Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell ‘Bud’ Zumwalt, Jr.
Larry Berman. New York: Harper, 2012. 526 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. $27.99.
Reviewed by Captain Fred W. Kacher, U.S. Navy
Few naval officers of the 20th century inspire stronger reactions—both positive and negative—than Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., the 19th and youngest Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy. Hand-picked over 33 senior officers to transform the Navy toward the end of the Vietnam era, Zumwalt boldly promised change at the dawn of his tenure. To the delight of his admirers and the consternation of his critics, he delivered.
In this much-needed biography, Larry Berman peels back the layers of the iconic image of the youthful, bushy-browed admiral who, in the author’s words, “brought a navy drifting toward the shoals back into the channel of the twentieth century and prepared it for a new millennium.”
Through extensive research and unprecedented access to Zumwalt’s letters, papers, and oral history, Berman presents a nuanced portrait of one of the Navy’s definitive leaders of the post–World War II era. Although the bulk of the book’s narrative action occurs more than four decades ago, the reader will recognize challenges that sound eerily familiar today.
The admiral’s early life experiences were representative of a more modern generation and seemed to prepare him for his role as reformer-in-chief many years later. Most important, Berman ably highlights the qualities and accomplishments that Zumwalt exhibited in his early career that made him a compelling selection for CNO. We see not just the creativity, honesty, and eloquence for which he is often remembered, but also an indomitable will to fight and win.
Fittingly, Zumwalt made his deepest operational impact leading naval forces in Vietnam, even though it was perceived as a dead-end job when he reported there in 1968. Berman vividly recounts how Zumwalt turned around the Navy’s reputation “in country,” at times putting himself at risk to better understand and equip his sailors.
Appropriately, a third of the book is dedicated to Zumwalt’s stormy tenure as CNO. At first he drove change relentlessly, wiping away what he perceived as archaic rules while on a quest to return “zest and fun” to the naval service. In the second half of his tenure, however, the Navy struggled with race relations, with critics charging that Zumwalt’s “permissive” policies created the conditions for this dissension.
Of course, his tenure as CNO was not merely about social policy. Zumwalt’s efforts to shape force structure, influence nuclear posture, and fight tirelessly against those who believed that the United States held the losing hand to the Soviet Union all make for entertaining reading. With respect to the Cold War, history tells us Zumwalt’s instincts were right.
He famously reflected that he had a long list of friends and enemies and was equally proud of both. Berman understands how these relationships helped define him, richly drawing out details of his deep friendships with the likes of Cold War giant Paul Nitze, as well as running battles with Henry Kissinger, Hyman Rickover, and then–Secretary of the Navy John Warner.
If there is a weakness in the book, the last few acts of Zumwalt’s life seem chronologically jumbled and a bit rushed. To his credit, the author does a superb job documenting Zumwalt’s response to his son Elmo III’s struggle with cancer, which was likely contracted as a result of the use of Agent Orange ordered by his father in Vietnam when the younger Elmo commanded a Swift Boat there. Yet the admiral lived 26 productive years after retirement, and while we learn of his run for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, his growing relationship with Bill Clinton, and his extraordinary work on behalf of veterans and cancer victims, we are left to wonder whether Zumwalt advised subsequent CNOs and how the Navy views his legacy today.
All in all, Berman’s book is superb. Given that Zumwalt penned his own exceptional memoir, On Watch, and co-authored another best-selling book with his late son Elmo (My Father, My Son), the author’s task here is all the more daunting. Fortunately, like Zumwalt, Berman delivers what he promises, providing new insights and perspective that demonstrate why a well-written biography on the man many believe is the “Father of the Modern Navy” has been long overdue.
Arms and the University: Military Presence and the Civic Education of Non-Military Students
Donald Alexander Downs and Ilia Murtazashvili. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 456 pp. Notes. Index. $34.99.
Reviewed by John R. Ballard
This very timely and interesting book began when its authors questioned the campus agitation they observed after the 9/11 attacks. What they questioned was not why students were upset, but why they were not calling for military action. They decided to probe the alienation of the military on American college campuses. The experience gap between the U.S. military and U.S. society has become increasingly obvious during the past decade of war, and Downs and Murtazashvili are concerned that it may pose problems for constitutional order. Downs is Meiklejohn Professor of Political Science, Law, and Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is also director of the Wisconsin Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy; Murtazashvili is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
The authors seek to understand whether the presence of military people and issues in university life contributes to the civic development of American citizens. They identify and diagnose four dimensions of the tense dynamic relationship between the military and the nation’s universities by questioning the role of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) on campuses, the gap in understanding between academia and the military, the importance of military history in academia, and finally the status of the “missing discipline” of security studies.
In their study of the role of ROTC, they analyze such notions as the historic distrust of the military, military virtues as building blocks of citizenship, and the ideal of the citizen-soldier. Although they recognize that the meaning of citizenship itself is problematic, they strongly suggest that at a minimum, ROTC students will help their peers understand the role of national defense in everyday life in a way that other educational opportunities could never equal.
Their central story is that of the return of ROTC to the Columbia University campus. Downs and Murtazashvili chart a long difficult road for the return, most prominently blocked by advocates for gay rights and non-discrimination, and by counterarguments made by members of the faculty through 2005. Gradually these dissipated as the decade wore on, until, in 2011, as the author’s describe it, Sisyphus ascended the mountain. At that point, 51 of the 68 members of the student senate voted for a return of ROTC to the campus; 66 percent of all Columbia students seemed to support the return. Following Columbia’s lead, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale also decided to welcome ROTC students back to their campuses. As the book went to press, the story of ROTC’s return was continuing to develop.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter focuses on the influence of the ROTC student soldiers on their peers, told through their own words. Using a survey at UW-Madison, the authors found that most had joined for patriotic and financial reasons and had suffered no negative experiences, but nearly half experienced positive feedback on their willingness to serve, and even more felt positive about their ability to correct stereotypes by participating in the program. More than half of non-ROTC students surveyed thought the program was important to have on campus, but the authors still acknowledge that its real impact was largely symbolic—most students had little exposure to it.
The final sections of the book question the value of military history and security studies on campuses. The authors assess how war itself is taught across disciplines and how military history is defined and taught. Findings from a survey of a number of history departments illustrate that military history attracts few scholars and does not have a very significant place in top-ranked departments (with the possible exceptions of Yale, North Carolina, Duke, and Indiana). The authors also looked at security studies, which they define as a field that focuses on the relationship between citizens and their government’s power structure from the point of view of realism, idealism, and, most recently, constructivism. In this section they highlighted MIT, Yale, and Ohio State in an effort to see if there are other practical ways to deal with the need to bridge the military-civil gap. Concerning security studies, they feel the jury is still out.
Downs and Murtazashvili point to the importance of an understating of military issues as a component of civic education. They conclude that the reintegration of the military into the nation’s consciousness is well under way, albeit without well-founded understanding. Through their analysis, they show how ROTC on campus, military history, and national-security studies have affected the civic education of non-military students on a number of college campuses, and in the process help bridge the civil-military gap that threatens our country. They finish with guarded optimism about the bridging. This book is recommended for academics teaching military history and security studies as well as everyone involved with ROTC and the service academies, and anyone passionately interested in U.S. civil-military relations.
Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps
Aaron B. O’Connell. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. 400 pp. Illus. Notes. Index. $29.95.
Reviewed by Colonel Gary J. Ohls, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)
Aaron O’Connell’s work is certainly different from most histories of the U.S. Marine Corps. At a glance, it might even seem irreverent and deconstructionist. The author addresses such varied issues as major battles of World War II and Korea, Marine Corps training, popular movies, public affairs, political and policy issues, the culture of violence, and the changing nature of the Corps’ role in national security, to name only a few. He includes many detailed accounts of Marines and Marine Corps exploits, some of which place the service in a good light and others that patently do not. In fact, O’Connell is merciless in describing what he considers nefarious political activities undertaken by Marine leaders to ensure survival of the Corps during the post–World War II battles for roles and missions.
Although his coverage of subjects ranges from labored detail to brief touches, O’Connell addresses all issues with insight and thoughtfulness. His chapter “Forgetting Korea” could easily serve as the basis for a new and refreshing book on the so-called “forgotten” war.
The book covers the period starting just before World War II to about 1965, which he correctly considers the formative years of the modern Marine Corps. Of course, he recognizes the importance of earlier periods in the service’s history, which he briefly addresses, sometimes admiringly and other times disparagingly. For example, he attempts to debunk the accepted version of the Marine Corps founding at Tun Tavern in 1775 and the Devil Dog name. Yet he acknowledges the pre–World War II achievements served as a foundation for their narrative of exceptionalism, so essential to the Corps’ sense of self.
Underdogs is essentially a cultural history rather than a chronicle of battles and heroics. Certainly the culture of the Corps is entirely based on its battlefield accomplishments, which O’Connell acknowledges as considerable. One of the things that makes this book special is its description of how Marine Corps leaders were able to leverage the remarkable achievements of World War II and Korea to ensure the service would retain a substantive role in the postwar defense establishment.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Marines’ domestic enemies did not want to disband the Corps, but rather reduce it to insignificance. Much of this work addresses how Marine leaders outwitted and outmaneuvered politicians and officers of other services to ensure this would not happen. It is not a new story, of course, but O’Connell presents it in greater detail and with better documentation than ever before. In fact, his research throughout the book can only be described as brilliant.
O’Connell points out that Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Victor H. Krulak played an important role in supporting the Marine Corps during the struggle for survival. Later in the post–Cold War skirmish over roles and missions, Krulak’s son, Lieutenant General (later General and Commandant of the Marine Corps) Charles C. Krulak, played a similar role in protecting the Corps during a time when politicians were clamoring for a “peace dividend.” As explained by the two Krulaks during a meeting at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco in the early 1990s, their experiences were substantially different. The institutional paranoia that O’Connell describes throughout Underdogs may not have been greatly stirred in the early 1990s, yet it is preserved in today’s service. With substantial defense-budget cuts already agreed upon and greater reductions being discussed, the Corps may again need the services of dedicated officers to ensure its survival. This book will be a good resource for those officers. Ironically, it will also be a good resource for those interested in benefiting at the Corps’ expense.
From an academic perspective, this is a remarkable piece of history. Although often critical, it remains a balanced, objective, and honest work of high integrity. Of course, it is not perfect. One can often find words and phrases that seem unduly harsh such as referring to parts of the service’s narrative as tall tales, and discussing Marine political activities as irregular warfare. Yet no one would accuse O’Connell—himself a Marine Corps officer—of bias in his analysis or description of events. Reading this book, although sometimes painful, is a captivating experience. One is entranced not only by the intricacy and insight of O’Connell’s material, but also by his engaging writing style. Additionally, he provides refreshingly new photographs intertwined within the text, few of which appear in previous versions of the service’s history. Underdogs will likely become a standard resource for students of the U.S. Marine Corps and the American defense establishment.
The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King—The 5-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea
Walter R. Borneman. New York: Little, Brown, 2012. 559 pp. Intro. Illus. Notes. Appendices. Index. $29.99.
Reviewed by Robert Cressman
Walter R. Borneman, holder of a master’s degree in history from the University of Western Colorado and a law degree from the University of Denver, has written or cowritten eight books on widely disparate subjects. He has covered his native Colorado, the French and Indian War, the Transcontinental Railroad, President James Knox Polk, the state of Alaska, and the War of 1812. Little in his previous work, however, indicates any familiarity with the U.S. Navy of the 20th century before he turned his interest to the lives and interactions of William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, William F. Halsey Jr., and Chester W. Nimitz, the only four men to hold the rank of fleet admiral in the U.S. Navy.
That he has warmed to his subject is obvious in the introduction, where he paints in sentimental terms a picture of the U.S. Naval Academy on the banks of the Severn River. Trouble comes early, however, when one reads the grandiose statement that these four men “built the modern United States Navy and won World War II on the seas.” On the heels of that far-reaching assertion comes: “Each is forever a part of the United States Naval Academy; Annapolis was forever a part of them.”
Because the author has chosen to set the stage in that fashion, one finds the use of “Annapolis” throughout the work, when he means “U.S. Naval Academy,” annoying. Borneman seems to have introduced the term innocently to show familiarity with his subject, but to those who have been immersed in naval studies for decades. it comes across as presumption.
The Admirals is divided into a prologue and three parts: “Sailors, 1897–1918” (chapters 1–6), “Ships, 1918–1941” (7–12), and “Admirals, 1941–1945” (13–25). Yet the 49 pages of endnotes and sources arrayed at the end of this weighty tome do not guarantee accuracy. The author’s background knowledge of the Navy is superficial. Major omissions include his failure to consult a body of recent scholarship on the interwar Navy, especially Edward S. Miller’s War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897–1945 and Thomas C. and Trent Hone’s Battle Line: The United States Navy, 1919–1939, both of which were available during his research phase.
Yes, the lives of the four intersected at various times in their careers, but no more so than with others who, it could be argued, proved more innovative or creative in preparing the service for global conflict. Such a construct is simplistic and reflects a lack of basic knowledge about the Navy in the first half of the 20th century. Many inaccuracies, sometimes several per page or even per paragraph, severely limit the usefulness of this book.
For instance, ship nomenclature is often wrong, ship names are misspelled, and ship hull designations are used casually, with pre-1920 and post-1920 designations being used interchangeably or not at all in the text and index. Borneman lumps the Panay (PR-5), sunk in 1937 by Japanese bombs, into a uniform class of six gunboats, ignoring that there were three distinct PR classes of different sizes. He claims that the U.S. Navy “floated” eight aircraft carriers on 7 December 1941, when there were only seven in service. People fare little better: Lieutenant Commander Joseph J. Rochefort, head of the combat intelligence unit at Pearl Harbor, was only a “number-crunching nerd.”
Some may deem such criticism as merely thalassocratic hair-splitting, but a book is only as good as the sum of its parts. Writing one of this scope is a daunting enterprise, and Borneman must be congratulated for even attempting it. He has conducted thorough research and related the individual stories in a breezy (even if sometimes bordering on flippant) and entertaining manner, but has fallen short of achieving a biographer’s ideal of placing his subjects not only in the context of their times, but also in that of the institutional culture during which they lived.