CJ, among others, has requested a military affairs reading list. Ask 100 students of military affairs this question and you’ll get 100 different lists, and I haven’t really made an effort to give a general survey. Rather, this is a selection of my favorite books. I also spoke with John at Op For, and he offered his list. Here goes:
Stephen Biddle, Military Power: This is a critical text for getting a basic understanding of the “modern system” of land warfare that developed on the Western Front during World War I. Biddle includes chapters on Operation Goodwood, Operation Desert Storm, and the Second Battle of the Somme. The answer, Biddle argues, is force employment. Effective execution of tactics matters more than numbers or technology.
David Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: This is an excellent single volume history of the Eastern Front in World War II. The scale of combat on the Eastern Front exceeded in numbers, technology, and skill anything seen in the West. The Red Army and the Wehrmacht attained an extraordinary level of skill by the end of the war. Important because this is the single most devastating war in human history.
Hans Delbruck, Warfare in Antiquity: A little over a hundred years old, Delbruck employs an innovative method for studying military history. If you want to know what happened at Marathon, then the historical text matters somewhat less that what our own eyes tell us is possible. For example, Delbruck compared the description of the Battle of Marathon given by Herodotus with the actual battlefield, and determined that it was simply impossible for the Athenian phalanx to move as Herodotus had recorded. This text, the first of four, is very good for describing the basic difference between the various kinds of phalanx and the progressive iterations of Roman Legion.
Robert Pape, Bombing to Win: This selection might be controversial, but I like how Pape handles the various coercion campaigns in World War II and the Vietnam War. It might be a little heavy on the political science for some tastes. The upshot is that strategic bombing doesn’t come close to meeting the predictions of its enthusiasts. Although I haven’t read Tami Biddle’s Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare, it’s supposed to be quite good.
John Keegan, Face of Battle: This is a very nice little volume that explains, in vivid detail, the differences between the battle experience of a soldier at Agincourt, at Waterloo, and at the Somme. If you really don’t know anything about warfare, this isn’t a bad place to start.
Andrew Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam: An exceptional volume about the experience of the Army in the Vietnam War, and in particular the difficulty it had in adopting and executing counter-insurgency tactics. A must read, especially today.
Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence: I include this volume not so much because I agree with Schelling’s arguments (I don’t, so much), but because Schelling is so important to understanding how states and heads of government have thought about coercion and military violence in the past forty years.
Peter Paret ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: If you’re only going to read one 900 page book on military strategy, try this one. Most, although not all, of the essays are informative and helpful. The contributors discuss everything from the development of Napoleonic warfare to nuclear strategy. There’s even a competent if not inspired essay on Soviet military strategy by Condi Rice.
Carl Builder, The Masks of War: A bit outdated but still remarkably interesting, Builder discusses how the three services understand themselves and war in strikingly different ways. Helps to explain why convincing the services to work with one another remains difficult, and why Congress and the Pentagon have worked so hard at convincing them to cooperate.
Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War: This is my favorite military account of the Civil War, although I’ll concede that I’m no specialist and that others may have better suggestions. This is a very serviceable volume, detailed and even-handed.
Sam Huntington, Soldier and the State: A classic on the role of the military professional in a civilian governed state. Huntington didn’t really get much better than this.
Wayne Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat: A very solid text on the development of missile warfare, and of the application of general principles of naval combat to the modern age. I don’t quite agree with many of his conclusions, but it’s a useful book nonetheless.
Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at War: Interesting both for the subject matter, and as a general history of warfare in the second half of the twentieth century. Pollack details the particular military deficiencies of each Arab state. Israel’s success against the Arab states isn’t simply the result of Israeli expertise, but also includes a fair dose of Arab military ineptitude. The Egyptian chapter is particularly illuminating, and demonstrates the importance of communication, trust, and innovation in modern mechanized warfare.
Alan Millett and Williamson Murray eds., Military Effectiveness, v. 1-3 These books include essays on the military effectiveness of the various belligerents in World War I, the Interwar Period, and World War II. Very informative. Unfortunately, the seem to be out of print. Try to find them in a library. I haven’t yet read Millet and Murray’s history of World War II, A War to be Won, but I suspect that it’s quite good.
N.A.M. Rodger, Safeguard of the Sea, Command of the Ocean: This selection is quite idiosyncratic, and most readers probably won’t find all that much use for these two volumes. They chronicle the history of naval warfare, particularly in the context of the development of navies in the British Isles. What I find most interesting in Rodger’s work is his narrative of the evolution of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is one of the world’s oldest military organizations, and its development closely parallels the construction of the English state. Both volumes are quite readable.
That’s my list. Here’s John’s.
These are eight books that I consider to be invaluable additions to the science of military thought. I don’t always go after the most brainy reads, instead focusing on the ones that I find most valuable and applicable to the modern day. For example, I’ve included Clausowitz but excluded Sun Tzu, who I think is dry and a master of the obvious. But that’s aside the point. Hope you all find these suggestions as useful as I have, and feel free to send me your own suggestions.
Hitler’s Generals: books on the military genius of German commanders during the Second World War are a dime a dozen. I dig Barnett’s version because -unlike the subject’s other authors- he spends more time detailing the relationship between Hitler and the German High Command than he does kissing the asses of the Kraut field marshalls. I’m not saying guys like Guderian and Rommell aren’t deserving of high praise, I’m just sick of hearing about it. Barnett breaths new life into an otherwise tired theme, check it out.
Stephen Decatur: A Life Most Bold and Daring: My blog partner Charlie describes Stephen Decatur as “the Jack Bauer of the 1800s,” and he’s right. The US Navy’s famed commodore was responsible for the first real projection of US power abroad, fought the Barbary Pirates off the Tripoli coast and commanded a naval squadron during the War of 1812. Dr. Spencer Tucker captured Decatur so effectively that A Life Most Bold and Daring has become one of my favorite reads.
Rogue Warrior: Former Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko is a controversial guy. He was court-martialed by the Navy for some stupid spat over hand grenades, I don’t know the details. But Rogue Warrior, Marcinko’s autobiography, is a must-read. It’s a kind of a “rise and fall of the special forces operator” story, following Marcinko as he joined the SEALs during their infancy in the early 60s, fought in Vietnam, and founded two of the nation’s premier counter-terrorism units: SEAL Team Six and Red Cell. What’s fascinating about the book -if you can get past all the ego- is the way Marcinko’s life and story intersects with history. It’s not a very academic read, lots of swearing and dirty jokes, but hell, whatever. If he can be informative and entertaining at the same time, great.
Imperial Grunts: Robert Kaplan uses Imperial Grunts to make an argument that I hate, the notion of America as an empire, without being snotty about it. Embedding himself with elite American military units in some six different countries, Kaplan doesn’t hide the fact that he greatly admires US troops. But, he says, the fall of the Soviet Union and rise of ambiguous enemies have turned those soldiers into the arms of 21st century imperialism, no less so than Rome during her apex of power. This is one of those “important” books.
On War: Okay I know that mentioning Clausowitz is a “no duh” addition but, cliche or not, the lasting effects of Clausowitz’s military genius make it difficult to exclude.
The Book of Five Rings: And speaking of Clausowitz, this is like a Japanese version of On War. Another book where philosophy and military science meet. Plus I’ve always thought Samurais were cool.
George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the 20th Century: I’ve long believed that General George C. Marshall was one of the most important figures of the 20th century, a true-to-life Cincinattus. Unlike other generals, Marshall’s legacy transcended warfare, as he was instrumental in the formation of the NATO alliance and the reconstruction of Europe. Mark Stoler’s account of Marshall’s life isn’t so much a biography as it is a lesson in leadership. Oh and Marshall is a fellow VMI man, heh.