Book Reviews

Sumida's new book is neither biography nor history. It is a work of ideas about another man's ideas. The author is not sure that today "readers exist with the mind and will to accept [Mahan's] guidance on what necessarily is an arduous intellectual and moral voyage into the realms of war and politics." That is a challenge to all of us.

Mahan had two main objectives as a writer. One, aimed at a small and specialized professional audience, was educational: To help naval officers improve their military judgment. The best way to do that is through experience of command in war. He "knew that in war the difficulties posed by uncertainty or incompleteness of information were compounded by fear of dire consequences in the event of decision-making error." Military judgment in such circumstances must be paired with will to overcome timidity. As Sumida puts it, Mahan believed that "the synthesis of judgment and will was . . . intuition," and "in peacetime the ability to improve intuition . . . could be developed by education that was based on the study of history." In this he was in agreement with the great thinker on war, Carl von Clausewitz.

Mahan's other objective, aimed at a broad general audience, was to make plain "the relationships between naval power, economic development, and international relations." In other words, Sumida says, Mahan wanted that audience to understand naval grand strategy. He believed that ships "constituted the primary form of carriage for external trade and would remain so in the future." Thus, it did not much matter when, late in life, Mahan fell off his earlier view that it was peaceful commerce alone, on which "a thoroughly strong navy can be based." Sumida says "his fundamental position was that the very existence of navies was justified primarily by their ability to defend their own commerce and to attack that of their opponent." This may be because shipping flows independently of flag; more certainly, while one combatant may need no shipping, the other side may be highly dependent on it. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, to which Mahan devoted two chapters in one of his last books, Naval Strategy Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land (1911), is a case in point. Russia may have been independent of shipping, but Japan was absolutely dependent on it. The Russian Navy's failure to capitalize on that fact probably was the greatest mistake made by anyone in that war.

Until the end of his life Mahan also believed that possession of a battle fleet more powerful than that of the foe was the surest way to drive the enemy's flag from the sea, that "cruiser warfare" against shipping, unless supported by such a battle fleet, was doomed, and that convoy "was a highly effective means of protecting merchant shipping" against raiders. Shortly after his death the submarine pushed the battle fleet into a supporting role. But, as Mahan foresaw, the surface raider had only a marginal role to play, while the convoy proved itself the tactical instrument that defeated the submarine. It has shown its effectiveness as recently as the tanker war in the Persian Gulf.

This reviewer can find only one important matter in which Professor Sumida's analysis has gone adrift. This is where he writes that "Mahan disliked amphibious operations." Clearly, Mahan, who wrote of "the pernicious practice of jeopardizing the personnel of a fleet . . . in petty operations on shore," was referring solely to raids and other activities ashore conducted by members of a ship's company. He certainly approved of the amphibious landings by the British Army against Louisburg and Quebec in the Seven Years' War which effectively shut France out of North America and, called back to active duty in 1898, he was on the Naval Strategy Board, which recommended that the Marines be landed at and seize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from the Spaniards. He seemed to see such landing operations as merely uninteresting matters of routine. This was a misjudgment, but much narrower than Professor Sumida describes it.

It is plain that Professor Sumida has written a deep book, and here we have merely sketched the top of an occasional wave. All the more reason, then, to engage your mind in the challenge Sumida has thrown out to all of us.

Mr. Uhlig is Editor Emeritus of The Naval War College Review .

 

Dead Air

Charles Jaco. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998. 264 pp. Paper. $24.00 ($21.60).

Reviewed by Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Dead air is a term from broadcasting used to describe those times when there is silence on the air. In this novel it is used in that sense in that the protagonist, reporter Peter Dees of GTV, ends up facing broadcasting dead air in a major way. Along the way the term is also used in a somewhat subliminal way to describe air contaminated by chemicals.

The reader of Proceedings might well ask, "What professional benefit will I get from reading this book?" The first answer is, obviously, entertainment. Charles Jaco, coming off a career with NBC, CNN, and CBS, and having reported live on Scud attacks during the Gulf War, has put together an easy to read mystery thriller set against the backdrop of the Gulf War.

A second reason is Jaco's plot. While somewhat romanticized (it is a novel), the reader can gain an appreciation for the potential influence of a giant, worldwide, television news organization with tentacles to almost all world leaders, of all stripes. Jaco's drug-addicted GTV chairman is unscrupulous as he focuses on only one goal, a worldwide newsgathering and broadcast monopoly. He pulls the strings of his vast organization in any way possible, including creating news through prompting diplomatic machinations, starting wars, and ordering attacks by missiles with chemical warheads. He is not shy about ordering a murder or two along the way in order to reach his goal. What might be perceived as a conspiracy is not; it is manipulation by concentrated power, pure and simple.

Finally, the story is a case study in several elements of post-modern warfare. Jaco doesn't always use the same language as our real-world thinkers and planners, but information warfare and asymmetric warfare, including chemical attack, are threaded throughout. So is air warfare and ground attack by Marines. There are even offhanded references to weapons that don't work because of poor subcontractors. If one gets tired of dry military handbooks and technical tomes, Dead Air would not be a bad substitute as a framework for discussion, and it would be entertaining as well.

The only difficulty with Dead Air is that too many of the characters have similar sounding names and they come and go with such frequency it's hard to keep them straight. This difficulty can be alleviated if the reader will remember to list each character as he (there are only two "shes") appears with an annotation inside the front cover, but if you miss one, you can always go back.

Whether to use as a case study, to learn something about the evil which could result from a television monopoly, or merely for entertainment, Dead Air is worth a read.

Admiral Dunn was the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare.

 

The Vietnam War: The Story and Photographs

Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Michael Wenger. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1997. 171 pp. Bib. Ind. Photos. $31.95 ($28.75).

Reviewed by Dennis Brack

Photography had a greater influence on the Vietnam War than any war in U.S. history. Dramatic still images isolated precise moments of peak action or emotion, and they reinforced the images shown on the evening television news.

Everyone remembers Eddie Adams' photograph of the street execution of a Vietcong unit commander by Vietnam's national police chief, Nick Ut's photo of a naked and burned Vietnamese child, or John Filo's photograph of the screaming girl at Kent State. Life magazine brought man's inhumanity toward fellow man into our living rooms with Sergeant Ronald L. Haeberle's photographs of the My Lai Massacre. These are just few important images of the Vietnam War.

There are hundreds more, but if you are expecting to see them in this book, save your money. You will not find many of the war's most memorable images here, and if you are looking for a slick book for your living room coffee table, forget this book. Many of the pictures are muddy, and it is difficult to see some of the subjects. One photograph of a B-52 taking off from Guam is so muddled that you cannot find the aircraft. Imagine not being able to find a B-52.

Although the book has its shortcomings, it presents an abundance of visual information in a straightforward approach. The text acts as an expanded caption for the photographs, which are arranged in a sequence that makes the text a coherent narrative of the Vietnam story. Each caption includes a reference to the chapter and number in the narrative, linking the text to the photos. The captions are impressive. Most include the name and unit of the subjects pictured. Even so, the authors let some cop-out captions slip through the cracks. For example, "A soldier with a camouflaged face sits alone" is the exception, not the rule.

The "Tools of War" chapter begins with words worth remembering: "What North Vietnam did have was the one constant without which the most sophisticated weapon is useless—men willing and able to fight and die." This chapter is the most useful part of the book. It is a catalog of photographs of and information about all the equipment used by the Vietcong, the South Vietnamese, and the U.S. forces.

Other chapters chronicle the war beyond the battlefields. Photographs of the political leaders and military commanders from both sides provide glimpses of the men behind this complex story. Chapter three, "The Antagonists," profiles Ho Chi Minh, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and the U.S. involvement in the coup that ousted South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. It also reminds us of the contributions that Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy made to this portion of Vietnamese and American history.

"Reconsideration and Vietnamization" reviews the events of 1968 and combines the military action in Vietnam with the political events taking place in the United States. This is a good way to put things in perspective. It also reminds us of some history that we may have forgotten over the years.

There are 460 photographs in this book, some of which were made under fire at great danger to the photographer. These are good and should have been given more space. Other photographs—wide street scenes and boring conference photos—attempt to convey information that the book's authors want us to know about the war. These dull photographs vary in quality from acceptable to poor, and they take space that might have display the book's better photographs.

Most of the photography is from public domain material—it is free. Sometimes a publisher needs to purchase important images to tell a vital parts of the story. This is one of those times.

The Vietnam War may not make it to the living room coffee table, but it can sit comfortably on the shelf in the study. It is a good source for remembering the people, tools, and history of the Vietnam War. But there should be other books about Vietnam in the study, too. This book does not tell the entire story.

Dennis Brack has been the staff photographer for Black Star studio in Washington, D.C., for 25 years. He was on assignment for Time as a photojournalist during the Gulf War, and has been a judge for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Photo Contest.

 

 
 

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