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In Margin of Victory Douglas Macgregor tells the riveting stories of five military battles of the twentieth century, each one a turning point in history. Beginning with the British Expeditionary force holding the line at the Battle of Mons in 1914 and concluding with the Battle of Easting in 1991 during Desert Storm, Margin of Victory teases out a connection between these battles and teaches its readers an important lesson about how future battles can be won.
Emphasizing military strategy, force design, and modernization, Macgregor links each of these seemingly isolated battles thematically. At the core of his analysis, the author reminds the reader that to be successful, military action must always be congruent with national culture, geography, and scientific-industrial capacity. He theorizes that strategy and geopolitics are ultimately more influential than ideology. Macgregor stresses that if nation-states want to be successful, they must accept the need for and the inevitability of change. The five warfighting dramas in this book, rendered in vivid detail by lively prose, offer many lessons on the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war.
“Macgregor opines that the United States has foolishly taken on the role of ‘global policeman,’ and that in the modern environment the resources for an American margin of victory are ‘thinner than ever.’ Faulty decisions by policy makers, organizing for the last war instead of the next, and failing to heed changes in technology are all pitfalls that can lessen the margin of victory. The case studies presented here have been carefully researched, are well written and expertly analyzed. Whether or not they support Macgregor’s thesis of current shortsighted American defense policy is left to the reader’s judgment.”—Journal of America’s Military Past
“All told, however, Macgregor has written another powerful critique of the American way of planning and developing strategy for war. His lesson for policy makers and strategists alike is that 'whenever new military concepts and technologies appear, the complex interaction of national culture, bureaucratic interests, and economic power does not automatically work to support them. . . .[W]hen conditions change and the margin of victory suddenly narrows, frailties and vulnerabilities concealed from view inside the armed forces . . . suddenly produce catastrophic failure.' He asserts that Washington needs to focus on its long-standing and still primary strategic concern, namely, prevention of a hostile power from dominating the Eurasian lands. He argues that the American military must increase its force levels, notably those of the Army. And he advocates for the creation of what he terms a 'national defense staff' (in other words, a general staff) 'to guide the application of American military power,' encompassing integrated capabilities across service lines.”—Naval War College Review
“Margin of Victory is highly scholarly study of five battles that changed the way future wars would be fought. It gives deep insight into the changing face of modern war. Douglas Macgregor powerfully argues the United States should give attention to reshaping its war strategies, organization, structure, technology, and leadership to avoid any defeat in the future. It will equally benefit students and experts of war, as well as those who actually fight.”—The Washington Book Review
“Margin of Victory is a superbly original and readable book. In brilliant accounts of five exemplary twentieth-century battles, Col. Douglas Macgregor shows how shaping armies and their doctrines to meet the challenges of past rather than future warfare produces defeat and how organizing and equipping forces for the future can bring victory. Margin of Victory will be given close attention by America’s competitors overseas. Those responsible for organizing and directing the adaptation of the U.S. military to emerging realities need to give it equal attention.”—Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr., United States Foreign Service (Ret.), former Assistant Secretary of Defense, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm
“It is a measure of Douglas Macgregor's power as an analyst, historian, and writer that even readers who differ with some of his conclusions will enjoy and learn from his argument. This is the rare book on military policy that is both interesting and important.”—James Fallows, correspondent for The Atlantic and author of Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq↵
“Douglas Macgregor, one of our finest military visionaries and reformers, has written a stirring account of five battles of twentieth-century warfare of great historical importance. Margin of Victory compellingly illustrates the need for nations to understand and apply both strategy and geopolitics before engaging in military action in this new age, where the guiding principles have changed dramatically.”—Carlo D’Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War↵
“What does it take to win a war? West Pointer, combat leader, and renowned military thinker Douglas Macgregor answers that question in this engaging look at five major battles during the last century of combat: Mons 1914, Shanghai 1937, Belorussia 1944, Suez 1973, and Iraq 1991. You may not yet know much about these great clashes, but when you read this book, you will. More than that, you’ll know just what it takes to fight and win.”—Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, USA (Ret.), author of Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars↵
“Douglas Macgregor has a brave tank commander's perspective on modern warfare and a restless refusal to accept the status quo when soldiers must pay for their officers' lack of higher critical thinking or preparation for combat. By revisiting five major battles of the past hundred years he shows in moving detail how a mixture of foresight and failure to plan ahead impacted the fates not only of soldiers' lives, but of whole nations. A salutary—and wonderfully readable—lesson for us all today.”—Nigel Hamilton, author of The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941‒1942
“Douglas Macgregor’s superb analysis points to a wholesale restructuring of the American military—a general staff and cadre of officers with lifetime expertise in such issues as cyber warfare or distinct third-world regions and cultures, not cookie cutter products trained to fill slots to refight World War II.”—Jon Basil Utley, publisher, The American Conservative
"Margin of Victory is an extraordinarily informed and informative study that is unreservedly recommended for personal, community and academic library Military History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.”—Midwest Book Review
“Margin of Victory is a worthy read with several well-considered recommendations that will prompt critical thinking and debate among senior military leaders and others in the defense community about how we fight—and what it might take to win the next war.”—Parameters
"Douglas Macgregor presents five dramatic battle studies to illustrate the narrow margins between defeat and victory in war. His analysis of chosen battles reveals much about the relationship between military and political culture in critical wars of decision."—Military Officer
Col. Douglas Macgregor USA (Ret.) is a decorated combat veteran with a PhD in international relations from the University of Virginia. He is the author of five books and is the executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group LLC, a defense and foreign policy consulting firm in Northern Virginia.
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An engaging and compelling tour de force, Douglas Macgregor's Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War knits together narratives of lesser- known 20th Century battles to generate observations relevant to America's 21st Century strategic defense challenges. Macgregor puts his main emphasis on the national military analyses, decisions, and preparations of the eventual victor, made well before these battles were fought. His accounts of combat actions effectively illustrate how critical these were to create conditions leading to success in the field. Whether the margins of victory were narrow (such as the British Expeditionary Force—despite retreating from Mons and Le Cateau--throwing grit in the Schlieffen Plan’s gears in France, 1914), or wide (illustrated by the Soviets crushing an entire German army group in a matter of weeks in 1944), institutional foresight and preparation was key.
There are other books that examine this but typically examine failure to learn the right lessons after a war. Still other works focus narrowly on technical innovations in weaponry, organization, and/or tactical concepts resulting from lessons learned.
What is different about Margin of Victory is its focus on how some institutions did not extrapolate contemporary trends to characterize future national security environments, but came up with new kinds of forecasts breaking with conventional wisdom. Indeed, these militaries were able to envision far more accurately what types of conflicts they would be fighting in the future, rather than merely mirror the kinds of wars they had fought in the recent past. Macgregor’s case studies are intended as exceptions to the well-worn notion that nations always prepare for the next war or campaign as if they were fighting the last one.
While military history buffs will appreciate the author's perspective as an accomplished combat leader in describing these battles in the first five chapters, this book is meant to inform senior defense policymakers, military officers, and defense reform advocates who are seriously concerned about American national military strategy. Macgregor enjoys a well-established track record for creative thinking, conditioned by a soldier’s sense; he does not disappoint in his concluding chapter, spelling out what needs to be done to prepare the United States for the next war.
This is a timely book as the U.S. Defense Department grapples with the dilemma of configuring the military to fight wars of choice against much less capable adversaries (Iraq and Afghanistan), or prioritizing development to win against near-peer competitors if (or when) war is forced upon the United States.
Macgregor has fired a heavy salvo in the ongoing debate on the future size, shape, organization, and characteristics of the U.S. military. Those with an interest in how history should or should not influence national strategy formulation or who are simply curious about alternative views on defense reform will find Margin of Victory a provocative and satisfying read.