#Monday Musings: Conrad Crane

"Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.

1. Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?

I was privileged to have a rare and talented group of instructors at West Point in my last years there who taught me to love history and critical thinking. I had a course on War and Society with visiting professor Jay Luvaas, National Security Seminar with Richard Hart Sinnreich, History of the Military Art with Rod Paschal and Jim Armstrong, and even a course on Political Philosophy with a young Wesley Clark. I was exposed to a slew of young Vietnam veterans who taught us to probe and question. I remember that my economics professor had just come back from a team trying to fix the South Vietnamese economy. He spent the first half of each class describing the theory of the day, and the second half explaining from his experience why it did not work. When I went to Stanford University for graduate school almost a decade later my mentor was Dr. Barton Bernstein, who taught me the importance of dogged research and thorough documentation, and never to accept someone else's interpretation of evidence you can examine yourself. Most recently I have benefitted from working on projects with Dr. Stephen Biddle, now at George Washington University, from whom I have learned to understand and question the assumptions involved in almost every statement of a position.

2. What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?

After teaching the Theory of War and Strategy course for fifteen years at the Army War College I still cannot decide if strategy is a product or a process. If it is a product, then my recommendation would be Secrets of the Vietnam War by Lt. Gen. Philip B. Davidson. In that volume, he provides the clearest explanation anywhere of the North Vietnamese strategy of dau tranh (the struggle), with its broad range of military, political, psychological, ideological, economic, and social components that lead to the clear end of winning by whatever means and ways work, presenting an array of dilemmas and challenges that we never did figure out during the conflict. When our writing team was working on the 2006 version of FM 3-24, my goal was to develop a method of counterinsurgency that was just as complex as dau tranh and capable of defeating it, and I think we did. If strategy is a process, then I have a rather unusual recommendation. On my bookshelf between Clausewitz and Sun Tzu I have The Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra by Phil Pepe. I have often been quoted as claiming there are two kinds of warfare, asymmetric and stupid. To be a superior strategist, one must be able to think differently than anyone else. No one epitomized that skill better than Yogi. To refer again to the 2006 FM 3-24, the purpose of the infamous paradoxes was to prod readers to alter their thought patterns about COIN and to think differently about contemporary conflict.

3. What do you want your legacy to be?

I have always been a big Star Trek fan. As James Kirk lies dying under a pile of rubble after helping to save the day near the end of the movie Star Trek: Generations, he asks Picard, "Did we make a difference?" I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference, for the Army and the nation, and will continue to strive to achieve that.

Conrad C. Crane is a retired Army officer and historian who has taught at West Point and the Army War College. He is best known for his work with counterinsurgency doctrine, but was awarded the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize by the Society for Military History for lifetime contributions to military history. He is the author of several books, including Cassandra in Oz: Counterinsurgency and Future War.

Have a response or an idea for your own article? Follow the logo below, and you too can contribute to The Bridge:

Enjoy what you just read? Please help spread the word to new readers by sharing it on social media.