The U.S. Navy and The National Security Establishment: A Critical Assessment
John T. Hanley Jr. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2023. 342 pp. Tables. Figs. Biblio. Index. $60.
Reviewed by A. Denis Clift
While books on U.S. national security are legion, John T. Hanley Jr. brings an erudite mix of career, academic scholarship, and analytical talent to The U.S. Navy and the National Security Establishment: A Critical Assessment. In the book’s opening he asks, “How should the Navy adapt to an age of information and artificial intelligence? In particular, what actions will enhance resilience and diminish fragility in competition with China in both the near and the long term?”
Hanley traces the Navy’s place in the complex U.S. national security network from the 19th century, through World Wars I and II and the Cold War, into the information/artificial intelligence era. He looks at the issues from his vantage point and experience as a retired Navy captain with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Dartmouth and a doctorate from Yale. Hanley began his Navy career in nuclear submarines, had 17 years with the CNO Strategic Studies Group, served with Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and the Institute for Defense Analysis, and worked on force transformation, acquisition, and strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Moving through the decades, Hanley examines each new phase of the Navy in the national security ecosystem, assessing its failures, triumphs, and near misses, some of the spanners in the works, and the turning of major eras. In his chapter on divisive Cold War strategies, he writes:
The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought the demise of the 1980s Maritime Strategy as the Navy found itself in a position similar to the end of World War II with no rival Navy to fight. Absent the Soviets, the national security establishment had no obvious major rival, though the tip of the Chinese iceberg was becoming visible on the horizon.
He heightens the value of his work by showcasing, in chapter after chapter, a far larger set of experts in the field, their thinking, their quotes, and the routes they have helped to trace, track, and shape. The reader is rubbing elbows with Mahan, Scharnhorst, Luce, Clausewitz, Spruance, Hattendorf, O’Rourke, Hone, Kissinger, and Hornfischer.
Today, China is the challenge. Hanley’s assessment is a reminder of the need to get things right, and right on all fronts. It is a reminder that you cannot plan and suddenly push ahead alone on your plan—the establishment may have different plans. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and his Whiz Kids landed on the Navy with a thump in the 1960s, with the service’s hierarchy baffled by the evolutionary change, struggling to understand these powerful, seemingly negative, new creatures in the ecosystem. The Goldwater-Nichols Act making joint duty a requirement for flag rank promotion was another new national security establishment presence the Navy had to accept and learn to manage.
Hanley lays out the different dimensions of artificial intelligence and the importance of greater naval education up and down the ranks and ratings in the current era. “Only through campaigns of learning focused on wholeness will the Navy be able to support the existing forward force, finance research into likely valuable future technologies, recruit and train personnel suited to a high-technology military world and modernize with the funds Congress provides.”
The U.S. Navy and the National Security Establishment provides a critical assessment well worth reading.
Mr. Clift is the Vice President for Planning and Operations at the U.S. Naval Institute.
Bipolar General: My Forever War with Mental Illness
General Gregg Martin, U.S. Army (Retired). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2023. 228 pp. Photos. $27.
Reviewed by Captain John P. Cordle, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Retired Army General Gregg Martin’s new memoir begins with the familiar story of a service member’s path to leadership in the military: a high achiever in academics and sports attending a service academy, smitten by the adventure and challenge of a military career, with each success leading to a position of elevated responsibility—and stress. Martin’s career rise continued until it met with the primary antagonist in the book: bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that results from a chemical imbalance, and it can cause mood swings from an extreme high to an extreme low. Manic symptoms can include increased energy, excitement, impulsive behavior, and agitation. Depressive symptoms can include lack of energy, feeling worthless, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. In the latter half of the book, the reader hangs on for the ride as Martin recounts his battle with bipolar disorder with vulnerability and honesty, across nearly a decade of military service, including his leading a brigade into Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The other antagonist in the book is the military—both its demand for ever-increasing performance at any cost and its continued inability to deal with his complex mental health issues. In no other organization would some of the behaviors Martin describes in the book be tolerated: verbal abuse, excessive partying and drinking, and relentless demands on subordinates such as “extreme PT” and multihour ramblings, which caused many to doubt their own self-worth. But because Martin was a combat veteran and a well-respected leader who produced unparalleled results, his rise continued—until it ended in a precipitous dive and crash that nearly killed him and destroyed his family. In fact, he shares a very balanced view that the Army both helped him deal with his disorder and (in the end) likely made it much worse. There is definitely a cautionary tale here for military leaders.
The real heroes in the book are Martin’s family: his wife, Maggie, his mother, and his three sons (one of whom also suffers from bipolar disorder) who stuck with him through his diagnosis and treatment, as did one particular friend when many turned away. The short testimonials from these friends and family at the end of the book are blunt, heartfelt, and a worthy, if intense, addition to the story. The final hero in this narrative is the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose aggressive treatment regimen probably saved Martin’s life after the military medical system failed him.
I recommend this book for anyone in a leadership position, military or not. It is not light summer reading, but it conveys an important lesson. It took a brave soul to provide such a selfless and introspective look at his own life, with anecdotes and episodes that I am sure he would prefer not to remember, much less write down for posterity. But Martin did so in Bipolar General, and he continues to tell his story from a better place. Now it is up to us—and the military—to listen, read, learn, and act.
Captain Cordle is a retired surface warfare officer who commanded the USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79) during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was the Proceedings Author of the Year for 2019.
Power and Prediction: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence
Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2022. 268 pp. Figures. Notes. Index. $30.
Reviewed by Captain Sam J. Tangredi, U.S. Navy (Retired)
In a recent article, a professional copywriter described how she was replaced by ChatGPT. Appealing to her boss, she pointed out that her writing was far superior to that of artificial intelligence (AI). Her boss agreed—her work was indeed far superior. But AI’s writing was “good enough,” and getting rid of staff maximizes profit.
In reading Power and Prediction, it is hard to not come away the impression that such is the world the authors envision—and possibly support. Perhaps it is because all three are business professors, and maximizing profit (while minimizing personnel) is what most elite business schools teach. Perhaps it is because they view the spread of AI in business and economics as inevitable and—in the same manner of globalization and offshoring jobs—AI will disrupt business practices and national economies, presumably making overall global production more efficient.
The authors are quite correct in that—when properly trained—AI can crunch big data, assess hours of video footage, and remember the thousands of moves in rules-based games better than any human. One of their recommendations is to stop training radiologists since (in their view) AI can compare X-rays better than most doctors. However, that is based on the “average” doctor as computed by statistical analysis—which approaches a “good enough” model of medicine. Human doctors can make mistakes. But with a glitch in programming and training, so can AI. Human doctors can doubt their own analyses; designing an AI clinician that doubts itself is beyond our current capabilities. In an epilogue on how to prevent racial or ethnic bias in AI (specifically when conducting medical diagnoses), the authors contradict themselves, citing evidence that does not support their contention that there is an easy solution to eliminate the “biases” that are the natural outcome of humans training nonhuman systems.
In the moneyed world of sports, the authors spend a considerable amount of time explaining that AI (with data on winds, seas, and other conditions) combined with robotic arms and levers can beat humans at sailing. To them, this can be a tool to train elite sailors; its effect on average sailors is simply not their concern. Of course, if a sensor gets broken, AI cannot sail.
This brings up the greatest concern: The authors are at a loss as to what to do when the feed of big data is unavailable, such as it would be in a war between technological near peers. They have but three paragraphs on military applications in the entire book, beginning with the observation that, “at first, the military might seem the ideal place to apply AI tools. As military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote in the nineteenth century, ‘War is the realm of uncertainty.’” However, they concede (quoting a colleague) that “if AI becomes good at optimizing the solution for a given problem, then an intelligent enemy has incentives to change the problem.” And they conclude that “the enemy will go beyond the [AI] training set, and peacetime data will be of no use.” This is certainly an honest and concise assessment. They do not touch the challenge of deception.
With only three paragraphs on war, why should national security professionals read (or at least examine) this book?
The first incentive is to learn how business professors are teaching civilian business persons to apply AI to financial and industrial practices.
Second, strategists should examine whether the predictive qualities of AI can help identify all the possible options in assessing the future prewar security environment. The words “help identify” are chosen carefully. I would advise readers to not rely on AI for actual forecasts; without human imagination, rules-based systems default to current trends. But it can be a useful tool—along with others—in aiding decision-making in human-machine teaming.
Moreover, military and naval strategists should at least skim through the book to gain a contrary impression of a non-AI derived forecast of the future that goes beyond the authors’ view—one in which unemployed or underemployed populations, ousted from meaningful jobs, will revolt against the global economic order (as well as AI-powered surveillance states). Thus far, no AI system has predicted future military interventions along the lines of the 1920–30s Banana Wars. Perhaps with more data, they will.
While conceding many jobs will go away (without a solution as to what to do about it), the authors of Power and Prediction appear unable to envision such a rebellious and warlike future. We need to examine it.
Captain Tangredi holds the Leidos Chair of Future Warfare Studies at the U.S. Naval War College and is coeditor of AI at War (Naval Institute Press, 2021). In collaboration with George Galdorisi, he has recently coauthored Algorithms of Armageddon: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Future Wars, to be published in spring 2024.
Against All Tides: The Untold Story of the USS Kitty Hawk Race Riot
Marvin D. Truhe. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2023. 370 pp. Index. Notes. $28.99.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander Michael Axel, U.S. Navy
For all the honor and glory the U.S. Navy has achieved in its two and a half centuries of existence, its accomplishments are matched along the way by injustices aplenty. As difficult as it can be to confront the past wrongs of a service that continues to grow and mature alongside the nation it serves, these critical self-examinations are essential to continue to improve the force in both combat and noncombat arenas.
In October 1972, because of exhaustion and simmering racial tensions, the outbreak of a so-called race riot on board the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) led to an overlong and overblown series of criminal proceedings against a group of 25 Black defendants on charges of rioting. No white sailors were charged. One of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps defenders of the Kitty Hawk sailors was then-Lieutenant Marv Truhe, who revisits the story 50 years later with a bracing and enlightening retrospective about the case that both defined his early career and tested his faith in the military justice system. His book arrives during a turbulent moment in the continuing racial history of the United States and adds yet another layer to the complex topic of race relations in the military and the country at large.
Truhe’s recollections, prepared with the help of dozens of his fellow lawyers, defendants, and even his adversaries on the prosecution, are highly detailed, evincing facts that can be achieved only in retrospect. Clearly, according to his copious notes, court transcripts, and, the insight of a half-century’s passage, the deck was stacked against the Black defendants on board the Kitty Hawk. The authority figures in the military justice structure, as well as Navy leaders, felt, for whatever reason, that the defendants were not entitled to equal justice, no matter their public statements on the matter. Even so, the determination and constant pressure of the defense team to achieve real justice in the case meant fighting a more-adversarial-than-normal system every step of the way, up to and including the convening authority injecting himself into the process. Thankfully, Truhe’s team prevailed, but not without the defendants suffering in extended confinement and fighting multiple roadblocks in their quest to clear their names.
As much as Truhe’s book is a valuable contribution to the growing historical record of U.S. race relations, it also is an important, if uncomfortable, addition to the record of missteps by the military in its pursuit of equal justice. Reading the stories of high-level cover for witnesses, intercessions by military leaders and judges well beyond appropriate levels, and defendants facing charges over and above any offenses committed, it is easy to recall similar stories of unequal justice in the Navy’s more recent history—those cases in which, rather than serve the interests of true justice, wherever they may lead, the service chose the easy way out. While reading through the torturous legal process to which the Kitty Hawk defendants were subjected, I was reminded of the investigation into the 1989 USS Iowa (BB-61) turret explosion and the wide net cast by the Naval Investigative Service after the 1991 Tailhook scandal. In all these cases, though, the truth eventually came out and justice, sometimes belated, prevailed. There are many other stories (the 1944 Port Chicago mutiny and disaster, for example) that would benefit from a similar reexamination after decades of social progress.
Current and prospective JAGs and those who read history with an eye toward uncovering less-spoken historical tales will find this book a valued addition to their shelves. The holistic study of history, as in military strategy, requires examining the things done wrong in addition to things done right. With hindsight, the things done wrong in the case of the Kitty Hawk defendants show both how far the Navy has come since the Vietnam era, and the work that remains in reconciling the service’s historical missteps. In Truhe’s Against All Tides, a detailed and relevant historical tale guides a more informed discussion on how the nation can confront and eliminate systemic racism in all parts of society, including in the military.
Lieutenant Commander Axel is an E-2 naval flight officer. He is the training officer at Airborne Command and Control Squadron 120.