Archive for the 'History' 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 1814, when the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, British Defence expenditure accounted for 21.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 64.9% of Total Government Expenditure (TGE).2 In 1914 at the beginning of World War I it accounted for 3.2% of GDP and 40.1% of TGE. In contrast, in 2014, after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with pirates operating on both the East and West Coasts of Africa attacking ocean trade, a greatly more pro-active Russia, on-going disputes and troubles affecting key allies in the Middle East and Far East, and territorial disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar constantly recycling, British Defence Expenditure accounted for 2.1% of GDP and 4.4% of TGE. The difference of course reflects, the growth in other areas of government expenditure, i.e. National Health, and welfare, but also a change in the subject of the defence debate.
In the early 1800s the debate was whether to pursue a ‘Continental’ (Army to fight in Europe) or ‘Blue Water’ (Navy to blockade Napoleon and his allies in Europe, while transporting the Army around the world to acquire colonies, and other resources) strategy; these were ideas which divided the nation, and that caused much heated discussion – not only in parliament, but also across the great houses, coffee houses and ale houses of the whole country. In the early 1900s, the age of Dreadnought battleships, machine guns and high explosive, but alongside this often very technical discussions of specific weaponry, there was still the strategic debate going on – of whether to focus resources on Europe or to look to the rest of the world. On both occasions, the reality that was perceived, was that it was necessary to be able to do both, to a lesser or greater extent and this is reflected in the relative budgets allocated to the two services.
Recently the defence debate in Britain has stopped the discussion of strategy, and equipment (baring Trident), instead it is an almost constant discussion of the % of GDP allocated to defence. Furthermore, this debate often revolves around the figure of 2%, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation minimum, and any difference from this figure is obsessed over – whether positive or negative. The reality though is this is an artificial debate, its focusing on spending as aim in itself, rather than spending in terms of what is procured, and as such obscures the debate which should be taking place. In actuality, for defence (as with all government spending), Britain needs to debate, and then decide what is needs to do, and what it would like to do; only when these things have been decided must the decision as to what needs to be paid for and how much should be paid be decided.
The first question is the most difficult, as it can depend upon perspective, after all it can be reduced to the just the territorial integrity of the nation; which at its base point, could be defended on an international level by the strategic deterrent, and some form of reserve army – to deal with possible internal disruption caused by extremists. That though is rather simple, and relies upon a nation resorting to nuclear weapons the moment they are threatened – a powder-keg situation, that could come to put the nation at more risk than protect it.
The situation becomes even more complex when factoring in the island Britain’s reliance upon imported food and energy,3 as well as its economic reliance upon global trade;4 defending these is more difficult and requires a wider range of military capabilities. It requires a global presence (if decisions are made by those who show up; interests can only be protected by those who are present) which can be provided simply by suitably equipped ships, but in certain regions may be judged to require a larger commitment, i.e. a port agreement, air base or even possibly a garrison. It could also require allies, which of course entails further capabilities and political agreements being necessary; as collective defence is only truly effective when all members of the collective contribute – there will be some members more capable than others, but it will only work if all members are able to live up to their commitments. Ultimately, the capabilities required for this are some form of presence, and some form of ‘reach’ – i.e. a capability such as that offered by aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces, a deployable force that is capable of providing assistance allies, reaction to events and an escalation in presence to deter potential aggression.
The second question, comes down to choice, what does Britain want to be able to do? Does it want to be able to conduct conflict stabilisation operations? In which case should the number of infantry battalions, and military police be maintained or even supplemented further by reservists? Does Britain want to be able to provide significant ground forces for allied operations? If so then should then cutting the number of main battle tanks would seem illogical. Does it want to be able to conduct interventions independently? In which case, the decision has to be made as to what level of opponent is anticipated, and from there what composition/quantity/quality of forces will subsequently be required. These are decisions which have to be made, not muddled, as once they are made then the personnel, the equipment, the training has to be made, undertaken and paid for.
The third and fourth questions are in many ways the most to address, as they put to one side the almost traditional belief that British governments have practiced since 1918 – that the best defence is a strong economy. They put aside this idea, because the decision makes defence not an issue of economy, but an issue of security and strategy. By asking these questions it is acknowledged that no matter how successful the bank is, if it doesn’t pay its taxes, and support a decent police force, it will get robbed. The final amount that needs to be paid may be less than 2% of GDP, it will probably be at least slightly more, but it won’t be being spent because of some artificial logic based on treaty – but will be being spent because of a proper, thorough, public debate that has decided what is necessary, what is needed and therefore what should be done. Unless Britain’s defence debate learns from its past, and returns to strategy, technology, in other words capability! Instead of the simplistic and false debate about % of GDP; the British Armed Forces, will never have a hope of being what they are needed to be, when they are needed.
Such a debate though is not only required by Britain, it also required by allies; in an age of austerity, where the cost of everything is debated it becomes more important than ever that the value is also understood. This can not be provided by a debate taking place in the abstract and focused on %, it can only be done by a thorough and open debate that goes into the detail, of interests, of capabilities and of technicalities.
Clarke, Alexander. 2014. “We have the centrepiece…but what about the rest of the board?” European Geostrategy. 4 July. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.europeangeostrategy.org/2014/07/centrepiecebut-rest-board/, and Clarke, Alexander. 2015. “What to do about the Disappearing Royal Navy….” U.S. Naval Institute Blog. 22 January. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://blog.usni.org/2015/01/22/what-to-do-about-the-disappearing-royal-navy ↩
Mitchell, B. R. 2011. British Historical Statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and Chantrill, Christopher. 2015. ukpublicspending.co.uk. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/ ↩
Wright, Oliver. 2014. “Britain’s food self-sufficiency at risk from reliance on overseas imports of fruit and vegetables that could be produced at home.” The Independent. July 01. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-food-selfsufficiency-at-risk-from-reliance-on-overseas-imports-of-fruit-and-vegetables-that-could-be-produced-at-home-9574238.html ↩
Osborne, Alistair. 2011. “Britain’s reliance on sea trade ‘set to soar’.” The Telegraph. August 12. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8696607/Britains-reliance-on-sea-trade-set-to-soar.html, and Duncan, Hugo. 2013. “British exports to countries outside EU soar to record £80BILLION as economy reduces dependence on Europe.” Mail Online. August 9. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2388429/British-exports-countries-outside-EU-soar-record-80BILLION-economy-reduces-dependence-Europe.html ↩
By Mark Tempest
Who was “The Gun Doctor,” the officer over a century ago led the revolution in naval gunnery, the development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, and during WWI served as the senior US naval commander in Europe? More than the man instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system that helped keep the United Kingdom from starvation in the conflict, following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College he help to established the creative and innovative Navy that in the interwar period developed the operating concepts for the submarines and aircraft carriers that led the victory in World War II.
What are the lessons of a century ago taught by Admiral William S. Sims, USN that are critically important for the serving officer today?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this latest book, 21st Century Sims, will be returning guest, LCDR Benjamin Armstrong, USN.
Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong is a naval aviator who has served as a helicopter pilot flying amphibious search and rescue and special warfare missions and as the Officer-in-Charge of a Navy helicopter gunship detachment deployed for counter-piracy and counter-terror operations. He is a PhD Candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London.
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
Recent writing by Lieutenants Misso and O’Keefe here at USNI Blog, with their call for JO’s to “stick their neck out,” as well as contributions from Lieutenant Hipple and Major Byerly at FP’s Best Defense Blog, has forwarded a vital challenge. The call for Sailors and Marines, as well as our brothers and sisters from the other services, to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has come and gone a number of times across our history. Recently Senior Chief Murphy wrote about it from an NCO’s perspective in his Proceedings commentary “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March 2013 issue. Two months later former Army officer Jason Fritz wrote about it, also at FP’s Best Defense. Claude Berube has given us the long view of our naval history when it comes to debating new ideas with his writing on the Naval Lyceum of a century and a half ago.
On February 15th the Naval Institute Press will release the new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” The collection includes LCDR William Sims article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” which was seen in Proceedings in 1906. I wrote the following for Proceedings’ May 2013 issue, which offers a preview and an example of why our military services need junior officers and upstart thinkers to challenge the status quo and engage in professional writing.
Now Hear This – “If We Are to Remain A World Power…”
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
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
Well inside an officer’s career arch, we saw the American Navy move from the Great White Fleet, The Spanish American War to the age of the Dreadnought. Our Army, from ad-hoc volunteer units to a professional army going head-to-head with the finest professional army on the planet.
How did our military and our Navy build up to WWI, and how did that experience inform the evolution of our national defense infrastructure?
Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. John T. Kuehn , the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College CGSC). He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer flying both land-based and carrier-based aircraft. He has taught a variety of subjects, including military history, at CGSC since 2000. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011. His latest book, due out from Praeger just in time for the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns.
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