Martin J. Sherwin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 624 pp. Notes. Biblio. Index. $35.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander Ryan Hilger, U.S. Navy
In the United States, many view President John F. Kennedy and his executive committee as the victors of the Cuban Missile Crisis. They were seen as fearless men with exceptional decision-making prowess who stood up to aggressive President Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, forcing them to blink first and back down. But that could not be further from the truth. In Gambling with Armageddon, Martin Sherwin, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Prometheus, places the Cuban Missile Crisis in proper historical perspective, while providing new information that shows just how close the world came to nuclear midnight. Sherwin’s masterful work yields new insights into the psychology of the crisis within the White House, reveals how little control both Kennedy and Khrushchev had over the events, and shows that the crisis began quite rationally if viewed in its proper context in the historical timeline.
After the opening, Sherwin brings the reader back to early 1945 and the accession of Harry S. Truman to the presidency after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death. Nuclear doctrine in the United States and Soviet Union, in Sherwin’s opinion, must be traced back to these early actions, because they frame how nuclear weapons were viewed by the major powers: as a tool of foreign policy. Nuclear weapons were simply another weapon in the military arsenal, no different from other bombs. President Dwight D. Eisenhower took nuclear doctrine to the next level with a policy of massive retaliation, building U.S. nuclear forces at an astounding rate. The Soviet Union responded in kind, and Khrushchev viewed the expansion of missiles into a potentially Communist Cuba to be a logical step to even the balance of forces after the United States placed Jupiter missiles in Turkey. He did not anticipate such a forceful reaction from Kennedy.
President Kennedy was deeply conflicted throughout the crisis. He began to question the advice of the executive committee—many of whom were pushing for an outright invasion of Cuba—even though he still allowed some preparations for military action on the island to continue. Even toward the end of the crisis, Kennedy began to take matters into his own hands by working back-channel actions privately with the Russians to bring things to a peaceful conclusion. Suggesting removal of the Jupiter missiles from Turkey was a key concession he was willing to make, despite the pushback from the executive committee and expected resistance from both Turkey and NATO. Yet Kennedy’s actions, recorded for posterity from the taping system that he generally kept running in the Oval Office, show a President wrestling with intractable problems over which he had little control. At several points during the crisis, both Kennedy and Khrushchev came to the conclusion that they were not fully in control, and that forces under them might start a nuclear holocaust without their knowledge.
Sherwin begins and ends with the role that luck often plays in crises, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was no different. Gambling with Armageddon will give readers a different education, with innumerable lessons for today’s era of great power competition. It should be required reading for midgrade and senior leaders.
Lieutenant Commander Hilger is an engineering duty officer assigned to Director, Strategic Systems Programs in Washington, DC.
David Poyer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020. 373 pp. $27.99.
Reviewed by Captain Bill Hamblet, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Violent Peace is David Poyer’s 19th book featuring Dan Lenson, a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer (SWO), and the seventh in the series about war with China set in the near future. Previous books in the series saw Lenson in command of an Aegis-class cruiser and later a carrier strike group when war broke out. In Violent Peace, Poyer vividly describes the world after a brief nuclear exchange between China and the United States, which leads to the downfall of Chinese premier Zhang Zurong. The first chapter opens with our hero, Lenson, on convalescent leave in California after near-death injuries he sustained in the previous book, Overthrow. He goes north to Seattle to find his daughter, Nan, last known to be working for a pharmaceutical company trying to cure a deadly virus sweeping the nation (shades of COVID-19), and pursues her trail across the country on motorcycle.
Those who have read Poyer’s previous novels will enjoy being reconnected with his major characters. Lenson’s wife, Blair Titus, is the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and plays an important role in the postconflict peace negotiations. His former executive officer, now Captain Cheryl Staurulakis, commands the latest ship to be named Savo Island, an improved Zumwalt-class destroyer, which was built during the war. She and her crew find themselves playing a gutsy game of chicken with Russian forces in the Sea of Japan. As in World War II, Russia joined the war against China late and is looking to take Port Arthur/Dalian as war spoils.
Marine Corporal Hector Ramos, seriously wounded at the end of Overthrow, regains consciousness on board the hospital ship USNS Mercy—intubated, panicked, and wishing he were dead. His road to recovery is a brutal journey from intensive care to a wounded warrior program in San Diego to deciding whether he has anything to live for in postwar America.
Finally, former Navy SEAL Master Chief Teddy Oberg, who was taken prisoner by the Chinese in an earlier book, escaped into western China and became a Muslim freedom fighter, is now leading Uighur fighters in the Tian Shan Mountains of western China. Oberg has undergone a spiritual rebirth and become a devout Muslim, intent on freeing the Uighurs from Han Chinese repression. Yet in the complex geopolitics of postwar negotiations, Oberg’s goals put him at odds with Washington.
This novel is particularly interesting because it deals with what comes after the fighting—what military professionals call “Phase 4”—stabilization—and “Phase 5”—enabling civilian authority. The global economy has been shattered. The United States is a victor, but it is not in a position of great strength, because vast swaths of the American West have been decimated by nuclear blasts and radioactive fallout. The federal government in Washington must retake parts of the country that are now under the control of militias. What remains of the Chinese government and military leaders negotiate well at the peace talks, and the book portrays the delicate balance of how to punish the instigators without weakening China so much that another war will be inevitable a decade down the road.
Fans who worried Poyer’s exciting series could be coming to an end will be pleased to know another installment is on the way, and it looks like Russia will be Dan Lenson’s next nemesis.
Captain Hamblet is the editor-in-chief of Proceedings and a retired naval intelligence officer. From 2009 to 2012, he led a team at the U.S. Pacific Command that analyzed China’s military buildup, modernization, exercises, tactics, and doctrine.
Captain David G. Smith, U.S. Navy (Retired) and W. Brad Johnson. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2020. 272 pp. Notes. Index. $30.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Dillon Fishman, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
Gender integration and women’s success in the workplace remain topics of ongoing discussion in the military and the marketplace. Yet, according to retired Navy Captain David G. Smith and his coauthor W. Brad Johnson, many men in positions of leadership do not know how they can support the advancement of women. Against that backdrop, their book proposes strategies and tips for men who wish to become allies for women—but may not know how to do so.
The book moves from inside to outside. Part I addresses interpersonal skills, aiming to help men improve their gender intelligence and provide them with tools to build trust. For example, the authors highlight patronizing, sexist, and misogynistic language men may not realize they are using. In addition, the authors exhort men to do their fair share of work at home, as women often struggle to manage cumbersome workloads because men do not help them.
Part I concludes with ten strategies that include listening generously, including women in work projects, and facilitating meaningful mentorship opportunities to propel women professionally. While not all strategies will be new to readers, most likely will find fresh insights, ranging from recalibrating their awareness of language to refocusing on ensuring women receive recognition for their contributions.
In Part II, the authors turn toward proactive allyship in the workplace. They confront a common occurrence wherein men do little to discourage sexism by other men. This call to action for bystanders may be one of the book’s most resonant sections, as it appeals to the better angels of many men who want to do something but may view themselves as not part of the problem. One hopes that leaders with influence heed this call.
Some of the book’s statements stand out as especially salient, versatile, and thought-provoking. For instance, the authors quote Lisen Stromberg on this trenchant question: “I wonder if you’ve considered that women might experience this differently.” Indeed, men need to ask themselves, and each other, such questions more often as they work to understand and empathize. Similarly, another question resounds: “Would you be raising that concern about a man?” As the authors note, a double standard forces women in leadership to contend with pejoratives such as being labeled “ambitious” or “harsh,” when the same attributes are often praised in men.
Part III seeks to engender systemic improvements, with an eye toward cultural and organizational change. The authors target senior leaders in advocating for scrutiny of their approach to recruitment and retention. Examples of specific recommendations include expanding flexible work options, establishing transparency in hiring and salary data, and initiating communities of male allies.
A key caveat to this book is that it chiefly addresses readers committed in their hearts but seeking knowledge in their heads. However, those already willing to pick up this book—and, thus, open to its pointed critiques and advice—may not be the population in greatest need of its counsel. Nonetheless, readers of all ranks and levels of leadership in the military will benefit from this important, timely, and welcome book on how to work with women and help them advance professionally.
Lieutenant Colonel Fishman, a Marine Corps judge advocate, is completing a PhD in leadership studies. He deployed twice to Afghanistan and once on board the USS Tortuga (LSD-46).
Jonathan E. Hillman. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. 304 pp. Notes. Index. $28.
Reviewed by Ensign Anna Kang, U.S. Navy
Today’s era of great power competition challenges geopolitical theories on the strength of China’s expanding sphere of influence. In 2012, Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography predicted China’s expanding sphere of influence relied on a strong maritime presence coupled with strategic relations with smaller Asian countries. In 2017, Graham Allison argued in Destined for War that a clash of civilizations will result in China’s downfall. Today, a U.S. shift in presence to the Pacific theater suggests the nation that maintains maritime superiority in the Pacific and Indian Oceans will become the most powerful nation in the world. Jonathan E. Hillman expands on these two arguments to persuade readers that China has greater ambitions executed via the Belt and Road Initiative but is limited by increasingly unstable foreign relations.
Readers follow Hillman as he travels the Silk Road in The Emperor’s New Road. Hillman calls China’s Belt and Road Initiative “the Project of the Century,” as it aims to use infrastructure as its primary means to grow China’s sphere of influence throughout Eurasia. However, this ambitious project lacks structural integrity.
Hillman begins with the historical origins of China’s motives and the Belt and Road Initiative’s goals to restore its reputation after the Century of Humiliation. President Xi Jinping understands Mahanian strategy, and Chinese foreign relations attempt not to repeat mistakes made by U.S.- and European-funded infrastructure projects in smaller Asian nations.
In the second part of the book, Hillman continues to shed light on the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on China’s allies. The new heart of the Eurasian continent, Kazakhstan, recognizes its own geopolitical strengths. China’s strong economy and eagerness to give also welcomes the opportunity for corruption. Each nation that entertains a partnership with China must gamble the cost of how China’s future could impact their country. Kaplan and Graham warned nations that become more intertwined in economics face harder economic downfalls when one member suffers. Hillman amplifies this theory, observing each nation that entertains a partnership with China must gamble the cost of how China’s fall can impact their country.
Sea power remains the primary source of power for China, and Hillman illuminates how China and Japan battle for dominance in the maritime shipping business. Pakistan welcomes Chinese construction of naval bases, while Sri Lanka wallows in the lack of income received from a Chinese naval port on its southern coast. Leaders wonder if a contract with China is worth sacrificing national freedoms.
China’s sphere of influence continues to spread west with an increasing Chinese presence in East Africa. Fiberoptic cables, telecommunications, and cyber infrastructure allow African nations to strengthen their technological footprint, a costly investment for China. With projects rapidly starting and collapsing, Hillman suggests the international geopolitical focus may shift to Africa.
Hillman’s quick read challenges President Xi’s “One China” strategy and the nation’s long-term patience. Although graced with geography, China risks exhausting its resources to maintain an ever-growing presence. Hillman’s travels and mentors echo through these pages, and The Emperor’s New Road educates readers on China’s plan to become the world’s superpower.
Ensign Kang graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2019. She is a surface warfare officer on board the USS America (LHA-6) in Sasebo, Japan.
Kenneth O. Preston, Michael P. Barrett, Rick D. West, James A. Roy, Denise M. Jelinski-Hall, and Charles W. “Skip” Bowen. Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2020. 288 pp. $34.95.
Reviewed by Sergeant Major Anthony Easton, U.S. Marine Corps
Breaching the Summit, a compilation of advice from senior enlisted personnel, is a great addition to leadership bookshelves, with examples not only for military members, but even those not wearing a uniform. Each leader brings a unique leadership style and offers “lessons” on mentorship, knowledge, and life practices that make the U.S. military the premier military in the world.
There are a handful of leadership points in the book that stand out to me.
As part of his lesson, “11 Principles of Leadership,” retired Army Sergeant Major Kenneth O. Preston writes, “Although they did pay attention to detail, they empowered us with responsibility.”
Leaders have to empower their service members. As a sergeant major of Marines, I believe we need to empower, delegate, trust, and lead our service members.
As a Marine, I hold the Corps’ leadership traits and principles close to my heart. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Michael P. Barrett could not be more spot-on with his two proposed additions: “Humility, because it keeps us on track and makes it possible for us to see past our own impulses; and cheerfulness in the face of adversity.”
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West offers some great advice as well, which he calls “Dad’s Principles.” These are relevant at any point, in any person’s life.
1. Never be late.
2. Work hard every day. Nothing in life is free; earn your keep.
3. Stay out of trouble.
4. Respect everyone, especially your elders.
5. Don’t make fun of anyone, especially the less fortunate.
6. Finish what you start.
Writing on trust and autonomy, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Roy says, “A good leader is personal and accessible; your subordinates should know they can approach you with any subject.”
There are some leaders with whom I have interacted and thought, I don’t think anyone would come talk to you about an issue because of how you lead. I vowed I would be the type of leader described by Chief Master Sergeant Roy.
Former Senior Enlisted Advisor–National Guard, retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Denise M. Jelinski-Hall, offers a great point of view on how one should be able to look at an obstacle or problem from different perspectives or angles to accomplish the mission, and how “going outside your comfort zone” can make you a better leader.
She also advises leaders not to tolerate disrespect. Regardless of gender, religion, color of skin, or sexual orientation, this is something no one should have to encounter, especially in the military.
In lesson one of former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Charles W. Bowen’s advice, he writes, “Commit yourself to those you are leading.” This is very important to any leadership style. As a leader, you have to invest time and effort into helping your service members be successful. Service members in any unit, or members of any organization, can see when their leaders are not invested in them. As a Marine Corps sergeant major, I can tell when a unit has a good leadership at the top, because it reflects all the way down to junior members.
Master Chief Bowen also says, “One-dimensional, narrow-minded thinking can be the downfall of a leader.” This statement could not be more true. When a leader closes their door, or mind, or thinking, they fail on multiple levels. Not only will they take themselves down, but they will take their unit with them.
This is an excellent book, with great advice for leaders at any level, and one that I will keep within easy reach to use as a leadership reference.
Sergeant Major Easton has been serving in the Marine Corps for more than 26 years. He is currently serving as the Training Command Sergeant Major in Quantico, Virginia. He is also a member of the Naval Institute Editorial Board.
A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II
Simon Parkin. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 320 pp. Biblio. Notes. Index. $29.
By Lieutenant (j.g.) Tyler Kesthely, U.S. Navy
The world is at war. Civilian liners are sunk en masse, with families and children on board. Supply convoys are thinned beyond imagination. The British people are starving. The homeland is bombed with more regularity than a full meal. The Royal Navy cannot fight off the overwhelming threat of U-boat aces. The Battle of the Atlantic looks ever-promising for Hitler and his growing empire.
Enter Captain Gilbert Roberts, a tenured but medically discarded officer of the Royal Navy. The tightening and desperate ranks of the naval service grants the resilient Roberts a second chance to contribute to the fight. With ten members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS), Roberts sets out to fill the antisubmarine warfare (ASW) void for the surface navy. Together, through wargaming and perseverance, they produced a surface maneuver named Operation Raspberry. Captain Roberts and his WRENS then began teaching this maneuver to escort leaders in a weeklong crash course on surface ASW. Using this innovative wargaming approach and ASW training, the British Navy fight to alter the tide in the Atlantic.
In his second book, English writer and reporter Simon Parkin paints the bleak British experience in the early years of World War II. He writes sensationally, with quirky historical facts and details sprinkled about. Although impressively researched, this is not your classic text on the war. Grabbing attention, the cover advertises a story of “the ingenious young women whose secret board game helped win World War II.” Yet the reader walks away more familiar with Captain Roberts than anyone or anything. An exceptional amount of the book is about Roberts, with his naval career recounted, along with personal and specific tribulations. The intimate details of Roberts’ life are extensive in comparison with those offered of the WRENS. However, the author does acknowledge this omission as one resulting from a lack of primary sources and the societal norms of the era. As a result, the reader is left wanting on the WRENS’ battle contribution. In addition, little is mentioned on the U.S. Tenth Fleet and Admiral Ernest King’s involvement in the battle for the Atlantic. All things given to Captain Roberts and his weeklong surface ASW course, major factors are omitted in the author’s spin on the changing tides of war.
Well-written and entertaining, A Game of Birds and Wolves delves into the little-known realms of British ASW development at “The Citadel.” History enthusiasts will enjoy Parkin’s style and would be pleased to add his second title to their collection.
Lieutenant Kesthely is a graduate of Regis University and a surface warfare officer. He currently serves on board the USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) as the ship’s weapons officer.