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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Published:October 15, 2017
By John T. Kuehn (Author)

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. 

List Price: $34.95
Member Price: $27.96
Product Details
  • Subject: Military History
  • Hardcover : 320 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 15, 2017)
  • ISBN-10: 1682471913
  • ISBN-13: 9781682471913
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 22.4 oz
  • “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
  • “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

John T. Kuehn, PhD, is a retired naval aviator. He teaches military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and is also the author of Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy.

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