark Tempest
13 years into the long war, what have we learned, relearned, mastered, forgotten, and retained for future use? What have we learned about ourselves, the nature of our latest enemy, and the role of our nation? What have those who have served learned about their nation, their world, and themselves?
Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic State, and the ever changing global national security ecosystem, where are we now, and where are we going?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be returning guest John Nagl, LTC US Army (Ret.) D.Phl, using his most recent book Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice as the starting point for our discussion.
Dr. Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Prior to assuming responsibility for the School in July 2013, he was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was previously the President of the Center for a New American Security. He graduated from the United States Military Academy Class in 1988 and served as an armor officer for 20 years. Dr. Nagl taught at West Point and Georgetown University, and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
By Bill Doughty
On Sept. 11, 2001 Michael P. Murphy was an ensign in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
Michael Murphy, a graduate of Penn State University, who grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, internalized and personalized what happened on 9/11, according to colleagues, mentors and writer Gary Williams, author of “SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN.”
The book is on Adm. Greenert’s bookshelf as an essential Warfighting First selection of the CNO Professional Reading Program.
Murphy led a SEAL team into Afghanistan in 2005 where he faced a profound ethical dilemma after capturing some civilian non-combatants. (His dilemma and moral decision is examined in detail in another book about Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell.)
The team then endured a prolonged firefight against a larger Taliban force. At the end of the terrifying and deadly fight, Murphy faced a second, more personal moral choice. At great personal risk, he put himself directly in the path of enemy fire in order to call in help for his team.
In “SEAL of Honor” Williams introduces us to Murphy’s family, shows in detail his training regimen as a Navy SEAL, describes the mission Murphy led in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, and shows the honors paid to Murphy and his family after he was killed. “SEAL of Honor” preserves history and offers a well-documented biography of an American hero.
Murphy’s bond with first responders from his home state is legendary. He had his unit wear the bright orange patch of FDNY Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 43 — “El Barrio’s Bravest” — on their uniforms as a team symbol and constant reminder of 9/11 and why the SEALs were in Afghanistan, according to Williams.
Marcus Luttrell also refers to the patch several times in “Lone Survivor.”
Like Williams’s “SEAL of Honor,” Luttrell’s book is understandably an autobiographical account. Before describing Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” explores Luttrell’s upbringing in Texas, his SEAL training in San Diego and a mission in Iraq desperately searching in vain for weapons of mass destruction: “chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness.”
Luttrell’s telling of the firefight with the Taliban in Operation Red Wings is gripping and graphic, but at the end of Luttrell’s book the reader is left with a hunger to know more about the hero, leading protagonist Michael P. Murphy.
“Seal of Honor” shows us how Murphy’s qualifications as a leader developed starting in early childhood. As a toddler, Michael’s favorite book was Wally Piper’s “The Little Engine that Could.” He was a voracious reader at Canaan Elementary School.
According to Williams, Murphy’s favorite book as an adult was “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, a historical fiction novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 brave Spartans protected their homeland and democracy from an invading Persian Army. Greek warrior culture is part of the SEAL tradition.
The never-give-up attitude, willingness to sacrifice for a cause and strong personal ethos all contribute to what makes a Navy SEAL, provided the individual can tough it through BUD/S training, described in detail by Williams.
“Despite the brutal training, Michael soon realized that almost anyone could meet the physical requirements of the SEALs, but the unending challenge from day-one would be the mental toughness, that never-ending inner drive that pushes you forward when every nerve and muscle fiber in your body tells you to stop — to quit. That warrior mind-set — the mental toughness — is what separates a Navy SEAL…”
“SEAL of Honor” includes inspiring SEAL Creed excerpts or, in some cases, complete remarks from SEAL leaders like Adm. Eric T. Olson, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Loo and Commodore Pete Van Hooser. All focus on leadership expectations and maintaining high standards.
Williams describes the tragic rescue attempt in which Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen and 15 other would-be rescuers were killed when their MH-47E Chinook helo, call sign Turbine 33, was shot down by the Taliban.
Both “Lone Survivor” and “SEAL of Honor” showcase the importance of the concept: “no one left behind.”
Near the end of “SEAL of Honor,” Williams lists each of the warriors who died trying to rescue Murphy and his team.
He describes the many tributes to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, including the awarding of the Medal of Honor by then President George W. Bush. One of the most significant tributes, especially as far as Sailors are concerned, is the naming of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer for him, dedicated May 7, 2008.
During his remarks, then Secretary Donald C. Winter predicted, “Every Sailor who crosses the bow, every Sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every Sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of the USS Michael Murphy,” writes Williams.
Osama bin Laden haunts both books, written prior to President Barack Obama’s authorization to kill or capture the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After a Muslim ceremony, bin Laden was buried at sea from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) just days before the USS Michael Murphy christening.
“It is my sincere belief that this ship will build on the momentum gained by our special operations forces in the fight against extremism and sail the seas in a world made more peaceful by sustained American vigilance, power and dignity,” said then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. “This ship will carry Michael’s legacy and values to Sailors several decades from now and to a new generation of Americans…”
USS Michael Murphy’s homeport is Pearl Harbor.
(A version of this review was originally published Sept. 10, 2011 on Navy Reads.)
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
How did the United States Navy achieve victory at Midway and turn the tide in the Pacific so early in World War II? An anthology from the Naval Institute Press shows the answer: Sailor ingenuity, science and skill blended with Nimitz’s wisdom and determination — along with some luck.
Other factors contributed, including miscalculations and overconfidence of Imperial Japan, whose military leaders were set on taking out “Hawaii’s sentry,” Midway Atoll. But fortune favored many of the U.S. carrier aviators who fatally damaged three enemy carriers, writes John B. Lundstrom in historian Thomas C. Hone’s “The Battle of Midway: The Naval Institute Guide to the U.S. Navy’s Greatest Victory.” Imperial Japan would lose four carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor and more than 100 of its aviators.
Lundstrom notes, “The actual sequence of events was stranger than anyone could have imagined; as [Rear Adm. Murr] Arnold wrote in 1965, it was ‘the most god-awful luckiest coordinated attack.'”
In “The Battle of Midway” editor Hone brings together a gifted roster of writers and leaders including Craig L. Symonds, E.B. Potter, James Schlesinger, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton, Elliot Carlson, Mitsuo Fuchida, Masatake Okumiya, Lundstrom and Mark R. Peattie, among others.
Throughout this book of mostly essays written over a span of seven decades, Hone adds context and analysis. In his introduction to Chapter 9, “Prelude to Midway,” he explains Imperial Japan’s motive for the attack.
“The Midway operation had two central objectives. The first and more limited one was the seizure of Midway as an advance air base to facilitate early detection of enemy carrier forces operating toward the homeland from Hawaii, with the attack on the Aleutians as a diversion … The second, much broader objective was to draw out what was left of the United States Pacific Fleet so that it could be engaged and destroyed in decisive battle. Were these objectives achieved, the invasion of Hawaii itself would become possible, if not easy.”
Hone’s “The Battle of Midway” opens with Part I, which explores Nagumo’s kido butai (air fleet), presents Admiral Yamamoto from a Japanese perspective, and shows why Imperial Japan’s carrier pilots were so skilled in the first year of the war with the U.S. Navy; it was because they had already gained experience in the previous decade in China. Part II is titled “Approach to Midway” and includes a brief but powerful piece from Proceedings, “Lest We Forget: Civilian Yard Workers,” by Lt. Cmdr. Thomas J. Cutler, USN (ret.). Cutler is author of “Bluejacket’s Manual,” “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” and numerous other books.
Part III, “The Battle,” recounts the battle Kurosawa-like, from different angles and viewpoints including several from an Imperial Japanese perspective. “I Sank the Yorktown at Midway,” by Yahachi Tanabe and Joseph D. Harrington, is one provocative title. Parts IV and V deal with the aftermath of the battle, its finale and the official report by Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Part VI of “The Battle of Midway” explores the personalities, strategies and relationships of the commanders: Nimitz, Spruance, Nagumo, Yamato, Fletcher and Mitscher. Part VII shows how code-breaking helped provide some of the “god-awful luck” that gave U.S. Navy the edge against the enemy fleet. Editor Hone leads with an analysis of the complicated state of affairs with regard to code-breaking, and he includes an excerpt from Elliot Carlson’s excellent “Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebraker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway.”
Hone’s book concludes with Part VIII “Assessments of the Battle” and appendixes, including the USS Enterprise Action Report and Spruance’s Letter to Fletcher of June 8, 1942.
The source materials, oral histories, chronologies and analysis in “The Battle of Midway” make this book a compelling overview of the heroic battle while leaving some mysteries, fog-of-war questions, and the impact of luck as still part of the story and lessons of Midway.
An extended version of this post appears on Doughty’s Navy Reads blog, along with a recent review of Robert D. Kaplan’s “Revenge of Geography.”
Women and men of the Class of 2002 may think they are in the shadow of their grandparents — “The Greatest Generation” who beat fascism, crushed nazism and crossed the Pacific to avenge Pearl Harbor and win the war in the Pacific in less than four years.
“In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War” is a compilation by or about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. (USNI offers comprehensive reviews of the book, published in 2012; this is another look into the shadows.)
Put together with love and appreciation by Joshua Welle, John Ennis, Katherine Kranz and Graham Plaster — and including a foreword by David Gergen — the book is filled with essays and memories by and about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. The authors set the stage with a look back to the past:
“The magnitude of World War II provided the opportunity and experiences that shaped twentieth-century American leaders. As men served abroad, women provided support at home. All overcame great odds and faced adversity that gave them confidence and shaped their outlook in the decades to come. This ‘greatest generation’ returned from war, took advantage of the educational benefits offered through the GI Bill, and advanced the country’s economy and transformed its society. World War II veterans, while fueling economic advancement, remained resolute in their value system: service, sacrifice, and community.”
Among “Shadow’s” contributors are aviators, surface warfare officers, submariners, U.S. Marines and mothers of junior officers killed during training or in action.
The book is filled with first-person, heartfelt accounts of triumph and hardships: what it’s like in humanitarian assistance missions, duty at sea, Search and Rescue operations, and combat; what it means to face family separation, “setting aside the comforts a normal life in service to our country and the Constitution. The dark sides of these sacrifices are broken marriages, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and estrangement.”
But there is plenty of triumph here, too, focusing on why and how Navy and Marine Corps leaders choose to serve — “not for self, but for country.”
A highlight is the account by Meghan Elger Courtney, who served aboard USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) of her commitment to promote warfighting readiness for Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. Courtney recognized a need to improve shipboard physical fitness opportunities to help Sailors who would deploy forward — either aboard ship or as individual augmentees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the blessing of her commanding officer and strong support from the command master chief and Chief’s Mess, j.o. Courtney planned for, procured and arranged for installation of a new fitness center that replaced outdated insufficient gear and space. Courtney writes, “Almost immediately, I saw a positive renewal in people’s attitude toward fitness, healthy eating, and incorporating workouts into their daily routine as a way to relieve stress and stay in shape.”
“What some may have viewed as my silly pet project, the command master chief took seriously, and he became my closest ally in seeing it through. I never really knew how much the experience had impacted him until I saw him become visibly choked up recollecting it during his closing remarks when he transferred off the ship. I don’t think he thought that a young officer like me could have cared about his crew so much, but I did, and I still do…”
Courtney’s story is just one of many inspiring reflections. She said she was inspired by a quote by explorer Robert E. Peary on a motivational placard in Halsey Field House at the academy: “I will find a way, or make one.”
Other essayists share their sources of inspiration as President Teddy Roosevelt, President Dwight Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy, Senator Daniel Inouye and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others.
One essayist quotes the last two lines of a poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day” in pursuing a life of purpose, wanting to make a difference:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
The authors and essayists show how core values of honor, courage and commitment make up an ethos that “forms the fabric of people’s personality and drives them to a life of service, in and out of uniform.”
“‘In the Shadow of Greatness’ was envisioned to recognize and chronicle the service of brave men and women and through their stories establish connections with the broader, nonmilitary community. These first graduates of the Naval Academy after 9/11 entered a global war at sea, in the air, and on land. This war would last more than a decade and define the United States in the early part of the millennium. The actions of the select few profiled here represent those of a much broader spectrum of patriots.”
Attacks on 9/11/2001 changed the lives of the Class of 2002.
In a short introductory piece, “Inside the Gates of Annapolis,” Adm. Sam Locklear (now Commander, U.S. Pacific Command) writes about the investment the country makes in the women and men who attend service academies, including the Naval Academy, reflecting on the morning of September 11, 2001 when he sat at his desk as commandant of midshipmen.
“I recall vividly watching the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. When the images reached the Brigade, and the uncertainty of the events rapidly became reality, I asked myself, Are these men and women, these young patriots, ready for the challenges that most certainly lay ahead. A decade of war has proven that they were more than ready. Fortunately for us all, they remain ready today. We are extremely proud of all they have accomplished and thankful that we chose the right men and women to lead the next great generation.”
The book, published by the Naval Institute Press, is a key title on the CNO’s Professional Reading Program essential list under “Be Ready.”
A version of this post appeared on Bill Doughty’s Navy Reads blog.
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer
- About Face: A Return to Marine Corps Innovation
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC