Archive for the 'From our Archive' Category


Combat Experience Now and Then

September 2011


The following selection comes from Zumwalt Staff Officers Volume I, an oral history collection produced and owned by the United States Naval Institute. These oral histories done by USNI are simply fantastic gems of history, and this one on Zumwalt is no exception.

I am not sure what the procedure is for USNI members to get a copy of this kind of stuff, so maybe someone on the staff at USNI can address that in the comments below. As I have been reading through some of these interesting pieces of history, I keep thinking there is useful information that someone at every level of leadership from the Department Head up would find useful.

This is the first of what may be multiple posts on this Zumwalt oral history. In the section below Paul Stillwell is interviewing Captain Howard J. Kerr, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired), who served on Zumwalts staff as a LT in Vietnam immediately after getting his Masters Degree at Tufts. Noteworthy in the context of this quoted section, LT Kerr turned down command of a coastal patrol vessel to take the position on Zumwalts staff, something his detailer insisted would hurt his career as LT commands at the time were very rare. He had never met VADM Zumwalt prior to accepting the position, and had only really learned about the man after being offered and initially turning down the staff job offer.

This section is discussing what I always find to be the most important issue Navy leaders must deal with – people. I think different readers can and will find different lessons or analogies to today in this section, and likely come to different conclusions as it relates to today. It begins with a question of inventives provided by the Navy for people to go to Vietnam.

Q: And there were not incentives provided for people to go.

Captain Kerr: Well, no, there weren’t any incentives to go, and there weren’t any rewards for having done a good tour there. Admiral Zumwalt fought like hell to give some rewards to the lieutenant commander who had gone over to Vietnam and who had done exceptionally well, who had put his life on the line, who had been in a very threatening environment for a year, and who when he came out was getting zero credit for that from the bureau and wasn’t even making the XO cut. That was kind of the typical guy. He worked very hard trying to turn that around. He put his own personal involvement in it. We used to talk to the bureau almost every night from Saigon in an effort to impress upon them the fact that, “You may not agree with what the country is doing~ you may not agree that this is the kind of training that a naval officer needs, but the fact is that this is national policy; the country is at war, and we are the warriors dedicated to fighting this country’s battles. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that the very best people are sent over, because people’s lives are at stake and the national honor and prestige are at stake in this particular war.” And our ability to execute a very complicated sophisticated mission–namely, as I’ve said before, getting the Navy involved while at the same time trying to train the Vietnamese Navy and turn the damned thing over. It was a multifaceted operation that involved a lot of sophistication. It just required the best talent the Navy had. That’s the way Admiral Zumwalt felt about it. The bureau simply was not supporting that up until that time.

Now, they responded to him, and you began to see a little turnaround. Pretty soon, after nine months or so, some people who were considered “front-runners” began to show up in country. But up until the time Admiral Zumwalt got there, that was simply not the pattern, not the case. I feel that in many cases the detailers were being driven by what they considered the right, quote, “right career pattern” for a surface guy, and it just didn’t include a tour in Vietnam. It was more important to go off to destroyer school, or have a weapons officer tour on a DDG or something than it was to go to Vietnam. Those guys were doing just what they basically were being told what the policy within the bureau is. So, in that sense, we weren’t getting support even from our own personnel distribution system for the Vietnam war in country at that time. They supported us in the sense of putting in the numbers that had to be there. They were there. But they were not reaching down and looking for the top people and putting them over there. In a sense, it was inconsistent with the right career path to go over there.

You reflect upon that, and it’s an extraordinarily hard thing to understand for me – how we could view that war as just another tour of duty – it turned out that it just didn’t rank as high as other tours of duty. There are an awful lot of people who have remarked to me that at the time they didn’t want to go to Vietnam – not that they were afraid to go to Vietnam, but they just didn’t see how it was going to help their career.

Q: What did Admiral Zumwalt do to provide incentives for the Navy captains that were there?

Captain Kerr: Well, I think one of the biggest incentives right away was when Bob Salzer got selected for flag. There had never been a flag officer out of Vietnam. He got selected for flag. People tend to go to where people are being selected. If the water at this hole is a little bit sweeter, that’s where everybody goes to drink. And the water in South Vietnam had been a little stale. So when Bob Salzer got selected, that sent out a signal through the Navy. Zumwalt was there. Zumwalt was building a reputation. It was becoming common knowledge that Zumwalt had taken charge, had taken hold. The Navy was turning its act around and on in South Vietnam. That some good people were beginning to go there, to get involved. Bob Salzer had been selected for flag.

Q: Well, I think he was selected after he left.

Captain Kerr: Well, he had left, but see, he only had a few months to do when Admiral Zumwalt arrived. It didn’t make any difference when he got it. The fact is that it came right after his tour in Vietnam. So that was seen as a plus.

Q: My point is that the principal subordinates were still captains, whereas their counterparts, you were saying earlier, in the other services were generals.

Captain Kerr: Yes. That didn’t change. The admiral never got those jobs upgraded to flag rank. But he began to write the kind of fitness reports that helped people. He got General Abrams to sign off fitness reports for some of those officers, which was very helpful. Those are the kinds of things that you do to begin to support your subordinates in the field. He went personally after people. He used to get on the phone at night and call them. He’d work the detailers at night. A lieutenant commander comes out of Saigon with a top record, and the bureau doesn’t give that any merit. And instead of going to an XO’s tour, he goes someplace else; that tells the lieutenant commander community something. The admiral understood that, and he tried to turn that around–not only to give the right image of what was happening in Vietnam, but because he believed that that person deserved that because of what he had done in country.

You know, the admiral once said that every fitness report you’d get in the Navy that’s not under fire is just a guess. These guys were out in the field. getting shot at. They were running the war. The responsibility, the initiative, the sense of command and leadership that they were learning at this early age was remarkable. Plus, they were doing it in the battlefield. Those were traits and values and demonstrated performance things that are more important to a fighting man in many respects than being able to run an NTDS system on a guided missile destroyer. In other words, you could learn to run an NTDS system, but you never know how the guy is going to react in battle unless he’s been in it. And these guys had been in it. And our own system wasn’t recognizing that. If the guy somehow hadn’t been at the top of his performance ratings on his last ship, that’s what they were paying more attention to than how well he was doing in country. I feel very strongly that the bureau let the Navy down in country. I think, as I said, it began to turn around after Admiral Zumwalt got there, but I don’t think that the Bureau of Naval Personnel with regards to its detailing policies in the in-country effort, prior to 1968 certainly, can be very proud of its efforts to support the war. I mean they were more concerned about their own selfish policies of putting people in the right jobs and keeping them on the, quote, “career path” than they were with supporting the war effort in Vietnam.

Q: Well, did he work it from the other end also? There is a delayed reaction if you have to wait until the selection board results come out. Did he badger BuPers to send him brighter, better people earlier?

Captain Kerr: Yes, absolutely. There were people that were going off to the war colleges. I hate to belabor this, and I’m probably a little cynical about it, but I had people tell me that their detailer told them, “Let me put you at the Naval War College. You don’t want to go to Vietnam. That’s not going to do your career any good. You might as well spend a year at the Naval War College.” Can you imagine that? The goddamned country is at war! People are getting killed! And we’re thinking in terms of what’s best for promotion purposes. It’s unreal. In many respects, while I have disdain for both, I have less disdain for the person who ran off to Canada than I have for the person who ran off in uniform to the Naval War College.

One of the things that stood out to me in this section of the interview was the value of combat experience. US Navy fixed-wing aviators have dropped bombs on targets for 10 years, but 99% of those attacks have been in environments where the enemy lacks the capability to shoot back. The submarine community has never been attacked by a credible ASW threat in the lifetime of all US Navy submariners. The vast majority of combat experience of the SWO community comes from lobbing cruise missiles from positions offshore the enemy could not reach with counter-battery.

Put another way, RW pilots and the SWOs who conduct anti-piracy operations on small boats are about the only non-special forces sailors to find actual combat experience today, because they are the only US naval forces today that operate under legitimate threat of attack. Somehow I doubt the promotion system reflects that reality any more today than the promotion system reflected combat experience in Vietnam in the late 60s. AEGIS warships, aircraft carriers and strike fighters, and nuclear powered submarines cruising the South China Sea are so much cooler from a promotion system perspective than RHIBs and helicopters operating in pirate infested waters, or at least recent history suggests as much.

I think people can read this section and find other topics as well. Good history can do that.


Admin Update to Galrahn’s post regrading “I am not sure what the procedure is for USNI members to get a copy of this kind of stuff, so maybe someone on the staff at USNI can address that in the comments below.”

An index of our complete collection may be found here:

Oral History Index

More about the program and pricing here

Although we charge for the Oral histories, we often make them available gratis to Commands (see ADM Harvey’s post at Fleet Forces blog) and students and for the purpose of promoting the program, which is completely funded by donations and the generous support of the Tawani Foundation.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have an interest in our collection. You may email me directly: mripley @ usni dot org.

The medal above is the “George Medal”, which was an unofficial award commemorating the early struggles of the Marines on Guadalcanal. The image depicts, legend has it, the sleeve of Frank Jack Fletcher, with his hand dropping a hot potato onto the Marines ashore. The inscription is “Facia Georgius“. “Let George do It”.

Let me state that, in my opinion, James D. Hornfischer is unquestionably one of the finest writers of Naval history in the last half-century. His books, especially Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, are iconic works that tell superbly the tales of the US Navy in the Second World War in the Pacific. However, during a recent episode of MIDRATS, Mr. Hornfischer’s assertions about the US Marines’ history of the Guadalcanal campaign are entirely incorrect. The issue at hand in those assertions is the decision of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to depart the Guadalcanal area on the morning of 9 August 1942, after just two days of supporting the amphibious operations ashore.

Fletcher was concerned with the risk to his carriers, Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprise, by having them tied to support of operations ashore. While understandable, what Fletcher refused to acknowledge was that with amphibious operations, once the landing takes place and forces are ashore, a commander is all in, and must support the forces ashore. The landings by the Marines were the entire reason for having Task Force 61 in the waters of the Solomons. Admiral Turner (commanding the amphibious task force, TF 62) and First Marine Division Commander General A. A. Vandegrift argued the point heatedly in a conference aboard Saratoga, but to no avail.

Chapter 5 of the splendid History of the First Marine Division, “The Old Breed” (Infantry Journal Press, 1949), begins:

The feeling of expendability is difficult to define. It is loneliness, it is a feeling of being abandoned, and it is something more, too: it is as if events over which you have no control have put a ridiculously low price tag on your life.

When word got around Guadalcanal in the second week of August that the Navy had taken off and left the Marines, the feeling of expendability became a factor in the battle.

“I know I had a feeling” says a man who was there, “and I think a lot of others felt the same way, that we’d never get off that damned island alive. Nobody said this out loud at the time. I was afraid to say it for fear it’s come true”.

“But”, says a Captain, “there was an awful lot of talk about Bataan.”

Even the greenest Second Lieutenant in the Division knew enough to understand that an amphibious operation cannot be sustained without Naval support.

The Guadalcanal Campaign, the official historical monograph published by the USMC History Division, is somewhat more matter-of-fact, but still states:

The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.

And sums up the situation of the Marines ashore this way:

The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area, supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.

The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks.

So, on 9 August 1942, the day Admiral Fletcher departs with his warships of TF 61, and the cargo vessels of Admiral Turner’s Amphibious TF 62, the Marines of the First Marine Division are ashore. But not all of them. Vandegrift’s reserve, the 2nd Marines, is still embarked. Those that are ashore have barely 96 hours of ammunition. They are short of food. The enemy strength and disposition is largely unknown. Their lifeline, the airstrip, is not yet repaired and has no aircraft. They are all but defenseless against the frequent Japanese air strikes.

Vandegrift and his staff had agreed to come ashore with an initial load plan that represented significantly less than their minimum requirement due to constraints on cargo space, with the promise that the Navy would surge supplies to them. Now, most of even that small amount was out of reach of his Marines, headed to sea in Turner’s cargo holds, as the latter was forced to withdraw when Admiral Fletcher’s warships departed.

But for three absolutely miraculous occurrences in the fortunes of war, the Guadalcanal landings might have been a disaster comparable to the loss of the Philippines just a few months before.

The first occurrence is that the Japanese commander, caught off guard, underestimate both the strength of the landing force (believing only a few thousand ashore), and the fighting spirit of the Marines, and did not move decisively to reinforce the small garrison on Guadalcanal with elements of the 17th Army that were available. (A single reinforced battalion of the 28th Regiment, about 1,100 Japanese, was given the mission of re-taking the island.)

The second was the fortuitous capture, with slight damage, of a single bulldozer, which the Marines used to maximum effect to complete a 2,700 foot airstrip on the Lunga plain. Without that stroke of luck, several weeks likely would have passed before any aircraft could have operated out of Henderson Field.

The third near-miracle was the capture of large stores of Japanese canned fish and rice, which becomes a staple of the Marines’ diet in the absence of rations still in the holds of the Navy ships.

Meanwhile, the arduous task of building of bunkers and of obstacles to defend the Marine positions and the all-important airfield, was done by hand in the searing jungle heat. The Marines, short of wire and sandbags, improvised as best as possible. By the time the 2nd Marines arrived (22 August) and additional supplies were landed, the Marines had been engaged in a number of short, sharp fights with the Japanese, the first of dozens and hundreds of bloody slugging matches in the rotting heat of the jungle on Guadalcanal.

The fight for Guadalcanal has been well-documented, and by the time last of the First Marine Division embarked for good from the island, the Division had suffered nearly 700 killed, 1,300 wounded, and more than 8,000 sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. For veterans of that time on Guadalcanal, men who didn’t have our perspective of inevitable victory either on Guadalcanal or in the Solomons, their resentment of (at the time) the US Navy and of Admiral Fletcher (which persists to this day) is entirely warranted.

Fletcher’s departure with his carriers, claiming the need to fuel (“always fueling”, wrote Morrison) was an exceedingly poorly considered move. His decision to do so infuriated Admiral Turner, commanding TF 62, who understood that his ships and their cargo were they keys to survival for the Marines ashore. While Fletcher’s aircraft carriers were precious commodities, his decision to minimize risk to those units had the effect of placing the entire of Operation Watchtower in considerable danger of failure. The lack of supplies and support which the Marines ashore endured in the opening weeks of the fight for Guadalcanal negated Vandegrift’s plans for immediate offensive operations (with an expanded airfield) to clear the island, left them all but defenseless to Japanese air and naval forces, and prolonged what became a protracted and savage fight under unspeakably miserable conditions.

In his efforts to protect his carriers, Fletcher inexcusably risked something even more precious and irreplaceable. The only trained and equipped amphibious force that the United States had in the entire Pacific. The loss of the carriers would have had severe operational implications, but defeat on Guadalcanal, resulting in an evacuation, or worse, capitulation, would have been strategic disaster.

Attempts at “reassessment” of Fletcher’s decision to pull support for the Marines on Guadalcanal, and justifying that decision six decades hence as “prudent”, are exercises in revisionism mixed with ample doses of 20/20 hindsight. The Marines’ bitterness at Fletcher is well-placed. Asserting differently dismisses the situation the Marines faced in mid-August of 1942 vis a vis the enemy as well as their own logistics. The Marines would gain a new respect for the Navy once Fletcher and the overmatched and timid Ghormley are replaced, the latter by the legendary William F. Halsey, who immediately visited Vandegrift and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s “battle-mindedness” and promise of the support of the Navy was a refreshing and comforting change from his predecessor, and was immediately reflected in the morale of the Marines ashore.

Mr. Hornfischer’s goal in his exploration of Naval history, to put himself (and his reader) in the shoes of the commander, is extremely admirable. He would be remiss, however, if the sets of shoes he places himself in do not include the muddy boondockers of a First Division Marine on Guadalcanal. Were Mr. Hornfischer able to interview the First Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal forty years ago, he would have gotten their perspective on those weeks without Navy support, expressed in the most colorful of language. Which needs no revision.


Interesting comments from the esteemed author, James D. Hornfischer:

I’m delighted to find this colloquy unfolding in this reputable forum between such well-informed service professionals.

As I tried fervently to convey in NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Guadalcanal Marines who were forced to persevere without air cover or full provisions for a period of time that they could not know at the time. Doing their business under these conditions, they were gallant and resourceful as ever. They are entitled not only to their pride, but also their chagrin. The question is whether the study of this history should end there. Is their heat-of-the-moment rage sufficient to serve as the final word on Frank Jack Fletcher and the Navy’s performance in the campaign? This question pretty well answers itself in the asking.

The blogger labels as revisionist any assessment of Fletcher that does not comport with the partisan, Corps-centric assessments formulated during and immediately after the war and abetted by Samuel Eliot Morison (and never rebutted by Fletcher himself).

The Marines’ resentment of Frank Jack Fletcher was well placed in its day. Our burden today is to see it in light of everything else we know about the complex circumstances that attended the campaign. Most of these, of course, were invisible from the beach. In NEPTUNE’S INFERNO I tried to thread that needle without resorting to the kind of interservice partisanship that characterizes many of the Corps-centric accounts of the campaign.

Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders at all times to operate under the guiding star of “calculated risk,” that is, to weigh the potential benefits of an action against its potential costs and drawbacks. In choosing how long to expose the Pacific’s only three carriers in direct support of the Guadalcanal landings, Admiral Fletcher determined how much risk he was willing to accept in the opening act of Operation Watchtower. He informed his colleagues in advance of the operation and his decision was extensively debated in advance.

Today, it’s all over but the shouting. History bears out the wisdom of his determination. The Marines were left without carrier air support from the carriers’ withdrawal on August 9 until August 20, when the USS Long Island delivered the body of the Cactus Air Force. The consequences of those eleven days of exposure turned out, happily, to be negligible. The Japanese did nothing to seriously threaten the U.S. position on Guadalcanal during that time. The carriers returned in time to fight the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (His conduct of the battle demonstrated the sincerity of his caution; he ordered one of his three carriers, the Wasp, out of the battle area to refuel.) Fighting with one hand behind his back, so to speak, he used the Enterprise and Saratoga to deflect the Japanese push. He saved his fleet for that moment and the others that followed. One could well speculate that had he left his carriers near Guadalcanal continuously from August 7, they might have been struck, making the close victory of Eastern Solomons impossible and imperiling the Marine position even more seriously.

This, much like Marine partisans’ complaints of “inexcusable risks to the landing force,” is a fruitless exercise in speculation. It’s only proper to damn Fletcher—or say the “risk” he took was “inexcusable”—by assuming an alternate universe of events where his decisions led to disaster. That’s when you ask the question Why and cast the arrows of judgment at the perpetrators.

It seems reasonable to judge the final wisdom of a particular risk by looking at the results that flowed from it. If we do that, there is no compelling basis for labeling Admiral Fletcher anything other than a winner.

As events actually unfolded, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons marked the beginning of the Navy’s sustained commitment to fight in defense of the Marine position on Guadalcanal, risking its most valuable assets the whole way through. By the time it was over, the Navy had fought seven major naval actions in which its KIA outnumbered infantry KIA by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.

It is entirely coherent to sympathize with the authentic anger of the Marines on Cactus, and simultaneously recognize the balance of merit favoring Admiral Fletcher’s controversial decision. The Marines lacked air cover for eleven days, and a large portion of their supplies, and suffered the bracing uncertainty how long those circumstances would attend.

By the time it was over, the three-to-one KIA ratio stood starkly apparent to anyone who was watching, and victory absolves all sins. General Vandegrift remembered the November 13 deaths of Admirals Scott and Callaghan with his famous dispatch “lifting our battered helmets in deepest appreciation.” To wallow in the bile of interservice partisanship, from a tendentious evaluation of a fragment of events, in spite of the actual outcome of history, is little more than a parlor game that negates the final judgment of the 1st MarDiv commander himself regarding the performance of the fleet. Nearly 70 years after events, we can do better than that.


And response from the “blogger”:

The questioning of Admiral Fletcher’s decision to remove the carriers of TF 61 from supporting the Marines ashore at Guadalcanal is far more than “a fruitless exercise in speculation”, or “bile of interservice partisanship”.

To assert that, because the Japanese failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to interdict the US drive into the Solomons and bring about a potentially crippling strategic setback, that the decision Fletcher made to withdraw was correct, is to assert that “all’s well that ends well”. Such is a singularly dangerous approach to the study of military history, as it goes great lengths toward the already-prevalent tendency to believe that the winners have little to learn from an ultimately successful outcome.

In any amphibious operation, support from the sea is critical to success, irrespective of the service executing the amphibious assault. Nimitz’ concept of “calculated risk” is in no way sufficient to excuse the willful passing of initiative to the enemy in the very place that was the US main effort at the time in the Pacific. Fletcher left Vandegrift without the forces and supplies to execute his plan ashore, in fact with barely enough to defend a thin perimeter against an enemy whose strength and disposition was largely unknown. That the enemy did not seize that initiative is to our eternal good fortune. We have several bloody examples of what happened in amphibious operations when the initial advantage of the initiative is allowed to pass. At Anzio seventeen months later, Army General Lucas dithered in his beachhead while Kesselring acted, reinforcing the threatened area as fast as he could with every available formation at his disposal. The result was a bloody slugging match against what was an enemy well prepared to meet the breakout. We should be grateful that Hyakutake was no Kesselring.

It remains speculation, as well, whether Fletcher represented truthfully to Ghormley that both General Vandegrift and Admiral Turner had stated that 96 hours was the time required for full unloading of the transports. Both had done so, and had argued vehemently against Fletcher’s decision while aboard Saratoga.

No, this debate is not “partisan service” anything. Initiative is among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, to be surrendered only at dear cost. Fletcher did so, and the Japanese did not take it. He was, as were the Marines ashore, fortunate in the extreme.

As stated above, the Marines by and large came to respect greatly the efforts of the Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal. It has been a subject of intense study on my part, and worthy of the highest of admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the American Sailor. However, the anger of the Marines and their contempt for Fletcher is understandable. The loss of the transports and the Division reserve crippled the commander ashore, and prevented the undertaking of immediate offensive operations that could have cleared the island before Japanese reinforcements arrived in significant numbers. Instead, Guadalcanal became a protracted fight that ended only with the evacuation of the Japanese survivors in early 1943.

Fletcher’s decision should be recognized for what it was, a major tactical blunder that could have had severe strategic consequences. That he, and his boss, Ghormley, were removed from command, speaks volumes. That is true, seventy years or seven hundred years after the battle.

Military Strategy, by Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie, Jr., USN (1911-1993)

This is a very brief review and recommendation for a book that I discovered recently. Admiral Wylie’s short Military Strategy (about 85 pages in the original edition) was published in 1967, but written in the mid-fifties while Wylie was “at sea in a single-screw low-speed amphibious cargo ship.” He remarked these ships were “not demanding of a captain’s attention as is, for instance, a destroyer.”My copy was published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press as part of their Classics of Seapower series and has an excellent preface by John B. Hattendorf that will give those unfamiliar with Wylie’s life experience a good foundation. This copy also has a postscript written by Wylie “twenty years later” and three related essays published previously in Proceedings magazine.

Given Military Strategy’s brevity, I’ll resist the urge to provide long quotes. Wylie and an associate’s search for articulating the relevance of the navy in the never-ending budget battles brought them in contact with the famed mathematician John von Neumann of Princeton. Wylie used a paraphrase of von Neumann as a starting point: “With respect to strategy as a subject of study, its intellectual framework is not clearly outlined, and its vocabulary is almost nonexistent. These two primary tasks are badly in need of doing…” He sets out to do just that and does a nice job.

Wylie defines strategy as: “A plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.” He discusses the military mind and strategy, and how often the military focuses on principles to the exclusion of real strategy. Wylie outlines methods of studying strategy that are simple and well thought-out. Wylie makes a compelling case for a general theory of strategy. He says: “A theory is simply an idea designed to account for actuality or to account for what the theorist thinks will come to pass in actuality. It is orderly rationalization of real or presumed patterns of events.” Further, he continually stresses the importance of assumptions being based in reality, and not wishful thinking or the last war/battle.

His chapter on existing theories is worth the price of the book. He provides a type of Cliff’s Notes overview of the four theories he sees as core: the maritime, the air, the continental, and the Maoist. Of the last, he masterfully lifted sections from Mao’s On Guerilla Warfare, Che Guevera on Guerilla Warfare, and Vo Ngugen Giap’s People’s War People’s Army. He observed of the later, “these books are not only theory, the portray a hard reality of contemporary warfare.” To our people in uniform, in particular, unfamiliar with these books, Wylie provides an accessible and informative introduction to the type of war being waged by Islamic jihadists and how they attempt shape the battle field.

He develops a brilliant point that destruction doesn’t necessarily translate into control, and that often destruction is driven more by emotion than strategy.

Wylie goes on to provide a general theory of strategy that, using his words, has “substance and validity, and practicality.” As Seydlitz89 said in a recent comment thread here: “Wylie is amazing. So many ideas in such a small book! He misread Clausewitz and overrated Liddell Hart – which are probably connected, but overall? He comes up with some very basic ideas about strategic theory which are ever sooooo useful. I’ve re-read his small book several times and always come up with something that either I’d forgotten or that I had missed earlier. Wylie’s basic approach to theory is as a practitioner, not as an academic, much like Clausewitz before him.”

Indeed, Wylie provides a nice scaffold for any type of strategy, military or business. For me his approach was refreshing in a genre where, more often than not, dogma and ego walk hand-in-hand. Time and again, he offers that his ideas may be wrong and encourages readers to think and wrestle with the concepts provided. Wylie writes in his postscript: “As far as I know, no one as ever paid attention to it [the book]. I don’t know whether this is because it is so clear and obviously valid that no one needs to, or because it is of no use at all. I suspect it could be the latter, but I really do not know.”

This little book comes with my highest recommendation. If you’re in uniform and just getting started with strategic concepts/thinking, this is an excellent place to start.

Interesting referenced titles:

Military Concepts and Philosophy, Henry E. Eccles

The Military Intellectuals in Britain, 1918-1939, Robin Higham

An Introduction to Strategy, General Andre Beaufre

Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, John von Neumann

Strategy in Poker, Business and War, John McDonald


Cross-posted on

On May 26, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger signed an agreement aboard USS Iwo Jima “formalizing their intention to reinstate Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) programs at Columbia” after an absence of 40 years. The history between the Navy and Columbia dates back to at least the Jacksonian era.

On February 3, 1830, Columbia College President William Alexander Duer wrote to Commodore Isaac Chauncy – then in command of the Brooklyn Navy Yard – offering schooling at Columbia for local young naval officers under certain specified terms. Chauncey forwarded the suggestion to Secretary of the Navy John Branch: “This proposal is a liberal one, not more expensive than the navy yard schools…I certainly should prefer a Naval School, if Congress would authorize one.” He echoed this sentiment to Duer: This proposal seems to me to be liberal and fair, and I am sure that great good would result to the service by accepting it.” Chauncey recommended to Branch attaching a naval officer to the college for “superintending the young officers, and enforcing discipline.”

It’s unclear if any naval officers were non-matriculated students at Columbia that decade, but if President Duer made the recommendation to the Navy, perhaps it was because he had some familiarity with the organization.

Following is a summary from Christopher McKee’s A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815*:

Duer was the son of William Duer, a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Alexander Hamilton; his maternal grandfather was Revolutionary War General William Alexander (aka Lord Stirling.) Duer went bankrupt when his extensive private speculations collapsed and he died in debtor’s prison in May 1799. The younger Duer was “forced to abandon legal studies at the height of the Quasi-War with France to accept an appointment in the navy” and assigned to the frigate John Adams in the Caribbean On June 16, 1800, in Martinique, one of his fellow midshipman claimed Duer stabbed him in the thigh. Admonished by Lieutenant Francis Ellison, Duer again attempted to draw his dirk then struck Ellison and stated that he would murder him and others on the ship. He was ordered to stand trial by court martial.

Duer’s mother, Lady Catherine Duer appealed directly to President John Adams that her son be allowed to resign his commission rather than stand trial. Adams “urged [Secretary of the Navy] Stoddart to accept the resignation of ‘this unhappy youth,’ and threw most of the blame on [the frigate] Adams’s commander, Richard V. Morris, for not controlling the amount of wine consumed by the midshipmen’s mess at Dinner.” Duer returned to law school, practiced law, and became a politician and judge before becoming president of Columbia College.

LCDR Claude Berube is a member of the USNI Editorial Board and teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is currently writing his doctoral dissertation about Andrew Jackson’s navy.

*This correspondence can be found at the National Archives, Center for Legislative Archives (House Committee on Naval Affairs, HR21A-D17.5).

*Duer/Chauncey Correspondence courtesy of Columbia University Archives

By popular vote, Naval Institute blog wins best Navy Blog from the military blogging conference sponsored by and USAA.

This is entirely due to the guest bloggers who take time (unpaid) to share their voice on this blog and to those who participate in the comments to continue the dialogue…and to all of those who dare to read, think, speak, write, and blog…

…and by archive – we mean the ‘collective we’ archive. Part of the U.S. Naval Institute’s mission is to honor those who serve.

There are a number of staff, many contributors, and a whole bunch of members who served in Vietnam. And some, who actually didn’t come home that day – staying behind as Advisors, like those in Iraq and soon, Afghanistan. And those who never come home at all.

If you are anywhere near a Vietnam veteran today, physically – or virtually, welcome them home – or/and welcome home a current veteran.

From the U.S. Marines website:

By Pfc. Chelsea Flowers

On March 30, 1973 all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam. Instead of receiving a welcome fitting for the sacrifice they made for this country, the majority of the returning troops were met with criticism and hostility.

Frustration. Anger. Disloyal. Unappreciated. All of these words could describe the possible feelings and thoughts that went through the minds of these individuals. Some of these troops were drafted, yet still fought and died for the lives of the men to their right and left, only to be diminished for their accomplishments upon their return.

Over nine million military personnel served during the Vietnam War. Of that number 58,156 lost their lives, while 303,704 were wounded in action.

Politics played a key role in the lack of respect that was due to these individuals. Back then those who were against the war did not support the troops like many do today. Now, government is taking an opportunity to return that respect to the troops.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution on March 7, 2011, declaring March 30 “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” The resolution currently awaits a decision by the House. This day will be recognized across the U.S. as a day of commemoration, a day to pay the proper respect to the veterans who sacrificed so much during the war.

Vietnam Veteran’s Day is a chance to repair the wrong done to these troops. The people of the United States can finally pay the respect due them.

Many cities and states have events planned for these veterans. Marines from Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, Calif., have planned a ceremony honoring the Vietnam troops, followed by a parade through Fort Irwin. The base is also hosting a motorcycle ride in their honor.

We should all take this day to give our appreciation to our Vietnam veterans. Taking time out from our busy lives to give thanks for the sacrifices of those who we don’t know is a display of kindness and admiration that means so much to those who expect so little.

Thank you all for what you have done. Semper Fidelis.

“All it takes is all you’ve got.” ASM American

Proceedings, May 1923, Volume 49, Number 5, Whole Number 243

When I was informed by Colonel Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, that I was to be invited to go to Boston and speak to this distinguished audience I must confess to experiencing a feeling of dismay such as I have rarely felt in the presence of much graver danger. This feeling was prompted not so much by my sense of inexperience in public speaking, or doubt of your kindly forbearance, as by the thought that while this would be a wonderful opportunity to present the case for the Navy to an audience whose influence might in the future prove a factor in determining the course of our naval policy, my failure to enlist your interest in the problems of the Navy would be a matter of abiding regret.

The reasons why you should stand firmly in support of the Navy are to me so obvious that I hope no eloquence of mine will be necessary to convince you, once you are in possession of the facts.

What I have to say to you is wholly from the national standpoint. That is the standpoint of the Navy. The Navy is not concerned with party politics. It exists only as an arm of the executive authority whether that authority be Democratic or Republican. We are not interested in the political rivalries of states, or districts, or counties, or municipalities. Of all those things the average voter knows a great deal more than I do. But when our average voter speaks of America as a nation and considers the rights, duties and interests of America as one of a family of nations, a family with many conflicting and discordant interests, his ignorance is apt to be alarming. I think you will agree with me when I say that but a small fraction of our citizens are qualified to cast an intelligent vote, on any international question, with any clear understanding of the issues involved. I fear that only a few hundred thousand out of our twenty odd million of voters are sufficiently informed to cast a vote that would conserve our national interests and yet the safety of our country must necessarily rest on the knowledge and intelligence of our electorate.

If popular government is not to fail, our voters cannot take up too soon the earnest study of their duties and responsibilities as citizens of America. Our country has become so vast and so diversified in its interests that those voters capable of taking a broad national view of our necessities are in danger of sharing the fate of the dodo. Yet statesmen can accomplish little without your support.

John J. Ingalls once defined a statesman as a successful politician who is dead. We need support for those good men in office who are earnestly striving to be statesmen while yet alive.

I know of no nobler mission for our newly enfranchised women than to start a crusade for better national citizenship, and I know of no better center for such a crusade than this splendid old city of Boston that has cradled so many of our national ideals.

But I am to speak to you of the Navy and surely the Navy’s interests are the country’s interests.

One of the principal reasons for the adoption of our Constitution was to provide for the common defense. Our fathers decided in their wisdom to provide one Army and one Navy to defend all the people in common, so the Navy belongs to the people as a whole. Each of you is a stockholder in this great organization. Its property is valued at over three billions of dollars. It is not only your right but your duty to share in its management.

Now why should a Navy exist at all? If we go back to first principles, in order to live and prosper we must have law and order. To have law and order, society must be organized and live under some system. As the world is still inhabited by all kinds of people, good, bad, and indifferent, and not as yet by God’s white angels, it is necessary that certain physical sanctions be provided to insure obedience to the law. Even the most primitive rural community has in addition to its law book and its justice of the peace, a constable. Now just as in our domestic relations we must have our federal, state, and municipal police, so in our international relations there must be provided an Army and Navy as a physical sanction of our international laws, conventions, treaties, and policies. Any other conclusion would involve an absurdity. For if, in dealing with each other in our most highly civilized communities we must still rely upon force to guarantee us our just rights, how can we expect to do without force and yet obtain justice from strangers whose interests are not our interests, and who quite naturally are seeking their own advantage? More than one statesman has said “our foreign policy is as strong as the Navy and no stronger.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Past is Prologue: A Brief Survey of Proceedings Contributors from 1875-1919

There are many theories on the genesis of military innovation. One theorist, Vincent Davis, suggested in his 1967 work “The Politics of Innovation: Patterns in Navy Cases,” that the innovation advocate in the Navy is “usually an officer in the broad middle ranks.” If this is true, then the concepts which help the United States Navy and Marine Corps operate in the next maritime conflict may very well come from today’s junior officers. It’s why it’s important for those same mid-grade and junior officers to critique rather than criticize policies, programs, processes and platforms and articulate them respectfully in an appropriate forum. Who among those of us over forty would have predicted the respective roles of Youtube as political campaign game-changers, or Facebook and Twitter as a communication method during Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009 or the recent riots in Tunisia? Yet those who are half our age employed those tools daily as second-nature much as my generation grew up with a rotary phone and that seemingly musical necessity – the 8-track tape. Might some of our sailors have predicted the social media applications for military operations if they had written about them in a naval forum?

As a member of the U.S. Naval Institute for nearly twenty years and as a recent addition to its Editorial Board, I conducted a brief survey last month on the founding of USNI as a forum for understanding the country’s naval force to see what role, if any, our more junior officers had in writing for the magazine, building a dialogue on critical issues, and advancing concepts that would propel the U.S. Navy as a global power in the 20th century.

For this exercise, nearly 1,500 articles were tabulated from 1875 to 1919 by contributor rank and then sorted by decade. Civilians contributed a large number; these largely included civilians employed by the Navy as naval constructors or instructors at the Naval Academy.

The number of articles increased over the course of the first four decades (see Graph 1) due primarily to the increased frequency of publishing Proceedings as it developed from a quarterly, to a bimonthly, to a monthly journal. A brief drop in the number of articles during the 1890s was a result of longer articles, professional notes, and war reports, leaving less space for more articles.

Who wrote for Proceedings? The top group of contributors was, surprisingly, civilians with approximately 450 articles (see Graph 2). They were followed by lieutenants with nearly 350 articles. Combined, however, lieutenants and lieutenant commanders published 748 articles – half of all articles published in Proceedings. Interestingly, lieutenants and lieutenant commanders also accounted for most of the annual prize essay contests.

Among only officer contributors, junior officers led the way. More than half of all officer contributors were ensigns, lieutenant junior grades, and lieutenants. (see Chart 1) Among the mid-grade officers, the majority of contributors were lieutenant commanders. Admittedly, this was a period in the navy’s history when senior billets were rarer, resulting in older junior- to mid-grade officers.

The demographics changed throughout this time period (see Graph 3). During the first two decades of Proceedings, most officer contributors were O-3s and O-4s; absent were writers at the rank of commander and above. This changed dramatically from 1900-1909 not because senior officers suddenly participated, but because many were the same officers, such as Bradley Fiske, who had written for Proceedings at more junior ranks.

Some of the first authors for Proceedings from 1875 to 1889 were names later known for their naval contributions: Bradley Fiske, known for several inventions and prescient concepts, wrote at several ranks including as a Rear Admiral, later becoming President of the U.S. Naval Institute. During his tenure, the USNI secretary was a lieutenant commander who had first written for Proceedings as a lieutenant in 1909 and who eventually rose to the rank of Fleet Admiral, Ernest King. A subsequent secretary was Lieutenant Commander Isaac Kidd. Commander Alfred Thayer Mahan contributed an article on naval education in the 1870s. The 1880s witnessed articles by Lieutenant – later Rear Admiral – Reginald Rowan Belknap on the naval policy of the U.S., Lieutenant Richard Wainwright who later won the Medal of Honor.

While the time required to flesh out a concept may sometimes seem daunting in the face of long hours deployed or otherwise on duty, there are opportunities. For example, the Naval War College requires papers for its courses. Consider writing those papers not simply with the intent of getting a grade, but in the hope that it can be published (two of my NWC papers were published in Orbis and Vietnam Magazine while others were rejected, but it is possible.)

Was every article superior, every concept groundbreaking from 1875 to 1919? Perhaps, perhaps not, but at least they got the dialogue started on important issues to our Navy and Marine Corps. As it should be today. Just as it is important that the wisdom of today’s leadership foster the dialogue and provide guidance for more junior personnel, it is equally important that junior and mid-grade officers and sailors to see the Navy, Marine Corps and the world around them, to identify trends, recognize emerging challenges, and to challenge the status quo itself respectfully, logically, and in an articulate and persuasive manner. Just as they did at the end of the 19th century.

Lieutenant Commander Claude Berube, USNR is a member of the USNI Editorial Board and frequent contributor to Proceedings and Naval History. He teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. The opinions expressed are his own and not those of the Department of the Navy.

From Proceedings Magazine – January 1999 Volume 125/1/1,151

As the fleet shrinks—here, the ex-Joseph Hewes (FFT-1078), leased to Taiwan—and operations tempo rises, Navy leaders have been unable or unwilling to argue the case for a larger force. It is time to stand up and say that what has happened is not right, and what is left is not enough.

My current professional endeavors offer me a great vantage point from which to observe the forces that are shaping the world. I travel a lot, and often I find myself in discussions with people of widely varying backgrounds regarding the turbulence within our society, how other countries are reacting to us, and what has happened to leadership within our government. Sometimes these exchanges assist me in my trade as a writer. At others times they help me when I pursue business opportunities. And always, because of my own life’s journey, they bring me to think of the U.S. military. Where is its place in this changing world? Where does it stand among its own people? How do those on the outside view it? Where are current defense leaders taking it? And how are its leaders honoring their sacred duty to preserve the standards handed down through the generations?

The world has seen many changes since my time in government. Borders and regimes have fallen. Crises have come and gone. Political positions have ebbed and flowed. The nature of the threat has become vague, and the military has shrunk and become less visible to public debate. But through it all, the basic requirements of leadership, strategy, and tactics remain constant, just as they have over the ages. And so I feel comfortable offering you a pair of eyes that watch from the outside, whose interest in these matters is nothing more than the well-being and proper functioning of the U.S. military—an institution into which I was born, which brought me into manhood, which tested me under fire in combat, and which, when all the rhetoric is stripped away, is the ultimate guarantor of this nation’s way of life.

How Does the Rest of the Country View You?

Among all the world’s nations, the United States is the most diverse in terms of ethnicity, of longevity of citizenship, and, ultimately, of viewpoint. It is impossible to know from aggregate numbers in polling and public opinion surveys exactly how our military is viewed, and how those views affect an understanding of and respect for what you are doing. But I would like to address three separate components, each of which presents the military and the nation with a different set of challenges: the elite policymakers (including the media), the general public, and the “new Americans.”

First, and most important to the formulation of military policy, are the elites. At the outset, I would offer you an important touchstone: The greatest lingering effect of the Vietnam era on our society is the notion that military service during time of war is not a prerequisite for moral authority or even respect. This idea has been accorded a quiet affirmation among our elites, usually whispered to one another, that some lives are worth more than others, that it is right and proper for the so-called best and brightest by virtue of an elite education to be excused from the dirty work of our society. Think of the disproportionate loss to society, the logic goes, if a future Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison is killed in some fruitless foreign engagement. Or, as an old Chinese saying puts it, one should never use good steel for nails or good men for soldiers.

I, like the majority of this nation, subscribe to a different view, because when it comes to leadership—as opposed to law or medicine or engineering—the logic is the reverse: the hotter the fire, the tougher the steel, and the more reliable the leader. And also because in a democracy, the more one has benefited from the fruits of our nation, the greater is one’s obligation to serve. It is important to recognize that our elites abandoned this position during the Vietnam War, and it has affected policy for an entire generation. To illustrate: Harvard lost 691 alumni in World War II; in Vietnam it lost 12 out of all the classes from 1962 to 1972.

This notion of special privilege has spread over the decades following the Vietnam War. For most elites who make policy or provide commentary on it, you are little more than an intellectual issue. Just as the crisis in public education is for them a matter to be worried over in removed policy terms rather than one to be directly experienced by their own privately schooled children, almost no one in a position to affect policy has a direct human stake in the outcome of a military engagement.

It also has created a vacuum of true understanding in the highest places. Today, for the first time since the United States became a major world power, none of the principals in the national security arena—the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, or the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency—has served in the military. This problem might recede when the Clinton administration leaves town, but it is unlikely to go away. Twenty years ago, when I was a committee counsel in Congress, a clear majority of senators and congressmen were veterans, although most of their staff were not. Similarly, a majority of the editors at the major media outlets had military service, although their reporters did not. Today, those staff members and reporters are the congressmen and editors. In Congress, veterans are a distinct minority, and in the media almost no one has served.

In terms of attitude, the elites fall into three categories. Many have a sympathy and respect for what you do. But with few exceptions, they lack a referent—in their own experience, among their peers, and in their families—to place what you are doing in an understandable context. A second category, despite their public rhetoric, views you to be merely firemen and policemen of a different order, hired for a job, however dangerous, and expected to do it without complaint. This notion was reinforced during the Gulf War, when the Bush administration often pointed out with pride that the war wasn’t costing the United States anything because other countries were footing the bill. What does it make you when a national leader places your wartime service in the context of a bill for services rendered? And finally, there is a small but very powerful minority that believes you are dangerous, that you must be continually humiliated and subdued, that militarism is an American disease, and that the more empowered and respected you become, the more you threaten pet political issues and even the fabric of society. Do not underestimate these people. Despite the absurdity of their views, they are intelligent, well positioned at the power centers of our culture, and intent on marginalizing your sacrifices.

This bifurcation of our society causes some otherwise well-meaning people to put modern military service into a false context. Recently, William Bennett gave a lecture on ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy, in which he compared the World War II and Vietnam generations by focusing on the twin events that took place in 1994: the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing at Normandy and the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. One celebration, according to Mr. Bennett, mirrored a generation that understood sacrifice and service. The other illuminated an age group consumed by drugs and self-absorption. To Mr. Bennett, who in 1969 was a student at Harvard Law School, this probably was an apt comparison. But for those who graduated from the Naval Academy during that era, this speech bordered on insult.

If Mr. Bennett had wanted to reinforce the value of service and the notion of sacrifice in front of that audience, he could have compared the two elements of his own generation, and discussed what each was doing during the summer of 1969. I was leading a rifle platoon in the An Hoa Basin of Vietnam, and spent part of that summer in recuperation after being wounded. And I was hardly alone. Five hundred thousand other Americans—far more than turned out for the party made famous for its drugs, sex, and rock and roll—were serving there with me. But who on the national scene saw this, or remembers it, even among conservative commentators? And who truly understands what is means to deploy to sea again and again in the 1990s, leaving family and friends behind for months at a time?

Next, there is the general public. In the aggregate, they like you, they support you, and they respect you. In reality, however, they know less and less about what you are doing, and fewer and fewer among them have a human stake if what you are doing goes wrong. When we had the draft, families throughout the nation paid close attention, because nearly all of them were at risk when troops were sent into harm’s way. In addition, a constant stream of veterans was returning to communities throughout the country, and despite persistent media reports to the contrary, they were bringing home a positive story about military service and the challenges of wearing the uniform. Veterans still are able to communicate these messages, but with a smaller military, longer enlistments, and higher retention, the veteran population is dwindling. A thousand World War II veterans are dying every day. Read the rest of this entry »

The words today from China regarding North Korea’s act of war should come as a surprise to nobody. Anyone watching with an objective eye could see the direction in which appeals for condemnation from The People’s Republic of China were heading.

Sure, there was some speculation on the “delicate” position China was put in by North Korea’s actions. How North Korea threatened “regional stability” and “economic prosperity”, both of which were China’s REAL interests. How China could not “read the Pyongyang tea leaves”, and was as in the dark as the West regarding Kim Jong-Il’s intentions, or that of his designated successor, Kim Jong -Un. How the threat of “masses of North Korean refugees” streaming across the North Korea-China border would spur China to action.

Believe none of it.

Red China is a master of power politics, a game most of the West, America included, seems not only to have lost any taste for, but of late all but refuses to admit exists in the international realm. President Obama yesterday used strong words to condemn the actions of the North Koreans, and pledged US support for South Korea against any aggression from the North. He also appealed strongly to China to keep their renegade neighbors to the south reigned in. So far, as in each and every other instance of the last decade, including the sinking of a ROK Navy frigate this past Spring (with the loss of 46 sailors), China’s response has not substantively altered. Once again, intransigence regarding their North Korean allies.

This, from Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama’s call for China to put more pressure on North Korea to stop military attacks on South Korea may go unheeded in Beijing, where officials refuse to pin any blame on their ally, analysts say.

Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak called for China to use its influence to control North Korea’s behavior, following yesterday’s deadly artillery salvo. Four people were killed and 20 wounded, mostly soldiers, when Northern forces shelled the island of Yeonpyeong in the first attack of its kind since the 1950-1953 civil war.

“China thinks the most important and urgent goal right now is to make sure there won’t be any escalation of the conflict, rather than finding out who’s responsible,” said Yang Xiyu, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a group attached to China’s foreign ministry.

The statement, particularly the insistence on limiting escalation rather than “finding who’s responsible”, is almost verbatim what was said at the time of the North Korean torpedoing of the ROK frigate Cheonan. (This, after our Secretary of State presented indisputable proof to Chinese leadership, a major thumb in the eye of US policy makers.)

As has been said often before, North Korea is as China allows and encourages North Korea to be. Rationalization otherwise is foolish, and reflects a dangerously naive optimism that The People’s Republic of China feels compelled to follow the same rules as does the United States and her allies when executing her diplomacy. It is worth stating again:

Under China’s benevolent protection, Kim Jong Il and his father before him, have done the following:

  • Developed a nuclear capability
  • Tested several weapons in 2006 and 2009
  • Advanced ICBM ranges and capabilities
  • Defied international pressure to desist in those nuclear programs
  • Executed several SOF border incursions into South Korea
  • Supplied arms to Hezbollah and Hamas through their Iranian proxy
  • Shipped (and attempted to ship) likely nuclear and other WMD components to the Middle East
  • Engaged, almost certainly with China’s technical assistance, in a cyber attack against the United States and South Korea
  • Is likely involved heavily in counterfeit and narcotics trades
  • Torpedoed and sank a ROK warship in international waters, killing 46 ROK sailors
  • Fired artillery into South Korean territory without provocation, killing four ROK service members and wounding two dozen civilians

China deliberately thwarted the enforcement of UNSC 1718 and 1874, effectively removing any meaningful teeth from what might have been significant international action. Elsewhere, China has become increasingly bellicose, leveraging herself into advantage across the spectrum of diplomatic actions. China’s aggressive stance on the Spratley Islands dispute has alarmed her neighbors and Western leaders. The PLA Navy is expanding, with shipbuilding capability expanding even faster. China has posited, and then begun perfecting, cyber disruption of US economic, military, and critical infrastructure networks. China continues to leverage US debt to economic advantage. China is securing world energy sources in Iran, Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere for her consumption alone, to the exclusion of other nations.

The time has long since come to recognize at the highest military and civilian levels of leadership in the United States that China is very far from being a benevolent ally, and even farther from sharing any kind of common interests or vision of either Asia and the Pacific Rim, or any other geographic region where they perceive their interests to lie.

Statements from the Pentagon over the recent exchange of artillery fire are that “nobody wants a war”, or words expressing similar sentiment. But someone certainly seems to desire war. The firing of aimed artillery for more than an hour at military and civilian targets inside another country is not an accident. Whether China is directly involved or is a highly interested benefactor of a proxy North Korea is immaterial. Be he agent, or be he principle, Ahab tells us. If we recall what Clausewitz stated two centuries ago, that war is a continuation of politics, with an admixture of other means, then perhaps we may well perceive China’s actions and inaction vis a vis North Korea as some of those other means. China could resolve the situation with North Korea very quickly. They choose not to. They understand that a North Korea as a thorn in the side of the US is in their interest. Whether we quite understand that or not.

As the Western Allies must have realized to their horror and shame in the Summer of 1939, when Hitler’s words toward Poland turned ever more harsh and confrontational, war comes whether you want it or not, and whether you are ready for it or not.

We had better be ready.

(H/T to Lex for the Cheonan damage link.)

« Older Entries Newer Entries »