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?