For an Institute dedicated to naval issues, Bold Alligator 2012 has all sorts of subtext. But the one that might be most difficult to miss is the widely announced intention to re-orient more towards the Pacific. And one hardly needs to advocate on this blog for the importance of the appreciation and understanding of military history.

But something is the matter with looking towards the Pacific. It isn’t necessarily that the strategy is wrong. It is that as a country we don’t always appreciate history. This isn’t a ‘kids these days’ sort of comment. A young Israeli officer knows his father’s and grandfather’s war stories. He’s studied since childhood the terrain and nature of the wars he is likely to face. The young American officer is different. In the service of a global power, he will invariably be called upon to fight an unexpected adversary in an unexpected place — witness our entire military history since the end of World War II. The one consistent thing about his father’s and grandfather’s war stories is that he probably won’t be seeing combat there himself.

But there’s something more specific about the reorientation towards the Pacific. It is a reorientation of ‘air-sea battle.’ The reorientation is not just a rebalancing from a decade of ground combat operations against insurgencies in landlocked countries. It has become about the high-end, high-tech capabilities that have gone unused and unnoticed by comparison since the Sept. 11 attacks. (I continue to come back to one book when it comes to new, legitimately game-changing technologies and the practical realities of their cultivation and implementation: FAST TANKS AND HEAVY BOMBERS: Innovation in the U.S. Army 1917-1945 by David E. Johnson) Even Clausewitz teaches us that each commander must be understood in the appropriate context of his circumstance, history, technological circumstance, etc. But the danger with the technology focus is that it tends towards territory that privileges concepts of fundamental, revolutionary change. And that’s particularly dangerous territory when it comes to appropriate appreciation for the lessons of history.

The U.S. has made the decision to return to the Pacific. Much of the thinking is about game-changing, high-end tech and the complexity of getting to the point of being able to successfully execute an air-sea battle concept. What are the best and most relevant histories we can recommend in terms of the long-term, enduring realities of the Pacific? There are many hard-won and costly lessons. Can we create a reading list of the books that best convey those realities and lessons to the servicemen and women who will be implementing this reorientation? What lists already exist that do this?

I would open with two:

  • WAR PLAN ORANGE: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 by Edward S. Miller
    For nearly fifty years the U.S. grappled with the fundamental realities of the Pacific theater. It was a messy, contentious and often flawed process (the struggle over the importance of the Philippines and the dominant place it served in the strategy over time is particularly memorable) but it provided the understanding of enduring strategic realities that not only made clear the need to move aggressively from coal to oil (and efficient, long-range oil power plants) but proved to have provided excellent foundations and guidance for the opening phases of the Second World War.
  • HELL TO PAY: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 by D.M. Giangreco
    Particularly insightful immediately following War Plan Orange, Hell to Pay outlines the plans to — and the terrible inadequacies of the intelligence estimates of — invading mainland Japan (something War Plan Orange very explicitly and consistently argued against). Anyone involved in strategic thinking about the Pacific should understand the true cost of ‘rapid termination of the war’ we came all too close to paying.

What else and why?

Posted by nhughes in Hard Power, History, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • “The Big E: The Story of the USS Enterprise” by Edward Stafford. Fifty-some odd years on still one of the best war diary’s out there of a ship that pretty much saw it all. But above and beyond the narrative of the various actions, there are additional layers that still bear lessons for today. Among these are the need to adapt tactics, acknowledge new missions/priorities and absorb punishment, unyielding punishment, and prevail in a hostile climate. Making the most of the equipment you have, knowing you may not have the latest/greatest “stuff” but that with intelligence, foresight, a warrior spirit and smart planning, you can reach that intersection of preparation and opportunity (what we call “luck”) and turn the course of battle, if not a war.
    …all that and it remains a damn fine read as well.
    w/r, SJS

  • Byron

    Concur with SJS on “Big E”. I’ve read that book so many times I’m on my third paperback. Always something to learn.

    I’d also inclued “Neptunes Inferno”, the story of the Guadacanal naval campaign which encompassed seven distinct naval actions amongs major combatants and countless smaller one. Well written, would recommend it to all.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Nate, great choices. Here are some others for consideration:

    “To Train the Fleet for War”, A. Nofi. A superb analysis of the Fleet Problems from 1923-1940, and how tactics, doctrine, and new capabilities were integrated and tested for the drive across the Pacific. (More on this one in a separate post.)

    “Network-Centric Warfare”, by Norman Friedman. Very enlightening summation of the evolution of NCW, and great insights as to what it REALLY is versus what we think it is. Applicable for every theater, but the Pacific especially against a near-peer.

    “Red Star Over the Pacific”, the Yoshihara/Holmes book discussed on Midrats.

    And one other, if you can find it:

    “MacArthur’s Amphibious Navy” by VADM Dan Barbey. Written by the Commander of 7th Amphibious Force and published in 1969 by USNI Press, the book recounts amphibious operations in New Guinea, New Britain, the Admiralties, and Philippines from 1943-45. Want to know how to project power on a budget? Hit the enemy “where they ain’t”? Barbey’s force only faced opposition in landing a handful of times, being able to engage the enemy decisively once firmly established ashore. It managed to do so despite being a decidedly second priority for ships and craft to the drive across the Central Pacific.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    “From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States,” Prof. Sadao Asada, 2006, USNI Press. Absolutely essential reading, as it gives valuable insights from the Japanese point of view, using previously untranslated materials that survived WWII as well as numerous privately held materials, including interview transcripts. This is a very well-written valedictory piece by the Professor that eschews pedantic academic prose for a informative, near-conversational style. After giving a great opening to “Mahan 101,” and its profound effect on Japanese naval theory, philosophy and practice, he delves into the issues that Japan felt it faced in light of the two Naval Treaties and subsequent crash-building programs in a nation still trying to transition between rural to industrial with limited resources. He also takes the time to give us great insights into the people who helped make the agreements, shape the strategies and define the policies that guided the IJN in this crucial period in its growth and development.

    Knowing the past helps one begin to ask questions regarding future, similar situations. This work, in my opinion, provides an essential piece of that foundational knowledge.

  • Aubrey

    I might add “Agents of Innovation” by John Kuehn – there are some lessons from the interwar period of the General Board we would do well to re-learn today

  • Jason

    I’m currently reading War Plan Orange. It’s fascinating read that gives you great insight into the strategic issue that went in to developing the plan. Also Miller’s other book, Bankrupting The Enemy gives good insight into the poli-econ issues that were taking place in the respective administrations at the time.
    Reading War Plan Orange I can’t help but think of our “refocus” on the Pacific. My impression is that a strategy was conceived and then a series of plans was formed. That plan was based on current force structure. Right now I think or refocus on the Pacific being dictated by our force structure without a coherent strategy. We are in effect putting the cart before the horse.
    Interested to know if I’m in error here.

  • Still nothing like Morison’s 15 volume History of United States Naval Operations of WWII to show the scope and variety of operations required. A lot of apparently minor sea control activities that accumulate to make a difference.

  • Paul Case

    The Fleet the Gods Forgot, by W. G. Winslow about fighting forward with the fleet you’ve got. It is a great overview of the holding action the Asiatic Fleet undertook following Pearl Harbor.

  • Rob McFall

    I would offer Kissinger’s “On China” as a must read for the new pivot towards the Pacific rim. Kissinger does a phenomenal job of laying out a brief history of the chinese culture, and our interactions with it. The American military has learned through our battles across the Middle East that an understanding of the history and culture of a people is vitally important when you are trying to maintain peace. Understanding why Taiwan is historically important to China, and why they are sensitive about the South China sea, among other things, will go a long way toward preventing a devastating world conflict.

  • Hunt down a copy of “United States Submarine Operations in World War II (USNI Press, 1949), by Roscoe.

    My weathered copy came out of my late stepdad’s library, I think, but it’s been so long now that its origin is fuzzy. Start with the endpapers that spell out the basics of torpedo warfare in clear graphics and text, and move through a high example of publishing craft. This was where I learned about the Mk. 14 failures and fracas, the exploits of Gene Fluckey, Red Ramage and Mush Morton, and the disproportionate toll exacted by and suffered by the submarine force.

    Other material:

    USMC Operation Plan 712 by Lt.Col. Earl “Pete” Ellis

    “Bullets, Beans & Black Oil” by RADM Worrell Carter

    Watch “The Sand Pebbles” again:

    And maybe dream that by the 2050’s the Navy will swim in Irwin Allen’s future:

  • Pardon, but a few more suggestions:

    Homer Lea’s “The Valor of Ignorance” (1909)

    The Junk Blue Book (1962)

    Amtrac Riverine Ops in Vietnam

    Dinassaut – French riverine forces in Indochina

  • Diogenes of NJ

    Moe –

    I’ve had Roscoe’s submarine ops for years; one word “definitive”. He also did destroyer ops, not quite as thick and not as much tonnage sunk, but outstanding nonetheless.

    As you know (or perhaps not), Diogenes is always up for a good WW II sub yarn. Here’s something that’s just out (1 November, 2011):

    It’s the story of Dudley “Mush” Morton and the USS Wahoo (SS-238). There’s a part in there that’s not for the PC crowd (as if anything submariners do is – maybe the WAVEs will change that, but I digress). Submariners know what I’m talking about. Those of you unfamiliar with Mush Morton’s exploits will find out. Just let me say one thing – it was a time when we understood how to fight a war. This isn’t the first time the Wahoo story has been told. O’Kane and Sterling have written about her. There is a volume of the Wahoo patrol reports published in 2005 by McDaniel (I’m only giving you the 5 star stuff here).

    There are some great shots of periscope photography, ramming, you name it. I’ve often wondered; it’s about time the Navy declassify all of the WW II periscope photography. It would make a good book in and of itself.

    – Kyon

    P.S. Ship naming conventions went to hell when the Navy stopped naming submarines after sea creatures – I think that might come up this week.

  • JCS

    i was just looking for the official listing for the naval postgraduate school and the found everything else but this seems to pop in and out when it wants too. Anybody out there with me on that thank you.

  • Pascal

    I’m rather taken aback that any publication by the USNWC would not be available for free as a downloaded file. We do pay taxes already for this work, no? In any case…

    The list for books concerning the Pacific for US Navy consideration should fall under a number of categories. I’m only going to list a few here. I’m sure there must be an excellent bibliography out there, such as an updated version of “World War 2 in Asia and the Pacific and the war’s aftermath, with general themes” by Loyd Lee (1998).

    A first category is geopolitical-strategic. This is essentially a ‘learn about the geography and your potential adversaries’ part. Here are a few:

    Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean by Karl Haushofer, a controversial work because of the author’s ties to the Third Reich, but this was written many years earlier. Haushofer was in Japan in the early 20th century (and wrote a book about ‘Japan in the World War’ (WWI)). He was the editor of the magazine “Zeitschrift fuer Geopolitik” in the 1920’s.

    Géostratégie du Pacifique by Hervé Coutau-Bégarie. Yes, I know, a book in a foreign language. But if you know French, this book originally written in 1987 (thus in Soviet Union days) still has much to give.

    The next set would the ‘origins of World War II in the Pacific’ category:

    The Origins of Second World War in Asia and the Pacific by Akira Iriye. I had him as a professor in college for post-war US foreign policy. He was excellent. This work is an excellent introduction. His other works (e.g. Power and Culture) on pre-WWII, post-WWII and modern Pacific international relations are worth reading.

    Bankrupting the Enemy by Edward Miller. The same author as “War Plan Orange”. This goes into the actions taken by the US government in the years before Dec. 7th to stop Japanese aggression through starving them financially. An interesting case study that could apply to some modern aggressive countries (Iran?).

    Cry Havoc: How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941, by Joseph Maiolo. An interesting global study of the arms building that took place in the 1930’s in Europe and Japan.

    Kaigun by David Evans and Mark Peattie and Sunburst by Mark Peattie. The most recent and among the few works available in English on the pre-war development of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

    To have and have not: Southeast Asian raw materials and the origins of the Pacific War by Jonathan Marshall. Available for free on the California Digital Library. Link is:
    A very interesting work that goes into the strategic importance of the raw materials of pre-WWII Southeast Asia for the US economy.

    As I said, only a few…