Sunday, January 15, 2012

Warfighting First - Schneller’s ‘Top Ten’

(In 2012 I am pleased to present a series of guest posts offering “top ten” choices of books and authors for our Navy Reads audience.  In the months ahead we’ll have “top ten” recommendations from noted thinkers.  The recommendations in this post -- books on American naval history -- are from historian Robert J. Schneller Jr., Ph.D., historian with the U.S. Naval Historical Center and author of Farragut: America’s First Admiral, which Navy Reads reviewed last September.  Schneller’s suggestions align with the first tenet in the CNO’s Sailing Directions:  Warfighting First. -- Bill Doughty)
by Dr. Bob Schneller
This list reflects my own personal interests as well as the books I think everyone connected with the naval services should read. Most of the books focus on war, for that always has been and always will be the Navy and Marine Corps's primary reason for existence. As you will soon notice, I like stories about the past told by those who were there; hence my list is heavily laden with memoirs and biographies. It is also rife with recently published books, because the focus on the individual's experience in war is a relatively recent historiographic phenomenon. Narrowing the list to ten proved impossible for me, hence the fourteen titles, listed in chronological order of subject. Enjoy!
Despite the amount of historical literature that has come out since The Naval War of 1812 appeared in print a century ago, Roosevelt's book remains arguably the most accurate, impartial, and intrepid account yet written. A particularly timely book this is, too, with the bicentennial commemoration kicking off this year.
The historical literature on the Civil War is so vast that I would have great difficulty in choosing only ten from that conflict alone. Renowned Civil War scholar Holzer and his sidekick Mulligan have presented us with a collection of essays from fellow experts William C. Davis, who provides an overview of the battle; Craig Symonds, who recounts the construction of the ironclads; and Howard Fuller, who examines the battle from the British perspective, as well as the renowned historian of technology David Mindell, who tells us what life was like aboard the ironclads. There's also a nifty essay on the battle's historiography. The slugfest at Hampton Roads was neither the most significant nor costly naval battle of the War of Rebellion by a longshot, but it remains the most written about, most famous, and most symbolic.
For the big one, World War II, I have to list more than one title, as the war included history's most titanic clashes at sea. This book, although dated -- for example, information about codebreaking remained classified when Morison wrote up the battle of Midway -- remains the best introduction to the war at sea. Morison, a Harvard grad, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and buddy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, gained unparalleled access to records, interviewees, and staff assistance to produce a 15-volume history of the war (of which this is a condensation), as well as a commission as a rear admiral in the Naval Reserve and permission to take part in operations. Morison was a gifted writer, too.
Frank's brilliantly researched and well written book seems to be exactly what it claims to be. Subsequent scholarship has overturned some of his findings, but I remain convinced that Guadalcanal was the Pacific War's most important campaign. It was also, by necessity, a joint campaign.
Pacific War expert Wukovits gives us a deeply personal window on the life of a Marine Corps aviation icon. The author lays bare Gregory Boyington's chequered life as a boozer, brawler, and iconoclast. All this the Marine Corps forgave Boyington, because he excelled at two things -- shooting down enemy aircraft and commanding men in battle. During the months he flew in the Solomons, his "Black Sheep" squadron ruled the skies. This book strips away the myths behind the man, yielding an unbiased, unflinching, but sympathetic portrait of a true war hero, with "warts and all," to borrow a phrase from Samuel Eliot Morison.
Here we have an autobiography straight from the deck plates, written by an enlisted destroyerman who served in the Pacific throughout World War II. Officers who read this book might want to avoid becoming martinets, for stewards might urinate in their coffee, as happened with one of Jernigan's unpopular officers. Enlisted men will learn what it was like to experience combat against the weather and the enemy inside a small ship, the vital importance of teamwork and bonding with shipmates and the value of "leading up" good officers.
The 1st Marine Division fights in Okinawa.
Photo by SSgt. Walter F. Kleine, Okinawa, 1945. 
William T. Sherman said "war is all hell" and Sledge leads us right into the inferno. Written from the grunt's perspective, Sledge's memoir exposes the horror, brutality and ugliness of war more fully than any other book I've read. A gently raised teenager, Sledge witnessed the way war strips away the thin veneer of civilization and results in unthinkable acts by beloved comrades. His patriotism never wavers, but neither does the grittiness of his story. Anyone who has the power to declare war or to command people in battle, as well as those who will experience battle, must read this book. If I had to narrow my list to one, this would be it.
This is my favorite book on the Silent Service during the war because it provides a view from the deck plates, or in this case, from inside the pressure hull. Silent Running opens with the renowned submariner Ned Beach's renowned screed against early war U.S. torpedoes, and then Calvert recounts his nine war patrols in the Pacific against the Japanese. World War II certainly included more renowned and controversial submariners than Calvert, but his understated style and clarity of expression landed his book on my list.
Winner of many prestigious awards, Dower argues that the Pacific War was essentially a race war between the Americans and Japanese, with each race believing itself superior to the other. On both sides the results included poor estimates of the enemy's capabilities, other military miscalculations, and a much higher level of brutality than Americans faced in Northwest Europe. War Without Mercy yields vital insights into what can happen when two different cultures clash; when each side uses a different rulebook for warfare.

Daws, Gavan. Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific. William Morrow, 1994.

Daws dwells on one particular product of the Pacific War culture clash -- the brutal Japanese treatment of POWs. The book is, in many ways, a collection of horror stories, including the fact that Japanese "physicians" performed vivisection -- dissection of a living being without anesthetic -- vivisection, on members of downed B-29 aircrews. I still shudder to think of it. The warning implicit in Prisoners of the Japanese, like that in War Without Mercy, is that different cultures have different rules of warfare than we do and will not behave as we do in fighting wars.
Naval officers and enlisted men and women do lots more than fight, including, among other things, conducting humanitarian operations, performing rescues at sea, and exploring space. With exclusive access to private papers and interviews with his subject's family and closest friends, Thompson examines the life of one of the first men to fly off aircraft carriers, one of the world's most fearless test pilots, and one of the Navy's iciest, brashest, cockiest and most competitive officers, beating out John Glenn for the first Mercury spaceflight and then later, as a crew member of Apollo 14, whacking a golf ball on the moon. I recommend this one because the Navy still needs test pilots, and Thompson is a brilliant writer.
In this book Reardon, one of America's finest military historians, recounts the history of Medium Attack Squadron 75 from multiple perspectives (the cockpit, the bomb handler, the wives left behind), and sets it within multiple layers of context. The Journal of Military History described it as "a model unit history." So here we have a group biography.
Honestly, I'm not including this to stroke my ego, but I consider this book, along with its predecessor, Breaking the Color Barrier, to be my masterpieces. Using a deep dive into the documentary records along with scores of interviews with largely black midshipmen, I've examined how the Naval Academy was transformed from a racist institution into one that genuinely ranks diversity among its fundamental tenets. The documentary research lays out the Naval Academy's racial policies, how they changed over time, and why. The interviews provide the impact these policies had on the experiences of black midshipmen, told through their own words. The third part of the book includes information on integration of women into the Academy, because many of those women are black. Naval officers and enlisted men and women should read Blue & Gold and Black because it explains the price minority and female shipmates will have to pay as long as parents teach prejudice to their children.
During his 22-year career as a CIA Intelligence Officer, Scheuer served as chief of the Bin Laden Issue Section from 1996 to 1999 and as special advisor to the chief of the bin Laden unit from September 2001 to November 2004. He began this book in 1999 as an unclassified manual for counterterrorism officers. Initially, Potomac Books listed the author as "Anonymous," but with the publication of his follow-on book, Imperial Hubris, his name came to light. As for Through Our Enemies' Eyes, "The crux of my argument," declares Scheuer, "is simply that America is in a war with militant Islamists that it cannot avoid; one that it cannot talk or appease its way out of; one in which our irreconcilable Islamist foes will have to be killed, an act which unavoidably will lead to innocent deaths; and one that is motivated in large measure by the impact of U.S. foreign policies in the Islamic world, one of which is unqualified U.S. support for Israel." It is a harrowing argument, but one that must be understood by all who are serving in the global war on terrorism, the current war, the war we are now in, or whatever we're calling it now.
(A big thanks to Dr. Schneller for sharing his thoughts and recommendations... Look for more thinkers’ suggestions in the weeks and months ahead. -- BD)

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