America's First General Staff

A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the U.S. Navy, 1900�1950

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The General Board of the Navy, in existence from 1900 to 1950, was a uniquely American and unparalleled strategic planning organization. As John T. Kuehn shows, this was the United States’ first modern general staff in peacetime, as well as the nexus for naval thought and strategic thinking. The Board’s creation reflected the reformist spirit of the era that also gave birth to the Army War College, the Army General Staff, and the Chief of Naval Operations. As such, the General Board and its mission also reflected an attempt to reconcile the primacy of civilian control of the military with an increasing need for more formal military and naval planning establishments, processes, and methods. Thus the General Board’s very name reflected the idea shared by both corporate America and naval tradition that challenges and problems could be met with special, temporary organizational bodies.

By the 1920s the General Board had become a permanent feature of the Navy and was regarded as the premier strategic “think tank” for advice to the Secretary of the Navy. Evolving over the course of its existence, the Board developed into a bona fide institutional component atop the service’s hierarchy. Kuehn highlights how this small body, wielding immense influence over the span of its organizational life, was an innovative, progressive, and productive force for the security of the United States in peace and for naval success in war. The service of the men comprising the Board is little known, but their collaborative ethos should serve as a model for their modern counterparts. Kuehn’s organizational history of the General Board provides context on the complexities and turbulence involved in building the modern Navy that transitioned over time from coal and sail to nuclear-powered warships. America’s First General Staff offers the first single-volume history of the General Board of the Navy, as well as an analysis of the U.S. Navy during periods of great change in both peace and war.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

"The subtitle of this book, 'A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1950' pretty well sums up the scope of this book. This book gives a detailed, but readable account of the formation, life and demise of the General Board of the Navy. Its 224 pages of text are followed by several informative annexes. I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest on how military organizations manage their role and the impact members can have in establishing that role." —Starshell
"America's First General Staff will appeal to any military enthusiast who wants to understand the U.S. Navy supremacy in the twentieth century." —The Journal of Military History
"John Kuehn's new history has not only shed welcome light on the General Board of the Navy, but also mended the historical reputations of a number of early and mid-twentieth-century naval leaders. Anyone seeking to understand how the US Navy transitioned from the pre-dreadnought fleet of the Spanish-American War into the massive three-dimensional force that won the Pacific War should thoroughly read America's First General Staff; it is an essential addition to the literature of the US Navy in the twentieth century." —Michigan War Studies Review
"There are lessons embedded in the story of the General Board that should not be lost on today's national security leadership." —Parameters
Recipient of The University Press-CGSC Golden and Bronze Pen awards.
"Given the steady flood of books about strategy, it is remarkable how few there are about tactics. Friedman has filled that gap with a short, sharp piece of analysis that highlights the physical, mental, and moral dimensions of conflict." —Foreign Affairs
"John Kuehn has written a great book and one that deserves to be studied and built upon today, when we desperately need again such Boards and Admiralty in the Allied navies. A great read, thank you." —The NAVY Magazine
"America's First General Staff explains how the U.S. Navy's leadership grappled with rapid pre-1950 change. Through this work, Professor Kuehn provides a collective intellectual biography of the Navy's leadership for the period." —Joint Force Quarterly
"In America's First General Staff, Professor John T. Kuehn has written an outstanding monograph on a little-known organization that had enormous influence in shaping the U.S. Navy to fight during the two world wars.... The General Board may be history, but the need for thoughtful, diversely experienced, creative, and respectful minds to aid decision-makers in navigating complex national security problems remains. America's First General Staff offers an excellent example of what a small group of talented and dedicated professionals can do." —Military Review
"This first-rate study brings to light the important accomplishments of the non-statutory General Board of the Navy, which functioned as a major arbiter of warship construction and maritime strategy throughout the first half of the twentieth century. John Kuehn presents an excellent read for anyone interested in the work of the General Board and the Naval officers who led it until its dissolution January 1951."—Paul E. Pedisich, author of Congress Buys a Navy
"John T. Kuehn has drawn on his extensive research into the papers of the Navy's General Board to argue that the Board played an essential role in the Navy's successful effort to become a modern organization. This story, interesting in itself, also has relevance for today's Navy as its leaders face the challenges of organizing to deal with an often-hostile digital environment." —Tom Hone, author of Power and Change: The Administrative History of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1946-1986