Team, I hope all of you get a chance to regroup and recharge over the coming holidays because it looks like we've got a pretty sporty year ahead of us on just about every front you can imagine.
But it's certainly nothing we can't handle; after all, we've been there before in our Navy's history and have always managed to come through because of the enduring strength of our people and our understanding of the fundamentals of our profession.
So, as you prepare for the challenges ahead, I thought I'd offer up some possibilities for your holiday reading - the time when you get to "sharpen the saw" - from some of the books I've read in the past year and found to be particularly worthwhile; these books were inspiring, thought-provoking and very well-written. Here they are:
Pacific Crucible - Ian Toll
Neptune's Inferno - James D. Hornfischer
On China - Henry Kissinger
Monsoon - Robert Kaplan
Agents of Innovation - Thomas Kuehn
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy - Richard Rumelt
I'll group the first two together: Pacific Crucible by Ian Toll (author of Six Frigates) and Neptune's Inferno by James Hornfischer (author of Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors).
Pacific Crucible sets the stage for the early war in the Pacific - how the Japanese developed the strategy that led to the very successful early attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in early December, 1941 and how that strategy led inexorably to the Battle of Midway. The fascinating part of the story for me was how our Navy learned from and responded to these early disasters and was in a position to strike the devastating blows at Midway in early June 1942.
James Hornfischer then picks up the story of the early war in the Pacific with a riveting account of the Solomon Islands campaign, our nation's first offensive campaign in WWII that began with the invasion of Guadalcanal by the Marines (the First Marine Division) and ended after seven very costly naval battles in and around Ironbottom Sound - the Marines hung on ashore and kept Henderson Field open and the Navy hung on at sea. By the end of November, 1942 the outcome could be seen - Guadalcanal would be held and the critical sea lines of communication to Australia would be maintained.
Again, it was a story of learning under fire and against great odds - not only would our Navy have to go to back to school on the tactics, techniques and procedures that would defeat the Japanese, but our Navy would have to learn what it meant to fight in a total war at sea and everyone, from our Admirals to our COs to our Sailors on the deckplates, had a great deal to learn.
Here are the publisher's notes for these two excellent books:
Neptune's Inferno - With The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, James D. Hornfischer created essential and enduring narratives about America's World War II Navy, works of unique immediacy distinguished by rich portraits of ordinary men in extremis and exclusive new information. Now he does the same for the deadliest, most pivotal naval campaign of the Pacific war: Guadalcanal.
Neptune's Inferno is at once the most epic and the most intimate account ever written of the contest for control of the seaways of the Solomon Islands, America's first concerted offensive against the Imperial Japanese juggernaut and the true turning point of the Pacific conflict. This grim, protracted campaign has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy's sacrifice-three sailors died at sea for every man lost ashore-Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of "Ironbottom Sound." Here, in brilliant cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August of 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt. But at Guadalcanal the U.S. proved it had the implacable will to match the Imperial war machine blow for violent blow.
Working from new interviews with survivors, unpublished eyewitness accounts, and newly available documents, Hornfischer paints a vivid picture of the officers and enlisted men who took on the Japanese in America's hour of need: Vice Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, who took command of the faltering South Pacific Area from his aloof, overwhelmed predecessor and became a national hero; the brilliant Rear Admiral Norman Scott, who died even as he showed his command how to fight and win; Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, the folksy and genteel "Uncle Dan," lost in the strobe-lit chaos of his burning flagship; Rear Admiral Willis Lee, who took vengeance two nights later in a legendary showdown with the Japanese battleship Kirishima; the five Sullivan brothers, all killed in the shocking destruction of the Juneau; and many others, all vividly brought to life.
The first major work on this essential subject in almost two decades, Neptune's Inferno does what all great battle narratives do: It cuts through the smoke and fog to tell the gripping human stories behind the momentous events and critical decisions that altered the course of history and shaped so many lives. This is a thrilling achievement from a master historian at the very top of his game
Pacific Crucible - The planning, the strategy, the sacrifices and heroics-on both sides-illuminating the greatest naval war in history.
On the first Sunday in December 1941, an armada of Japanese warplanes appeared suddenly over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Six months later, in a sea fight north of the tiny atoll of Midway, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sent into the abyss. Pacific Crucible tells the epic tale of these first searing months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history and seized the strategic initiative.
Ian W. Toll's dramatic narrative encompasses both the high command and the "sailor's-eye" view from the lower deck. Relying predominantly on eyewitness accounts and primary sources, Pacific Crucible also spotlights recent scholarship that has revised our understanding of the conflict, including the Japanese decision to provoke a war that few in the country's highest circles thought they could win. The result is a page-turning history that does justice to the breadth and depth of a tremendous subject. 24 pages of black-and-white illustrations and 12 maps
One of the great national security challenges for our nation, today and for the foreseeable future, is the nature of our relationship with China. Our shipmates in the Pacific Fleet live with this challenge every day as China's economic power and global influence continues to grow steadily. Along with China's economic clout, her military, and particularly her navy, is also growing steadily in both capacity and capability. But to what end?
No more important question exists for us and getting to an answer to that question is something all of us ought to be thinking about.
To help you think about the future of our relationship with China, I strongly recommend On China, by Henry Kissinger, the former National Security Affairs advisor to President Nixon and the former Secretary of State for both Presidents Nixon and Ford. As the National Security Affairs advisor, Dr Kissinger engineered the famous opening to China that culminated in President Nixon's historic trip 1972 trip to Beijing.
His book covers a great deal of history and does much to illuminate how China sees itself, a vision that drives how China sees its place in the world. The rise and emergence of China is a fascinating story that Dr Kissinger tells very well.
Here are the publisher's notes for On China:
In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book-length to a country he has known intimately for decades, and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. Drawing on historical records as well as his conversations with Chinese leaders over the past forty years, Kissinger examines how China has approached diplomacy, strategy, and negotiation throughout its history, and reflects on the consequences for the global balance of power in the 21st century.
Since no other country can claim a more powerful link to its ancient past and classical principles, any attempt to understand China's future world role must begin with an appreciation of its long history. For centuries, China rarely encountered other societies of comparable size and sophistication; it was the "Middle Kingdom," treating the peoples on its periphery as vassal states. At the same time, Chinese statesmen-facing threats of invasion from without, and the contests of competing factions within-developed a canon of strategic thought that prized the virtues of subtlety, patience, and indirection over feats of martial prowess.
In On China, Kissinger examines key episodes in Chinese foreign policy from the classical era to the present day, with a particular emphasis on the decades since the rise of Mao Zedong. He illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, Richard Nixon's historic trip to Beijing, and three crises in the Taiwan Straits. Drawing on his extensive personal experience with four generation of Chinese leaders, he brings to life towering figures such as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, revealing how their different visions have shaped China's modern destiny.
With his singular vantage on U.S.-China relations, Kissinger traces the evolution of this fraught but crucial relationship over the past 60 years, following its dramatic course from estrangement to strategic partnership to economic interdependence, and toward an uncertain future. With a final chapter on the emerging superpower's 21st-century world role, On China provides an intimate historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from one of the premier statesmen of the 20th century.
Robert Kaplan has given us another terrific book that opens up the history and explains the importance of the Indian Ocean and the nation states that ring its littoral regions to the future security and economic well-being of the United States. For those of us who have spent a great deal of time plying the waters of the "IO", the NAG, the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, this book provides a very fresh look at a region that perhaps many of us thought we already knew pretty well.
Starting with Balkan Ghosts and on through to Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea and on the Ground, Kaplan has given us a series of books that focused on the global zones of conflicts from 1999-2010 and how our nation and our military forces have responded to the wide variety of challenges that have come out way during that time. He is an acute observer of the world and of us; we can learn much from him.
Here are the publisher's notes for Monsoon:
On the world maps common in America, the Western Hemisphere lies front and center, while the Indian Ocean region all but disappears. This convention reveals the geopolitical focus of the now-departed twentieth century, but in the twenty-first century that focus will fundamentally change. In this pivotal examination of the countries known as "Monsoon Asia"-which include India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Tanzania-bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power. It is here that the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and it is here that American foreign policy must concentrate if the United States is to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. From the Horn of Africa to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, Kaplan exposes the effects of population growth, climate change, and extremist politics on this unstable region, demonstrating why Americans can no longer afford to ignore this important area of the world.
Agents of Innovation
One of the things that has long fascinated me about our Navy's history is how, after World War I and throughout the Great Depression (1929-1940), at a time when our budgets were low and cut repeatedly, our ships were routinely manned at 50-75% and the nation has approximately zero interest in anything to do with its military, the Navy, along with the Marine Corps, managed the most productive period of strategic thought as well as tactical and operational innovation in its history. Think about it - the forces and operational foundations for the greatest trans-oceanic campaign in history, the war against Japan 1941-1945, were developed and evolved from 1920-1940. The Fleet logistics train and the concept of forward deployed maintenance, coordinated aircraft carrier operations, underway replenishment, the fundamentals of amphibious warfare - 2 classes of battleships, 5 classes of heavy and light cruisers, 4 classes of destroyers, the fleet submarine and the fighters, torpedo bombers and patrol planes that fought at Coral Sea and Midway - all came during the Depression. How did they do it?!
Agents of Innovation tells the story of how it was done and who did it. While the story alone is well worth the read, the lessons from this book that we can learn and apply to the situation we're in today are of staggering importance to us. Mark Twain said that history may never exactly repeat itself, but it sure can rhyme - I think we are in a period where what we face in terms of declining budgets and growing strategic challenges rhymes pretty well with what our predecessors faced in the 20s and 30s. We have much to learn from them.
Here are the publisher's notes on Agents of Innovation:
The author examines the influence of the General Board of the U.S. Navy as an agent of innovation in the years between the world wars. A formal body established by the secretary of the Navy, the General Board served as the organizational nexus for the interaction between fleet design and the naval limitations imposed on the Navy by treaty. Particularly important, Kuehn argues, was the Board's role in implementing the Washington Naval Treaty, which limited naval armaments after 1922. Kuehn explains that the leadership of the Navy at large and the General Board in particular felt themselves especially constrained by Article XIX of the Washington Naval Treaty, which implemented a status quo on naval fortifications in the western Pacific.
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy
This book is really a guide to thinking critically about strategy and can be applied to everyone in uniform who is responsible for some level of mission accomplishment wherever they may be stationed.
A good strategy is a specific and coherent response to - and approach for overcoming - the obstacles to progress on a given task or mission set of any magnitude.
Early in 1941, American military leaders began secret discussions with their British counterparts to hammer out the fundamentals of the strategy to defeat the Axis powers when America entered the war alongside the British. Despite not knowing when or how America's entry would take place, both Roosevelt and Churchill knew it was both inevitable and required for the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany. The essence of the ultimate strategy was simple, yet profound - Germany First. That concept drove everything the Allies did from 1941-1945 despite the deep national anger and desire for revenge in the US that resulted from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt kept his gaze steady and his focus clear - Germany First.
President Roosevelt understood the true nature of the situation - Japan could not defeat the US, but Germany and to defeat Germany, Roosevelt needed to keep the Russians in the fight on the side of the allies. Thus, Germany First properly focused the allies and harnessed and applied the full weight of military power where it would have the most important effect - the essence of sound strategy. This strategy drove choices and enabled critical priorities to be determined. Deciding what not to do was as important as figuring out what had to be done.
Rumelt brings it all together for you; it's a great book.
Here are the publisher's notes on Good Strategy/Bad Strategy:
This is the long-awaited magnum opus from 'strategy's strategist'. Even though everyone is talking about it, there is no concept in business today more muddled than 'strategy'. Richard Rumelt, described by "McKinsey Quarterly" as 'a giant in the field of strategy' and 'strategy's strategist', tackles this problem head-on in a jargon-free explanation of how to develop and take action on strategy, in business, politics and beyond. Rumelt dispels popular misconceptions about strategy - such as confusing it with ambitions, visions or financial goals - by very practically showing that a good strategy focuses on the challenges a business faces, and providing an insightful new approach for overcoming them. His sharp analysis and his brilliant, bold style make his book stand out from its competitors (something that Rumelt himself says is crucial). Rumelt has always challenged dominant thinking, ever since, in 1972, he was the first person to uncover a statistical link between corporate strategy and profitability - and this is his long-awaited tour de force.