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Book Review: Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski 

Recent cyber problems here at ZP (as well as work commitments) have left me with an enormous backlog of book-related posts and reviews with which to wade through this month, including re-starting the aborted “friends of zenpundit.com who wrote books” posts.  Here is the first of what hopefully should be many posts to help readers add to their antilibrary:
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I recently picked up Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power by journalist Andrew Nagorski and found it to be an enjoyable read. Nagorski is telling the tale of Americans in Germany, predominantly journalists and diplomats, who witnessed the death of the Weimar Republic  at the hands of the Nazis and the subsequent construction of the totalitarian Third Reich under the messianic leadership of Adolf Hitler. It is, to be sure, a cautionary tale that is well-known at a superficial level where “Munich” – the 1938 diplomatic agreement where British and French leaders surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s aggressive designs – is a shorthand today for ill-considered appeasement of dictatorial regimes.

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That said, the deep reluctance of American officials and the public back home to acknowledge intellectually the nature of Nazi Germany and the threat it represented at the time, to the frustration of reporters like William Shirer, is less familiar and too often acknowledged only sheepishly – perhaps because the same “see no evil” pattern was replicated in regard to Stalin’s Russia until well after WWII ended. Indeed, one of the book’s more pathetic figures, Martha Dodd,  the irresponsible party-girl daughter of the American ambassador, transitioned seamlessly from being an enthusiastic useful idiot for Nazism to a slavishly loyal Stalinist and lifelong Soviet agent. A phenomena that mirrored that of many young German men who in the latter years of the Weimar Republic found themselves shifting between Communist fighting groups and membership in the Nazi SA without any democratic or liberal waystation in between.

Some thoughts about Hitlerland in no particular order:

  • Nagorski, like most journalists, is an excellent writer and more skilled at weaving a story than are most historians. Hitlerland is extremely “readable” for the general layman who is the target audience of the author.
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  • If you are well read enough on the subject of the Third Reich to be familiar with Nagorski’s major primary sources you will not see much that is original here as the same texts have been relied upon very heavily by many other writers and historians of the Nazi period. I learned only a few details or anecdotes that were new to me. What Nagorski did that is new is to bring together the stories of the Americans in Germany into one book for a synthesis and explained it smoothly and concisely.
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  • One of the more famous of the primary sources, Dr. Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, who wrote a memoir about Hitler and was a very early (if minor) member of the Nazi Party leadership, a P.R. mentor and court jester of sorts to Adolf Hitler, is given close scrutiny. Nagorski brings out the more sinister and machiavellian side of Hanfstaengl, whose ability to charm and play the clown and his influential Harvard connections helped him escape any kind of punishment for his numerous contributions toward Hitler’s regime.
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  • The inescapability of street level Nazi brutality, the crude and fanatical anti-semitism and the increasing enthusiasm of the German people, even relative anti-Nazi Germans, for accepting the regime’s propaganda claims with credulity after years of being submerged in them is an excellent feature of Hitlerland. Propaganda does damage simply by crowding out truth, even when it is not believed.

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Recommended.

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“Friends of Zenpundit Who Wrote Books” # 3

Monday, December 16th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

As the holiday season is here, I thought it would be amusing between now and Christmas to do a series of posts on books by people who have, in some fashion, been friends of ZP by supporting us with links, guest-posts, friendly comments and other intuitive gestures of online association. One keyboard washes the other.

Gian Gentile 

 

Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency 

How Effective is Strategic Bombing?: Lessons Learned From World War II to Kosovo 

Colonel Gentile is a historian, a professor at West Point, a combat veteran of Iraq and is the foremost public critic of pop-centric COIN theory around, bar none, which he has translated into a book-length critique that is required reading for the con side of the COIN debate. Gian has also been kind enough to grace the comment section here from time to time as well as participating in the Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable at ChicagoBoyz blog.

Don Vandergriff

  

Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions 

Spirit, Blood and Treasure: The American Cost of Battle in the 21st Century 

The Path to Victory

Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War 

I have had the pleasure of hearing Don speak and demonstrate some of his adaptive leadership techniques at the Boyd Conferences which I greatly enjoyed and strongly endorse, for those interested in having Vandergriff as a speaker or consultant. His absence this year at Boyd was much regretted but Don was off doing some important work this year overseas. Catch him in print instead.

John Robb 

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization 

I am an unabashed huge fan of John’s work and Global Guerrillas has been on my (very) short list of must read sites for years. This book, like Ronfeldt and Arquilla’s Netwars, is a classic of emerging trends in warfare and strategy that belongs on your shelf.

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In Search of Strategy(s), a Voice, a Narrative because, ‘Gentlemen, We Have Run Out Of Money; Now We Have to Think’

Friday, December 13th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman] [Warning: Maritime in flavor]

No matter how far humanity may go in seeking to foster the arts of civilization and the ideals of civic peace, there will come times when acts of war are required in order to defend world order and sustain the peace of civilized peoples. Charles Hill’s, Grand Strategies, Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, page 48

The lift quote in the title is attributed to Winston Churchill, and in this period of uncertainty with sequestration and deep cuts in defense commanding the attention of military leadership, one thing is becoming crystal clear: we have no cogent or explainable military strategy. Sure, we have “concepts” like Air-Sea/Air-Land Battle, A2/AD, and Off-Shore Control, but our most recent unclassified Navy strategy document A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower was written in 2007 may be a bit dated.

This week I attended the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual Defense Forum, Shaping the Maritime Strategy and Navigating the Budget Gap Reality and given the title, there was a lot of talk about funding and in that light/context, strategy was that thing “we’re in the process of doing.” Several people I spoke with expressed concern about “telling the navy’s story,” “why we have a navy,” and one member of Congress encouraged us to build an engaged constituency to put pressure on Congress to knock-off the schizophrenic approach to appropriations, so that a bit of certainty will allow the development of a strategy. Since DoD hasn’t been successfully audited in a long, long time (if ever), I wouldn’t hold out hope for a grass-roots rescue. As Mr. Churchill wisely advises, “now we have to think.”

Strategy Defined

Since strategy is a hot topic, offered here are several definitions ranging from the classic to practitioners and academics, with the goal of framing the elegant simplicity of strategy as a theory, and challenge of defining in reality. As Colin Gray points out in his National Security Dilemmas: “The United States has shown a persisting strategy deficit.” (page 170) Dilemmas, written in 2009 before the budget axe fell in earnest he offers: “One would think that the following definition and explanation must defy even determined efforts of misunderstanding:” (he then quotes Clausewitz)

Strategy is the use of engagement for the purpose of war. The strategist must therefore define an aim for the entire operational side of the war that will be in accordance with its purpose. In other words, he will draft the plan of the war, and the aim will determine the series of actions intended to achieve it: he will, in fact, shape the individual campaigns and, within these, decide the individual engagements.” (On War, page 177)

The definition of strategy from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Joint Publication 1-02:

strategy — A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives. (JP 3-0)

Other definitions:

J.C. Wylie, RADM, USN, Ret., Military Strategy, page 14

“A plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment” 

Henry E. Eccles, RADM, USN, Ret., Military Concepts and Philosophy page 48:

Strategy is the art of comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas in order to attain objectives. (emphasis in original)

Bernard Brodie, Sea Power in the Machine Age, page 78

“Tactics may be distinguished from strategy by the criterion proposed by Mahan—the fact of contact. “Tactics” refers to localized hostilities that occur where the adversaries are in contact; “strategy” refers to those basic dispositions in strength which comprise the entire conduct of a war.” 

General André Beaufre, Introduction á la stratégie, 1963, page 16. (note: I don’t read/speak French, I found the quote in Edward Luttwak’s Strategy, The Logic of War and Peace)

“…the art of the dialectics of wills that use force to resolve their conflict.” 

Paul Van Riper, LtGen, USMC, Ret, Infinity Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, Summer 2012

“…strategy is specifically about linking military actions to a nation’s policy goals, and ensuring the selected military ways and means achieve the policy ends in the manner that leaders intend.”

From John Boyd’s Strategic Game of ?And?

What is strategy?

A mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.

What is the aim or purpose of strategy?

To improve our ability to shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances, so that we (as individuals or as groups or as a culture or as a nation?state) can survive on our own terms. (emphasis added)

Our own Lynn Rees

Politics is the division of strength. Strategy, its tool, squares drive, reach, and grip while striving for a certain division of strength.

Drive falls between too weak and too strong. Reach falls between too short and too far. Grip falls between too loose and too tight.

How strategy squares the three is open ended and ongoing. Outside friction, deliberate or not, always conspires with inside friction, intentional or not, to keep things interesting for strategy.

Drive is the certainty you want. Reach is the certainty you try. Grip is the certainty you get. Grip can be a little sway over certain minds. It can be big hurt carved in flesh and thing. Amid uncertainty, strategy strives for certain grip. The varying gulf between certain want, uncertain try, and not certain getting is the father of strategy.

Observations

Paradoxically, complexity is easy to design.  Colin S. Gray, The Strategy Bridge, page 25

All of these definitions have merit, and most coalesce around: power, conflicting wills, violence, and control. Lynn recently had a post on “Grip” where he offers a guide to physically grasp strategy (I do admire his imagery). Admiral Eccles also has a similar and complementary list:

A strategic concept is best expressed in explicit statements of

What to control,

What is the purpose of this control,

What is the nature of the control,

What degree of control is necessary,

When the control is to be initiated,

How long the control is to be maintained,

What general method or scheme of control is to be used. (page 48)

Both of these lists are unambiguous. (One of the biggest complaints about Air-Sea Battle and A2/AD is the ambiguity. Sam Tangredi wrote a book on the latter which I’ll review soon.) Bernard Brodie in A Layman’s Guide to Naval Strategy, page 14-15 (emphasis added), reminds us:

There is no need for a complicated terminology. However, to say that the basic principles of war are easy to understand is not to say that it is easy to comprehend the finer points, or what is more important, to determine upon a wise plan of strategy and then carry it out. The great commander must of course have a profound insight into all the ramifications of strategic principle, but that is only the first requirement of military leadership. He must thoroughly understand tactics, which with modern arms is bound to be exceedingly complex and require long training and experience. He must know how to solve problems of supply or “logistics,” he must know human nature, and he must have certain qualities of character and personality which transcend mere knowledge. He must be able to stick to his course despite a thousand distractions and yet be sufficiently elastic to recognize when a change in circumstances demands a change in plan. He must above all be able to make adjustments to the inevitable shocks and surprises of war.

Unfortunately, the very preoccupation of commanders with specific and inevitably complex problems sometimes tends to make them impatient with the age old verities. Long-tested doctrines which are utterly simple are rejected in part because of their very simplicity, and in part too because of the dogma of innovation so prevalent in our age. The French High Command in the summer of 1940 found out too late that the side which carries the ball makes the touchdowns, and that all the maxims of great military leaders of the past relative to the merits of initiative had not been outmoded by modern arms. We live in an age when basic theories of naval warfare are being rejected out of hand by responsible officials on the wholly unwarranted assumption that they do not fit modern conditions. One can say about theory what Mahan said about materiel: “It is possible to be too quick in discarding as well as too slow in adopting.”

There’s a lot to digest in those two paragraphs, but one take away is that whatever the Navy presents as a strategy should be easy to understand and explain. The strategy should also explain how it plans to maintain control or “command the seas.” And finally, as Wylie reminds the planner:

Wylie’s assumptions in a General Theory of War:

Despite whatever effort to prevent it, there will be war

The aim of war is some measure of control over the enemy

We cannot predict with certainty the pattern of the war for which we prepare ourselves

The ultimate determinate in war is the man on the scene with a gun

As we build our strategies and plans, these decidedly old-fashioned and many cases very simple guides can help us get it right.

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New Books and Reading

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]
 

Strategy: A History by Sir Lawrence Freedman  
Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen

As I promised Professor Freedman a few weeks ago in the comments section, I ordered his book, Strategy: A History and it arrived yesterday, so I am bumping it to the top of my very large and disorderly book pile ( now a desk high stack) and will begin reading it immediately. I believe Scott Shipman is already reading it too, so perhaps when I review it we can have a mini-round table with other people posting or guest posting their impressions, maybe end of November.

Out of the Mountains will be the third book by COIN guru David Kilcullen that I have read. I think he is on the right track here, in big picture terms. If guerrillas need, like fish, to swim in the sea of people, densely packed urban areas, megacities, are needed to thwart aerial surveillance and inhibit freely administered “death from the skies” delivered by drones.  Bombing a hamlet in FATA is a different kettle of fish from taking out a Land Rover speeding on an 8 lane highway outside LA with a Hellfire missile  or targeting a shopping mall in a ritzy Chicago suburb on the Lake.

I am also reading the following books:

  

The former is giving me a granular view of Fascism in its original form with a social historian’s perspective. I’m 250 pages in and I’m not half finished. Echevarria is always a good read with clear arguments.

This past year, I have not read enough or read seriously with attending marginalia comments and I am feeling the absence. Too many things have been permitted to distract me; while this was not always within my control, honesty compels me to admit that my self-discipline slackened this year. It is time to rectify that – evidence for which will be more frequent book review here.

What are you reading?

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Brief Note and New Books

Monday, September 30th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Working on a number of things, top priority among which is a cross-post for Nuclear Diner about the Myhrvold Report that Cheryl Rofer decisively shredded here last week. Cheryl and I have done some point-counterpoint and blogging  round tables together in the past but, this time I have been handicapped in my response by being largely in agreement :)  I will try to hit the report from a somewhat different angle but like Cheryl I have some serious reservations.

Picked up a few new reads this weekend that should be interesting to the readership:

   

Confronting the Classics by Mary Beard

Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill 

Mary Beard is a British celebrity classicist from King’s College, an eminent figure in the field and extremely active in the social media realm where her blog, A Don’s Life and her twitter account are highly popular. She seems somewhat leftish anti-American in her politics, but does not appear to be under what Popper termed “the spell of Plato” and regards Socrates as a radical and subversive ( which he was, though not quite in the modern sense of those words).  Here is a sample of Beard’s prose:

Marcus Tullius Cicero was murdered on 7 December 43 BC: Rome’s most famous orator, off-and-on defender of Republican liberty and thundering critic of autocracy. He was finally hunted down by lackeys of Mark Antony, a member of Rome’s ruling junta and principal victim of Cicero’s dazzling swansong of invective: more than a dozen speeches called the Philippics, after Demosthenes almost equally nasty attacks on Philip of Macedon, three centuries earlier.

Cicero of course shared the fate of Demosthenes, dying less ignobly than Pompey but much less impressively to his fellow Romans than did the fanatical Cato. As a result, Cato has an equally uncompromising libertarian think tank named in his honor while America’s gift to Cicero’s posterity is only a mafia-infested Chicago suburb.

Scahill is much better known figure than Beard. I frankly disagree in principle with his take on drones and al Qaida targets – unless they are hors d’ combat or attempting to surrender, as combatants *all* AQ members are legitimate military targets under the laws of war, period – but I wanted to see what his argument was at it’s most expansive and fully documented. Should be an interesting read.

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