Book Reviews

This impressive book deserves a wide audience. It attempts to explain why every major American use of force since 1945 has failed against a materially weaker enemy. Obviously written in the darkening environment of the current Iraq insurgency, Beating Goliath places insurgency in a surprisingly wide context for such a short book. Along the way, Jeffrey Record reviews much of the current literature on counterinsurgency and takes some of the less informed commentators to task for their simple presumptions and facile conclusions.

The simplest summary of the book's central thesis is that "the strong, especially democracies, lose to the weak when the latter brings to the test of war a stronger will and superior strategy reinforced by external assistance." The author reminds us that weaker side victories are exceptional, despite the United States' poor record with insurgencies in recent years. His focus on external assistance is a major feature of the book's analysis. In his calculation, no insurgency has won without it, although his definition of "indirect assistance" is sufficiently vague to leave open a wide variety of possibilities.

Thus he can help to explain the eventual defeats of such powerful insurgencies as the Boers, the ethnic Chinese in Malaya, and the Hukbalahaps in the Philippines as well as—a bit more controversially—the military defeat of the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) in Algeria. Although he makes little mention of it, this argument might also explain the failure of the Philippine insurgency against the United States that followed the Spanish-American War and the success of the Afghan insurgency against the Soviet Union.

His other conclusions deal more specifically with the United States and its unique relationship to counterinsurgency. Ironically for a nation born from an insurgency, the United States has never been adept at conducting counterinsurgency campaigns. As an institution, the Pentagon has preferred to develop doctrines and materiel for the conventional wars that are more intellectually familiar and, not coincidentally, play to American technological strengths. Like many democracies, the United States has a limited tolerance for engaging in protracted overseas counterinsurgencies unless the public can be convinced of their real value to national security. Thus the American taxpayer will presumably still be willing to support military operations against al Qaeda, but has shown increasing frustration with the Iraqi insurgency.

More fundamentally, Record argues that the United States has become a victim of its own conventional success. It has thus become too intellectually ossified and almost allergic to thinking about the problems of counterinsurgency. Record concludes that if the nation and its military are unwilling to make the kinds of commitments necessary to become more adept at counterinsurgency, the only kind of war it is likely to fight in the foreseeable future, then the only logical policy choice is not to engage in operations like Lebanon, Somalia, Vietnam, and Iraq. If the nation is to develop counterinsurgency skills, it must realize that such wars are not won by force alone. It must become more adept at learning from its mistakes and develop officers with a variety of skills, including language skills.

Record credits the Marine Corps with making the most sustained and consistent dedication to the study of counterinsurgency. He may be correct, but the USMC's decision in 1990 to reissue (verbatim) its Small Wars Manual from a half century earlier could be read as evidence not of the imperfectability of the manual, but of a failure to learn from important insurgencies such as Malaysia, Algeria, or even Vietnam. Moreover, while the other services may not have followed the Marine Corps model, they have dedicated massive resources to the problem of counterinsurgency. The problem then is not money nor even a willingness to study the problem, but the methods of study and analysis themselves.

Beating Goliath is not an historical review of counterinsurgency. It is squarely aimed at providing a better understanding of America's history with counterinsurgency and with providing some important insights into the situation the United States currently faces in Iraq. Its brevity and clarity of writing make it accessible to a larger audience. Undergraduates and general readers will find this book to be an excellent introduction to the topic. The high level of analysis also makes this book essential reading for warfighting practitioners and counterinsurgency specialists.

Dr. Neiberg is professor of history and co-director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi.

 

Aircraft Carriers At War: A Personal Retrospective of Korea, Vietnam, and the Soviet Confrontation

Admiral James L. Holloway III, U.S. Navy (Retired). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2007. 352 pp. Maps. Illus. $34.95.

Reviewed by Richard P. Hallion

In the summer of 1944, the captain of the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) wrote to his young naval officer son, urging him to learn to fly. "The war in the Pacific is being won by the carriers," he wrote, "The future of the U.S. Navy lies in naval aviation." Coming from one of the Navy's surface warfare elite-captain, no less, of the first of the finest class of battleships the United States ever sent to sea-it wasan extraordinary admission. The young officer was James Holloway, and he would fight in the Battle of Surigao Strait as gunnery officer of a destroyer, witnessing first-hand Admiral Jesse Oldendorf's crossing of the T, the final savage encounter between battleship navies in maritime history, and, for his part, aid in torpedoing the battleship Yamashiro, a cruiser, and a destroyer. Two weeks later he was off to Pensacola and flight training, and a subsequently brilliant career that would see him rise to command the Seventh Fleet, and then Chief of Naval Operations.

Aircraft Carriers at War is his story, and if it is not the detailed history of naval aviation combat some might expect given the open words of its enticing title, it is certainly an engaging personal memoir as announced by the rest. As such, it is a particularly valuable reflection on a crucial period in American military history: the period from the uneasy peace after VJ Day through the Nixon presidency.

That period was a trying time, marked by enervating "roles and missions" debates. There were the early years of the Cold War, the challenge and frustrations of Korea, and the transition of naval aviation from the era of the propeller-driven airplane to that of the jet—and the supersonic jets that followed. During this time, the aircraft carrier itself matured to incorporate the angledeck, mirror-landing system, and steam catapult, and eventually evolved from the era of the Essex- and Midway- classcarriers to the Forrestal and the larger nuclear-powered supercarriers beyond. There was the post-Sputnik missile revolution at sea, more roles and missions debates, and the controversies of the McNamara years, including the long anguished Vietnam litany from the Gulf of Tonkin incident through Pierce Arrow, Flaming Dart, Rolling Thunder, and Linebacker I and II—as skipper of the Enterprise, Holloway took the carrier to war on 2 December 1965.

Admiral Holloway is becomingly modest in relating his career, and this is not a classic "there I was" stick-and-rudder episodic-driven autobiography. One nevertheless recognizes quickly that he was an uncommonly good aviator. Learning to fly in the resource-strappedand draw-down driven days of the immediate postwar years, his first carrier landing was in a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, a dive-bomber so formidable and quirky that its Fleet nickname was, tellingly, the “Beast.”  He landed despite—or in spite of—a detached and impatient LSO whose less-than-conscientious attitude contributed to the fatal crash of one of Holloway's squadron mates and a second crash that left another critically injured. Holloway went on to Grumman F9F-2 Panthers flying off the Boxer (CV-21) in Korea-some of the best writing in the book-then moved onto Ed Heinemann's legendary Douglas A4D (A-4) Skyhawk with a brief detour flying the Vought F7U-3M Cutlass ("a disaster"). Even so, his closest call was as COMCARDN 6 riding as a VIP passenger in the right seat of a Grumman A-6 trying to land at Naples in foul weather where only his shouted "pull-up" to the pilot prevented "smearing ourselves all over the Italian landscape."

Aircraft Carriers at War should grace the shelves of anyone interested in naval aviation. A thoughtful memoir by an extraordinary individual, it is a fitting tributeto both his service and to the many who served with him.

Dr. Hallion is the Verville Fellow at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

 

The Far Reaches

Homer Hickam. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007. 320 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy

Set in 1943 in the Pacific campaign, The Far Reaches is the third in the series of historical novels centered on an engaging hero: Coast Guard Captain Josh Thurlow, who here finds himself as the novel begins in the midst of the bloody landings on the island of Tarawa.  Thurlow survives the devastating first wave of the battle, overcoming fanatical Japanese defenders, and several life-threatening wounds.

He is nursed back to health by a young Irish Catholic nun, Sister Mary Kathleen, then sets off with her, a band of royal-born South Sea islanders, his faithful Coast Guard companion, Bosun Ready O’Neal, and several U.S. Marines for company. This odd collection of “combatants” heads to a nearby group of lush tropical islands—the “Far Reaches” of the title—where they are ultimately drawn into a mysterious and highly personal fight on behalf of the nun.  As Sister Mary Kathleen’s tragic past unfolds, the group comes face-to-face with true evil in the midst of an island paradise.

This is an interesting and at times evocative novel, which has distinct echoes of James Jones and his epic novels of the Pacific War, as well as the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy, notably the final volume, Pitcairn’s Island . In particular, the Tarawa battle scenes that form the first third of the novel are realistic, largely fact-based, and well sketched, capturing the chaos and heroism of a battle that cost a thousand lives and another 2,000 incapacitating wounds on the U.S. side, as well as nearly 5,000 Japanese defenders, who died to the last man.

Occasionally the dialogue reads a bit woodenly, and in particular the Irish brogues sound improbable to the modern ear. Additionally, the central personnel plotline involving Sister Mary Kathleen and her "dark secret" truly strains the credulity of the reader. Yet the action is non-stop, and for the reader willing to undergo a certain level of suspended belief, the story rolls on to its unlikely series of conclusions in breathless and tragic fashion.

All in all, Homer Hickam—author of the well regarded books Torpedo Junction and Rocket Boys (which became the basis for the film October Sky )—delivers a punchy, readable World War II novel that offers moments of real poignancy and realistic battle writing. For James Jones fans, this is a must read; and for the general nautical reader it is well worth the time.

Admiral Stavridis is commander, U.S. Southern Command.

 

Combat Loaded: Across the Pacific on the USS Tate

Thomas E. Crew. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2007. 232 pp. Illus. Maps. Appens. Notes. Bib. Index. $29.95

Reviewed by Colonel William T. Anderson, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)

This book is a remarkable story of the voyage of the attack cargo ship USS Tate (AKA-70) during the closing days of World War II in the Pacific. Commissioned on 25 November 1944, the Tate logged more than 60,000 miles shuffling troops and cargo throughout the Pacific theater of operations. The 459-foot Tolland- classship usually handled three types of landing craft to land amphibious assault troops and combat cargo.

Indeed, there are vignettes of shipboard life, such as the customary Neptune Rex ceremonies when crossing the equator. The author, however, has included much more, transforming the book into a comprehensive narrative of naval operations during this period. During the Okinawa campaign, the Tate landed the Army's 77th Division in amphibious operations at Kerama Retto and le Shima. During convoy operations between the two, she survived devastating kamikaze attacks. In addition, the ship's crew fondly remembers taking war correspondent Ernie Pyle ashore at le Shima. Regrettably, they also remember the news of his untimely death the next day. After the war, the Tate, withmembers of the 1st Marine Division sailed for North China operations where she also transported Nationalist Chinese troops. Finally returning to the United States, she was decommissioned on 10 July 1946, not yet two years old.

Particularly riveting are the accounts of the kamikaze attacks and the terrifying 30-to 35-foot seas of a typhoon. On 2 April 1945, the 16 ships and escorts of Transport Squadron 17 were subjected to the relentless attack of enemy aircraft attempting to break through a wall of 20- and 40-mm antiaircraft fire. Sworn to die as kamikazes, the Japanese pilots picked the transports as their prime targets. Although not in danger of sinking, a direct hit on a transport would put it out of action and make subsequent attacks more promising. But a kamikaze strike amidships on the thin-skinned escorts was often catastrophic. One can only imagine being on board below decks during such attacks. The Tate was spared a hit, but several of her convoy mates were struck, resulting in considerable damage and loss of life. For years afterwards, the ship's veterans couldn't understand how they escaped damage. Perhaps accurate antiaircraft fire was the answer. As one gunner's mate noted, "When a 5-incher let loose, well, I am here to tell you, a direct hit is a wonderful thing."

The book is a welcome supplement to any library of amphibious operations in the Pacific. It is a well-written and researched account of shipboard life during the naval operations of the Pacific campaign. More important, it is an excellent example of recent scholarship to collect and preserve the deeds of the World War II generation.

Colonel Anderson , a retired DoD attorney who spent 18 years at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe In Belgium, Is an authority on Marine Corps operations in World War I, particularly Belleau Wood.

 

 
 

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