War, Will and Warlords: An Interview, Part II

July 23, 2012

 

In this second part of a two-part interview by Government Book Talk blog editor Michele Bartram,  Col. Robert M. Cassidy, author of the new, critically acclaimed book, War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011, describes the lessons learned after ten years of war in Afghanistan. Click here to read Part I of the interview.

GovBookTalk: In Chapter 5 of War, Will, and Warlords, you refer to Pakistan’s prospects of doing what needs to be done as “hard, not hopeful, but not impossible.”  What role does Pakistan play today in 2012 in this counterinsurgency, and how do you rate these prospects today on the scale of hopeful vs. impossible?

Cassidy: There is currently not much at all to be sanguine about in relation to Pakistan, as it has done the most odious things in terms of regenerating and sustaining the Afghan Taliban and other groups.  And, the Coalition and the international community have allowed Pakistan to get away with this—murders, literally.  Pakistan poses as a friend, but performs as a foe. The Afghan Taliban would have withered away over the last several years of the surge if Pakistan had stopped supporting the regeneration, resting, recruitment, and retraining of militants, improvised explosive device makers, technology, and components in its tribal sanctuaries and in Baluchistan.

Image: Balochistan’s strategic importance. Source: Intellibriefs

Pakistan has employed terrorism and unconventional warfare to ostensibly achieve strategic depth by supporting its proxies in Afghanistan for almost four decades.

However, the United States has not yet crafted a Pakistan strategy that employs its substantial leverage to modify Pakistan’s strategic calculus.  A genuine Pakistan strategy, coupled with unambiguous momentum and perseverance in Afghanistan, could compel Pakistan to alter its strategic rationale and reduce support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. 

Image: [GovBookTalk] The Haqqani Network,an insurgent group allied with the Taliban and operating on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is one of the most dangerous groups fighting U.S.-led Coalition forces and the Afghan government. Originating in Afghanistan during the mid-1970s, it was nurtured by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani lead the group. A reward of $200,000-USD was offered by Coalition forces for information leading to the arrest of Siraj Haqqani. Source: Wikipedia.

The United States needs a strategy for Pakistan, one which is logically and temporally linked and integrated with the imperatives in Afghanistan.  A viable strategy must first recognize that the U.S. does have considerable leverage over Pakistan.  America must demand discernible results for the steady diet of carrots it has been feeding Pakistan for the perfidious abetting of enemies who kill and maim the Afghan and Coalition civilians and military forces trying to stabilize the country in some lasting way.

GovBookTalk: After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what lessons has the US military learned about fighting a counterinsurgency campaign— in strategy, training, equipment, communications with locals, relations with coalition nations and neighboring regions?

Cassidy: Let me clarify at the outset that counterinsurgency is not a strategy in and of itself, but more of the art and method of an operational campaign to defeat or neutralize an insurgency.  The first and most paramount thing we should learn is not to unlearn or expunge what we know of previous counterinsurgencies’ best practices.  In 2001-2003 when we undertook those wars, there was very little thinking, knowledge, doctrine, or awareness of the requirements for prosecuting counterinsurgency to a successful conclusion.   The American military was compelled to adapt in the crucible of combat and it ultimately changed over time, and we now see the most seasoned counterinsurgent forces in our history.

Image: [GovBookTalk]: This is an actual PowerPoint slide shown by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009 to portray the complexity of U.S. strategy. Source: Charles V. Peña. Click on image above to enlarge.

Cassidy: Notwithstanding, it is negligence of criminal magnitude to prepare soldiers with the doctrine, the equipment, and the leadership savvy for countering insurgents only after the fighting has begun.  Also, in many ways and instances, it was the early methods of American military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that helped catalyze support for the insurgencies by alienating large parts of those populations.  Here are some pithy things we should retain:

  • Knowledge empowers and the one who thinks, wins:  analyze and understand the environment.
  • Good counterinsurgency campaigns fully integrate both general purpose and special forces.
  • Start with simple and clear, not convoluted and cumbersome, command and control.
  • Match action and information to address grievances to win the war of ideas.
  • If the insurgency benefits from unimpeded sanctuary, ruthlessly shut this down.
  • Start with the end— what should the indigenous security capacity be when we leave?
  • Show moral rectitude:  kill precisely the insurgent leaders and protect most of the people.

GovBookTalk: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in this book?

Cassidy: Two things: one, I would have added a chapter that explained how we need to rethink and reframe our relationship with Pakistan after the bin Laden raid; and two, I would have made one more look to minimize any redundancy between the first chapter and the last chapter because the last chapter was something I developed apart from the main manuscript when I was last in Afghanistan during 2011.

GovBookTalk: Did you personally learn anything from writing this book and what was it?   

Cassidy: I deepened and broadened my knowledge about the enduring and deplorable perfidy of the Pakistani ISI in Afghanistan over almost four decades of war in the region.

Image: Pakistan spy chief (right), Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, is head of  the Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, whose headquarters are shown to the left. Source: Jagran Post. [GovBookTalk] Note that the ISI continually denies links to the Taliban and terrorism, in spite of accusations by Coalition allies of ISI ties to the 7/7/2005 terrorist attacks in London, the attempted assassination of President Karzai, the bombing of the Indian embassy, supporting terrorist groups and other acts. Source: The Council on Foreign Relations 

GovBookTalk: Are there additional resources where readers can go for more information, assistance with this topic?

Cassidy: Some useful resources include the websites of the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN), the New America Foundation Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative Policy Paper series, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) [link to Stanford University’s archives of CRS reports], the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), The Council on Foreign Relations  and the U.S. Government 1230 and 1231 reports on the progress in Afghanistan.  Also, they could start with the bibliography of this book.

GovBookTalk: What are the next upcoming projects for you?  

I am drafting an outline for a new book with the draft title of, On Raw War:  The wages of the American way of strategy and war.  This will start with a theoretical chapter that distills the best thinkers on strategy and war and then it will proceed to explore American wars after Vietnam, from the Persian Gulf War up until Afghanistan to assess how practices compared to the theory.

GovBookTalk: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers in parting, a memorable quote?

Cassidy: The Roger Ascham quote in Chapter 1:  “it is a costly wisdom that is bought by experience;” juxtaposed with the famous Bismarck quote that “fools say they learn from experience; I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”

GovBookTalk: Thank you for your insights, Col. Cassidy!
HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

To learn more about America’s involvement in Afghanistan, browse our new Afghanistan Collection of Federal publications.

About the author: Colonel Robert M. Cassidy, USA, is a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College, a senior fellow with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, and a member of the RUSI Advisory Board. His experience and scholarship focus on strategy and irregular warfare. He has served on deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, and Grenada. He most recently served as a special assistant to the senior operational commander in Afghanistan in 2011. Colonel Cassidy has published a number of articles and two previous books on stability operations and irregular war:  1) Peacekeeping in the Abyss: British and American Peacekeeping Doctrine and Practice after the Cold War and 2) Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War. He has a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


War, Will and Warlords: An Interview, Part I

July 17, 2012

Government Book Talk editor Michele Bartram writes a two-part interview with author Col. Robert Cassidy about his new, critically acclaimed book, War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011, which covers the causes and consequences of counterinsurgency in that troubled region and recommendations for future American approaches there and in similar operations. Part I goes into the cause of the war there and explanations of the key concepts. Click here to read Part II of the interview.


Since World War II, the character of the wars America has fought has changed radically. Traditional methods of warfare, technology, training and strategies designed to counter national armed forces, are not suited for today’s counterinsurgency operations often where civilians mingle freely with enemy combatants in complex urban terrain or remote encampments, and which can be carried out by local warlord-led troops, small guerrilla groups or even individual insurgents. First in Iraq and now honed by the war in Afghanistan, American military (operations), tactics and technology have required reengineering to adapt to this new reality of war.

Soldier-scholar Col. Robert Cassidy, Ph.D., is a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a senior fellow with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies who served on operations in Grenada, Egypt, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and most recently as the special assistant to the commander of ISAF Joint Command in Afghanistan from June 2010 to June 2011.

As an expert in strategy and irregular warfare, Cassidy has authored the recently published War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011 which is featured this month in our U.S. Government Bookstore’s special War in Afghanistan collection.

Foreign Policy magazine lauds War, Will, and Warlords as a “must read for all scholars, policymakers, diplomats, and military practitioners seeking to understand the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus” which provides invaluable analysis “concerning uneven U.S. involvement in the region, the contradictions of Pakistan, and the counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches implemented on both sides of the porous region” between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Some refer to the War in Afghanistan as America’s longest war, but to Afghans, conflict has been going on there continuously for almost four decades. Today, July 17, 2012, actually marks the 39-year anniversary of when continual tumult and conflict began in Afghanistan. In July 1973 Afghanistan’s last King or Padishah, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was ousted in a coup d’état by his first cousin and former Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan, who established a republican government. Years of conflict followed, including war with the Soviet Union, rise and fall of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and today’s insurgency.

Image: (Left) Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan, with his first cousin and Prime Minister Daoud Khan (right) who later deposed Zahir in 1973, beginning Afghanistan’s slide towards forty years of war. Source: CivFanatics Forum.

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

In this two-part special feature, Government Book Talk was pleased to be able to interview Col. Cassidy about the book, his personal observations about the conflict and the countries, and his recommendations for the future.

Government Book Talk: What inspired you to write this book?  

Colonel Robert Cassidy: I had written a study about the Soviet War in Afghanistan at the French École de Guerre in 2000-2001 and I continued to study our war in Afghanistan after September 2001.   The proximate reason was that I was at the Naval War College in 2009-2010 between tours in Afghanistan and I thought it would be helpful to capture and compare what happened for the first eight years to those years after the surge.  Also, I knew that researching and writing this book would make me more knowledgeable and useful as an adviser in Afghanistan during my tour in 2010-2011.

GovBookTalk: I understand that this was not the original title for the book. How did you arrive at the final choice?

Cassidy: Two initial titles were vetoed. First, I suggested “Malice in Wonderstan,” and my editor then suggested “Ten Years Gone,” which I liked because of its triple reference to the Afghan War’s length, the Led Zeppelin classic song, and the subject of that song, an ancient Greek war.  In the end, I picked “War, Will and Warlords” because these three things are so salient in terms of Afghanistan and what we have done or not done there since we supported the anti-Soviet insurgency in the 1980s.

In the excerpted piece of the preface below, I explain the meaning behind the title because “War, will, and warlords…are central to any understanding of what has transpired in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

WAR: First, the Afghan people have faced tumult, conflict, and war since July 1973… A corollary to this is the fact that the Pakistani state has helped foment insurgent proxy war and terrorism in Afghanistan since 1973. In fact, fomenting insurgencies in Afghanistan by proxy is in the metaphorical DNA of the Pakistani security apparatus.

WILL: Second, protracted irregular wars are a contest of will, as insurgents use the art of the ambush, armed propaganda in the form of spectacular violence, and cross-border sanctuaries to protract the war to erode the will of the counterinsurgents so they give up the fight. The insurgents can win if they can prolong the war while not exhausting their own will.

WARLORDS: Third, warlords, or feudal barons, run criminal patronage fiefs or insurgent-terrorist networks that operate across the borders and exist outside and inside the states as well as serve as state proxies in some cases. Patronage has long been a reality in South Asia. However, the growth and scope of warlord-led insurgent and criminal networks that began before the Soviet-Afghan War… have helped catalyze support for the insurgencies.

Image: Afghan warlords and power brokers. Source: WorldNews,

GovBookTalk: What is the overall message in the book that you want readers to grasp?  

Cassidy: To understand the catalysts for and the ineluctable links between security and insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan; to know the grave consequences if we ultimately fail, and to fathom the odious role of Pakistan’s perfidy in its persistent support of terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan.

GovBookTalk: You have been on multiple tours in Afghanistan. What surprised you most about either the people or the country itself? 

Cassidy: I would not use the word surprised, but what intrigued me and enthralled me were the country’s beautiful diversity and the Afghan people’s formidable resiliency.

GovBookTalk: What was the single most important “don’t miss” chapter and page in your book and why?

Cassidy: The most important chapter is Chapter 3 because it explains why and how the Taliban regenerated from sanctuary in Pakistan and what catalyzed the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency within and against that state.

The most important single page is page 6 because it elucidates why and how the tribal areas in Pakistan along the Durand Line are the most dangerous places on earth in terms of the terrorist and militant machinations to support attacks on the U.S., other western states, and non-western states.

Image: [GovBookTalk] The Durand Line: Established in an 1893 treaty between Amir Abdul Rahman Khan of Afghanistan and Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of the British Indian government, the Durand line set up the border between Afghanistan and then British India/now present-day Pakistan. Not recognized today by Afghanistan and a source of contention with Pakistan, this poorly marked buffer zone cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas, dividing ethnic Pashtuns (Afghans) on both sides of the border. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Source: IntelliBriefs and Wikipedia.

READ PART II: In PART II of this interview, Cassidy describes Pakistan’s role, hard lessons learned, useful resources and more…

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

To learn more about America’s involvement in Afghanistan, browse our new Afghanistan Collection of Federal publications:


The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

June 25, 2012

On September 20, 2011, the 18-year old United States military official “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy came to an end.

Six months later, a new book by J. Ford Huffman and Tammy S. Schultz was published by the Marine Corps University Press entitled, The End of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: The Impact in Studies and Personal Essays by Service Members and Veterans.

This is a collection of four scholarly studies and 25 essays about the impact of living under this policy from a diverse group of gay and straight, current and former military members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Since June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Pride Month, we thought it appropriate to review this book available through GPO and give some background on the policy that led to it.

Rise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

In the early 1990’s in the United States, a push for more rights for non-heterosexuals in both civilian and military life was rising.  Eventually, on June 2, 2000, President Bill Clinton declared June 2000 the first official “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month” in the United States. (This was later renamed by President Barack Obama in 2009 who declared June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Month which it is called today).

However, lawmakers and the military establishment in 1993 were not ready to allow openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

As a compromise, United States federal law Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654 called the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy, nicknamed DADT, was passed and went into effect on December 21, 1993. It “prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service” (Wikipedia).

Image: Web banner from the U.S. Army’s DADT website

Not Asking vs. Not Telling

The “Don’t Ask” part of the DADT policy specified that superiors should not initiate questioning or investigation of a military service member’s sexual orientation without first having witnessed disallowed behaviors or received credible evidence. Because of the number of unauthorized investigations and harassment of suspected servicemen and women, the policy was expanded to “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass.”

Under the “Don’t Tell” aspect of the policy, the military service members themselves were prohibited from disclosing their sexual orientation or homosexual relationships while actively serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Anyone who did disclose or were discovered to be homosexual could be separated (discharged) from the military, resulting in some 14,346 members of the military being discharged because of their sexual orientation under 18 years of the DADT policy.

Changing Times, Changing Military Needs Led to DADT’s Repeal

After nearly two decades under DADT and the increasing need to recruit and retain the best able service members to help fight wars on multiple fronts, many American military and political leaders felt it was time to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Pentagon performed a detailed analysis of possible issues and recommendations for implementation in the November 30, 2010 Support Plan for Implementation: Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Image: Pentagon’s November 2010 implementation plan and report on the issues associated with DADT repeal. Source: Gawker.com

Bipartisan support in Congress led them to pass the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.” The caveat was that the policy would remain in place until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military all certified that the repeal of DADT would not harm military readiness, followed by a 60-day waiting period. The required certification was sent to Congress on July 22, 2011, which set the end of DADT for September 20, 2011.

In a statement accompanying the certification, President Obama said:

Today’s report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families—more than two-thirds—are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian. This report also confirms that, by every measure, from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness, we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security.

Thus, on September 20, 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. Said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican credited with pulling together bipartisan support for the repeal: “Today, for the first time in our history, we will welcome the service of any qualified individual who’s willing to put on the uniform of our country,” (Source: CNN).

Image: President Obama signs the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.” Source: AP

Covered in the Book

The first part of The End of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell book contains academic reports and research that “shed light on the way forward for the services and policy makers.” This includes a report by Dr. Nora Bensahel who conducted extensive research with RAND Corporation on experiences of the other 26 countries who allow homosexuals to openly serve in their militaries. Other reports by military officers include one discussing the importance of considering service members’ “family readiness,” as well as the prevailing views and culture in the military in 2010 toward “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The second part of the book includes personal essays from both gay and straight members of the military who served under DADT, emphasizing their personal experience of living under this policy. In them, the authors either provided details or “assurances that they were willing to testify under oath regarding their experiences.” As described by editors Schultz and Huffman in their introduction: “These personal essays peel back the curtain of the shame, uncertainty, homophobia, anger, fear, and other emotions of living under DADT. These are the views, recollections and words of the authors alone.

In one essay, a former female Marine described herself as: “I was a woman. I was black. I was gay. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I was invisible.”  She concludes her essay with hope that her story helps others:

 “Change and transition can be difficult, and there will be casualties along the way. If sharing my story helps someone in the military whether they are gay or straight, it will have been worth it. If it helps the leadership make different decisions that include and help everyone with the transition of the repeal of DADT, it will have been worth it.

An Air Force officer who was discharged after his superior searched his personal emails and discovered he was gay was gratified that so many members of his old unit said they’d be honored to serve with him again. He sums up his essay with:

Soon I hope to resume my career as an officer and leader in the Air Force without the mandatory silence of DADT and the constant fear that I will be fired… Now [after the repeal of DADT] our military can judge its men and women on their merit and not their sexual orientation.

Image: A sign at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State. Source: Oregon Public Broadcasting

The Best Story Ends with a Non-Event

The most common argument by critics against DADT’s repeal was that changing the policy in the middle of multiple wars would be a distraction and could cost lives. This was the original opinion of Marine Commandant General James E. Amos who lobbied against allowing gays to serve openly when the repeal was first passed in 2010, even though the Pentagon’s own 2010 research had shown already that 70% of Service members said they would be able to “work together to get the job done” with a gay service member in their immediate units.

Today, Amos, as are other military leaders, are pleased with the progress of the Armed Forces’ implementation of the repeal, with mandatory training sessions for all levels of the military haven taken place. DADT support groups say they have received no reports of harassment, discrimination or negative experiences connected with the DADT repeal from gay and lesbian active military.

In fact, an April 2012 article in the Marine Corps Times seems to show just how smoothly the transition has gone, as demonstrated by this anecdote involving Amos and his wife, Bonnie, at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in November 2011. During the Ball, a female Marine introduced her lesbian partner to Amos’ wife, General Amos explained: “Bonnie just looked at them and said, ‘Happy birthday ball. This is great. Nice to meet you…’ That is happening throughout the Marine Corps.

Image: General Amos & Bonnie Amos. Source: Black Tie International Magazine.

Retired Marine Col. Brendan Kearney predicted a smooth transition in one of the book’s essays: “I believe the demise of DADT will quickly become a non-event, and the services as a whole will get on with the business at hand: Defeating the enemies of our country.”

Co-editor Tammy Schultz believes The End of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell book outlines a “relatively smooth compliance with the new law” according to a Huffington Post article. She concludes: “That is not to say that challenges don’t remain ahead, and our book details some of those. But the U.S. military can more than handle it.

So in the case of the end of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the best story ending seems to be that it is a non-event.

UPDATE 2012/06/27: On June 26, 2012, the Defense Department hosted its first ever Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Pride Month event since the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” at the Pentagon. Click here to watch the program on C-SPAN.

HOW DO I OBTAIN The End of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: The Impact in Studies and Personal Essays by Service Members and Veterans?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Understanding America’s Longest War

May 25, 2012

Memorial Day in the United States is a time to remember those members of the military who have died in service to our country.  Originally known as Decoration Day, this federal holiday originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers as widows would turn out to decorate the graves.

In fact, as I write this, all available members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, are a just a mile away from GPO headquarters at Arlington National Cemetery, planting over 280,000 small U.S. flags—one at each grave marker— that will stay in place just for Memorial Day weekend, carrying on an annual “Flags In” tradition started in 1948.

Image: “Old Guard” soldier and son place flags in Arlington Cemetery during “Flags in”, Memorial Day 2008. Source: Arlington Cemetery FlickR

Remembering—and understanding—the war in Afghanistan

Many on this day take the time to reflect on the various military missions that resulted in the losses of brave service men and women, with our current war in Afghanistan offering the most recent opportunity for reflection.

A master at providing this analysis is Joseph J. Collins, author and professor at the National War College, who wrote the new book from the National Defense University called “Understanding War in Afghanistan” in order to provide military leaders, civil servants, diplomats, students and civilians the lessons in history of war and strife in that troubled nation.

Thoughtful questions, thought-provoking answers

Collins asks—and answers—a number of thought-provoking questions about the current war in Afghanistan:

  1. How did the United States and its allies get to where they are today?
  2. How can that coalition understand the many wars in Afghanistan over the past 33 years?
  3. How should it define its interests today?
  4. How can this coalition of nearly 50 nations help to bring this war to an end?

To answer these questions, Professor Collins provides both historical background and analysis to put it into context, finishing with a look towards possible next steps:

  • Chapter 1- Afghan history and culture:  Says Collins, “It is important to first examine the land, [the Afghan] people, and their culture.
  • Chapters 2 through 5- Prior wars: Next, Collins reviews the war-fraught Afghan history, the Soviet-Afghan War and the conflicts that followed it, including their Civil War, the rise of the Taliban, their role in 9/11, and the first war against the Taliban government.
  • Chapter 6- Insurgency: This chapter helps us “understand the basic theory and concepts that underpin Afghan counterinsurgency in the 21st century”.
  • Chapter 7 & 8- 2nd War against the Taliban, Rebuilding and the Surge: These chapters enable us to comprehend what happened during 2002-2010 as the coalition attempted to fight the Taliban while rebuilding this battle-weary land.
  • Chapter 9: – Assessment and Options:  Collins completes his book with a frank assessment of the “potential choices that national leaders face for the future” in Afghanistan.

Enduring lessons and legacy of Operation Enduring Freedom

Now in its twelfth year, the Afghanistan War is the longest war in U.S. history, surpassing even the Vietnam War.  Operation Enduring Freedom, with over 1,892 fallen servicemen and women just from the United States and over 1,000 casualties from other nations who form part of the coalition, is in the minds of many this Memorial Day.

Following the mantra of Spanish born American philosopher and writer George Santayana who wrote “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Understanding War in Afghanistan helps provide us the basis to learn the lessons of history in this particular conflict in order to inform our future course.

Dan Caldwell, Distinguished Professor at Pepperdine University, agrees, saying of Professor Collins’ book:

“This is the required text for ‘Afghanistan 101’—a primer that skillfully explains the realities of a complicated country and America’s longest war. It is written in a clear, informative way that is accessible to citizens, students, and civilian and military personnel who want or need to learn more about one of the most important issues of our time.”

What better way to remember those who have fallen in Afghanistan than to learn about the cause for which they sacrificed all?

How Do I Obtain Understanding War in Afghanistan?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


CIA’s World Factbook: Global intelligence for every thinker, traveler, soldier, spy

January 27, 2012

A great publication not only provides timely and valuable information, but it also allows us a glimpse into the times and events that necessitated its production.

Such is the case with the CIA’s World Factbook—which marks its 50th anniversary in 2012 for the classified version and over 40 years for the public version described here— and shows us a glimpse into how Pearl Harbor and the Cold War changed the way America began to gather information about all corners of the globe.

The Factbook has its origins in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the realization by Congress and the White House that lack of coordinated intelligence across all Governmental departments had left the United States woefully unprepared for the attack, and determined to correct this as a national security necessity and priority.  According to the CIA historians:

During World War II, intelligence consumers realized that the production of basic intelligence by different components of the US Government resulted in a great duplication of effort and conflicting information.

Detailed and coordinated information was needed not only on such major powers as Germany and Japan, but also on places of little previous interest. In the Pacific Theater, for example, the Navy and Marines had to launch amphibious operations against many islands about which information was unconfirmed or nonexistent.

Image above: During WWII, OSS intelligence reviewed existing maps with the military. Source: Top Secret Writers

JANIS Drops In

To correct this deficiency, in 1943, General George B. Strong (G-2), Admiral H. C. Train (Office of Naval Intelligence – known as ONI), and General William J. Donovan (Director of the Office of Strategic Services – known as OSS, the precursor of the CIA) oversaw the formation of a Joint Intelligence Study Publishing Board to assemble, edit, coordinate, and publish the Joint Army Navy Intelligence Studies (JANIS).

JANIS was the first cross-departmental basic intelligence program to fulfill the needs of the US Government for an authoritative and coordinated appraisal of strategic basic intelligence.

All groups involved in the war agreed that finished basic intelligence was required that covered territories around the world where the war was being fought. They needed detailed, up-to-date maps and geography; basic understanding of the cultural, economical, political and historical issues of the people and the region.

Compiling and publishing this information for the Allied intelligence needs, JANIS became an indispensable reference for war planning and execution.

The Cold War Gives Birth to the CIA… and the National Intelligence Survey

But the Cold War that immediately followed World War II showed that there was just as much need for continued intelligence gathering as ever. In the 1946 publication “The Future of American Secret Intelligence,” national security author George S. Petee wrote: “The conduct of peace involves all countries, all human activities – not just the enemy and his war production.”

In acknowledgement of this, the Congress established the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 which immediately took over responsibility for JANIS. The next year, the National Security Council authorized the National Intelligence Survey program as a peacetime replacement for the wartime JANIS program. By 1955, the Hoover Commission evaluating the CIA advised Congress that: “The National Intelligence Survey [NIS] is an invaluable publication which provides the essential elements of basic intelligence on all areas of the world. There will always be a continuing requirement for keeping the Survey up-to-date.

The Sum of All Facts: The World Factbook

Subsequently, the World Factbook was created as an “annual summary and update to the encyclopedic NIS studies.

Originally published only as a classified publication starting a half century ago in August 1962 (just prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962), the World Factbook was first published in its declassified version for public consumption in June 1971, 40 years ago.

Image: CIA map produced for President Kennedy’s team estimating the range of Soviet missiles being set up in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Source: Canadian History Portal

Today’s World Factbook is the declassified version of the finished basic intelligence compiled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and coordinated across all the U.S. intelligence community. It uses only recognized, authoritative sources, not only CIA-gathered intelligence, but also a wide variety of U.S. Government agencies from the National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Agriculture, Defense Intelligence Agency, and hundreds of other published sources around the world.

Printed Version Provides an Annual Snapshot

Once a year, the Government Printing Office takes a snapshot of this information from the CIA as of January 1 and produces a printed version of the World Factbook. It provides unparalleled and succinct information about hundreds of countries in a format that provides an easy-to-use comparison.The Factbook has been available from GPO since 1975.

The 2011 version just published provides a two- to three-page summary of the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities, including U.S.-recognized countries, dependencies, and other areas in the world.

Each country has its own basic map and shows its flag, but of particular interest are the maps of the major world regions, as well three pull-out maps included in the publication: Physical Map of the World, Political Map of the World, and Standard Time Zones of the World Map, all of which can be used as wall maps.

Who Can Benefit from the World Factbook?

A perennial best seller in the GPO bookstore, The World Factbook is used by not only US Government officials, but is a must-have reference for researchers, news organizations, businesses, geographers, international travelers, teachers, professors, librarians, and students.

In short, after 40 years, the World Factbook is still the best source of  up-to-date, summarized intelligence about the world for any “thinker, traveler, soldier, or spy” of any age!

Image: Pupils at Crosby’s Valewood Primary School near Liverpool, England, dress up as ‘Spies’ as part of a creative project. Photographer: Andrew Teebay. Source: Liverpool Echo

To gather your own up-to-date intelligence about the world we live in, you can obtain the World Factbook 2011 at one of these locations:

How can you get this publication?

  • Buy the current version of the World Factbook and selected previous editions online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

Some Interesting “DID YOU KNOW?” Facts related to the CIA’s World Factbook:

  • Question: What separates “intelligence” from “information”?
    • Answer: According to the CIA: The Intelligence Cycle is the process by which information is acquired, converted into intelligence, and made available to policymakers. Information is raw data from any source, data that may be fragmentary, contradictory, unreliable, ambiguous, deceptive, or wrong. Intelligence is information that has been collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed, and interpreted. Finished intelligence is the final product of the Intelligence Cycle ready to be delivered to the policymaker.

The three types of finished intelligence are: basic, current, and estimative. Basic intelligence provides the fundamental and factual reference material on a country or issue.

  • Question: “Why is the British Labour Party misspelled?”
    • Answer: When American and British spellings of common English words differ, The World Factbook always uses the American spelling, even when these common words form part of a proper name in British English.
  • Question: “What is a ‘doubly landlocked’ country and which are the only two in the world?”
    • Answer: A doubly landlocked country is one that is separated from an ocean or an ocean-accessible sea by two intervening countries. Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein are the only countries that fit this definition.
  • Question: “Why does the Factbook use metric units, even though Americans still use traditional units of measure like feet, pounds, and Fahrenheit?”
    • Answer: US Federal agencies are required by the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-168) and by Executive Order 12770 of July 1991 to use the International System of Units, commonly referred to as the metric system or SI. In addition, the metric system is used by over 95 percent of the world’s population.
  • Question: “Why is the European Union listed at the end of the Factbook entries? It’s not a country!”
    • Answer:  The European Union (EU) is not a country, but it has taken on many nation-like attributes and these may be expanded in the future. A more complete explanation on the inclusion of the EU into the Factbook can be found in the Preliminary statement.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public. She’s a big fan of the National Spy Museum and of spy movies, which she is going to enjoy for her birthday tomorrow.


Veterans Day and 100 Years of Flying Leathernecks

November 10, 2011

November 11, Americans celebrate Veterans Day, honoring the brave men and women who have served our Armed Forces in peacetime and in war.

This holiday dates back to the end of World War I when President Woodrow Wilson declared that this day be commemorated as Armistice Day after the warring sides declared an armistice:

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” (History.com)

Figure 1. Armistice Day poster. Source USFlagStore Blog

November 11th was celebrated as Armistice Day starting in 1919 and became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. After World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day in the United States. November 11 is still celebrated as Armistice Day in France and Belgium, but is called Remembrance Day today in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and is known as the Day of Peace in the Flanders Fields.

While Veterans Day is typically a tribute to America’s living veterans, it is always appropriate to include a moment of silence in respect for those who gave their lives for their country.

Honor veterans past and present by pausing for a minute of silence at 11:11 on 11/11/11, “the eleventh hour on the eleventh day on the eleventh month.” and in this case, the 11th year of the century as well!

The “War to End All Wars” instead gave birth to aerial warfare

Idealistically, many thought that “The Great War” would be “The War That Will End War” , a term first coined by famed British author H.G. Wells in 1914 and later used as “a war to end war” in a speech by President Wilson.

Instead of being the end of wars, World War I was a first in many ways, including the first war to feature the large scale use of manned aircraft for both reconnaissance and aerial combat.

It also marked the introduction of Marine Corps Aviation.

Happy 100th, Marine Corps Aviation!

2012 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Marine Corps Aviation. To commemorate this noteworthy milestone, the US Marine Corps has produced a remarkable new publication entitled 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History.

Figure 2. 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History

A stirring snapshot of some of the key people, aircraft, and events that comprise this first century of Marine aviation, this book showcases the achievements of Marine aviation through seldom seen photographs and accounts of pivotal battles and events.

Intended as a “museum in a book,” 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History includes an overview for each time period in Marine aviation, chapter introductions, feature articles, and a running timeline. A real plus is the bonus oral history CD that the Marine Corps has included in the back of the book, providing the text and photos along with first-hand accounts from select Marine aviators, which really bring the stories alive.

Particularly interesting are the exploits of legendary Marine aviators including Roy Geiger, Joseph Foss, Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Keith McCutcheon, Frank Petersen Jr., and others, including aviator-turned-astronaut John Glenn Jr., who besides being the first American to orbit the earth, wrote the foreword for this book.

First Flying Leatherneck

Featured in the book is the man who started it all: A.A. Cunningham. On May 22, 1912, two years before the outset of World War I, Alfred A. Cunningham, then a First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, first reported for “duty in connection with aviation”—i.e., flight instruction—to the new Naval Aviation Camp that had just been established at Annapolis, Maryland, home of the US Naval Academy.

Today considered “the father of Marine aviation,” Lt. Col. Alfred Austell Cunningham, better known to Marines as A.A. Cunningham, became the “de facto director of Marine Corps aviation.

Fun fact: A quick study, Cunningham received less than three hours of instruction before flying his first solo flight as a Marine aviator!

Figure 3. Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham floats in a Curtiss hydro-aeroplane in 1914.  Source: Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

Aces in the Air: The oldest Marine air attack squadron

Also mentioned in the publication is Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina, next to where I used to live in New Bern. MCAS Cherry Point is home to a number of Marine air squadrons, including VMAQ-1, VMAQ-2, VMA-223 and VMA-231, and hosts a phenomenal air show every year. Oo-rah to my old neighbors!

Formally established in 1919, Marine Attack Squadron 231 takes great pride in being the oldest squadron in the Marine Corps. After being re-designated the First Squadron, VMA-231 adopted the “Ace of Spades” moniker, since the Ace is the first card in the suit. The “A” in the upper left stands for “Air” and the “S” in the lower right stands for “Squadron”.

Figure 4. VMA-231 Ace of Spades logo. Source: Marine Corps

Where can you find this and other publications on aviation?

You can find 1912-2012 100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History on our online bookstore, in a library, or at our retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401.

For regular updates about today’s naval and marine aviation, you may wish to subscribe to these excellent magazines from the Navy and Marine Corps: quarterly magazine Naval Aviation News: Flagship Publication of Naval Aviation or the bi-monthly Approach: The Navy & Marine Corps Aviation Safety Magazine.

Aviation fans and practitioners in general should check out our Aviation Publications Collection on our online bookstore with books on aviation past and present and information for pilots, balloonists, and more.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that you can sign up to receive Aviation email updates about new Federal Government aviation publications as they come out.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for marketing the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public. She is a fan of military aviation, from growing up near Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and watching Air Force One and the Blue Angels overhead, to living in New Bern, NC, near Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and watching the Harriers do practice fly over runs.


New Caledonia and the New Yorker?

August 4, 2011

From time to time I’ve talked about the little World War II-vintage booklets produced to familiarize Army and Navy personnel with various places around the world that the fight against the Axis might compel them to go. Some of those places are still hot spots, like Iraq. Others were obscure then and remain so today, unless you’re a specialist or someone with an inordinate curiosity about things in general (me).

For out of the way places, you can’t beat New Caledonia. This large island in the Southwest Pacific, a French territory only now looking towards a future referendum on independence, is populated by Melanesian Kanaks and French settlers and has an economy centered on nickel mining. During the war, however, it was the island’s strategic position that made it the subject of a Pocket Guide to New Caledonia. Not long after the fall of France in 1940, the French colonials on the island revolted against their pro-Vichy governor and declared for the Free French, so the island and the harbor at Noumea, the colony’s capital, became a huge naval repair, troop transit, and logistical nexus for America’s armed forces. TheU.S. presence had a huge and generally positive economic, political, and cultural impact on the Kanak population, but stimulated an almost paranoid reaction among Free French officials, who saw the American “occupation” as a threat to their colonial dominance. Clearly, our soldiers and sailors needed some guidance on how to handle these complicated crosscurrents!

Pocket Guide to New Caledonia does a very good job of outlining New Caledonia’s history and cultures, with an emphasis on tolerance and understanding of the customs and faiths of others, whether French or Kanak. It also manages a light touch when discussing some topics, to wit:

“People living in the tropics or subtropics are likely to be exposed to       hookworm and other intestinal parasites, and to be bothered by dysentery. To check this latter ailment, the natives eat a certain grass which is called ‘dysentery grass’ and is supposed to have a herbaceous effect. Our troops have made not a few noble experiments with this particular variety of hay, and up to date nobody has been hurt, though the record is confused as to whether anybody has been helped. So if you see a creature eating grass inNew Caledonia, don’t shoot! It may be the corporal.”

Like other wartime publications, this booklet also benefited from the work of a well-known artist. While Dr. Seuss handled malaria prevention, the great New Yorker cartoonist George Price drew theNew Caledonia short straw (see left) and provides a comic glimpse at GI life in the tropics.

I enjoyed browsing through Pocket Guide to New Caledonia. The Government did a good job of prepping folks for trips to places that most of them never imagined going, and now we can make the same visit thought these little time capsules. You can read it here or in a library.


The Few, the Proud, the Anthology

July 6, 2011

 Book buyers and book hunters (who tend to be one and the same) are funny about bibliographies. Non-fiction books need to have them, they’re great to skim through to locate more books on favorite topics – but they’re not exactly scintillating reading. When I saw that the title of this 2011 Library Journal notable Government document was U.S. Marines in Iraq, 2004-2008: An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography, I had mixed feelings. What percentage was going to be anthology as opposed to bibliography?

It really wasn’t a problem. Most of the book is anthology – and not just selections from the Marine Corps Gazette, although there are some excellent ones from that estimable publication. It also includes articles from such distinctly non-military sources as Vanity Fair and Foreign Affairs, and they’re not always totally favorable. Coverage of controversies such as the killings of civilians at Haditha and blunt discussions of whether the American course of action in Iraq was selfless or madness make this collection a lot more than just a “how-to” guide to irregular warfare or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). The U.S. Marines might not love everything journalists and experts write about them, but they’re willing to address criticism, not just ignore it – and I liked this open-mindedness. As a bonus, each article begins with a striking color photograph of Marines in their varied roles inIraq, from combat to pacification.

The bibliography, as the title says, is annotated, so it’s a handy guide to the mainly periodical literature covering these crucial four years of U.S.intervention in Iraq and undoubtedly will be useful to scholars and soldiers alike. U.S.Marines in Iraq, 2004-2008 is a fine book for readers and bibliography-philes alike. You can find it here or in a library.


Navy and Marine POWs in Vietnam

May 2, 2011

For some time now, the Naval History & Heritage Command has been producing concise studies of the Navy’s role during the Vietnam War. In previous posts, I’ve blogged about Navy Medicine in Vietnam and The Approaching Storm, the latter covering the decade-long run up to the introduction of combat troops in 1965. Today’s subject is The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War. The author, the late Stuart Rochester, was particularly well qualified to write on this subject, since he was the co-author of what must be considered the definitive account of POWs in Vietnam – Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973 – published by the Army’sCenter ofMilitary History.

A personal note:This is the first time I’ve written about a book whose author I knew personally. Stuart and I worked together for years, on and off – he as deputy and then chief historian at the Pentagon’s Historical Office and me as a GPO marketing contact for his office’s books. We talked mainly by phone, although we did meet in person a couple of times. He was great to work with, a fine scholar, and I regret he wasn’t able to enjoy his position of chief historian longer before his untimely death from cancer in 2009.

The Battle Behind Bars, as the subtitle indicates, focuses on Navy and Marine POWs. Most of the Navy personnel captured during the war were pilots, so they formed a close-knit group of like-minded individuals. One exception was Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl, who was swept overboard from the missile cruiser Canberra and picked up by North Vietnamese fishermen. In a terrific sidebar, the book describes the incredulity of Hegdahl’s captors when he told them how he had come to be swimming in the Gulf ofTonkin – they understandably found his story so incredible that they assumed he was a spy! Once they accepted that he was a raw recruit, an enlisted man, and had trouble seeing due to the loss of his glasses in the water, he became a kind of camp mascot, perceived as not that bright. In realty, he was smart, alert, and able to serve as a secret mailman for other prisoners under the noses of the guards. He also had a retentive memory that let him memorize a huge amount of information about other POWs, which he revealed to the Navy after his early release by the Vietnamese.  

Another sidebar discusses the use of a “tap code” by Navy POWs to communicate via their cell walls. Initially a simple code, it was changed often to prevent detection, to the point where Defense Intelligence Agency personnel had difficulty in decoding some of the samples the prisoners brought back after their release.

It wasn’t all movie derring-do, however. The book details the poor conditions, attempted ideological indoctrination, and sometimes brutal treatment of prisoners in North Vietnam and the even worse situation of POWS in the South, where they shared the miserable living conditions of their Viet Cong captors. The author is fair-minded enough to point out instances, such as in the area of medical treatment, where the Vietnamese often did provide decent care, albeit under primitive conditions. Overall, though, captivity in Vietnam was a prolonged ordeal which, even as conditions eased after 1970, meant years of misery for American POWs.

This is a fine study of a controversial subject and a fitting capstone to the career of a talented scholar. You can get a copy of The Battle Behind Bars here or find it in a library here.


“Uncivilized Warfare”: Defeating the Kaiser’s U-Boats

April 8, 2011

I’ve been on a bit of a World War I binge lately. In addition to my own at-home reading (most recently a book on naval battles of the First World War and a biography of Colonel Edward M. House, Woodrow Wilson’s closest foreign policy advisor during and immediately after the war), in recent weeks I’ve blogged about World War I aerial reconnaissance, Army nurses, and Stars and Stripes, the doughboys’ newspaper. Maybe it’s because of the recent death of Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of the Great War, or because in another three years we’ll be hearing about the centennial of the war’s outbreak. Given that “the war to end all wars” kicked off what many historians view as one war that lasted from 1914 to 1945 with a 20-year intermission, that its repercussions still echo today, and that it was fought on or near every continent, I find the subject to be one of endless, multifaceted interest.

Because Americans tend to focus on such incidents as the sinking of the Lusitania, it’s easy to forget how deadly a weapon the German U-Boat was on an ongoing basis and how close it came to success. According to Defeating the U-boat: Inventing Antisubmarine Warfare, a new book from the U.S. Naval War College, after a meeting between U. S. Rear Admiral William Sims and the Royal navy’s Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Jellicoe in which the struggle against the U-boats was discussed, Sims cabled Washington to say “briefly stated, I consider that at the present moment we are losing the war.” A major part of the problem was England’s utter unpreparedness to fight an anti-submarine war. This was partly due to the belief that no “civilized” nation would engage in unrestricted submarine warfare, i.e. firing torpedoes at non-military vessels without warning and making no effort to aid or pick up survivors. After trying anti-submarine patrols,  “barrages” or barriers in the Strait of Dover, mines, and the employment of Q-ships (freighters and other civilian craft with concealed/camouflaged guns that could snag U-boats playing by the old “fair warning” rules), it was the development of the convoy system that proved most decisive. Yet such was the ambivalence of many officers (and even Winston Churchill) about the “defensive-mindedness” of convoys that even in World War II it took far too long for Allied navies, including the American navy, to use the convoy against Nazi U-boats.

In its concluding chapter, the author, Jan S. Breemer, reflects on the general tendency of large bureaucracies in general avoid decisions that involve risk.  It also makes the specific point that the Royal Navy in World War I viewed the protection of shipping and the sinking of U-boats as separate issues instead of the two parts of a strategic whole. In other words, combine sluggish bureaucracy and blinkered strategy and you come up with an almost lethal combination. As the great naval historian Arthur Marder put it, “sinking submarines is a bonus, not a necessity.” It took a long while for this lesson to sink in (excuse the pun!)

Defeating the U-boat is a neat little book that’s readable and furnishes a lot of useful information very concisely. It would be a great asset to any World War I buff’s collection. You can read it here, get that copy for your collection here, or seek it out at a library.


Spaniards, Insurrectos, and Boxers

December 29, 2010

It must be relatively rare for one very junior naval officer to get to participate in three separate armed conflicts within three years, but that’s what Naval Cadet (they weren’t called Midshipmen back in 1898) Joseph K. Taussig did. According to Three Splendid Little Wars: The Diary of Joseph K. Taussig, 1898-1901, published by the Naval War College, after being called away from the U.S. Naval Academy after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Taussig witnessed the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, wherein the Spanish fleet unsuccessfully attempted to outrun the American fleet. As part of the two years at sea required of Annapolis graduates prior to their commissioning exam, Taussig then sailed halfway around the world to help defeat Philippine revolutionaries in the Philippine Insurrection (mainly by embarking on an abortive hostage rescue mission).

Since I’m particularly interested in the Boxer Rebellion, I thought that the last section of Taussig’s diary was by far the most engaging. Disembarking near the Taku forts that played such a prominent role in the Opium Wars of the 19th Century, Taussig and his Navy and Marine comrades headed up the Peiho River to the city of Tientsin, where they teamed up with the British, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Italian, and Austrian contingents to form the so-called Boxer Relief Expedition. At first thinking that they would reach the besieged legations in Peking in a day or so, they spent most of their time repairing Boxer-damaged railroad tracks until the Boxers cut the tracks behind them, forcing a grueling retreat back to Tientsin.

Taussig’s impressions of the Boxer rebels and their fighting methods is interesting in itself, and his account shows how what initially seems to have been perceived as a walk-over soon became a grim contest against enemy troops, heat, and the ill-mapped Chinese terrain. It all ended for Taussig when “Although the bullets were flying thick I was never so surprised in my life when I felt a blow in my right hip that knocked me down.” He had been hit by a Boxer bullet. After long periods of being carried on a stretcher, Taussig eventually got medical help and lived long enough to become a Rear Admiral (he could well have risen further if he had not antagonized a certain Assistant Navy Secretary Franklin Roosevelt, who apparently did not forgive and forget when he became President – but that’s another story).

Three Splendid Little Wars is a valuable primary source of information on some little-known conflicts and a “you are there” portrait of the frustrations suffered by the Boxer Relief Expedition in its prolonged struggle to relieve the foreign embassies in Peking. Future historians will have to take Taussig’s diaries into account when they retell that particular story. You can browse through it here, get a printed copy here, or find it in a library.


America Versus Revolutionary France

December 17, 2010

When people ask me how I choose the books I blog about (actually, no one has asked me that, but it always pays to be prepared), I cite multiple sources of information, including in-house resources at GPO, my past experience with Government publications, and my personal and eclectic reading. For example, I recently read a book about America’s Quasi-War with revolutionary France from 1798 to 1800. Precipitated by French privateering attacks against neutral shipping during its war with England and exacerbated by the French view that the Jay Treaty between Great Britain and America was a violation of its 1778 treaty with the U.S., the fledgling American navy was authorized by Congress to attack any French vessel, including warships that molested American merchant shipping.

So what’s the connection with this blog? Naval Documents related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France, edited by Captain Dudley W. Knox, USN (Ret.) (left). This 7-volume set of official documents, published in the 1930s, is the starting point and standard source for any research on the Quasi-War and was duly acknowledged as such by the author of the book I read. Knox, who for many years was the Navy’s Officer in Charge of the Office of Naval Records and Library, also presided over the editing of other documentary compilations and was a noted writer on naval topics.

Perusing these ponderous volumes is challenging but rewarding. Included are accounts of the U.S. frigate Constellation’s battles with the French frigates L’Insurgente (top) and La Vengeance, the little-known landing of Marines on the Dutch island of Curacao, and much more. You can also find reports on the captains who led the fight (or sometimes failed) against the formidable forces of France and their often uneasy collaboration with France’s real enemy – the British.

It’s a tribute to the Navy that, at a time when such massive documentary series usually were not subsidized by universities or foundations, Knox and his staff were encouraged to research and preserve these early records of American military and diplomatic history. Today, it’s still a pleasure to plunge into another century and read about the Navy’s battles and the bureaucracy that kept them staffed and supplied at sea. Sets of Naval Documents related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France will set you back hundreds of dollars via the used and antiquarian book market, but they are available to browse here or in print at a library.

 


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