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The Mask Of Command — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Mask Of Command” (1987©), written by John Keegan.  Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (Order of the British Empire) and FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) was an English military historian, lecturer (at Sandhurst – the English equivalent of West Point) and writer.  Keegan is considered (in my opinion) one of the “modern” expert military historians. I understand his basic premise to be that conflict in general and war in specific is cultural and not necessarily an extension of political governance.  This is in contrast with Clausewitz who stated that war is politics by other means.  Keegan is criticized for “disagreement” with Clausewitz.
As a secondary aside, I started reading about military theory (“strategy”) back in my early 20’s when I began reading about generals (mostly Patton) and the works of B. H. Liddell Hart were recommended to me by a roommate.  I read Liddell Hart’s book: “Strategy: The Indirect Approach“, which I must say greatly influenced my life by profoundly changing my view of the world.  My hope was to learn about leadership by studying the great generals.  Instead, what I found was that leadership is not the same thing as strategy and is, instead, founded on the person and the time in history the person lives, whereas strategy tends to be principled and more timeless.
This realization pretty much ties into the basis for this book, which is a study of four “great” commanders / leaders and looks at what made three succeed and one (ultimately) fail terribly.  The three successful commanders are: Alexander the Great, Wellington, and U.S. Grant.  The failure is: Hitler.
Keegan’s proposal in this book is based on “heroic” aspects (“title”) of military leadership: heroic, anti-heroic, non-heroic, and fake heroic.  To do this, Keegan establishes the cultural climate of each commander and then tries to explain it’s (the culture’s) effect on the military leader via their proximity to combat and personal exposure to danger.  Essentially, for most of man’s history, muscle and physical courage were the requirement of military leadership.  As the age of gunpowder emerged, the risk to the commander increased and they were forced to withdrawal from danger and thus “military” leadership changed.  Alexander had to fight hand-to-hand to prove his courage while leading from the front; Wellington could stay within sight of his forces, but had to stay a minimal distance from accurate musket range; Grant could not frequently approach the front lines; and, Hitler never exposed himself to physical danger (with the exception of possible assassination) and used propaganda to convince his forces that he was a soldier battling at their side.
The book has five main chapters (one for each leader / type) and the last is about leadership in the age of nuclear weapons.  I found this the most fascinating (timely?) chapter of the book as it proposes a “new” type of post-heroic military / political leader and attempts to posit President Kennedy as this “ideal” leader.
While I found the book to be an interesting (sometimes fascinating) read, it was not an easy read.  Keegan loves his erudite words and his complicated phrasing of sentences.  The punctuation is “British” (I guess), and I found many times I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph to figure out what the heck he was talking about.  Frequently, his sentences appeared to be declarative, but were, in fact, interrogatory (questions), or vice-versa, and you (“I”) couldn’t tell until you (“I”) hit the question mark or period at the end of the sentence.  Occasionally, even though I was aware of this writing style, Keegan still caught me off guard and I had to go back and try to figure out what he was on about.  Which means I knew it was happening, and anticipating it, but continued to find it distracting.
Other than this (quibble), I found the book to be quite enjoyable.  Keegan has a keen method of describing battles and you can sometimes feel yourself seeing the carnage and tasting the spent gunpowder in the air.  At less than 400 pages, it seems also to be a quick read, but I suggest not rushing head-long through it in one or two sittings as the book is widely considered to be a classic and deserves a bit of contemplation as well as enjoyment.
Final recommendation: highly recommended! This book is a classic for a reason…  The battlefield descriptions are superb and Keegan’s argument is well presented – even if not wholly convincing (to me, anyway).  Still, regardless if you are new to military history or a veteran of any military genre, I think you’ll enjoy this book.  There will, of course, be a few quotes from this book appearing on my blog in the coming weeks / months.
Two final thoughts: 1) I was not (am not) convinced President Kennedy is THE model for the post-heroic commander.  I found Keegan’s reporting on / analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis a bit simplistic.  And, 2) even if I had read this book on first printing, I doubt it would have influenced my world-view the way Liddell Hart’s book did.  Both are classics for any military reader, just different.  Just sayin’…
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The injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scales.
   ―  Aesop
[As an American, I would like to believe my President when he says we killed a foreign general (Iranian General Qasem Soleimani) who was in the process of ordering / organizing terrorist attacks on Americans in the middle east.  Unfortunately, my President (and his administration) is a known and shameless public liar.  He has lied so frequently and about so many things – both trivial and important – I simply cannot believe anything he says without independently verified, concrete, public proof.
While I have no evidence of it, my opinion is it is far more likely President Trump ordered the drone strike to provoke Iran into taking escalating “tit-for-tat” action which might distract the American public from the up-coming Senate impeachment trial.
While we currently have the most powerful military in the world, incompetent leadership has resulted in the loss of more than one (otherwise) superior force in world history.  I pray his (Trump’s) failure in leadership will not result in any losses (injury or lives) for our brave men and women who will have to pay the real price for his ill-considered decisions and orders.  —  KMAB]
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Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned today (20 December 2018) – effective 28 February 2019, to allow time for a replacement confirmation.   Secretary Mattis (Retired Marine Corps General) resigned due to differences with the policies of President Trump.  Below is Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter (and transcript below that).
Page 1 of Sec. Mattis Resignation Letter
Page 2 of Sec. Mattis Resignation Letter
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance.  Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.  While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.  Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world.  Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances.  NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America.  The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.  It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies.  That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.  We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.  The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February.  Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.
I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.
[Whenever a high-ranking military officer disagrees so fundamentally with the policy, course of action or directions being given by the President (Commander-In_Chief), it is their duty to resign from their position and bring their objections to the American public.  This is an “honorable” resignation.
In our nation’s history, there have been senior officers objecting to their political commander who have acted contrary to lawful policy and direction (both Democratic and Republican) and who have stayed in post and attempted to ameliorate policy / directions they objected to.  Only historians can judge whether these officers acted with honor (or not).
President Assad rules Syria and wishes us to leave so he can continue to crush his opposition and remain in power indefinitely.  Putin wants us to leave Syria to increase Russian influence in the area and to gain access to “warm-water” ports in Syria.  Iran wants us to leave Syria in order to establish an arc of influence through Iraq to Syria (and the Mediterranean).  Turkey wants us to leave in order to crush the Syrian Kurds (and along with them, the Turkish Kurds).  The Turkish Kurds assisted us in Iraq and are now doing the same in Syria.  They want us to stay.  The Syrian Kurds want our help and want us to stay.  Israel and Saudi Arabia foolishly support President Trump because they feel he will support them.  Between Israel and Russia, Trump will support Russia.  Saudi Arabia is the enemy of Iran because Iran is not Arab and because Iran believes in the Shiite version of Islam while the Saudi’s believe in the Sunni version.  Trump supports Saudi Arabia over Iran (in theory), but he doesn’t seem to realize the long term effect of increasing Iranian influence in Syria will be to the detriment of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
As for ISIS / ISIL, they are one of the factions seeking to over-throw Assad.  They are Muslim and Assad is Ba’ath.  Assad seeks to destroy ISIL because that’s what he does to all of his enemies.
If the U.S. abandons Syria and the Kurds, we will pay for this policy failure for decades and generations ALL around the world – not just in the Middle East.
I happen to agree with President Trump, that we should get our troops out of Afghanistan and reduce our military footprint in the Middle East – not just Syria.  In Afghanistan, as soon as possible.  In Syria, only after we have secured land for the Syrian Kurds and, after that, for as long as the Kurds need our protection from Russia, Turkey and Iran – and, of course, from Assad.  Unfortunately, this may mean decades…
Israel and Saudi Arabia will pay for supporting President Trump.  Sooner or later he will turn on them, too.   After all, Trump is a snake, they know he is a snake, and to quote candidate Trump’s campaign speech:  “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”
Just sayin’…  —  KMAB]
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The most important thing a captain can do is to see the ship from the eyes of the crew.
  —  Captain D. Michael Abrashoff (Retired)
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Amid questions, here’s what we’re sure of in the USS Fitzgerald collision…
“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom.  It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them both goes accountability.”
It continues: “It is cruel, this accountability of good and well-intentioned men.  But the choice is that or an end of responsibility and finally as the cruel scene has taught, an end to the confidence and trust in the men who lead, for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.”
“And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”
  —  By John Kirby
From the article:  “Accountability, Navy Style”  Thursday, 31 July 2008
Found at:   http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/17/opinions/uss-fitzgerald-this-much-we-know-kirby/index.html
Originally from: http://conservativewahoo.blogspot.com/2008/07/accountability-navy-style.html
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A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.
     —  General John J. Pershing
[I really wish the Draft avoider in the Oval Office would stop defaming the character of a General who (by all accounts) seems to have been a decent man and a good commander.  I do not have a great deal of knowledge about General Pershing because I’ve never studied him or his achievements.  I have recently taken the time to read about President Trump’s “claims” (lies) about the General and the stores of how he supposedly dealt with Islamic fighters while he was commanding in the Philippines.  Trump’s lies were debunked during the 2016 campaign (when he first made them) and they are being exposed again after Trump’s latest tweets on the topic.  Our President doesn’t do our military forces or its historic leaders any honor when he dishonors their achievements with lies in the attempt to make himself out to be a “tough-guy” or strong-man leader.  It just illustrates how small a man he really is.   SAD…   —  KMAB]
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Early on, I had an experience that, if you’re interested, made me aware that I ought to be a little careful about what I said or did.
We were invited down to James J. Kilpatrick’s – Jack Kilpatrick’s – home down in Virginia for the Sunday lunch.  And the helicopter took us off the lawn here and in about 35 minutes or so, we were at his farm, landed.  And in walking to the house, Jack was telling me about how they’d been there for a few days, putting in the phones.
Well, this was a surprise to me.  And I said, “Wait – phones?”  And then he told me that I could reach anyone in the world from there.  And I said, “Well, you mean just to have lunch away from the White House, they have to put … Well, I guess it’s true, they do it for whatever might happen.”
But he was telling me that he didn’t believe them when they were putting in the phones, that they could reach anyone in the world.  And they said, “Well, name someone.”  Well, he had a son who was on guard in an embassy in the military in Africa.  And they got the son on the phone, and his mother got to talk to him and so forth.  So, he had another son that was an enlisted man and a quartermaster on the USS Pratt.
And he asked, “Well, okay, what about him?”  The Pratt was in the Mediterranean.  And they had to say to him no, they couldn’t get him because the fleet was on maneuvers.  And when the fleet was on maneuvers, only the White House could reach them.
When we got inside, I met the young man’s wife, the one that was on the destroyer – very lovely young lady and hadn’t seen her husband for months.
I went back out, said to these fellows, “Is this true, that I could reach someone on the USS Pratt?”  And they said, “Oh, yes, Sir.”  And I said, “Well, get him.”  And I went back in and got her.  And she got to talk to her husband.
I hadn’t really thought the thing through very much until I got a letter from him, the young man, and he told me what it was like when the fleet was on maneuvers.  I hadn’t even thought that the last part of the call has to go by air, and that the air is full of radio traffic – ships talking to ships, admirals talking to admirals.  And then a voice on the air said, “White House calling.”   And he said, “Someone said, ‘What code is that?’ ” And someone else says to him, “maybe it is the White House.”
And he said, “Even Hollywood couldn’t have silenced the air as quickly as it was silenced.”  And so the phone call went through.  And, of course, it must have been pretty public with the whole fleet listening in.
And in his letter, he then said this line, he said, “It was as if God had called the Vatican and asked for an altar boy by name.”
…  Suddenly – believe me, it sobered me a little bit to discover that I could just say this and then all of this could happen.  And I was almost scared to death of what I might have done to the fleet maneuvers.
   —  President Ronald Reagan
In a interview with Susan Watters of “M” magazine
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