Rivalry in Rejuvenation? Seeking New Paradigms for U.S.-China Strategic Competition

Rivalry in Rejuvenation? Seeking New Paradigms for U.S.-China Strategic Competition

The U.S.-China relationship may shape the course of this century, and its future trajectory remains highly uncertain and contentious. Persistently, U.S. strategy has struggled to characterize and formulate a framework for America’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Today, as the U.S. and China dance on the precipice of a trade war, there is talk of a new Cold War in which the U.S. confronts a rival that is unique as not only a near-peer military competitor but also a rising economic and technological powerhouse.

#Reviewing Does My Suicide Vest Make Me Look Fat?

#Reviewing Does My Suicide Vest Make Me Look Fat?

Ready offers a necessary antidote to the lionization of American military service, as well as an honest picture of the challenges of coming home to normal life. This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s worked in a large, complex bureaucracy, anyone who had to explain to their guys that they were taking an ‘operational pause’ because somebody forgot to pack enough batteries, and anyone who’s had a useless boss in any job, not just the military.

#Reviewing Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century

#Reviewing Ways of War: American Military History from the Colonial Era to the Twenty-First Century

Overall, Ways of War provides a solid history of the military and warfare in the United States from the colonial era to the present. It is not without its shortcomings, though considering its objectives as a textbook for survey classes, needing to provide enough information for students to become knowledgeable in the field while also not losing them in the details and keeping the amount of material manageable for the time constraints of a course, it accomplishes a lot

Bombers over Tokyo: The Strategic Importance of Doolittle’s Raid

Bombers over Tokyo: The Strategic Importance of Doolittle’s Raid

Despite the long odds, Doolittle’s Raiders slipped through Japan’s defenses on April 18, 1942 to deliver a surprise blow. The raiders bombed several Japanese cities including Kobe and Yokohama, but Tokyo was perhaps the most significant because it was the Emperor’s home and the nation’s capital. In stunning fashion, the raid answered President Roosevelt’s call for retaliation and soothed America’s wounded pride. The Doolittle Raid’s place among the time-honored traditions of courageous military action is secure, but its impact on America’s ultimate victory in the Pacific remains unclear.

#Reviewing Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century. Alistair Horne. NY, New York: Harper Collins, 2015.


hubris: 1. Excessive pride or self-confidence. 
(in Greek tragedy) excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.[1]

In Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century, British historian Alistair Horne ties together five key battles in the first part of the twentieth century with one word—hubris. Horne focuses on “those conflicts that have affected future history powerfully in ways that transcended the actual war in which the conflict was set.”[2]

The scope of his work is defined by his own interest, he called his choices “idiosyncratic and personal,” centering on Asia because it is different than his previous foci.[3] He starts with a relatively simple premise—that hubris often leads to defeat, but he focuses more of his persuasive power on linking the examples together and creating  a thematic study of hubris in warfare that becomes an overview of twentieth century geopolitics. This Horne is different from the Horne we’ve read in his two-dozen previous works. He keeps his tone light and his analysis cursory, relying on established secondary sources, peppering the narrative with anecdotes, and finally making the argument that excessive hubris on one side or the other has often decided wars and the fate of nations.

Organized chronologically, Horne starts with the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, where an untested Japanese fleet annihilated the Russian Baltic Fleet after its marathon 18,000-mile voyage from St. Petersburg. Then he chronicles the lesser-known 1939 Battle of Nomonhan, in which the Kwangtung Army of Imperial Japan blundered into Soviet-controlled Mongolia and were defeated by a young General Zhukov. Next up is the Battle for Moscow, the first major defeat of the Wehrmacht at the hands of an ascendant General Zhukov. Horne posits Moscow as the turning point in the war against Germany and follows with the Battle of Midway six months later. Midway was intended to be the knockout blow that Pearl Harbor was not, where the American carrier fleet could be lured out and decimated by the Japanese in a battle reminiscent of Tsushima in 1905. However, Japanese indecision and American luck turned the battle into a smashing victory for the Americans and decisively turned the war in their favor. Horne ends by combining the nearly concurrent Korean War and Dien Bien Phu into a single chapter, a fire-hose of history in fifty-five pages. Dien Bien Phu is the end of his saga.

Hubris is a human trait, and a study of hubris therefore becomes a study of individuals. Horne introduces us to Admiral Togo, the father of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who believed he was the reincarnation of Admiral Nelson.[4] We meet his protege, Admiral Yamamoto, who feared a long war with the United States, his perspective influenced after spending time studying at Harvard. Yamamoto once wrote home to a friend, “Because I have seen the motor industry in Detroit and the oil fields of Texas I know Japan has no chance if she goes to war with America.”[5] Also in his cast is Brigadier General de Castries, the French commander at Dien Bien Phu, a cavalry officer so intoxicated by the myth of Verdun that he was unable or unwilling to recognize the threat to his beleaguered garrison by the Vietnamese General Giap, a “non-commissioned officer learning to handle regiments.”[6] Like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, their faults and decisions are the core of Hubris; intoxicated by excessive pride these men led their armies and nations to ruin. A secondary theme is the racial enmity across these conflicts, from the German concept of untermenschen, to the Western view of the Japanese “little yellow men,” and the Japanese views of the Chinese and Koreans. Racism and ignorance clouded the judgment of nations and generals alike.

To Horne, his titular theme is largely self-evident in his characters; their own belief they will prevail is enough to qualify as excessive hubris when they are met with defeat. He doesn’t argue his thesis so much as he accepts it as fact, and he uses it a way to link his chapters, following the trail of hubris from battle to battle. Horne avoids primary sources and is comfortable writing from his own authority. And he draws primarily from secondary sources: American Caesar by William Manchester supplies his portrait of MacArthur, War Without Mercy by John Dower provides his racial context for World War II, and Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place paints the misery of Dien Bien Phu.

Horne even explores the often-taboo realm of alternate history, pausing at the end of each chapter to wonder, “What if?” This refrain lends the work a more playful tone than we are used to from him. A scathing New York Times review criticized him for this, accusing him of using the clichés of an alternate history novelist in which Russian ships are kept in the fight by the “dogged courage of simple Russian servicemen” and German soldiers are “sturdy Teutons.”[8]

Horne made his name in 1977 with A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, the definitive account of the French war in Algeria, notable for his heavy use of firsthand research and his balanced, impartial treatment of a conflict which was still raw. A Savage War was the acme of the writing and research style that Horne honed with works such as The Price of Glory: Verdun, 1916, and To Lose A Battle: France 1940. The work relies heavily on his interviews with people involved on all sides of the conflict for sources—the New York Times noted in their review “Guerilla leaders do not keep records…” In Hubris he has shown that he has another side, lighter, more playful. The book reads more like a bestseller than a definitive history. In Hubris, Horne has created a work that is supremely readable by the casual historian at the cost of his characteristic depth. His writing is clear and concise; Horne includes little he does not need. His leitmotif of hubris is a lesson to leaders today, if he had extended his chronology it would certainly include Vietnam and the American misadventure in Iraq. He warns of the dangers of racism in decision making and the costs of civilian leadership driving the military to war or conversely, the military dragging a nation into war, issues as relevant today as one hundred years ago. His examples lay bare the cost of miscalculation and victory disease in leadership and demonstrate how quickly fortunes can be reversed.

The last book Horne published before passing away in 2017, Hubris is the final word by a writer who spent more sixty years writing about modern warfare, a fitting epitaph for warfare in the twentieth century.


Walker D. Mills is a Marine Corps officer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Marine Corps.


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Header Image: "The Fall of Icarus" by Jacob Peter Gowy (Wikimedia)


Notes:

[1] Oxford English Dictionary

[2] Horne, 1.

[3] Horne, 3.

[4] Horne, 26.

[5] Horne, 250.

[6] Horne, 321.

[7] Horne, 96.

Linking Gender, Women, and Equality to NATO’s Peace and Security Efforts

Linking Gender, Women, and Equality to NATO’s Peace and Security Efforts

The importance of a gender perspective in peace and security operations and military affairs has long been established by feminist activists and researchers, and recognized in a number of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) on women, peace, and security. UNSCR 1325, adopted in 2000, acknowledged for the first time the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls. It has become the internationally recognized legal framework for promoting gender equality and addressing issues affecting women’s peace and security at the local, regional, and international levels.

#Reviewing The Road Not Taken

#Reviewing The Road Not Taken

Lansdale was a colorful figure, who revealed in his maverick status and his disdain for the sprawling national security apparatus. Perhaps if Lansdale had been a bit more of an adept bureaucratic knife fighter he would have been more successful. Yet, if he had, it is likely that he would never have been the agile advisor who helped Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay defeat the Hukbalahap rebellion.

#Reviewing The Battle of the Somme

#Reviewing The Battle of the Somme

German troops to the southeast, at Verdun, were advancing further into French territory and the French Army was hurling itself at their lines to try and force the Germans to retreat. The entire idea behind the Somme offensive was to take pressure off the French forces at Verdun, while success or failure at the Somme was almost an afterthought. If there was any doubt in Foch’s mind, there does not seem so to those looking at the Somme from the remove of a century.

A Man Apart: The Political Education of General William Sherman at the Battle of Shiloh

A Man Apart: The Political Education of General William Sherman at the Battle of Shiloh

Roaring thunder and rain cascading in sheets shrouded the day’s horrific toll by drowning out the cries of the wounded and dying strewn about the ground and cloistered in hospital tents. The carnage was stunning to all involved, save for the prophet whose “gallant and able” leadership under fire prevented a catastrophe. William Sherman’s redemption was at hand.

Defense and Self-Defense in the Information Age: Collaborative Strategy and Collective Vision

Defense and Self-Defense in the Information Age: Collaborative Strategy and Collective Vision

The United States needs a unifying information strategy. America’s adversaries gain political and military advantages every day the U.S. goes without clear priorities in the current information war. To succeed, American military leaders and political scientists emphasize prioritizing the use of resources. The prioritization of these resources requires a comprehensive strategy.

Why Non-U.S. Militaries Should Adopt the U.S. Army Design Methodology

Why Non-U.S. Militaries Should Adopt the U.S. Army Design Methodology

How militaries address problems is crucial to their success as an organization. Militaries use many different planning tools to solve operational problems. Some of these tools follow a structured methodology. Others are a state-of-mind and a way of thinking that is not confined within boundaries. Instead of just solving a problem, these approaches help to solve the right problem.

#Reviewing War As Paradox

#Reviewing War As Paradox

We must rethink our reading of Clausewitz's work as a search for and a description of eternal principles for an objective understanding of war. The nature of war is one thing, but war as instantiated in actual conflict and combat is another thing altogether; yet, both must somehow be held together in order to understand war. It is in this paradox that Cormier thinks we must locate, evaluate, and apply Clausewitz's ideas.

#Reviewing Tiger Check

#Reviewing Tiger Check

In the beginning, being a fighter pilot was all about having what later came to be called “the right stuff:” good eyesight, excellent hand-eye coordination, good stick and rudder skills, and aggressiveness. Fino goes to great lengths to demonstrate that over the course of next three decades these skills did not necessarily change, but they did evolve as pilots had to contend with increasingly complex aircraft systems. The history of fighter aviation rapidly became the struggle to understand automation.

Fewer Checks, More Balancing: How Xi Jinping’s Consolidation of Power Changes the Risk of War

Fewer Checks, More Balancing: How Xi Jinping’s Consolidation of Power Changes the Risk of War

Since modern China has always been led by a highly authoritarian regime, is the shift from consensus-based decision making by Party elites to a more personalist style of rule merely a distinction without a difference? Does the consolidation of power under President Xi Jinping matter, particularly to issues of war and peace?

Special Forces Opacity: Dangers for the U.K.

Special Forces Opacity: Dangers for the U.K.

The U.K. government should look closely at the Niger incident report. The U.S. looks set to engage in a frank discussion about what went wrong, and more generally raise a number of concerns about the deployment of U.S. special forces to West Africa. It is indicative of a recognition within the U.S., as among many of the U.K.’s allies, that greater openness is not inherently incompatible with the operational security or utility of special forces. The U.K. government should consider its own options. Its no-comment policy is not risk free and presents a number of dangers to the effectiveness of U.K. military engagement abroad.