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Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918-1941
Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918-1941
by Thomas G. Mahnken
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 75.77
17 used & new from CDN$ 59.10

5.0 out of 5 stars An important book, July 14 2004
Part scholarly history, part political science and part policy document, Thomas Mahnken's "Uncovering Ways of War" - one of the latest editions in Cornell's distinguished Studies in Security Affairs series - is an important book for two distinct but related reasons: one historical, the other practical.
From an historical perspective, Mahnken makes a significant contribution by convincingly arguing that US military intelligence was much more competent and effective in the period between the two world wars than has previously been asserted by some of the most respected scholars in strategic studies. With an impressive attention to detail and exhaustive primary research, Mahnken demonstrates that the US attaché corps was better funded, better manned and better managed than most other major powers during that time. And far from being the career backwater it has often been depicted as, he shows that most of the officers assigned to the attaché corps were quite skilled and more than competent at their mission, with many of the services' top talents - such as Spruance, Halsey, Pershing, and March - having served in their ranks. Finally, and most importantly, Mahnken concludes that military intelligence was, on balance, successful in identifying, analyzing and correctly assessing the implications of new technology and innovative doctrine. For instance, Japanese amphibious vehicle design directly influenced the Marine Corps development of a similar craft, while German combined arms armored doctrine was recognized as revolutionary far before the Wehrmacht's stunning victories in 1939-1940. In short, the notion that the US armed forces were poorly informed on the dramatic changes to military equipment and operations that had developed since the First World War needs to be fundamentally reassessed in light of the findings clearly laid-out in this book.
From a practical perspective, "Uncovering Ways of War" makes a critical examination of the US intelligence agencies' "mixed record" during the interwar period and looks for clues to help uncover how and why the attaches succeeded in some cases and failed in others. For example, why was US intelligence able to accurately (and independently) track and assess British and German armored warfare doctrine, yet completely miss other important innovations such as the British development of radar and German advances in rocketry? Mahnken concludes that intelligence organizations are severely handicapped in their ability to detect concepts that have been ignored or already rejected by their own militaries or have yet to be employed successfully in combat or realistic war game maneuvers. However, when it comes to concepts or technologies that their parent services are actively pursuing, the intelligence apparatus has a remarkable track record of success.
As someone with an education and passion for strategic studies who has spent most of their career in strategy and analysis positions in a Fortune 500 software company, this book appealed to me on both a personal and professional level. The interwar period has long been recognized as the ultimate case study in the rapid and discontinuous change that can occur when military forces meld new technology into new organizations with an entirely new way of fighting. The fact that Mahnken has made such a dramatic and credible revision to the history of a period that has been so thoroughly researched is laudable and, indeed, impressive. As a practitioner of competitive strategy and analysis, I can attest to the fact that many of the insights the author uncovers are directly applicable to the private sector. The time-cycles in industry - especially information technology - are dramatically shorter and the nature and gravity of the competition is, needless to say, quite different; however, the framework of theorizing, experimenting and implementing new concepts or technologies is very similar. It is unfortunate that most people in strategy and analysis roles in industry avoid or are completely ignorant of books like this and others ("The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War" by James Wirtz is another excellent and highly relevant work in the Cornell series that is well worth reading). There is much to be learned from the experience - both positive and negative - of government and military intelligence and planning agencies throughout history as "Uncovering Ways of War" lucidly demonstrates.

The Last Generation of the Roman Republic
The Last Generation of the Roman Republic
by Erich S. Gruen
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 47.26
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweeping revisionism, July 9 2004
This impressive history isn't for everyone. In fact, it is targeted to a rather select audience: those with a deep understanding of the Age of Cicero. If you are not intimately familiar with the chronology and the "conventional wisdom" explaining the demise of the Roman Republic much of Gruen's work will be impenetrable and the gravity of his conclusions will be lost.
The author's thesis is simple: all previous secondary histories of the era are contaminated by a heavy reliance on the overblown rhetoric of a few ancient authors and a strong tendency to view the events of the period from the enlightened vantage point of the future. Gruen claims that an objective and dispassionate review of the period with no attempt to divine patterns of demise will show that the 70s, 60s, and 50s BC were largely business as usual. Whereas modern authors have described the last decades of the Republic as leading inexorably to civil war and revolution, Gruen claims that a Roman of that period would not have seen things that way.
Gruen doesn't limit his challenge to the traditional orthodoxy to a few examples. Rather, his revisionism is sweeping in scope. For instance, Gruen argues: 1) what has generally been construed as the moral rot of the last few decades was actually a common theme in Greek and Roman literature not confined to the Age of Cicero; 2) the ruling oligarchy did desperately cling to power as is often argued, but that didn't prevent a robust although non-interconnected string of reform legislation from being introduced throughout the period; 3) Republican Rome was dominated by individuals and small groups from its inception and a close review of the electoral returns at all levels show that the last years of the Republic show no major departure from precedent; 4) there is no evidence to suggest that the evaporation of the middle class led to a large and unified disgruntled constituency of urban poor bent on social revolution; 5) the armies of the Late Republic were no more "professional" or beholden to individuals than was usually the case (it should be noted that I found Gruen's evidence in this particular case to be exiguous and far from convincing); 6) Rome's system of imperial administration may have been undeveloped and exploitative, but that does nothing to explain the collapse of the Republic as the provinces stayed loyal to Rome before, during and after the Civil War; and 7) there has been far too much focus on the explanations proffered by Cicero and Sallust, whose work was largely the result of personal gripes and set forth for propaganda purposes. In other words, Gruen addresses and attempts to refute every commonly held belief on the decline and fall of the Republic. In some cases he makes a convincing case (challenging the notion that the Triumvirate utterly dominated the Republic from the 59 BC forward is one good example), while others appear to be more of a stretch (the aforementioned argument of the changing nature of the army is most notable is that regard).
In closing, "The Last Generation of the Roman Republic" is one of the most important and influential scholarly works on the period to appear in the past half-century. However, the book is not without its credible critics. One prime example would be the highly critical review by Michael Crawford ("Hamlet without the Prince" The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 66 (1976) pp. 214-217), which this reviewer would suggest that all prospective readers consult.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
by Peter Hopkirk
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story, July 6 2004
If you like history told on a grand scale, you'll love Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game." The author has done a superb job making an obscure epoch of nineteenth history come to life in an easily accessible and immensely entertaining narrative. Employing a style and approach highly reminiscent of such bestsellers as David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace" or Robert Massie's "Dreadnought," Hopkirk uses a number of harrowing expeditions by young, intrepid (and mostly British) army officers and diplomats to convey the drama, intrigue and danger of the imperial contest that Rudyard Kipling christened "The Great Game."
A quick word of caution: this book isn't really a primer on current events in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas. I mention that because there are some exerts to that effect on the cover of the new paperback and I suspect that angle has been pushed by the publishers to promote sales. Yes, there are some graphic tales of western forces being mutilated by Muslim mobs incited by the harangues of mullahs in Kabul and other now familiar cities, but that is where the potential similarities end. In short, this is a book about nineteenth century imperial competition; Islam in general and Afghanistan in particular are elements of that story, not the focus. It is told primarily from the British perspective and focuses on their century-long cold war with imperial Russia. The borders of their global empires became, in London's opinion, uncomfortable close in the mid-1800s as Moscow's borders expanded inexorably southwards in search of new economic markets and trade routes until they encroached upon the mountain passes to northern India, thus threatening the "crown jewel" of the British Empire. For over a hundred years the British worked to parry this threat, oscillating between a proactive policy of military presence in Persia, Afghanistan and elsewhere (known as "the forward school" and leading to three wars) and the withdrawn, passive defense of India (derisively dubbed "masterly inactivity").
I found two things to be particularly remarkable in this tale. First, it is difficult to underestimate just how little the British and Russians knew about the inhabitants and topography that filled the critical buffer zone between their two great empires. It would be no exaggeration to claim that we know more today about the surface of Mars than British knew about the Pamir region north of Kashmir in the late nineteenth century. Second, most of the leading characters that explored and charted these unknown areas for their respective governments were in their mid-twenties at the time of their heroic missions. Few episodes of international grand strategy and policy have been so directly shaped by the deeds of such young men.
A number of modern historians have dismissed the threat that imperial Russian expansion presented to India, but Hopkirk asserts that the challenge was genuine and the British response reasoned and legitimate. In the process, one can't help but get the impression that after long years of close study, the author has concluded that the "forward school" was the correct one, his specific claims to be non-judgmental notwithstanding.

Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story Of The Largest Covert Operation in History
Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story Of The Largest Covert Operation in History
by George Crile
Edition: Hardcover
46 used & new from CDN$ 2.01

4.0 out of 5 stars One side of an amazing story, April 12 2004
There is an excerpt on the cover of "Charlie Wilson's War" from Dan Rather stating "Tom Clancy's fiction pales in comparison..." Remarkably enough, that isn't hyperbole. Author George Crile delivers a compulsively readable and endlessly intriguing narrative of the CIA covert operation - the "largest and most successful covert operation ever" he incessantly reminds us - in support of the Afghan Mujahideen in the early- and mid-1980s.
On one level, this book is phenomenal. It is entertaining without end. The characters are so eccentric and their activities so pregnant with danger and political scandal that it almost stretches the bounds of believability. Tom Hanks, that most venerable of Hollywood icons, has purchased the screen rights to this book and plans to play the lead. For once, screenwriters won't have to "punch up" the script to appeal to the mainstream audience (although they still might try).
But that brings us to the other, more disappointing side of "Charlie Wilson's War." It is written in the spirit of a great spy novel, rather than the most exciting history imaginable. The topic is historical and the events described by Crile are all ostensibly historical in nature, but this book isn't "history." Stellar works of modern history - such as Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace" or Stanley Karnow's "Vietnam" - are informative, engaging but above all objective. Grand characters may populate the narrative and some may come off better than others, but ultimately the story tells itself and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions and character analysis. This isn't the case with "Charlie Wilson's War." It comes replete with heroes (Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos and a small handful of those who directly supported them) and dastardly villains (essentially everyone else who wasn't a Wilson/Avrakotos partisan). Both Congressmen Wilson and CIA operative Avrakotos are deeply flawed men, which normally would make them even more compelling heroes. But in Crile's telling they become Galahads in a sea of bureaucratic and political ineptitude. Sure, Crile writes, Avrakotos might be rough around the edges and has a tendency to unleash expletive laced tirades at superiors, but the way he tells the story you can't help but feel the "elitist cake eater" deserved it. Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani totalitarian military dictator and key Wilson/Avrakotos ally appears to more closely resemble Ghandi than, well, a totalitarian military dictator. And so on and so forth.
Crile's tendentious style is often shocking and (in my opinion) completely undermines the case he is trying to make. For instance, it isn't uncommon for Crile to introduce a new character as a "scum ball" or a "whacko." On several occasions I had to double-check what I was reading. "He must be quoting Avrakotos here" I'd muse. But no, the author (and editors) for some reason decided to introduce factual characters with acerbic name-calling. Bizarre.
I have no doubt that Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos played a central role - perhaps the predominant role - in developing and supporting this "the largest and most successful covert operation and history," but there are many other sides to this story, I'm sure. The people that Wilson/Avrakotos/Crile essentially describes as all wrong couldn't possibly be, in fact, "all wrong." He does a disservice to Wilson's and Avrakotos' efforts by desribing them is such roseate terms while slandering everyone else.

Swords Against The Senate: The Rise Of The Roman Army And The Fall Of The Republic
Swords Against The Senate: The Rise Of The Roman Army And The Fall Of The Republic
by Erik Hildinger
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 24.30

4.0 out of 5 stars A good place to start, March 19 2004
In a 1962 journal piece ("Waiting for Sulla" JRS, Vol. 52, pp. 47-61), classical scholar Ernst Badian noted that the age of Marius and Sulla (roughly 110-78 BC) is of critical importance to understanding the decline and collapse of the republic and the rise of Caesar and the empire, yet precious little energy had been devoted to re-examing this period with the critical eye of modern historiography.
One might also argue that this period was, until the publication of Erik Hildinger's "Swords Against the Senate", totally inaccessible to the layman. There are scores of popular histories and biographies on Caesar and the Roman Revolution - the commercial success of Anthony Everitt's "Cicero" is but one recent example - but the epoch that set the republic wobbling on its foundation and offered the precedent for Caesar's march on Rome has been largely ignored in popular history until now.
The author does a superb job of framing the issue by first providing an outline of the development of the Roman state with a particular focus on the army and the role it played socially and politically. Hildinger then provides a good general overview of the central figures and events of the period (the Gracchi, Marius and Sulla and the Jurgurthan, Cimbrian/Teuton, Social, Mithridatic and First Civil Wars) as related in the works of Appian, Sallust and Plutarch. There is no critical examination of the sources or revisionism to the traditional account of the events, such as the ones Badian provides in the article cited above.
In closing, if you are new to the subject and are looking for a crisp overview of this extremely important period preceding the rise of Caesar and the triumvirate "Swords Against the Senate" is highly recommended. If you are a rather serious student of Republican Rome (i.e. you've read all the ancient authors; you're familiar with the major arguments and works of Brunt, Badian, Gruen, Millar and Syme; you read the Journal of Roman Studies on occasion) there isn't much in this account that will inform, interest or challenge you.

The Myth Of The Great War: A New Military History of World War I
The Myth Of The Great War: A New Military History of World War I
by John Mosier
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
22 used & new from CDN$ 3.96

3.0 out of 5 stars Allied intelligence failure in the First World War, March 12 2004
This is a difficult book to review. On the one hand, it offers some interesting revisionist arguments and conclusions on the nature of the First World War and some keen insights into specific tactical issues. On the other hand, the author seems to needlessly stretch a couple of specific arguments into a full-length narrative of the conflict, which wasn't necessary and actually dilutes the impact of his case.
Mosier's central thesis is somewhat unique and worthy of deeper examination. In short, this book is all about allied intelligence failure; more specifically, he argues, the Allies couldn't accurately count the German war dead. Mosier's case goes something like this: the Allied High Command sincerely believed that they were killing many more Germans in their attacks and bombardments than they were losing themselves (the reverse, of course, was true). Because they thought their attacks were succeeding in bleeding the Germans white (to apply the German philosophy of Verdun), the allies didn't believe innovation on the Western Front was necessary. Moreover, Mosier says, when it came to things they could count, they counted the wrong things (that is, they religiously tabulated and compared relative manpower, but not heavy artillery, which he argues was the decisive force on the western front).
His conclusions on the overestimation of allied killing power, however, beg some other sticky questions. For instance, had the allies known the truth about how badly they were losing the body count, would they have sued for peace on terms favorable to the Germans in, say, 1915? How do we know that tactical innovation would have been the response rather than capitulation, especially if the reality of the situation had been known before Lloyd George took over the British government in December 1916?
Mosier concludes that it was American money, men and material that saved the British and French from the consequences of their incompetence. His assessment of American combat performance on the Western Front is therefore generally more favorable than that depicted in most histories of the conflict and, in my opinion, is suspect.
In closing, this book is difficult to recommend to anyone. The overview on allied versus German artillery is excellent and Mosier's focus on an often-overlooked German command (von Mudra) is interesting, but overall this book fails to satisfy.

In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines
In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines
by Stanley Karnow
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.00
29 used & new from CDN$ 11.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Sobering Case Study of Exporting America, Jan. 2 2004
From the valiant death of Ferdinand Magellan in the azure surf of Mactan in 1521 to the fall of Ferdinand Marcos at the hands of Cory Aquino and a disillusioned Reagan administration in 1986, Stanley Karnow, the venerable Asian correspondent for the Washington Post, traces the arc of the Philippines' long, tumultuous relationship with the West. Briskly-paced and engaging, "In Our Image" won the 1990 Pulitzer-prize for history and presents a balanced, yet sobering perspective on America's only traditional colonial experience.
Those looking for anti-American or anti-imperialist fodder will be sorely disappointed by Karnow's generally positive assessment of US policies in the archipelago. He praises the massive investment made in developing and improving the indigenous education system and industrial infrastructure, and frequently notes that American policies were far less exploitative and more politically liberal than any other colonial administration in history. Indeed, he argues that the Washington's voluntary grant of independence to the Philippines was nothing short of revolutionary at the time, and that the islands were actually more subject to American domination after independence in 1946 than before.
On the other hand, those seeking inspiration in how American democracy and industry can be successfully exported to different cultures will be equally disappointed with this case study. Most politicians today, liberal and conservative alike, bristle at the notion that some people or cultures are simply incapable of American-style democracy, and the freedom and justice that comes with it. Karnow, however, makes a strong case that dreams of self-duplication in the Philippines were doomed to fail in a society with an entrenched oligarchy, a powerful tradition of compadre loyalty, and an inherent respect for unabridged power. He notes, for instance, that both Marcos and his prime political opponent, the martyred Benigno Aquino, believed that only an all-powerful head of state in the mold of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew or South Korea's Syngman Rhee would be capable of making any positive difference in the Philippines.
Karnow is a brilliant writer and this book shows him at his best. Each chapter covers large swaths of American and Filipino history, so the narrative is far from comprehensive. Those seeking a detailed understanding of US colonial administration, the bloody and controversial fight against Aquinaldo and the Filipino insurgents, or the epic tale of the Bataan death march and MacArthur's reconquest of the Philippines would be well-advised to seek other, more focused works. However, for an introduction to the political history of the Philippines, her close and unusual relationship with the United States, and the experience of re-creating American institutions in lands unlike our own, this book is not to be missed.

Profiles In Courage
Profiles In Courage
by John Kennedy
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grace Under Pressure, Dec 30 2003
This review is from: Profiles In Courage (Paperback)
"Profiles in Courage" is a rare book - for a number of reasons.
First, of course, is that the author is nothing short of American royalty and the publication of the book in 1956 had an instantaneous impact on Kennedy's political fortunes. In the late 1950s, JFK was a freshman senator without many notable achievements. "Profiles" immediately set him apart from his Congressional colleagues and established him as something of an intellectual heavyweight in Washington and garnered valuable publicity that ultimately vaulted him to the 1960 Democratic nomination and the presidency.
Second, never before has a work of non-fiction been so immediately embroiled in controversy, both because of questions concerning its composition and the fact that it won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for biography. The consensus today -- nearly half-a-century after its publication and after intense scrutiny -- is that the book was essentially written by committee. JFK may have provided the inspiration for the work, but close aide and confidant Ted Sorenson did most of the heavy lifting around research and writing. In other words, Kennedy was more the "editor" than the "author." Indeed, Herbert Parmet investigated the "who wrote Profiles?" question in detail in his 1980 book "Jack: The Struggle of John F. Kennedy" and concluded that there was no evidence from reams of hand-written notes and memos that JFK contributed anything substantial to the final version of the book. This after Kennedy threatened to sue ABC for millions after syndicated columnist Drew Pearson alleged that the book was ghostwritten during a 1957 appearance on the Mike Wallace Show, an allegation ABC was forced to retract. To add to the brouhaha, the Pulitzer committee never officially nominated "Profiles" in 1957, yet somehow it came away with the award. Rumors swirled that Joseph Kennedy - and good friend and New York Times columnist Arthur Krock - leaned on the committee to get JFK the award, but those charges have never been, nor likely ever will be, verified.
Finally, the book is rare and important because of its content and theme. Contrary to other reviews, this book is NOT about "doing the right thing." The author(s) stress that each vignette concerns Senators who deliberately took a stand of conscious, which they knew would be unpopular with their constituents and likely cripple their political careers. Their stories have nothing to do with being right in time. Indeed, was Webster "doing the right thing" when he pursued compromise in 1850, including acceptance of the hated Fugitive Slave Law, which so appalled abolitionist Massachusetts? Was Norris right for scuttling Wilson's attempts to arm the American merchant fleet that was being decimated by German U-Boats before the US entry into the First World War? The central issue is the willingness to accept malicious public abuse, the loss of friends, power, prestige and the sacrifice of future aspirations on an issue of moral conscience, regardless how posterity judges that particular position. Kennedy et.al. demonstrate the admirable virtue of political courage through a collection of historical anecdotes of senators - some legends (Webster) and others forgotten (Ross) - across the expanse of US history.
The profiles are all crisp, lively and engaging (kudos to Sorenson!). Each is inspiring in its own way without resorting to mawkishness sentimentality. However, one should be cautioned from fully embracing each story in its entirety. For instance, the author(s) credit Kansas Senator Edmund G. Ross with single-handedly casting the vote that acquitted Andrew Johnson from impeachment charges in 1868, thus saving the executive from gross encroachment by the legislative branch. Some noted historians of the era, such as Eric Foner, note that there were a number of acquittal votes waiting in the wings to ensure that Johnson was not thrown out of office and that Ross ultimately received a number of patronage posts from the president in return for his vote, therefore undermining the notion in "Profiles" that Ross' actions was purely selfless and in the interest of the nation.
In sum, "Profiles in Courage" is a highly readable collection of anecdotes from Senatorial history with a positive, inspiring theme - regardless who wrote the book.

On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace
On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace
by Donald Kagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.61
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Peace does not keep itself, Dec 16 2003
Donald Kagan's "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace" is a fabulous book with an important message. Derived from his popular undergraduate class at Yale, the book uses an eclectic mix of great power case studies to illuminate the importance of actively and energetically working to maintain great power peace is an international system that is inherently unstable and competitive.
Kagan's basic thesis is that war is a natural component of human society. Moreover, wars are just as likely to arise over intangible issues such as prestige, power, respect and honor as they are over more tangible concerns like land and natural resources. He demonstrates that attempts to avoid war through unilateral disarmament and conciliation -- although well intentioned -- are ultimately chimerical and doomed to failure. Kagan notes that many wars may be "unnecessary" and therefore avoidable, but war as an instrument of policy and change is permanent. Thus, the objective of statesmen should be to fight only those wars that are necessary, while maintaining a strong and credible defense to keep the peace. As Kagan writes "the preservation of peace requires active effort, planning, the expenditure of resources, and sacrifice, just as war does."
As for the individual case studies, I found them to be a bit longer than necessary, but each one was well-crafted and powerfully argued. The book does assume a certain familiarity with the subject matter, so the content may be a little overwhelming for those less-steeped in military history or foreign affairs.
The chapter on the causes of the Peloponnesian War is a gem, but essentially a synopsis of Kagan's seminal work in that area. The piece on the origins of the First World War is forcefully argued and long enough to stand on its own as a monograph on that much-debated historical case study. Kagan revives the classic argument that the perceived ambiguity of a British response to a German invasion of Belgium and France is what set the stage for war, with the author arguing that war could have been avoided if London made their commitment to defend the Low Country clear and by introducing peace-time conscription to field a credible European land army. The chapter on the Second Punic War is crisp and compelling; that on the Second World War too long (he again blames the British for doing the most to "lose the peace"). The last case study was a bit surprising in that Kagan takes a classic diplomatic "success story" and lumps it in the same category as classic blunders like August 1914. In short, he argues that Kennedy's many mistakes, attempts at conciliation, and failure to understand his adversary is what put him in the crisis in the first place. Kagan contends that Kennedy was inclined to accept missiles in Cuba and it was only because of a coterie of strong-willed advisors, upcoming mid-term elections that threatened to overturn his slight Democratic edge in Congress, and a genuine fear of impeachment that compelled him to act. And the resolution of the conflict only came at the expense of the US removing missiles from Turkey in a quid pro quo with the Soviets.
The case studies, which focused exclusively on conflict between great powers and/or their alliance systems, don't apply to the current War on Terror, but the general thesis that tough decisions and sacrifice are required for larger catastrophes to be avoided is still valid and directly applicable. Whether you are a serious student of war and peace, or are simply looking to gain some insights into such issues, you'd be well-advised to put this book on your reading list.

Limits of Air Power
Limits of Air Power
by Mark Clodfelter
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not just about Air Power in Vietnam, Nov. 25 2003
This review is from: Limits of Air Power (Hardcover)
On one level, Mark Clodfelter's "The Limits of Air Power" is a learned assault on the myopia of Air Force commanders and the canonical vision that political constraints doomed the military to defeat in Vietnam. On another, more important level, it is a thoughtful analysis of the classic Clausewitzean dictum that "war is politics by other means," which has implications far beyond the air campaigns against North Vietnam.
Clodfelter uses a simple, but effective framework to examine political efficacy of three major air campaigns against North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder (March '65 to October '68), Linebacker I (April '72 to October '72), and Linebacker II (December '72). For each campaign, he assesses to what extent the bombing helped achieve the civilian leadership's "positive political objective" (i.e. what political purpose the US was trying to achieve by the use of force). At the same time, he identifies and assesses the various "negative political objectives" that put constraints on the use of force (i.e. what political purposes were endangered or aggravated by the use of force). Finally, he considers other factors that could constrain the use and effectiveness of air power, such as doctrine, weather, technology, personnel, etc.
The author's conclusions are persuasive, although not exactly groundbreaking in their originality. In short, Clodfelter argues that Linebacker II (aka "Christmas Bombings"or "Eleven Day War") was a more effective political tool not because air power was finally unleashed with a fury against Hanoi as Air Force planners had been calling for all along, but rather because the positive and negative political objectives of December 1972 were so less ambitious and less constraining from those of pre-1968. Nixon's primary positive objective was to secure the continued withdrawal of US combat troops while not abandoning South Vietnam to an imminent communist take-over. Détente and Kissinger's diplomacy ensured that China and the Soviet Union would not intervene, and Nixon's landslide re-election the month before removed major domestic issues from the equation. Moreover, the conventional nature of the March '72 Easter Offensive exposed the North to punishing air attacks on their major combat units that seriously endangered their ability to defend themselves. Thus, the pain Linebacker II inflicted led Hanoi to agree to terms that gave the US "peace with honor" but left them able to fight another day. President Johnson's more sweeping positive objective (i.e. "a stable, independent, non-communist South Vietnam"), along with his many negative objectives (a legitimate concern of superpower escalation, a desire to protect his domestic Great Society Program and win support for the US abroad), and fundamental disagreement among his advisors on the chief objective on the air campaign, all combined to undermine Rolling Thunder's utility as a political tool.
Is Clodfelter's work - and particularly his framework - relevant to the international security questions of today? Absolutely. And not just from the perspective on air power. What are the United States' positive political objectives in the War on Terror? What are the concomitant negative objectives that will constrain how that war is waged? A critical inquiry of these questions will reveal that US political objectives and constraints are far more ambitious than those of the Johnson Administration, let alone Nixon. The ability of force to achieve those objectives by themselves is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.
Clodfelter is a political scientist and this book is pure political science, so for those interested in war stories and the like, this book most definitely isn't for you. However, if you are looking for a cogently argued and thoroughly researched assessment of the use of force for political purposes, this book is not to be missed.

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