Marine Major Ian Brown, who like all Marine officers of the past three decades heard stories of John Boyd and the reforms he sparked while at The Basic School, undoubtedly from instructors with little more than a cursory familiarity with the subject matter. Boyd’s contributions piqued Brown’s interest and encouraged him to dig deeper into the story.
The year 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of the National Security Act of 1947. To commemorate the landmark legislation that powerfully shaped the American national security enterprise, over 60 prominent scholars, practitioners, and national security experts gathered at the United States Military Academy over the course of two years to consider national security reform in the modern era. In April 2016, the group examined how the world has changed since the end of the Second World War and, building upon those discussions in April 2017, endeavored to develop specific, actionable recommendations for reforming our national security institutions and processes.
The heart of this biography is the account of Upton’s career as a military reformer. Here, David Fitzpatrick has succeeded. Too often we are ignorant of the origins and take for granted many aspects of military training, education, doctrine, leadership, and organization. By understanding the hard-experience that gave rise to these foundational aspects of the military profession, there is still plenty of opportunity to continue Upton’s work in improving it.
As the United States begins to formulate a new strategy for a post-Afghanistan era it should look back to this century-old calamity for perspicacity, not for similitude. British pre-war army reforms, implemented by Richard Burdon Haldane — Secretary of State for War (1905-1912) — and subsequently named after him, present another lesson from which strategists could analyze a familiar conundrum. Strategy is as vital in peace as it is in war, but peacetime restrains it. History provides invaluable insights into untangling this contradiction at a time of budgetary and political uncertainty.