December 2, 2016

"Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq."

Wrote General James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, in a letter from a few years back (which is getting shared this week, now that Trump has named Mattis for Secretary of Defense). Mattis was reacting to people who say they're too busy to read.
The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.

With [Task Force] 58, I had w/ me Slim’s book, books about the Russian and British experiences in [Afghanistan],  and a couple others. Going into Iraq, “The Siege” (about the Brits’ defeat at Al Kut in WW I) was  req’d reading for field grade officers. I also had Slim’s book; reviewed T.E. Lawrence’s  “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”; a good book about the life of Gertrude Bell (the Brit archaeologist who virtually founded the modern Iraq state in the aftermath of WW I and the fall of the Ottoman empire); and “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. I also went deeply into Liddell Hart’s book on Sherman, and Fuller’s book on Alexander the Great got a lot of my attention (although I never imagined that my HQ would end up only 500 meters from where he lay in state in Babylon).

Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.

For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]? What happens when you’re on a dynamic battlefield and things are changing faster than higher [Headquarters] can stay abreast? Do you not adapt because you cannot conceptualize faster than the enemy’s adaptation? (Darwin has a pretty good theory about the outcome for those who cannot adapt to changing circumstance — in the information age things can change rather abruptly and at warp speed, especially the moral high ground which our regimented thinkers cede far too quickly in our recent fights.) And how can you be a sentinel and not have your unit caught flat-footed if you don’t know what the warning signs are — that your unit’s preps are not sufficient for the specifics of a tasking that you have not anticipated?

Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the warfighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading. Those who must adapt to overcoming an independent enemy’s will are not allowed that luxury.

This is not new to the USMC approach to warfighting — Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel’s Papers (remember “Kampstaffel”?), Montgomery’s book (“Eyes Officers”…), “Grant Takes Command” (need for commanders to get along, “commanders’ relationships” being more important than “command relationships”), and some others.

As a result, the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn’t waste their lives because I didn’t have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields.

Hope this answers your question…. I will cc my ADC in the event he can add to this. He is the only officer I know who has read more than I.

Semper Fi, Mattis
AND: In case you think Donald Trump doesn't read, Donald Trump would like you to picture the Donald Trump who sits and reads:


79 comments:

Sal said...

By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business

He probably also has a great memory and remembers what he's read. I don't, so I'm stuck learning things the hard way. Probably would've died a lieutenant.

eric said...

Journalists and university professors are going to hate this guy.

mikee said...

I never got close to being in the military. All I know about the military comes from stories. Stories from my uncle, who kept a pet fox while in the Aleutians in WWII. Stories from my dad & my father-in-law, who both were Merchant Marines in WWII.Stories from my brother, a former 82 Airborne Ranger who taught Contras in Costa Rica how to fight Sandanistas. Stories from coworkers who were in the Mideast recently, who went from small town Texas to a third world hellhole and back.

Stories are good. They tell you about people and events. History is even better. It tells you about the winners and how they won, and the losers and why they didn't.

Quaestor said...

I also went deeply into Liddell Hart’s book on Sherman, and Fuller’s book on Alexander the Great got a lot of my attention (although I never imagined that my HQ would end up only 500 meters from where he lay in state in Babylon).

The occupant of "Alexander's tomb" in Iraq is a matter of dispute. According to Plutarch Alexander's corpse was waylaid by Ptolemy and taken to Egypt.

MikeR said...

"Stories are good. They tell you about people and events. History is even better. It tells you about the winners and how they won, and the losers and why they didn't." "History is written by the victors."

David said...

"Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the warfighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading. Those who must adapt to overcoming an independent enemy’s will are not allowed that luxury."

Ouch!

Owen said...

No wonder his troops loved him. He fights with his head, not just their blood.

MikeR said...

One of my very favorite books from my youth was "Battles that Changed History", by Fletcher Pratt.
http://www.gutenberg.ca/ebooks/pratt-battles/pratt-battles-00-h-dir/pratt-battles-00-h.html
Highly recommended for bright restless boys. I learned so much.

Big Mike said...

General Mattis' reading list is here.

Might be interesting to contrast with the size of the reading list for your average English Lit course these days.

Marc Puckett said...

Who was the ADC?

traditionalguy said...

My, my, we have us a warrior historian. DJT certainly knows about the hiring of good military talent. Which was FDR's secret weapon for winning WWII.

From now on I am going to have to call our new historical President Trump, DJT.

Once written, twice... said...

This loon is going to make Rumsfeld look sane.

Quaestor said...

Alexander was a savior figure in the Hellenistic world of the eastern Mediterranean, and was a rival of religious figures like Apollonius of Tyana and Jesus of Nazareth. There was hardly a major city in the region that did not claim to have his body, his armor, or some other relic worthy of veneration. How strange that we have no creditable location for his true burial place.

Unknown said...

Democrats and the democrat media are going to try and not allow trump to have THIS guy?

exhelodrvr1 said...

Most people, especially those on the left, don't appreciate how intelligent and well-educated our military is.

Ficta said...

Here's a passage from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom that never ceases to amaze me with its prescience and irony in light of subsequent events:

The feeling of the Syrians and Mesopotamians in these Arab armies was indirect. They believed that by fighting in the local ranks, even here in Hejaz, they were vindicating the general rights of all Arabs to national existence; and without envisaging one State, or even a confederation of States, they were definitely looking northward, wishing to add an autonomous Damascus and Bagdad to the Arab family. They were weak in material resources, and even after success would be, since their world was agricultural and pastoral, without minerals, and could never be strong in modern armaments. Were it otherwise, we should have had to pause before evoking in the strategic centre of the Middle East new national movements of such abounding vigour.

Quaestor said...

"History is written by the victors."

Really? Virtually everything known about the Peloponnesian War was recorded by Thucydides, an Athenian general and politician, in other words the loser.

buwaya puti said...

The "bright, restless boy" book that did for me was Creasy's "Fifteen Decisive Battles". Thats a classic work, which we had in our Catholic grade-school library. Grade school.

Everything Mattis says is true, and should be guiding principles for general education, not just for military officers. US education is in its current disgusting shape partly because of the the needle-thin tunnel vision and lack of inspiration of the people and institutions that operate it. They are such incredible, frustrating slugs.

It should not require a military officers reading list to make liberal arts graduates familiar with Homer, Suetonius, Thucydides or Caesars commentaries. This useful stuff is pushed aside for the sake of bad soap opera (at best), such as Toni Morrison.

Anyway, as a geeky lad, I understood Mattis' urges. I carried Thucydides in my pack while on maneuvers among the Cavite hills. Exhaustion, heatstroke, demoralization work the same on Filipino ROTC boys as on retreating Athenian hoplites. When its real, its real, and nothing really changes in 5000 years.

Lance said...

"History is written by the victors."

Looks like Mattis didn't get the memo.

Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel’s Papers (remember “Kampstaffel”?)

Christy Frank said...

I can't find Eyes Officers by Montgomery on Amazon. Is there a more complete title?

David said...

I have not read many of those books, but of the ones I read the works by Vali Nasr stand out. Born in Iran in 1960, he came to the USA in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution. He is a superior writer. Presently he is Dean of the School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins.

David said...

Lance, I would say that Rommel was a victor in that he was one of he few Germans whose reputation survived the war and its aftermath with a favorable view.

traditionalguy said...

Mattis's reading list of histories by great commander's and about campaigns is Patton redux. The movie Patton mentions it, but biographies and Patton's own book on fighting repeats that he was always accused of shooting from the hip because he had spent many years studying the terrain and the experience on it of prior campaigns fought there. He did not need to sit and wait for plans, because they were already in his head. All he needed was basic intelligence reports on the enemy movements.

The D-Day force went no where out of Normandy for 45 days until Patton arrived and took command July 25, 1944. Thirty days later the Third Army was marching through Paris hot on the Wermacht's tail.

bagoh20 said...

I agree with him, of course, but it depends on what you read. I know some well-read dummies who'd be smarter if they learned the hard way.

mccullough said...

As long as he's a Secretary of Defense and not a Secretary of Offense, we'll be ok

Crimso said...

Pretty sure Thucydides the historian (and general) was not the same one as the politician (who was a much more influential and well-known person of their time). It is thought they were related, the historian probably being the grandson of the politician. IIRC, Kagan refers to the former as "Thucydides the historian" and the latter as simply "Thucydides." It can be terribly confusing.

traditionalguy said...

@ Mccullough...Don't you know DJT will call Mattis Secretary of War.

Owen said...

I read Fuller's books on Sherman and especially on Scipio Africanus. Now THERE was a worthy general.

As noted above, war is not fought just by the military. A population that has no good grounding in history, particularly military history, is not going to be able to understand and support (or work to correct) the actions taken by its military.

If more people had been familiar with Bernard Fall's "Street Without Joy," about the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu, our Vietnam experience might have gone far better.

buwaya puti said...

A rec for the Althouse Amazon portal -

Kagan, "The Pelopponesian War"
Sadly not on Kindle.

Kagan puts together all the available sources to put the whole story together, as of course Thucydides did not finish the tale, and he missed bits here and there.

The Drill SGT said...

Christy Frank said...
I can't find Eyes Officers by Montgomery on Amazon. Is there a more complete title?


That may not be a title, but rather a reference to Montie's use of ADC's (trusted junior officers) as his eyes on the battlefield, harking back to their use by Napoleon.

buwaya puti said...

Fall's "Street Without Joy" was quite a best seller at the time and may have been a book club choice. Middlebrow tastes of the 1950s -60s were often rather highbrow by modern standards.

Highly recommended of course. Its easily available used, though there IS an Amazon Kindle edition. Check it out.

Sally327 said...

He may have a bunch of new reading to do now. There are 3/4 of a million civilian employees in the DOD a lot of whom probably have civil service protection and can't be fired or demoted. This is a very different proposition I think, not really the same as commanding troops in battle although some of the tactics and strategy might be adaptable.

mockturtle said...

Amen and amen! The left [and much of the right] has long dismissed history as being irrelevant so we tend to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. We learned nothing from the French about Vietnam, nothing from the Russian experience in Afghanistan. We reinvent the wheel with annoying and destructive frequency.

BTW, I'm reading a bio of Sherman right now by John Marszalek. So far, so good. But I should probably read Liddell Hart, as well. My first venture into Sherman, as I'm not a big Civil War buff.

Owen said...

Sally327: "...can't be fired or demoted..."

What if DJT did it anyway, and invited them to sue for breach? At a minimum it would shake up the settled (ossified?) order and bring some public attention to the size of the bureaucracy. We have a huge headcount in DOD but it seems we have very few at the sharp end.

Owen said...

Apologies to all, I said Fuller when I meant Liddell Hart as author of Sherman and Scipio. Liddell Hart was gaga for Scipio, because his "indirect approach" and highly intelligent style of warfighting were an obvious improvement on the mindless slaughter that WW1 had just produced.

mockturtle said...

When we read Iliad in high school, I realized--probably for the first time--that military men, as well as military strategies and tactics, are similar throughout the ages and there is much to be learned from them. This piqued an interest in military history in me that has persisted to this day.



Sally327 said...

"What if DJT did it anyway, and invited them to sue for breach?"

I think that a Mattis approach might have to be more stealthy than that.

As someone who works in management in the private sector with no union issues (I'm also in a so-called right to work state) in my experience it is very difficult to get rid of non-performing employees and one has to find work arounds and ways to put them in a box somehow, to limit the damage and then scheme to get them moved to some other department or wait for a round of lay-offs, etc. This is, of course, after trying various techniques to motivate, to give them "every opportunity for success."

I also wonder how much experience Mattis has in dealing with toxic, kooky or out-of-touch bosses. Not that his new boss is any of that, just wondering is all.

Personally I recommend he recite the Serenity Prayer a few times a day. Welcome to Civvy World General Mattis!

The Drill SGT said...

Sally327 said...
He may have a bunch of new reading to do now. There are 3/4 of a million civilian employees in the DOD a lot of whom probably have civil service protection and can't be fired or demoted.


The people can't be fired directly, but their positions can be abolished, forcing them to retire, transfer or quit.

Sally327 said...

"The people can't be fired directly, but their positions can be abolished, forcing them to retire, transfer or quit."

But what if you need those positions? I can see that working here or there but not as a wholesale way of solving performance issues.

buwaya puti said...

The Iliad is so, so many things, that it boggles the mind. The military part is nowhere near all of it.

It gets at nearly every aspect of humanity at every level, from base fear in the gonads to matters of high responsibility, questions for a king, or demigod. Things that haven't changed and never will.

It SHOULD be required in High Schools, certainly in any Liberal Arts college major. OK, they can take out a bit of the blood&guts maybe.

The Godfather said...

Mattis is undoubtedly smarter than his nickname would lead you to think. I sure hope Trump is smarter than he sounds.

khesanh0802 said...

For those who are unaware the Commandant of the Marine Corps annually publishes a reading list for members of the Corps. As I understand it , it is mandatory for all Marines to read three books from the list annually. For those interested Here's the link.

Rob said...

It's like those International Paper ads from 50 years ago: Send me a mad dog who reads!

damikesc said...

Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel’s Papers (remember “Kampstaffel”?)

Rommel was a realist about how terrible Hitler's war plans were at that point (nobody could seriously argue otherwise after Stalingrad). He was killed by the state for a reason.

Hagar said...

Someone said, "Never fear a nation whose military is organized under a War Department; it is when they rename themselves Department of Defense, or whatever, that you need to sit up and take notice." or something like that.

mockturtle said...

Rommel was a realist about how terrible Hitler's war plans were at that point (nobody could seriously argue otherwise after Stalingrad). He was killed by the state for a reason.

Yes, Rommel was, not only a military genius, but a good and honest man who had the ill fortune to be born in Germany in the era of Hitler. His rise through the ranks was a challenge because he was not of the aristocracy that characterized the German military at the time but his practical and precise approach became convincingly effective. His knowledge of mechanics and engineering served him very well.

Mitch H. said...

The D-Day force went no where out of Normandy for 45 days until Patton arrived and took command July 25, 1944. Thirty days later the Third Army was marching through Paris hot on the Wermacht's tail.

That's because the American divisions in Normandy fought through 45 days of hell, and some of the worst non-urban defensive terrain in the world. Read up on the bocage fighting. The Norman hedgerow country was divided into ambush-ideal kill-boxes by heavy natural fortifications which were eventually defeated by welding improvised "hedge-busters" onto tanks and storming each box one by one. It was like storming a hex-gridded series of interlocking defensive positions two dozen miles deep.

They held back the divisions which would become the Third Army *until* they broke out of the bocage southwest of St. Lo. If they had fed them into the bocage country, it would have been a bloody trainwreck. Look up what happened to Third Armored Division in the attacks around St. Lo, it was bled white in the bocage.

William said...

History is written by the historians. They play their favorites. I think Wellington was demonstrably the better general, but he doesn't attract a fraction of the interest that Napoleon inspires.......Although Wellington thought enlisted men were scum and did not believe that they travelled with a Marshal's baton in their knapsack, he was, nonetheless, sparing of their lives. The innovation that he brought to warfare was the realization that the field of battle was not a field of honor. On several occasions he declined engagement in battles he could have won because he thought his losses would not be worth a small tactical advantage. It was a winning strategy in the Peninsular War, but it was not such a strategy to invite the adulation of historians........I'm not well read in military history. Does Wellington get his due in that sub-genre? I've read Manchester's biography of MacArthur. His tactics in WWII and early in the Korean War were innovative and daring, but he fell afoul of Truman and his overall reputation has suffered for it. Patton seems to be the American WWII general who gets the most ink and glory, but his personality was far more vainglorious than that of MacArthur. Go figure.

buwaya puti said...

There is a tremendous literature on Wellingtons military career of course.
Its hard to recommend a single book though. The classic is Oman's history, with Napiers a good, less accurate, rather more poetic option.
Esdaile's "Penninsular War" isnt bad as a short-ish modern history. 600+ pages is shortish to do this messy business justice!
As for honor, no, the French were thoroughly "dishonorable" as far as that went. Bunch of bloody minded realists, those felliws. Marshal Marmont was just as cautious and opportunistic as Wellington in the protracted maneuvers before Salamanca. A fascinating picture "from the inside" of the state of mind of French officers is Baron Marbots memoirs.

SteveR said...

Seems to distress all the right people, and looking after his troops would appear to be good qualifications for the job.

Roughcoat said...

MacArthur is a problematic figure. He made two enormous military mistakes in his career, one of which contributed mightily to the complete destruction of his command, and the other which resulted in the near-destruction of an American-UN field army. Regarding the former: on the morning of 8 December 1941 (7 December in Hawaii) he experienced a nervous collapse of some sort -- an emotional and intellectual paralysis -- that was directly responsible for the debacles that took place later in the day. Other mistakes ensured -- his arbitrary junking of the war plan for an immediate strategic withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula combined with his astonishing failure to move the vast stocks of rice and other food supplies from the storehouses in Cabanatuan doomed the Fil-American Army to a miserable end that came much earlier than it otherwise would have or should have. In Korea, his reckless pursuit of the North Korean army by formations advancing in long strung-out columns through narrow mountain passes without flank protection and no attempt made to clear and hold the ridges overlooking his forces, combined with his arrogant refusal to take seriously repeated warnings from China that advancing to the Yalu and attempting the complete destruction of the North Korean army would provoke military intervention by the Chinese and his dismissing of credible (and, as it turned out, accurate) intelligence reports that several hundred thousand Chinese troops were massing on the frontier resulted in the shattering of his army and the worst battlefield defeat by American arms in the 20th Century.

CWJ said...

We were close in a (much) earlier life. I called him Al. We used to talk of angels spinning in infinity.

eddie willers said...

The occupant of "Alexander's tomb" in Iraq is a matter of dispute.

Mattis said he was 500 yards from where Alexander lay in state.

JFK lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, but was buried in Arlington.

He was moved to Alexandria and lay in a crystal coffin where people paid to see his remains. One who did not have to pay was Octavian (later Augustus). It is said he reached in to touch Alexander and his nose promptly broke off.

Possibly the first utterance of, "Oops...my bad".

William said...

Thank you both for informative and interesting replies. There's no doubt MacArthur made some wrong decisions but I get the sense that his diminished reputation is to due more to his confrontation with Truman than to those bad decisions.

CWJ said...

Seriously. Sounds like the right guy for the job. I hope he turns out as good as what he wrote in this letter. Reading this, I could not avoid thinking of counter examples. For some reasom, Marc Clark arose unbidden in my miund.

viejo loco said...

@ Owen: you might want to read Victor Davis Hanson's book on indirect warfare about Sherman, Patton and Epimanondes.
I would also recommend Rommel's "infantry attacks," about his tactical genius on warfare in WWI. You can see the roots of his African battle strategy in WWII.

Roughcoat said...

Interesting that Mattis includes Slim and Rommel. Both men had dynamic personalities and very sharp intellects that especially manifested in their ability to make use of actionable intelligence provided mainly by signals decrypts to shape their battle plans and execute those plans with stunning effectiveness on the tactical level where combat takes place. Their successes were less the result of their vaulting intellects than they were of commonsensical thinking and decisiveness, bolstered by accurate information about the enemy. In the Western Desert campaigns Rommel gave the British fits with his Fingerspitzengef├╝hl ("fingertip control")of unfolding battles when in reality his superb grasp of events was attributable largely to decrypts of compromised signals sent by the American attache in Egypt, Col. Bonner Fellers, to his superiors in Washington concerning the dispositions and plans of Commonwealth forces. When the Allies finally got wind of the service the clueless Fellers was unwittingly providing to the Axis and shut him down, Rommel's Fingerspitzengef├╝hl disappeared as if driven away the winds of a powerful desert sandstorm the Desert Fox became markedly less foxy. But Rommel, and Slim as well, had a gift for assessing and using intelligence to their best advantage, which is no mean feat -- it is, in itself, a form of genius.

buwaya puti said...

" Regarding the former: on the morning of 8 December 1941 (7 December in Hawaii) he experienced a nervous collapse of some sort"

Yep, thats a famous episode.
Though I personally don't think it mattered all that much. Major parts of what actually happened on Dec. 8 were pure bad luck.
And the balance of forces, the state of forces and US Army Air Corps performance in subsequent days tells me that the inevitable would just have been delayed a day or two at best.
Ref - Bartsch, "Doomed at the Start" 1995 - a really excellent and painstaking work, though you probably have it already, an excellent companion to the 1950's USAF official history "They Fought with What they Had", Edmonds. There are a host of other argumentative works on the muddle of that morning, but what actually happened in the following week puts it in perspective.

As for MacArthurs ground forces operational concept, how justified, why changed - beach defense - maneuver war in the open vs WPO-3 Bataan redoubt - this all seems to have been played very close to everyone's chests. This was politically sensitive vis a vis the Filipinos in many ways, not to mention vs the reputation of all involved. I believe that the almost immediate collapse of the main elements of two Philippine divisions (11th and 71st) on the line on December 22 was a shock and a revelation that the bulk of USAFFE was at that time incapable of performing to the original plan. The generally poor performance of the Philippine 51st in subsequent days merely reinforced this.

As for the rice - yet another matter of great mystery and controversy. I suspect at bottom it was all about the general incapacity of the USAFFE staff. The senior officers were fixated on what seemed more pressing problems of operational maneuver leaving logistics to a bunch of siloed organizations. Every organization was shocked and untrained and full of career second raters. There were a very great number of staff failures besides the rice.

The events of December 1941 have been a lifelong interest of mine. I have an extensive collection of histories and memoirs, US, Philippine, military and civilian. It all is not well explored in US military historiography, for good and bad reasons. A lot of the reasons for various decisions taken during that campaign are opaque and will probably stay that way.

Roughcoat said...

MacArthur's]diminished reputation is to due more to his confrontation with Truman than to those bad decisions.

His confrontation with Truman was part and parcel of his previous bad decision-making during the pursuit to the Yalu. It also constituted a serious breech in military protocol: the president was his commander-in-chief and MacArthur defied him openly and publicly. Most damning, however, is that MacArthur was incapable of admitting that he had FUBAR'd the UN offensive in Korea and was therefore unable to think rationally about the situation and to develop a realistic plan for dealing with it. Instead he decided that the only way to defeat the PLA was by attacking its advancing formations with nuclear bombs. He figured that if even a genius like himself could not stop the Chinese using conventional arms then it stood to reason that the use of nukes was called for and justified. In other words, MacArthur was advocating nuclear warfare, possibly leading to the start of a Third World War, as a means of saving his reputation and salving his ego. This was sheer madness. Truman thought he was crazy, and he might have been at this point -- certainly he was delusional. He was also grossly disobedient.

mockturtle said...

One reason I always liked Patton more than MacArthur is that, both being egotists, Patton was willing to admit his mistakes. And he would never have dissed his CIC.

Fabi said...

Rommel, you magnificent bastard -- I read your book!

William said...

Roughcoat: Your points are well made, and you're probably right. My only knowledge of MacArthur is the Manchester book. It still seems to me that over the course of a long career he got a lot of things right.........MacArthur's father won a Congrssional Medal of Honor and the battle itself at Missionary Ridge in the Civil War. He did this by defying a direct order. During WWI, MacArthur won some valuable ground from which he was ordered to retreat. The following day he was ordered to retake that ground. His troops suffered heavy losses during that second operation. Given such a record, it was perhaps psychologically overdetermined that he would defy orders from the higher ups......it was certainly a pattern throughout his career. On occasion, that defiance led to military success for which the higher ups were willing to take reflected glory. According to Manchester, MacArthur's island hopping strategy saved a lot of lives. The bloodiest battles in the Pacific were not fought under MacArthur's command..... Manchester made the point that the Phillipines resisted longer and with more success than was occasioned in Indonesia and the Malay peninsula. He resisted the advice to bomb civilian populations in the Phillipines to advance the military campaign. After the war in both the Phillipines and Japan, he resisted Washington orders to prosecute both Phillipine collaborators and Japanese war criminals. His post war occupation of both countries was done with a light hand and was done successfully. Sometimes when he defied orders, he was right to defy those orders.

traditionalguy said...

@ Mitch H...you seem to be agreeing with me that before Patton took command of the Third Army the same Army units were wasted by leaders having them inch forward among the hedge rows and feeding them into German Defense positions, for 7 weeks. But then Patton appears and they can suddenly breakout along a narrow coastal road and get behind the Germans before they Germans can get Hitler's permission to counter the bold attack. When Germans finally do attack towards that narrow coast road, it sets everybody including the stalemated British free to attack them and spring a trap using Patton's Army in position behind them.

Roughcoat said...

Bartsch's book, "Doomed at the Start" is indeed very good -- the more so because he compares (unfavorably) the miserable performance of USAFFE air assets in the Philippines with the brilliant successes Chennault achieved in China over a period of nearly two years with a mere handful of obsolete pursuit planes (mostly P-40c models, three squadrons totaling 36 aircraft)against the might of the air wing of the Kwantung Army. Bartsch points out that had the army air corps units been handled with anything approaching mere competence -- e.g., had they incorporated into their training the lessons concerning aerial combat provided by Chennault based on his pre-December 7 experiences in China -- they would have made a better show of it and this would have significantly affected the course of events in the PI.

Similarly, IMO, if the B-17 force based at Clark Field had been immediately dispatched to bomb Japanese targets on Formosa, this also would have significantly affected the course of Japanese operations, even if the raid caused little or no damage to the enemy airfields. Because it would have given the Japanese pause, a condition to which the Japanese were notoriously prone. And when the Japanese were given pause, they tended to slow down, become overly cautious and sluggish. At Wake Island, e.g., the effective intervention of four Marine F4F Wildcats slashing into Japanese bomber formations caused panic among the Japanese high command; and after the debacle of their first invasion attempt they very nearly called off the whole operation. (The delay that ensued opened the door, however slight, to a rescue attempt by Frank Jack Fletcher's carrier battlegroup, which, alas, failed when it might have succeeded -- but that's another story).

Finally, I believe -- and I too have studied at great depth, and continued to study, the course of the Pacific War in 1941-42, especially in the Philippines, Malaya, and the DAE)that if those food stocks in Cabanatuan had indeed been moved to Bataan, the campaign in the Philippines would have been lengthened and might well have gone on for a number of months, possibly into the autumn of 1942. Remember, in this respect, in February 1942 during the operational pause phase of the Bataan campaign, and after the Fil-American victories in the so-called Battles of the Points and Pockets on the west coast of the peninsula, the Japanese Army on Luzon was a beaten and demoralized force (and also decimated by battle casualties and illness) whereas the Fil-American forces were flush with victory and soaring on high spirits. There was even talk about mounting an offensive to retake Manila, and we know now that had the Fil-Americans undertaken such an effort it would probably have succeeded since the Japanese lacked the manpower and material strength to stop them. Imagine what capabilities Fil-American forces would have retained, and what deeds they would have accomplished, if they had been well-provisioned (there was never any shortage, btw, of munitions on Bataan). I am not saying that they could have held out until they were rescued -- although they might have, depending on how a successful and lengthy resistance would have affected/altered Japanese strategic plans and operations, and the American response thereto. Which is my point. I believe that the ultimate result would have been a shorter war with less blood shed on the part of the U.S. and her allies -- and, for that matter, on the part of the Japanese as well.

Bartch's follow-up book, "Every Day a Nightmare," about the air war in the DAE, is also quite good. See also in this regard the "Bloody Shambles" I and II.

I am currently writing a book about an aspect of the 1941-42 Bataan camapign.

Roughcoat said...

William:

Thanks for your comments. MacArthur did have his good points, to be sure. He was nothing short of brilliant in his conduct of the war in the Southwest Pacific from 1942 to 1945.

Roughcoat said...

When Germans finally do attack towards that narrow coast road, it sets everybody including the stalemated British free to attack them and spring a trap using Patton's Army in position behind them.

This needs to be said: in Normandy the forces of the British army group (in particular, the armoured and tank divisions and, yes, there was a difference between the two) were not so much stalemated as they were engaged in a massive prolonged slugging match with German panzer divisions that OBW had concentrated in the area. The panzer divisions were severely attrited in Normandy battles, and these were elite well-equipped formations. Commonwealth armored forces (which included a very capable Polish armored division, among others) did their job (even though they failed to take Caen on schedule, or to shut the door on the Falaise Gap), which was to occupy the panzer divisions and reduce their combat effectiveness. In effect, the British "held the Germans by the nose" allowing Patton and his Third Army to kick them in the rear. Absent these efforts by Montgomery's forces, Patton would probably have been stopped cold. Instead he conducted one of the most brilliant offensive campaigns in the history of warfare.

Big Mike said...

Here's a great article about what it's like to serve under General Mattis. I especially liked the author's description:

"He was small, wiry, and feisty, energy cooking off of him, the sort of guy who walks into a room of Alpha males and is instantly the leader. Mattis was a lifelong bachelor married to the Marine Corps, with a reputation as an ass-kicking, ferocious leader, an officer who took shit from no man and would do anything for his Marines."

(Emphasis mine.)

Dad29 said...

@Sally:

But what if you need those positions?

Re-name, re-define, remove.

buwaya puti said...

I am eager to see what you are working on !

exhelodrvr1 said...

"He was nothing short of brilliant in his conduct of the war in the Southwest Pacific from 1942 to 1945."

That's debatable.

EMD said...

Was Alex the Great as Great as Cathy the Great?

Michael said...

We are lucky to have men like this in our military.

I read The Illiad to my son every night beginning when he was 5 or 6. A modern "translation" worth reading is "All Day Permanent Red" by the British poet Christopher Logue



mockturtle said...

Michael said: We are lucky to have men like this in our military.

I read The Illiad to my son every night beginning when he was 5 or 6. A modern "translation" worth reading is "All Day Permanent Red" by the British poet Christopher Logue


And your son is lucky to have a father like you! :-)

mockturtle said...

EMD asks: Was Alex the Great as Great as Cathy the Great?

Well, Cathy was certainly no monk! ;-)

Fernandinande said...

General Mattis Crashes RNC, Shreds On Triple-Neck Guitar For Grunts In Helmand

SukieTawdry said...

I've long been a fan of this tough, whip-smart Marine (and I've always wanted a SecDef named Mad Dog). Maybe under his command, the Pentagon will refocus on the core mission of the US military instead of fretting over things like how best to serve the needs of transgendered soldiers.

Nice write-up by someone who served with the general: I Served With James Mattis. Here’s What I Learned From Him

William said...

Sometime back I read the book Russia Against Napoleon by Dominic Lieven. In that book, Lieven takes note of the fact that Barclay de Tolly was the Russian General who devised the winnng strategy after the Grand Armee's invasion. De Tolly had studied Wellington's tactics in Spain, and it was he who counseled strategic retreat.. De Tolly was a Lithuanian of German and Scottish descent. Iirc, Tolstoy doesn't mention him in War and Peace. Instead all of the credit is given to Mikhail Kutuzov. Kutuzov was thoroughly Russian, and it was far more congenial for Tolstoy to portray him as the military genius behind Napoleon's defeat. When you've got Tolstoy as your press agent, the battle for posterity is mostly won. I think most people take their cue from Tolstoy, and Kutuzov is given more credit than he deserves and de Tolly is now an obscure figure.........Military success is sometimes a matter of happenstance. So, for that matter, is history. Some heroes inspire the bards, and others are neglected. MacArthur doesn't seem to be the kind of general to inspire bards. Patton does. I don't know why this is so, but that's the way it shakes out. Maybe it was the simple fact George C. Scott starred in a memorable movie about his life.

Steven said...

In accordance with the orders from Washington not to approach the Yalu with non-Korean forces, MacArthur should have stopped non-Korean ground forces at the narrow neck of the Korean peninsula and formed a clear defensive position there, north of Pyongyang and unifying over 90% of the Korean population.

Then, if the PRC had intervened despite no threat of serious invasion of China, it would have had to have its ground forces openly cross miles of mountainous Korean terrain under UN air superiority, before it could hit a prepared defensive position of UN forces. It would have been quite unlikely that the PRC forces could have then managed to take Pyongyang, and certainly Seoul wouldn't have fallen to the PRC and have to be re-won by the UN forces.

And today, at worst there would have been a rather smaller and much less populous North Korea with Seoul well out of the range of its artillery, while at best the Korean War would have ended in 1950 with a clear victory for the free world with a united Korea.

Livermoron said...

I've read plenty of military books written by the losing side.

Roughcoat, your translation of Fingerspitzengefuehl is incorrect/misleading:
First, the term directly translates to 'fingertip feel'. There is a big difference between 'feel' and 'control'.
Second, the actual usage of the word is to connote an innate ability or understanding in the performance of a task. In English we might call a 'natural' aviator a 'seat-of-the-pants' pilot. A German may describe that same person as '...ein Flieger mit Fingerspitzengefuehl'.

When you read about Rommel handling a situation with Fingerspitzengefuehl, what they are saying is that he 'played it by ear' and had good instincts, not that he had control of everything at his fingertips.

Enjoyed your comments. I am working on an article about the invasion of New Georgia/Dragon's Peninsula. What I've learned about US military unreadiness at the start of WW2 is astonishing and therefor I cut the pre-WW2 military a lot of slack. I put the blame on Congress.
Dugout Doug did indeed have a few miscues that cost lives, but he was largely successful in the Pacific; his military governorship of Japan a model of restraint, sensitivity, and foresight; and his high-risk invasion at Inchon was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed.
My Dad, a semi-muckymuck at SAC HQ, hated the man because he (MacA) was too political. In my view, MacArthur was, in balance, a fine general. His love of politics hurt his reputation as a military leader but certainly were of real benefit as Shogun of Japan.