Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for October 2008

Civil War Blog Addition and British History Online

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I’ve made some additional adds to my blogroll and links. First a belated welcome to Jim Beeghley whose blog, “Teaching the Civil War with Technology” has not only a strong premise but some terrific posts.

Welcome Jim! http://blog.teachthecivilwar.com

And thanks to Alex Rose over at The History Man blog for a lead to British History Online. This is an impressive site with some great information including primary sources. I’ve added it under a new category titled History Sites of Merit.

Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War

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Rick Atkinson. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. See the publisher’s book site here.


Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson presents as narrative history the Persian Gulf War from its opening salvo to the American victory parade in the nation’s capital. His stated purpose is to tell the story of this “limited war,” certainly, but in doing so, he reveals much about America’s military elite and their need to heal from the failures of Vietnam. He exposes a heightened intra-service competition not unexpected in a campaign of this size but indicative of the growing role of air power in limited war. He also presents a study in leadership and a particularly frank examination of the Schwarzkopf war room which most senior commanders feared entering due their leader’s explosive temperament and demoralizing criticism. It is Atkinson’s view that his leadership style actually prevented, to a significant degree, decentralization of initiative conducive to effective field command. The book demonstrates well that the America of the 1990’s had reached the level of superpower. Equally revealing is the jockeying for power among Schwarzkopf’s commanders. Atkinson makes a clear case for the lopsidedness of the war evidenced by an American technological and logistical strength unparalleled in history. He also emphasizes the advantages enjoyed by America’s dominance of the air and the crucial role that played in the conflict’s outcome. But he concludes that the American and allied war machine was not flawless. Weapons technology proved in some cases finicky, airplanes vulnerable to Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries, and friendly fire mishaps unavoidable.

Rick Atkinson

Mr. Atkinson comes to the task of authorship with impressive credentials. A graduate of East Carolina University and the University of Chicago, his most impressive qualifications come from a strong record of investigative and writing skills. His role as primary correspondent for the Washington Post during the Gulf conflict certainly put him in the thick of that which could be revealed during the war. More extraordinary is his thorough post-conflict research including extensive interviews and the study of documents made public after the war. At the time of the book’s publication, Atkinson had already won a Pulitzer Prize (for national reporting, 1982). He would go on to win two more, one for Public Service (1999) and a third, the 2003 Pulitzer for History, for his book “An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943.” He would also serve as the 2004 General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership at the Army War College, and has been a recipient of numerous journalism awards.

Crusade carries importance for a wide audience within the United States military, military historians, and civilian government. But it is particularly informative for the American public. Atkinson pulls from the shadows information about the inner workings of the American political and military engines that drove both strategy and execution of the Gulf War in a manner decidedly more guarded than the Iraq War of the 21st century. The insight allows the reader to make a more balanced evaluation of the conflict. Atkinson demonstrates the fickleness of public opinion in a powerful epilogue which contrasts the military victory parade in Washington with the demise of the Bush administration, even after what was initially considered a successful war. I find it difficult to attribute this, and other conclusions Atkinson draws, as evidence of any bias. Indisputably, the power and relevance of the book has grown immeasurably given Bush-the-younger’s return to Iraq post 911.

Highly recommend.

New Blogroll Adds to WigWags

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I’m pleased to add two sites to my blogroll.

First The Tipsy Historian which you can access here. I’ve enjoyed reading it for the first time today, particularly the post on the Lost Cause Mythology.

And secondly, a fellow student blog called History Rhymes here which is blogged by Alex Seifert, a history student at the University of Wyoming. His focus is postbellum 19th century American History. Alex Rose’s blogroll over at The History Man pointed me in Alex’s direction so merci beaucoup Mr. Rose.

Written by Rene Tyree

October 27, 2008 at 10:44 pm

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The Army and Vietnam

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Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Change is inevitable and organizations must learn to adapt. Author Andrew Krepinevich, Jr. asserts in this work of history and analysis of the United States military experience during the Vietnam War that the army failed prepare or adapt to new circumstances. Instead it prepared and proceeded to fight the type of war to which it had become accustom, a war like that of World War II in a European theater.

Krepinevich asks a remarkable question worth repeating.

“How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth, materially supported on a scale unprecedented in history, equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology was assumed the role of a god of war, fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?”

Andrew Krepinevich Jr.

Analyzing this question gives the book its purpose. His conclusion is that the nation’s civilian and military leadership failed to adapt. In so doing they ensure that the “United States Army was neither trained nor organized to fight effectively in an insurgency conflict environment.” At issue is what Krepinevich calls “The Army Concept” of war which he defines as “the Army’s perception of how wars ought to be waged and is reflected in the way the Army organizes and trains its troops for battle.” A key conclusion is that the army’s previous experience, which would help to inform “The Army Concept,” simply didn’t prepare it for a counterinsurgency. While the U.S. Army became masterful at the World War II form of battle, it did not prepare for the deployment of light infantry formations, firepower restraint, and the need to resolve political and social issues with a country targeted by insurgents. Interestingly, Krepinevich also concludes that the ability to adapt to this type of war should have been maintained in the collective military for we had been insurgents ourselves during the American Revolution. Likewise, America fought the equivalent of an insurgency against Native Americans, and guerillas during the Philippine War. But the author contends that Army leaders chose to focus rather on more conventional forms of war.

Krepinevich structures his text chronologically into three parts. The first reviews the period from 1954 – 1965 when the United States served as advisor to the South Vietnamese. The second part covers the period from 1965 – 1968 during which time the U.S. had committed a significant number of troops. His final section covers the years of withdrawal, 1968 – 1973. The author provides a thorough notes section. This work’s intended audience is broad. It’s appropriate for military historians certainly, as well as today’s military and civilian leadership and strategy makers. Given the evolution of counterinsurgency as the norm for warfare in today’s world, the lessons to be learned all the more urgent. The author of the forward for the work, Colonel George K. Osborn III, also points out an additional audience, students of organizational change within large bureaucratic organizations. I couldn’t agree more.

Dr. Krepinevich is a graduate of West Point and at the time of the book’s publication was a Major in the U.S. Army. He holds an MPA and Ph.D. from Harvard University and is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He presides over the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute established to promote innovative thinking about defense planning and investment strategies for the 21st century. He is both author and lecturer on U.S. military strategy and policy. His recent works include Strategy for a Long Peace; Transforming America’s Alliances; The Quadrennial Defense Review: Rethinking the U.S. Military Posture, and How to Win in Iraq. His has published work in Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, Issues in Science and Technology, Joint Forces Quarterly, The Naval War College Review, and Strategic Review. He is also a contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and has appeared on each of the major networks, National Public Radio, and The McLaughlan Group. He has lectured at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, the U.S. Military Academy, the Air University, the Army and Naval War Colleges, Europe’s Marshall Center, and France’s Ecole Militaire. His book, The Army and Vietnam, received the 1987 Furniss Award. Krepinevich’s book is sure to be provocative. As an overview of America’s engagement in Southeast Asia and the lessons learned there, it is excellent.

East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950

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Back on July 5th, 2008 when I was reading East of Chosin as assigned for the class “Studies in U.S. Military History,” I posted several thoughts which you can read here. I made mention of it in another post on Technology in U.S. Military History  here. This is a remarkable story and one of those rare books that I count among the best I have read. I know others in my class felt the same.

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Roy E. Appleman. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Reprint. Texas A&M University Press, 1991. See the Texas A&M University Press page on East of Chosin here.

East of Chosin

This haunting work by Roy Appleman falls into the genre of narrative history that is difficult to set down once a reader begins. Appleman’s stated purpose is to “tell the neglected story of American soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division who fought on the east side of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.” He succeeds in portraying in significant detail the fate of these near 3000 U.S. Army soldiers trapped east of the Chosin Reservoir in the dead of the winter of 1950. This is good history. Because Appleman uses a number of primary sources (interviews with survivors), it is likely the most complete account of what actually occurred during this episode. Official records were almost non-existent.

National Archives, Title: WAITING, WAITING. These frostbite casualties of the embattled First Marine Division and Seventh Infantry Division who linked up in the Chosin Reservoir area in a desperate attempt to break out of Communist encirclement wait with set expressions on their faces for pickup by planes of the U.S. Air Force Far East Combat Cargo Command. Incoming aircraft carried supplies, rations, and ammunition to troops., ca. 12/1950;, Local Identifier: NWDNS-342-AF-78466AC

Inchon Invasion, September 1950, The National Archives Photo #: 80-G-420024

The narrative spans a short period of time, approximately four days and five nights during which the battle took place. Appleton begins by setting the scene of the war in Korea in November of 1950. This framing of the picture provides an excellent background for the events of the story: a war five months old, an over confident MacArthur who saw unprecedented success in his Landing at Inchon, a “Chinese phantom force” stealing across the Korean border. He then chronicles the deployment of U.S. Army troops in the area of the reservoir. Pointedly he also devotes a chapter to what the troops and their leaders did not know, predominately the massing of Chinese troops in the vicinity. The remaining chapters give a day-by-day account of the action. He ends with a chapter that explores whether the troops could have been saved and a thoughtful epilogue. The text has an impressive collection of maps and photos. Appleman created the maps himself after careful study. Most of the photographs are published here for the first time having been collected by Appleton from survivors. The author includes a large number of first person accounts of experiences by the men who returned which adds to the work’s credibility.

In an essay in the Appendix, Appleton addresses the inevitable rival-based comparisons between the disastrous breakout attempt of the Army’s soldiers east of Chosin Reservoir and the successful breakout to the sea of the much larger Marine forces that occurred in December of 1950. His conclusion is that the Army units east of Chosin were pieced together quickly to guard the Marine flank. They were not given adequate time for supply and planning, This points the finger of blame for the resulting tragedy clearly at senior leadership.

The audience for East of Chosin is clearly military historians but it also has relevance for the families of those involved in the event. It is equally informative to lay readers who want to better understand the nature of the Korean Conflict, much forgotten to the current generation.

Appleman brings respectable academic credentials and those of a soldier who fought in the Korean War. He was not a professor of history, rather a civil servant and soldier and his experiences inform his publications. He received the A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from The Ohio State University, attended Yale Law School, and was awarded an A.M. degree from Columbia University. He was first employed as a sites survey historian by the National Parks Service in 1936, and in July 1937, entered on duty as regional historian in Richmond, Virginia. He retired as chief, Branch of Park History Studies, Washington Office, in 1970. Appleman served in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. He was combat historian and captain with the Tenth Army on Okinawa and lieutenant colonel with the X Corps in Korea. His service as army historian during the Korean War required him to interview troops shortly after combat, a role that gives him a truly unique perspective from which to approach his writing. Appleman authored (or co-authored) several other military history studies including South to Naktong, North to the Yalu, Okinawa: The Last Battle, and Ridgway Duels for Korea, which won the Truman Library Book Award.

Appleman has successfully woven into his narrative much about the American military force in Korea including the weapons at its disposal and its command and control structure. The book is an excellent choice for providing a real accounting of the experience of soldiers in the Korean War. Highly recommend.

War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

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John W. Dower. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon, 1987. See Pantheon’s site for this book here. See Professor Dower’s profile here.

  • Published on: 1987-02-12
  • ISBN-10: 0394751728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394751726
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 416 pages

Dower proposes in this out-of-the-ordinary work that we must constantly work at correcting and re-creating historical memory if we are to have hope of understanding World War Two in Asia or international and inter-racial conflict in general. He suggests that the war hates between the Americans and Japanese seemed to disappear almost overnight after the surrender of Japan and that they have continued to fade over time. His ultimate goal is to better understand how racism influenced the conduct of the war in Asia. To accomplish this, he went “beyond the formal documents and battle reports upon which historians normally rely” and drew “on materials such as songs, movies, cartoons, and a wide variety of popular as well as academic writings published at the time.” These were critical, he claims, “for re-creating the ethos which underlay the attitudes and actions of men and women during the period. One of Dower’s objectives was the identification of “dynamic patterns in the torrent of war words and graphic images” and to interpret from them “how stereotyped and often blatantly racist thinking contributed to poor military intelligence and planning, atrocious behavior, and the adoption of exterminations policies.” He also sought to explain how the hatred of the war years could have dissipated so easily. Chief among his observations is that atrocities occurred on both sides, thus making the subject a good one for comparative study. He concludes that the idea of race must be explored within “a larger context of hierarchical and authorities thinking” on both sides for race and power are inseparable.

John W. Dower

Dower divides his work into four parts. The first looks at the larger topic of vilifying one’s enemies including a section on “War hates and War Crimes.” Here he seeks to answer the question of why the west would place the Japanese above their other enemies in level of hatred. The second section looks at the war from western eyes and the third from the perspective of the Japanese. A final section covers the war’s close and the nature of post war race relationships. There is an extensive bibliography and notes section as well as a large number of illustrations many of which appeared in mass media of the era.

John Dower brings an impressive albeit somewhat different background to the realm of military history. Currently Professor of Japanese History at MIT, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972 focusing on History and Far Eastern Languages. His book was honored with National Book Critics Circle Award and was an American Book Award Finalist. Among numerous other publications, Professor Dower’s more recent book, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize in Letters for General Nonfiction, National Book Award in Nonfiction, Bancroft Prize in American History, John K. Fairbank Prize in Asian History, Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History, Mark Lynton History Prize, and L. L. Winship/PEN New England Prize.

This work is one of considerable value to military and social history. It is a unique contribution and should be of interest to scholars of Japanese history as well as media history.

New Arrival: GIANTS: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

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This week, I received a review copy of John Stauffer’s GIANTS: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln from the folks at Twelve Books. You can see their book page here. Professor Stauffer is chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English at Harvard University. See his profile and vitae on Harvard’s site here.

Watch for my comments after I complete what looks like a great read.

  • Published on: 2008-11-03
  • 0-446-58009-0/978-0-446-58009-0
  • Original language: English
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 448 pages