Common Ground: What about War?

As Grim has pointed out, Jim Webb's exit from the presidential race leaves us with a field of candidates who have never served in the military. What reading would you recommend to our next commander in chief, or a voter who has never served but who is tasked with picking a commander in chief?


raven said...

If the desire is to drum into ones head just how bad things can get, as a direct result of poor political and military leadership, there can be no better instruction than this. An excellent lesson in "what not to do".

"Retreat from Kabul", by Patrick Macrory.
Published in England as "Signal Catastrophe."

Grim said...

The classical choices are Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz. Generations ago, before Sun Tzu was known in the West and before Clausewitz had been born, Vegetius was the standard (although a dubious one: he was writing about the Roman Legions, but it's not clear how accurate his information was). Machiavelli's Art of War is an attempt to update him for the Renaissance.

Eric Blair said...

it's "von" not "Von". But I'm not sure he's particularly relevant at this point.

Sun Tzu is still relevant for political insights. What should be read is Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, and since it's the USA we're talking about, the Federalist Papers.

As well as pretty much memorizing the Constistu

Grim said...

I've always been unclear about whether you were supposed to capitalize the "v" if you dropped the first name. I've never had a formal study of German. In French, which I have studied formally, you sometimes do capitalize letters that aren't usually: for example, the 'd' in d'Artagnan is capitalized if it is the first letter of a sentence, but not otherwise.

raven said...

All the greats on waging war are fine studies,, but these folks we are talking about don't even know why it is necessary to have a solid political and military strategy. They need to know why. They need to know there are consequences. They have probably never been in a school yard tussle. They need an equivalent to "why we fight".

Look at what they have done so far....

E Hines said...

My own offerings:

Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War
Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage
Walter McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State

Eric Hines

Ymar Sakar said...

They need an equivalent to "why we fight".

Ironically, the Japanese culture has their own version of that due to their constitution issues and the threat of Red China right next door.

None of the abstract nationalism or patriotism seen in the US or the West that has long been lost, though. Somewhat more personal, shorter term, goals.

As for Von vs von, the north germanics liked those little placeholder words between the personal first name and their lineage name.

Norse, for example, had this.
male_patronym = "sson"
female_patronym = "sdottir"

Relatively similar to the Denmark and Frisians. The von would signify they were from a dynastic clan, thus they probably would have placed the focus on the dynastic name with capital letters.

These days of course, Carl of Clausewitz has something of a personal reputation. I recall his wife did some work with editing his book as well. Since people aren't referring to his clan specifically, perhaps the capitalization of V can signify a title now.

Japanese and Chinese kanji, have brush stroke differences to create emphasis. Western type has capitalizations, bolds, italics, etc to put more emphasis on something. And the internet... well the internet has emoticons and its own sub cultural language terms and acronyms like a military sub culture would.

Grim said...

If someone gets past 'why we fight' and to 'how should we fight?', I don't know that there's been a good theoretical work to replace Clausewitz. There's certainly been a lot of writing, though. Small Wars Journal carries some of the best of it.

ColoComment said...

One would hope that a commander in chief would have some nodding acquaintance with history, both ancient and modern, but perhaps that's asking too much in this day and age of "dumbed down" education.

Looking at the field of candidates of both parties, I doubt that you'd get any of them to read On War or The Art of War and have a clue what they were about. (...Maybe the Cliff Notes, though.)

Frankly, were I Chief of Staff, I think I'd line up a few folks on the order of Victor Davis Hansen and have my president sit down with them on a regular schedule for in-depth tutorials on the historical interwoven patterns of politics, diplomacy, and war.

Barring that, however, which is pretty unlikely, Eliot Cohen wrote an interesting book a while back, Supreme Command, in which he examines several presidents and their wartime military leaders. Robert Kaplan has a series of books on the American military, starting with Imperial Grunts, and Hog Pilots and Blue Water Grunts.


ColoComment said...

Correction: on looking again at the summary, Cohen wrote of only one president: Lincoln, and about Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion.

Tom said...

Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, and since it's the USA we're talking about, the Federalist Papers.

Any particular works from them that you'd recommend to understand war?

Is there a particular essay in the Federalist Papers that deals with the topic?

Ymar Sakar said...

Education for the elites in the US isn't dumbed down. Consider Chelsea Clinton. Her education on intrigue, corruption, abusing legal authority, and conducting the balance of powers via intra factional struggles, are quite above average.

But that does not leave much room for honor, honesty, military excellence, or objective counting of the casualties.

Humans must be specialized. The Demoncrats are specialized for internal politics and intrigue, not defending America from foreigners, even though historically Democrats were the party of war, every time, any time that it benefited their domestic power lines.

douglas said...

If the issue is that they have not personally served, and that we might, arguably perhaps, posit that they all have a fair understanding of history and foreign affairs in at least the last half century, then I would say that what I would like them to read are the personal accounts of the men on the front, for instance "Lone Survivor" by Marcus Luttrell, or "House to House" by David Bellavia. The kind of books that put one into the shoes of those one is preparing to send into war, for these might help one to understand the results of the political battles here at home on the soldier in the field. When rules of engagement are going to be set in Washington DC instead of in theater or closer, it's imperative that our leaders understand the ramifications on the ground of the political compromises they are being asked to make by their opponents or advisers, or even the American people. I also want them to fee la personal obligation to the troops on the pointy end- to understand that they are the commander whose task is to win, and whose responsibility is to keep the cost to us to a minimum.

Maybe that's too emotional a response, but I'll take that chance.

For what it's worth, I stumbled on this site while pondering the question, and it looks like a good aggregator of the reading lists of various military commands (including some British) and even some personal lists.